Martin Truex Jr. -- three more years
By Mike Mulhern
When Mike Helton shows up at a sponsorship press conference, it's to make a significant point.
And with some major companies reassessing their sports marketing dollars, and with the curious issue of Chrysler-Dodge-Fiat withdrawing still hanging in the air, the NASCAR boss wanted to be front-and-center for Friday's announcement by NAPA boss Paul Donahue that his auto parts company (NYSE: GPC, $9.8B market cap and trading near its 52-week high) is renewing its sponsorship with Michael Waltrip's Toyota team for another three years.
Martin Truex Jr., having one of his best seasons ever, fifth in the Sprint Cup standings heading toward the championship playoffs, also announced renewing his driving contract for another three seasons.
But it was this major sponsorship renewal that was the bigger story.
NAPA has long been a NASCAR sponsor, 18 years now, and it's a natural fit of course with stock car racing.
However the marketing power of NASCAR racing has been at question lately, with a nod toward crowds and TV ratings.
So Donahue's decision at this point in time is significant...particularly welcome, and timely, coming after several very exciting races.
"When we were studying where we were going to go in the future, we studied it for a long time," Donahue said.
"We looked at all our options and did some pretty thorough market research...on who our core customer is, and where is the best place for us to spend our marketing funds. Marketing funds are not unlimited, so we had some pretty challenging decisions to make.
"And in all the research we did, NASCAR came back overwhelmingly as the best spot for our marketing spend. Our core customers are NASCAR fans. And after some pretty exhaustive research, all signs pointed to 'We need to be in NASCAR.'
"Once we made the decision we were going to stay with NASCAR, it became very clear that if we were going to continue to be involved in the sport, there would be no better place to be than with Michael Waltrip.
"We threw a challenge out to Michael and Martin and the team to really take our game up. And they did. Martin has had a heck of a year."
"NASCAR doesn't normally get involved in this type of announcement, with sponsor and car and team," Helton said. "But we are excited about today's announcement for a number of reasons that go deeper."
For one, keeping Waltrip's team up and running and competitive, with Waltrip as owner/part-time driver, demonstrates it is possible for an 'underdog' operation to be viable in this sport. That in turn is a positive for Toyota, which has gambled on this particular marketing project.
"Probably the most significant part of this announcement, from the sanctioning body's perspective, is that this (NAPA) is one of the most highly visible, recognizable retail partners in our sport that is re-upping for multiple years.
"Not only that, but it you think through NAPA's involvement overall in our sport, you see them at short tracks, in our regional series, participating all through NASCAR's ranks. That is something that is very important to us.
"And NAPA is re-upping to be the major sponsor for every Sprint Cup race. And that is important today, to have a primary sponsor on the car for the whole season, something not to be overlooked.
"So thank you for believing in our sport and staying with us."
A key part of some NASCAR sponsorships is for in-house promotion too, which Donahue said was important for him: "We want to do this for the fans of course, but also for our 15,000 'associates.'"