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Money's tight as contract renewals loom

At 52 the series' oldest active driver, Mark Martin, will definitely be leaving Hendrick Motorsport at the end of 2011 as Kasey Kahne transfers in from Red Bull Racing. Whether Martin will retire from full time competition or seek a seat elsewhere is not yet known, but it was announced last week that Hendrick had signed a five-race deal for this season with Farmers Insurance to sponsor Martin, which will include a special commemorative #25 for the Sprint All-Star Race in place of Martin's regular #5.

At least the entry of Farmers Insurance onto the sponsorship scene is a small ray of hope for NASCAR teams. Last year, the only major new team sponsor to join NASCAR was health insurers AARP, making it harder for anyone without an enduring arrangement with a company with deep pockets to survive. The series' newest star is Trevor Bayne, who despite winning the Daytona 500 in February is still struggling to gather enough sponsorship to make his Sprint Cup appearances viable: Wood Brothers Racing only finally managed to get sponsorship in place for Bayne for the Sprint All-Star Race on April 12 when a deal was done with Good Sam Club, a sister company of Camping World.

But sometimes there's reward for on-track efforts: Dave Blaney ran at or near the front for lengthy periods at Talladega two weeks ago and even threatened to pull off a shock win until he was spun out by Kurt Busch, and it's now been confirmed that the deal between Tommy Baldwin Racing and Golden Corral restaurants will be extended to cover the #36 for the whole of the 2011 season. As part of the link-up, Golden Corral offers a "Kids Eat Free promotion" for the following Monday should the #36 finish in the top ten - a deal that was the subject of some good-natured ribbing from Harvick during the race as he partnered up for drafting with Blaney. Even light-hearted mocking over the in-car radio gets invaluable on-air national TV time that makes the deal more than pay for itself for the sponsor, and that's what everyone's looking for in these austere times.

NASCAR's sponsorship situation has been most affected by the collapse of the car manufacturing business in America, with even Japanese car giants affected by the worldwide slowdown in sales. The car industry has always been an obvious backer of motor sports, and now with those businesses no longer in a fit state to pour money into the sport - along with the end of tobacco and alcohol sponsorship for regulatory reasons, and even banks running scared of being seen to spend money after their role in the recent financial crisis - all racing series are having to work extra hard at developing new potential backers in unexpected and previously unexplored sectors.

As a sport and as a business, NASCAR is confident that it remains healthy and appealing to sponsors: TV ratings are up in 2011 by almost a fifth on last year, and crowd attendance is holding up reasonably well, too. There's increased competition for media coverage and sponsorship backing from the rival IZOD IndyCar series, which has been making some high-profile PR initiatives such as the $5m Vegas "challenge" event that has caught the imagination of US motor sports fans; but the truth is that IndyCar enjoys only a fraction of the ratings of NASCAR, which remains North America's top motor racing competition by a wide margin and makes them the only game in town for any big name sponsors seeking mass audiences in motor sports.

"You're seeing increased interest from sponsors across the board from where we were a year ago," Roush Fenway's Newmark said. "Whether that materializes into sales remains to be seen, but we're optimistic."










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
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 United States Air Force Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 after the race was called for weather at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 United States Air Force Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 after the race was called for weather at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 United States Air Force Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 after the race was called for weather at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet SS, qualified fifth Friday, July 4, 2014 for Saturday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Johnson is 2nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Bobby Labonte, driver of the #33 Thunder Coal Chevrolet SS, qualified fourth Friday, July 4, 2014 for Saturday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Landon Cassill, driver of the #40 Newtown Building Supplies Chevrolet SS, qualified third Friday, July 4, 2014 for Saturday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Christa L. Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Reed Sorenson, driver of the #36 Golden Corral Chevrolet SS, qualified second Friday, July 4, 2014 for Saturday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Kroger/P&G Chevrolet, lead the field on a late restart during the NASCAR Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Kroger/P&G Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Kroger/P&G Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Kroger/P&G Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, left, talks with Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on June 27, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Panasonic Chevrolet SS, races to second place Sunday, June 22, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sanoma, California. Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Christa L. Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, puts a winner sticker on his car as he celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 22, 2014 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, celebrates with a backflip after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 22, 2014 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 22, 2014 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, celebrates i Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 22, 2014 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

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