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Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon is making several TV appearances today to unveil his new paint scheme for next year's No. 24 AARP Foundation "Drive To End Hunger" car.
Gordon's first stop was CNN's American Morning, where the driver showed off the new colors (which will appear in 22 races next season) and fielded pressing questions from anchor Kiran Chetry such as "How did you get this puppy into Manhattan and make sure nothing happened to it?"
The car is certainly a different look for Gordon. It's mostly red and black with white/gray trim on the sides, meaning it probably won't be confused for his DuPont paint scheme (which will still be on the car for 13 races next year).
Though the "Drive To End Hunger" logo was on the hood for the unveiling, fans should expect to see other corporate sponsors who partner with the AARP Foundation to appear on the car at various points during the season.
What do you think of the new paint scheme, Gordon fans?
Note: If you're wondering those lines in the middle of the 'D' are, just turn your head to a different angle. It's supposed to be a fork.
Some screen shots we snapped from Gordon's unveiling on CNN:
On Wednesday, Hendrick Motorsports announced Jeff Gordon will be sponsored by the AARP Foundation and its "Drive To End Hunger" campaign for 22 races over each of the next three seasons. While DuPont and Pepsi will retain some role, Gordon's shift toward a cause-related primary sponsor is significant – and new for the sport.
Here's a look at some questions and answers about the sponsorship:
Why is the AARP Foundation spending millions of dollars to sponsor a race car when it could just donate that money to hungry people?
This question was asked repeatedly throughout Wednesday's press event and was answered in the same way each time: The AARP Foundation believes it will make the money back, and much more.
According to the group's numbers, there are 51 million people in the United States who go hungry every day, and six million of those are seniors (that's the group targeted by the foundation in its role as the charitable arm of the AARP – the American Association of Retired Persons).
AARP Foundation president Jo Ann Jenkins said several times that the organization expects its sponsorship of the No. 24 car will far exceed its investment (team owner Rick Hendrick said past cause-related sponsorships have generated up to five-to-10 times the money spent on a race program).
But Jenkins also emphasized the foundation was looking for a way to raise awareness of the entire cause – not just money for its foundation. She made a case that many fans will be surprised to learn how many people are going hungry in the richest country in the world and said many seniors must sadly choose between medicine or food.
How will the sponsorship work? Is the AARP Foundation footing the entire bill or is Hendrick donating some space on the car?
Hendrick indicated that it got full price for the AARP Foundation deal – the same as it would get from a Fortune 500 company – and that even if the AARP arrangement didn't work out, Hendrick had an unspecified backup deal in its pocket.
As such, Hendrick said this wasn't a move of desperation or settling for less money in order to secure a sponsor for next season. And no, Hendrick isn't doing this out of charity (although the organization will certainly be very committed to the cause).
But at the same time, the AARP Foundation doesn't anticipate being on the hook for the full amount of the sponsorship (typical 36-race sponsorships for a major team are as much as $20-25 million, so this could potentially range from $12 to $15 million based on that logic).
Jenkins said the foundation will look to partner with corporate sponsors; with a charitable donation for hunger, companies could be featured on Gordon's car, along with ad space in AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin (which have the highest circulation of any magazines in the United States thanks to the AARP's 40 million members).
The next step is to package the AARP Foundation's sponsorship with other co-sponsors who want to be part of the cause – as long as they don't conflict with an existing Hendrick sponsor.
Jenkins would not specify what percentage of the sponsorship it was looking to offset with corporate help or how much it was spending overall.
Will the "Drive To End Hunger" have a large presence in the eyes of NASCAR fans?
Absolutely – the possibilities here are endless. Not only will Gordon be a spokesperson for anti-hunger campaigns, but expect to see the tracks and NASCAR get involved.
For example, let's say you run a race track. You could hold a food drive leading up to the race, and everyone who brings in a can of food gets a discounted ticket. That's good exposure for your track, you help a charitable cause and the fans get a cheaper ticket that might encourage them to attend the race.
Or maybe you own a grocery store chain in Kansas. You pledge a certain percentage of sales to the AARP Foundation during race week, and Gordon comes to do an autograph signing at your store. Everyone gets something out of it: The store, the foundation, your customers.
It goes on and on. Marketers who do this for a living undoubtedly are already brimming with ideas and proposals.
Jeff Gordon is being sponsored by a charity instead of a major corporation. Is that a step back for NASCAR?
While it's certainly not Wal-Mart or a major corporation, this could actually end up being a step forward for the sport.
There have been charitable causes on race cars in the past, but none have made a commitment such as this one (both in the amount of races per season and the amount of years involved).
This could potentially open the door for other such causes to enter the sport, especially if the AARP Foundation is successful in getting corporations to help offset its cost by co-sponsoring the car.
And as Hendrick noted, some of these co-sponsors could be companies that have never been involved with NASCAR before. Once they're exposed to it, they may want to remain in the sport by sponsoring a race team themselves. That could help everyone in the sport.
On somewhat of a negative side for fans, this sponsorship continues the trend of partial-season deals. The days of a 30-plus-race sponsor are coming to an end. Only a handful of teams will have the same primary sponsor for most of the season in the future, it seems, so fans will have to adjust to picking out the differing paint schemes of their favorite driver.
Why is the AARP Foundation going the NASCAR route to raise money? Don't they realize many NASCAR fans aren't exactly rolling in cash these days?
Jenkins said the majority of the donations received by the foundation are a modest $10 or $20 – affordable for most people.
A texting campaign is already being promoted on the Drive To End Hunger website, in which fans can text "hunger" to the number 50555 and will be automatically charged $10 on their next cell phone bill.
OK, great. I get the point. But what's the car going to look like?
Hendrick and the AARP Foundation aren't sure yet. In reality, there's a chance it could vary from week-to-week depending on which companies decide to co-sponsor the car.
All of that is in the works now and the paint scheme may not be unveiled for some time as a result.
Why didn't the AARP sponsor Mark Martin instead of Jeff Gordon? Martin is in the AARP's target age range; Gordon isn't even 40 yet.
For one thing, Mark Martin didn't have any openings for sponsorship. In fact, Hendrick said Martin is fully sponsored for next season – along with the team's other three cars. Hendrick noted he won't have to use his own HendrickCars.com sponsorship for any cars next year (as was the case in five races this season on Martin's No. 5) and said sponsorship revenues will increase in 2011.
Hendrick said overall, sponsors are more active right now than in the last two season, which he believes is a sign of an improving economy.
In regard to age, though, Jenkins pointed out that donating to help end hunger has little to do with how old you are.
Enough about Gordon. Did anyone ask Rick Hendrick about Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
Yes. Hendrick said he was very excited to see Earnhardt Jr. run well at Martinsville – and said Earnhardt Jr. was excited, too.
He added the No. 88 team puts forth a tremendous effort each week, but it's tried even harder to give Earnhardt Jr. a good car for Talladega, where the driver has seen much past success. To that end, Hendrick said confidently he wouldn't be surprised to see Earnhardt Jr. win this weekend.
As for those fans calling for changes to the No. 88 team? Hendrick said the organization will wait until the end of the season before evaluating each of its teams.
Australian Marcos Ambrose is staying in America.
Stuck in a rut at JTG Daugherty Racing, Ambrose made a decision to leave the No. 47 car without having a backup plan. If another team wasn't willing to take a chance on him in NASCAR, Ambrose would be forced to return to Australia with unfinished business.
But it was worth the risk, in his mind. Ambrose wasn't satisfied with his performance on intermediate ovals. He felt like his team wasn't improving enough.
"It was safe over there (at JTG) for me; I wasn't going to get fired," he said. "But it wasn't what I came to America to do."
What he came to do was win.
On Tuesday, Ambrose took a step in that direction when he announced a new multiyear agreement to drive the No. 9 car at Richard Petty Motorsports with the support of Stanley Tools.
"I thought it was time to make a change," he said. "I feel great about the decisions I've made, and I feel really optimistic about the future."
When Ambrose left JTG, his first call was to manufacturer Ford. In Australia, Ambrose had made a name for himself driving Fords and had a strong connection to the company.
Ford helped Ambrose land at RPM, and Stanley hopped on board.
He never even had to talk with any other teams, committing to RPM despite the apparent struggles that team has had behind the scenes.
"I feel really good about the future of RPM," he said. "I like the direction they're taking. I think they have a very healthy future coming up."
Ambrose said he couldn't leave America without proving to himself that he could compete with the best stock-car drivers in the world, adding that he feels he could match the achievements of Jimmie Johnson in the right situation.
Now Ambrose will get more of a chance and what he called a "dream opportunity" in driving for a team partially owned by Richard Petty.
"I never thought for one moment that I would ever have a friendship with The King or drive for him," Ambrose said. "It's just a dream opportunity for me to solidify myself in NASCAR as a premier driver and get to Victory Lane."
This Bud's for Kevin Harvick.
Harvick and Richard Childress Racing announced a three-year deal with sponsor Budweiser on Tuesday morning at the RCR shop, meaning Bud's familiar red colors will now adorn the No. 29 car.
The Budweiser sponsorship is for just over half a season. The team said Bud will be on the car for 20 points races, as well as the primary sponsor for the Budweiser Shootout and a co-primary sponsor in the All-Star race.
It was unclear what sponsor would pick up the remaining 16 points races.
"I always love to have a toast," Childress said, posing with Harvick and a Budweiser executive as they clicked beer bottles together.
Previously, Budweiser had been with Kasey Kahne. Prior to that, the beer company was famously a longtime sponsor of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Bud has a legacy in NASCAR dating back to 1983, also sponsoring drivers like Terry Labonte, Darrell Waltrip and Bill Elliott.
"Budweiser is one of the most respected sponsors in our sport," Harvick said. "They do a lot to market their teams and the sport in television broadcasts and away from the track."
Red Bull Racing made it official today: Kasey Kahne will join the team in a one-year stint before driving for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 and beyond.
Here are some key questions (and a few answers) about the Kahne-Red Bull deal:
Was this the best move Kasey Kahne and Hendrick Motorsports could make?
Yes, given the circumstances. After the story broke in May that Kahne would drive the No. 5 car at Hendrick Motorsports, it soon became obvious that the Kahne-Hendrick agreement for 2012 was missing a giant piece in 2011. Rick Hendrick didn't have a firm plan on where Kahne would go.
At first, it seemed that Kahne would land at Hendrick affiliate Stewart-Haas Racing for a year. Then some people speculated that Mark Martin would step out of the No. 5 a year early to bail out Hendrick.
Neither of those happened. And with very limited options when it came to sponsorship and decent open rides, Red Bull was the best available choice – and maybe the only one. (Kahne said Red Bull was the only team he ever discussed driving for in 2011).
Who is Kahne replacing at Red Bull: Brian Vickers or Scott Speed?
It's unclear. Team manager Jay Frye made it sound somewhat unlikely that Red Bull would expand to a third car next year. Brian Vickers is expected to return from the blood clots that ruined this season, and the second year of the Scott Speed experiment hasn't been as successful as the team hoped.
Frye said Vickers is halfway through his recovery, but there are no guarantees on his availability for 2011. Meanwhile, Frye also said Speed's team must improve or show progress over the next month.
Our guess is that if Red Bull doesn't expand, Speed's ride is in jeopardy given it would be terrible publicity to bump Vickers out of his ride while he was recovering from an illness. Even though the entire team has struggled this year and Speed was rumored to have already re-signed with Red Bull in the spring, he could be the fall guy.
How does Speed feel about this?
Speed seems to be taking the news in stride. Of the Kahne announcement, Speed said via text message: "Its good for Red Bull was kinda a no brainer really."
Asked if he was worried that Kahne might be in Speed's car next year, the ex-Formula One driver said he wasn't sure.
"Dunno about my stuff," he texted. "I do think it's hilarious how Casey (Mears), Reed (Sorenson) and myself have all ran well in past and now can't run top 25 and WE need to get better, lol."
Who is paying Kahne: Red Bull or Hendrick?
Frye was asked this question directly and said a couple different times, "We have a contract with Kasey Kahne." He also said "No" when asked if Hendrick was providing a stipend to help Red Bull with Kahne's salary. Still, by not saying specifically that Red Bull is paying all of Kahne's salary, Frye left the door open for some people to wonder.
How do Kahne's future sponsors feel about this? Chevrolet can't be happy Kahne is driving a Toyota next year, right?
Probably not. But Chevy understands Kahne will be in their stable for years to come. Toyota will undoubtedly put Kahne in commercials and make sure race fans know what kind of car he's driving next year.
As for other sponsors, it seems stickier. Amp Energy and Pepsi will work closely with Kahne beginning in 2012, since he'll be a teammate of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Though we doubt the Amp/Pepsi people would say so publicly, they can't be happy Kahne will drive for a rival energy drink company next season.
What about Kahne's crew chief Kenny Francis? Will he go with Kahne to Red Bull?
Our prediction is yes, though that's just a guess based on how highly Kahne spoke of Francis during a teleconference on Tuesday. With Richard Petty Motorsports in continual turmoil, it's doubtful Francis would remain there and pass up an opportunity to go with Kahne if it was an option.
Frye said those details will be worked out in the next month or six weeks, and Kahne indicated the decision would be up to Francis.
What's in this for Red Bull? Why would they be happy with a one-year rental driver when they're trying to build a program?
Frye compared the acquisition of Kahne to the Minnesota Vikings getting Brett Favre for a year: Because Kahne is a winner and can help Red Bull be successful, even for one season.
He also said Kahne can help the team point the program in the right direction.
Still, we have to wonder if Red Bull is getting some sort of assurances of future help from Hendrick Motorsports if it was to ever switch from Toyota to Chevrolet (such as Hendrick engines). That's purely speculation, though.
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