The Army National Guard's controversial sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be discontinued at the end of the year, according to a statement on the Guard's website.
Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, NASCAR's 11-time most popular driver has had sponsorship from the National Guard, which used Earnhardt's popularity to promote its recruiting efforts.
However, due to the costs involved and the little return produced, elected officials have continually questioned the program. The National Guard is paying approximately $32 million to sponsor Earnhardt, which includes various related marketing initiatives. That sponsorship has resulted in zero new recruits in 2012, according to a May report by the USA Today.
"Significantly constrained resources and the likelihood of further reductions in the future call for more innovative and cost-effective ways of doing business," said Major General Judd H. Lyons, acting director of the Army National Guard. "We believe industry and open competition can help us identify effective and efficient solutions to help us meet our marketing and recruiting objectives within budget constraints."
In addition to Earnhardt, the National Guard spends $12 million to back Graham Rahal, who competes in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Both sponsorships are being suspended.
According to Hendrick Motorsports, there is a contract with the National Guard through 2015, and it has not been informed otherwise.
"Our team has a contract in place to continue the National Guard program at its current level in 2015," the team said in a statement to SB Nation. "We have not been approached by the Guard about potential changes and plan to honor our current agreement."
A Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Senate subcommittee convened in May where senators assailed what they viewed as wasteful investing.
"How can you justify the fact that nobody is getting recruited (from the NASCAR sponsorship)?" said subcommittee chairman Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). "The facts speak for themselves. The data is very clear. You're not getting recruits off of NASCAR."
That Earnhardt is losing the National Guard's 20-race sponsorship comes in the midst of career resurgence. He opened the Sprint Cup season with a Daytona 500 victory then followed with wins in June and Sunday at Pocono Raceway. Through 21 races Earnhardt is second in the standings, trailing Jeff Gordon by 17 points.
Despite Earnhardt's immense popularity Hendrick has had difficulty obtaining full sponsorship on his No. 88 car.
PepsiCo, through its Mountain Dew and Amp Energy brands, reduced its support of Earnhardt from 20 races to five in 2013. It wasn't until May 2014 that a full-time primary sponsor was announced as a replacement. Nationwide will sponsor Earnhardt in 12 races beginning next year.
Bobby Rahal, Graham's father and the co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, said in a statement he became informed of the decision Wednesday. This is the first season the National Guard has sponsored the IndyCar team.
"This is obviously very disappointing news to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing given the significant incremental brand exposure we have worked to produce for the National Guard in our first season together, including various off-track marketing and advertising programs focused on supporting the mission set forth," Rahal said. "We will continue to work hard to uphold the honor and integrity of the National Guard throughout the remainder of the season."