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Money's tight as contract renewals loom

The harsh economic climate is making its impact felt in NASCAR as teams look to re-sign major sponsors, and top drivers anxiously negotiate contract extensions.
When many of the existing NASCAR driver and sponsorship deals were signed, the world economy was in much better shape than it is today. So as those deals approach their expiry, the economic chill is starting to be felt even in North America's most popular motor sport series.

Some drivers and teams are faring better than others. With one of the most high profile drivers in the Sprint Cup Series, Joe Gibbs Racing had comparatively little trouble getting confectionary giant Mars to re-sign as sponsor of Kyle Busch's #18 car in March, meaning that the distinctive and very colourful M&M's livery will remain in the sport for some years to come.

"Mars and its iconic brands are a big part of the Joe Gibbs Racing family and we're excited to continue what has become a winning relationship," said Joe Gibbs last month confirming a "multi-year" extension to the partnership between the two companies, said to be at the same financial level as before - rumoured to be worth around $20m annually.

Kevin Harvick doesn't have the same sort of high personal profile as Busch, but after coming third in last year's Sprint Cup championship he's started 2011 with two spectacular wins in the first eight races (the only driver to win more than once so far this season) and has more than earned the multi-year deal signed last year with Richard Childress Racing. But he's being made to work hard this year in service of his new sponsor Budweiser.

Decked out in a Bud hat and corporate-compliant black polo shirt, blue jeans and grey trainers, he visited the Crown Beverage distribution facility near Darlington Raceway earlier this month and was then dispatched to deliver some of the beer to a local Wal-Mart, pushing a trolly full of crates down the aisles before stocking up the shelves to confused looks from members of the public while the photographers got their photo op. Harvick reconciled himself to the circus by quipping, "I get to drink beer and not get in trouble for it."

And at least he's secure in the sport, unlike his RCR team mate Clint Bowyer who despite being in the Chase three times in the past five seasons is yet to sign a new deal with the team. "I've talked to Richard a couple times, and hopefully we're getting close on that," he said. "Hopefully we can get our sponsors locked in and get everything put in place and not have to worry about it."

Another of RCR's drivers, Jeff Burton, has just sealed his own multi-year extension with the team and with his sponsors, construction and mining equipment manufacturers Caterpillar, to keep him in the #31. 43-year-old Burton remains one of the sport's most popular drivers, despite a lacklustre season to date. Burton has been with RCR for nearly eight years, and Caterpillar has been a sponsor since the start of 2009. Terms of the agreements were not announced, as sponsors, teams and drivers alike remained close-lipped about the hard negotiations going on this year, with sponsors seeking to cut their exposure and teams desperate to minimise the hit on their revenue.

Greg Biffle will be feeling a lot happier having signed a three-year extension with Roush Fenway Racing to continue driving the #16, and his primary sponsor 3M has signed a similar deal that will see team, driver and sponsor carry on through to the 2014 season. 3M is a model of the long-term, committed sponsor that makes a real difference to an organisation. They originally linked up with Roush Fenway Racing back in February 2005, initially using the #16 to promote their Post-It brand: five weeks in to the arrangement and the new sponsors found themselves on the car heading for victory road at Texas.

"We set the bar pretty high early on with 3M and they have stood by us on our best and worst days over the years," said Biffle. "The people at 3M have found a way to innovate and make their NASCAR program work for their incredibly diverse businesses and brands in a way that continues to amaze me."




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3M is the primary sponsor of the #16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford driven by Greg Biffle. 3M, Biffle and RCR just signed a three-year extension to their ongoing collaboration. Photo credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet SS qualified for 33rd position after hitting the wall Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Harvick, who is in the Chase, is 2nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.  (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS qualified for 9th position Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Newman, who is in the Chase, is 3rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS qualified for 13th position Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Gordon, who is in the Chase, is 7th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.  (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald’s Chevrolet SS won the pole position and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS qualified for 16th position Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. McMurray, who is not in the Chase, is 19th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. This was McMurray`s 2nd Pole win this season. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Mcdonald’s Chevrolet SS won the pole position Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. McMurray, who is not in the Chase, is 19th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. This was McMurray`s 2nd Pole win this season. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, climbs into his car prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, left, talks with crew chief Alan Gustafson in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Danica Patrick alongside the #10 GoDaddy Breast Cancer Awareness Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing on pit road at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Danica Patrick driving the #10 GoDaddy Breast Cancer Awareness Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finished in 5th position and Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS finished in 12th position Sunday, October 19, 2014 in the final Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Newman, who was in the Chase, advances to the Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which begins next week at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Kahne, who was also in the Chase, did not advance. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finished in 26th position and Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Dow Chevrolet SS finished in 13th position Sunday, October 19, 2014 in the final Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Gordon, who was in the Chase, advances to the Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which begins next week at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS finished in 9th position Sunday, October 19, 2014 in the final Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Harvick, who was in the Chase, advances to the Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which begins next week at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redd`s Wicked Apple Ale Ford, races Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS qualified for 39th position Saturday, October 18, 2014 for Sunday`s Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Harvick, who is in the Chase, is 3rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Sunday is the final round of the Contender 12 phase of the race. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS qualified for eleventh position Saturday, October 18, 2014 for Sunday`s Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Newman, who is in the Chase, is 4th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Sunday is the final round of the Contender 12 phase of the race. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer’s Insurance Chevrolet SS qualified for eighth position Saturday, October 18, 2014 for Sunday`s Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Khane, who is in the Chase, is 8th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Sunday is the final round of the Contender 12 phase of the race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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