Even as a single driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is bigger business than an entire NASCAR racing series.
Nationwide Insurance announced on Friday that it will end its seven-year run as title sponsor of NASCAR’s second-tier series at the end of this season and focus its motorsports spending to other areas of the industry.
One of those areas is sponsoring Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet as a primary partner for 12 Sprint Cup races in 2015 and 13 events in both 2016 and 2017. The company will also be an associate-level sponsor of the No. 88 cars throughout all three seasons.
An estimate for Nationwide’s investment in the Earnhardt sponsorship is about $10 million per year compared to about $8 million a year to sponsor the entire Nationwide Series.
“It’s a natural evolution for Nationwide Insurance to move our marketing investment to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and we’ll continue to put tremendous effort behind all of our NASCAR marketing platforms in the years to come,” Nationwide chief marketing officer Matt Jauchius said.
The move means NASCAR will search for the third sponsor since its No. 2 series debuted in 1982. Anheuser-Busch sponsored the series through 2007 before it was replaced by Nationwide in 2008.
Earnhardt, the reigning Daytona 500 champion and Sprint Cup’s most-popular driver for the past 11 years, said he doesn’t expect NASCAR to have any problems finding a new title sponsor.
“From what I’ve been hearing behind the scenes that the opportunities and search for a title sponsor in the Nationwide Series won’t be a challenging one, that there is some good interest there,” said Earnhardt, who has yet to win a Sprint Cup championship but owns a Nationwide team and won series championships in 1998 and 1999.
“Those type of sponsorships, although both of them are involved in the sport, they accomplish different things. This is a direction that Nationwide wanted to go after what they were doing was effective. There will be some opportunity and there is some good interest to fill that void. I think that the Nationwide Series currently is very healthy due to what Nationwide has been able to accomplish in the series.”
NASCAR chief sales officer Jim O’Connell, part of the team that extended Sprint’s entitlement deal with the Cup Series, said: “We’re pleased Nationwide is staying in NASCAR and increasing its spend in other areas of the industry, and now we’ll look for a replacement.
“It’s an opportunity for us to get someone already involved in NASCAR involved in a bigger way, or perhaps bring in another Fortune 500 company that isn’t already involved in NASCAR.”
Overland Park-based Sprint’s sponsorship of NASCAR’s Cup Series was extended in 2011 and runs through 2016. Camping World’s sponsorship of the Truck Series runs through the 2015 season.