There likely wasn’t much time for celebration on Wednesday, NASCAR feeling good after bringing Anheuser-Busch back into the fold as an official partner and the Busch brand as sponsor of the top series’ pole award.
Afternoon news that Lowe’s was leaving seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at season’s end hit like a ton of bricks.
Since its debut in 2001, no team has been as successful as that of Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports outfit. Through it all, the seven titles and the 83 victories, the championship celebrations in New York City and Las Vegas, Lowe’s has been along for the ride.
The departure means the end of Lowe’s in NASCAR, but not the end of Johnson in NASCAR.
To hear Johnson talk, the 42-year-old isn’t ready to step down just yet. A three-year contract extension signed last year will keep him in the fold through 2020.
At the same time that deal was announced, HMS said Lowe’s had signed on through ’18. Now, an 18-year sponsorship run will come to an end.
There was a Lowe’s in the series before Johnson but who remembers when the big box brand was on the cars of Brett Bodine and Mike Skinner?
Lowe’s and Jimmie Johnson and crew Chad Knaus and the No. 48 … few can recall anything different because for that team, there has been nothing different.
Any way you slice it, it’s not good news. A major sponsor, one that has been fully invested in NASCAR for more than two decades, is leaving. Hard to put a positive spin on that.
Maybe that says something about NASCAR or maybe it just says something about the current economic climate for the Fortune 500 company.
It isn’t the first big name to pull out of the sport. Sponsors have come and gone from the very beginning. From small mom and pop operations (and yes, there really was a sponsor called Mom ‘n’ Pops) to billion-dollar corporations. Different names, different reasons, different times.
There are sponsors with similar longevity in the series – Mars Inc. has been around since 1997, Axalta (formerly DuPont) debuted in ’92 and FedEx has been a sponsorship staple since ’05. Such companies once were the norm. No longer, though.
Hendrick officials have the opportunity to shop around one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers and teams of all time. How much does a multi-time champion go for these days?
Johnson is the only active multi-time champ by the way – no other champion competing today has won more than one title.
Another victory and he will be tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip, two NASCAR legends and Hall of Fame members.
Another championship and he stands alone.
It’s an opportunity, but not one the Hendrick organization necessarily desires.
The selling of a champion will provide a good look at the health of the sport. Are there companies willing to provide funding and if so how much?
Is any single organization willing to step up and replace Lowe’s? Or will officials sell inventory (races) to a variety of clients? That’s been the case in recent seasons and for some of the sport’s biggest names.
No matter how it turns out, it will help shape the face of HMS for the next couple of years.
It could help shape the face of NASCAR, too. For much, much longer.