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US National Guard to end Cup sponsorship for Earnhardt

9 August 2014

The US National Guard announced this week that it will end its sponsorship activities in motorsport at the end of the current year.

However there was still some uncertainty about the decision, with the team in NASCAR most affected by the decision - Hendrick Motorsports - insisting that it had not been contacted by the military about the matter.

HMS added that as far as it was aware the current sponsorship agreement that is said to be worth around $30 million per year to Dale Earnhardt's #88 team is still due to run for another season.

“Our team has a contract in place to continue the National Guard program at its current level in 2015,” the team said in statement. “We have not been approached by the Guard about potential changes and plan to honour our current agreement.”

Speaking at Watkins Glen on Friday ahead of this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that he had no new information on the matter.

“I really don't have any details on anything," he said. That's between the Guard and [the team] to sort all that out. Really enjoyed working with them over the last seven years and hope to be able to continue to represent them. It's a huge honour."

The National Guard has been under heavy political pressure in recent years to terminate its sponsorship in sports, which is said to provide little value for money when it comes to recruitment. As well as NASCAR, the National Guard has this year also been sponsoring the Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing team in the Verizon IndyCar Series to the amount of around $12 million.

"As part of a broad recruitment marketing strategy, motorsports partnerships — including NASCAR — played an important role in helping the National Guard build strong brand awareness and in turn helped us achieve extraordinary recruiting and end-strength objectives over the past decade," said the head of Army Guard marketing, Lt Col Christian Johnson, in a statement released midweek.

"Our NASCAR sponsorship was principally a marketing program, intended primarily to build awareness of the National Guard as a career option," he added. "The NASCAR sponsorship allowed the National Guard to leverage a 77 million fan base and the sport's most popular driver."

Earnhardt agreed, adding: "I think it's been very, very effective."

But US Senator Claire McCaskill, who had supported the political move to implement a bill banning the National Guard from this type of sponsorship, welcomed the Guard's announcement that it was ending its motorsports funding.

"I'm a NASCAR fan, and I love the National Guard," she insisted. "But spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on a recruitment program that signed up zero recruits, and that has been abandoned by other service branches as ineffective, just makes no sense."

The #88 is also sponsored by Nationwide Insurance, which said this week that it was monitoring the situation indicating that they may be interested in taking up the sponsorship of some of Earnhardt's races currently held by the National Guard.

Elsewhere there was some good news for Hendrick Motorsport this week with the AARP Foundation confirming that it will return as a primary sponsor for Jeff Gordon in 2015, albeit only for 13 races compared with 23 this season.

"NASCAR fans have been such a big part of the success of Drive to End Hunger, and we're really grateful for that," said Gordon. "AARP and AARP Foundation are incredible partners to be involved with, and I'm very happy to continue our work together. It's been an extremely rewarding and humbling experience for me personally."

Gordon agreed that it was a difficult time for all NASCAR teams to get sufficient sponsorship at the moment, but that Hendrick was better placed than most.

"Things are strong for us at Hendrick Motorsports right now," he insisted. "I think the last couple of years we have all been very stressed out about sponsorships and getting those deals done. Here recently a lot of positive good things have been happening. There is more to come."

Joe Gibbs withdraws penalty appeal

The Joe Gibbs Racing team has decided not to appeal the penalties it received following the race at Indianapolis.

Denny Hamlin received a 75 point deduction and his crew chief Darian Grubb fined $125,000 and suspended for six races after parts of the the firewall of the #11 car were found to be improperly sealed, which could have given the car an aerodynamic advantage in the Brickyard 400.

The team initially said it would use the appeals process. However, instead of waiting for the outcome of the appeal Grubb started his penalty immediately so that he would be able to return in time for the first race of the 2014 Chase at Chicagoland in September.

Now the team has decided not to appeal, seemingly accepting that it had little chance of winning: "After sitting down to review everything it was determined that we should not proceed with an appeal," said Chris Helein, vice president of communications for JGR.

“We had made a mistake, it wasn't a purposeful mistake, obviously," JGR vice president of racing operations Jimmy Makar told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "There was no reason to go ahead and [continue the appeal.]"

There was also the risk that if lost, the appeal could have ended up in even longer suspensions for Grubb and the team's car chief Wesley Sherrill and impact Hamlin's chances of progressing in the new-format Chase play-offs.


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