Reigning champion Tony Stewart may be set to make it into the Chase after next weekend's race at Richmond, but his headaches off the track are mounting as the Stewart/Haas Racing team has lost a second major sponsor.
The US Army had previously announced at the start of July that it would no longer be a primary sponsor on the #39 car driven by Ryan Newman, leaving the team scrambling to find alternative funding to keep that team in business into 2013. (See separate story
Now the economic gloom has hit closer to home, with the primary sponsor of Stewart's own #14 car calling it a day. Office Depot provided the running for 22 of the team's 36 Sprint Cup race outings this season, but is not renewing the deal for 2013.
"Office Depot has notified SHR that they will not be renewing as the primary sponsor of the #14 team," said Stewart/Haas spokesman Mike Arning.
"The decision to significantly curtail our relationship with Stewart-Haas Racing was very difficult and one that we did not take lightly," confirmed Office Depot's senior director of communications Mindy Kramer at the weekend. "Tony Stewart has been an exceptional ambassador for our brand, and he has gone above and beyond in everything that he has done for our company. Being a part of his legendary 2011 championship run was a moment of tremendous pride for everyone at Office Depot."
"However, the changing business landscape warrants a realignment of priorities and resources," she added, alluding to a significant downturn in the chain's business over the last two years in the current harsh economic climate, which is putting pressure on their bottom line.
Office Depot may still be involved in a minor way with the team, with Stewart/Haas' Arning insisting that the team was in "continued discussions with Office Depot regarding possible future roles the company could have with the team."
"Regardless of what kind of role we'll have with Tony and SHR, our support for them will not change," insisted Kramer. "The Office Depot family will always be with Smoke, cheering him on to many more championships."
The timing is particularly problematic for the team, coming so late in the current season leaving them little time to find a replacement for the start of 2013.