Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Who Leads The Earnhardt Sponsorship Derby?

The speculation over Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s 2008 sponsor has reached a fever pitch, with as many as four different companies now being touted as "signed, sealed and delivered" by various media outlets.

Published reports say that Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick is negotiating with both PepsiCo and Monster Energy Drink about title sponsorship of Earnhardt's as-yet-unnumbered Chevrolet next season. Pepsi has served as a Hendrick associate sponsor for a number of years, while Monster Energy is reportedly set to back the JR Motorsports Late Model entry to be driven by developmental driver Jeremy McGrath in 10 races later this season. The brand will also back Robby Gordon's #7 Nextel Cup Ford at California's Infineon Raceway this weekend.

JR Motorsports has been working on a deal with Adidas to market a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. line of ClimaCool wear to major sporting goods retailers. Contrary to published reports, Sirius Speedway has learned that the deal is not likely to include major sponsorship on Earnhardt's Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Budweiser also remains a player in the Earnhardt sponsorship derby. Anheuser-Busch has one year remaining on its personal services contract with Earnhardt, no matter where he races. That agreement has nothing to do with the signage on his racecar, however, and my sources say that Bud is a longshot -- at best -- to fill Junior's quarterpanels again next season.

The negotiations are extremely complex, since HMS has outstanding contracts with both Kellogg's and Carquest to back the #5 Chevrolet currently driven by Kyle Busch through the 2009 campaign. Both sponsors could theoretically opt-out of the deal (since Busch will no longer be the driver), but it is more likely that they will remain on the car in some capacity, to take advantage of the huge media blitz that will accompany Earnhardt's debut with HMS.

There are still plenty of details to be hammered out, but time is relatively short if Earnhardt and Hendrick want to have souvenirs and collectibles available for sale at SpeedWeeks 2008.

Our guess? Look for Junior to be sporting a blue firesuit next February, with the Pepsi logo liberally applied.

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