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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
Joey Logano, driver of the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, and Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Hormel/Menards Toyota, race into turn one during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for third position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Truex, Jr. is third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Johnson is seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.(Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS, qualifies for 2nd position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Newman is sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Gordon is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
A view of a decal placed on the #14 Code 3 Associates / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, driven by Tony Stewart (not pictured), during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
JGR president JD Gibbs during the pre-season media tour. January 24, 2013. Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR
JD Gibbs and Joe Gibbs during the pre-season media tour. January 24, 2013. Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR
Brian Vickers, driver of the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, answers questions from media during a press conference before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. Vickers was forced to withdraw from competition due to blood clots. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brett Moffitt, driver of the #55 Janssen Toyota, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place and Paul Menard, driver of the #27 FVP/Menards Chevrolet SS finishes in fourth place Sunday, March 22, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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Paul Menard, driver of the #27 FVP/Menards Chevrolet SS finishes in fourth place and Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS finishes in fourteenth place Sunday, March 22, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS finishes in third place and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS finishes in second place Sunday, March 22, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #88 taxslayer.com Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive4Clots.com 300 at Auto Club Speedway on March 21, 2015 in Fontana, California.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, races during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive4Clots.com 300 at Auto Club Speedway on March 21, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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