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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."




Related Pictures

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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
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, holds his daughter, Lydia Sunday, November 22, 2015 before final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Johnson and other Jeff Gordon teammates at Hendrick Motorsports wore tribute hats to honor the retiring Chevy driver prior to the start of the race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to a sixth place finish Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon finishes third in the Chase for the Cup Championship. This was Gordon`s last race as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He has made 796 consecutive Cup Series starts, earned 93 wins, and 81 poles - all behind the wheel of Chevrolets. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick finishes as the runner-up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place, and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision finishes in twelfth place Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. This Chevrolet drivers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th (respectively) in the Chase of the Cup Championship. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing Team battled back from a bad re-start after the first caution of the race to finish 17th in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Photo Credit: Campbell Marketing)
Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Former racing driver Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton pose during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with a burnout after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with his team after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Fastenal Ford, and Regan Smith, driver of the #7 TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Crest Chevrolet, races to the finish line to win the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Crest Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

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