Dale Earnhardt Jr.is still seeking a primary sponsor for 13 races next season, according to team owner Rick Hendrick during the team’s Sprint Media Tour stop today in Charlotte, N.C.
Pepsi, through its Diet Mountain Dew and Amp brands, has reduced its sponsorship from 20 races to five for 2013. The National Guard has increased its commitment from 16 races to 20.
While the team has fielded interest from several potential partners, Hendrick is hoping to negotiate a multi-year commitment as opposed to several stop-gap agreements for the remainder of the season. Hendrick doesn’t foresee the shortage causing a conflict with the upcoming season and has set no immediate timetable to secure sponsorship.
“We’ve got a lot of good opportunities and the way we’re positioned, our car is covered until the end of the summer,” Hendrick said. “I’m looking for the right deal, not any deal. If I wanted any deal, I would put ‘Hendrick cars’ on it… I have no worries about that car having a full deal come the end of the year.”
While this is likely just a case of contracts ending and renewal negotiations just not covering the full season – the National Guard sponsorship, for example, has to be negotiated annually through the U.S. Department of Defense – this has to be considered a disappointment for the sport’s 10-time most popular driver to be missing sponsorship for roughly a third of the season and just one month prior to Daytona Speedweeks.
A similar situation was set to play out this past off-season when Tony Stewart, the then defending Sprint Cup Series champion was left with a large hole in his sponsorship package when Office Depot decided not to return in 2013. But Stewart-Hass Racing was able to reach a deal with Bass Pro Shops and the team appears virtually set for the upcoming season.
Expect the same results for Hendrick Motorsports when considering the parties involved. Hendrick is not giving a discount to sponsor the no. 88 and has positioned the openings to coincide with some of the sport’s most important races, including several in the Chase for the Championship.
“There is not going to be a fire sale on that car,” Hendrick said. “That’s not fair to the other folks. It doesn’t do any of us any good to go out and degrade or dilute the value of that car. “If I’m going to dilute it, I might as well take it myself.
“I spend $90-100 million dollars a year in advertising (for my dealerships), why not do it myself? It makes more sense to me and so I’m not concerned. … If I had a car I had to worry about sponsorship on, it ain’t Dale Junior's car.”
Earnhardt Jr. broke a 143-race winless streak in June and made the playoffs last season. He appears set to make his first legitimate championship run since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. He’s coming off back-to-back Chase appearances for the first time in his career and Steve Letarte will return as crew chief.