If you’ve closely followed NASCAR in recent years, you know the sport — and its drivers — has faced some sponsorship woes.
Still, Lowe’s decision to sever ties with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and leave NASCAR after this season just feels different.
Lowe’s partnership with the Hendrick Motorsports driver, who it’s sponsored since 2001, and NASCAR has been a rare positive in what’s been an otherwise troubling few years for the sport. But that all changed Wednesday when the home-improvement giant announced it will pack its bags at season’s end.
“(Lowe’s) was the brand you could turn to and say, ‘Well, yeah, sure, it’s bad right now, but yes, there is still a huge corporation that will do a full season of primary sponsorship!’ ” ESPN’s Ryan McGee said Wednesday in a roundtable discussion. “And that’s the sting here. That marriage between Lowe’s and Johnson is one of the longest, most successful runs of all time. But the departure is just a bad look for the sport as a whole.
“The shocking part to me is the complete withdrawal. I would’ve expected a cutback, as pretty much every other primary sponsor has done. But to vanish after so many years, cars, wins, Cups and even a track title sponsorship? A North Carolina-born giant that moved its headquarters to the Charlotte area in no small part because of its proximity to the racing world? That’s crazy to think about.”
McGee also ranked his concern for Lowe’s decision as a “10” on a scale from 1-10.
Jayski editor Scott Page, who ranked his concern as a “7,” dialed back the pessimism, but still called Lowe’s decision a “black eye” for NASCAR.
“This is a hit to NASCAR and the team, but, in the big picture, this is an issue beyond the sport as much as anything,” Page said. “Lowe’s has some financial issues that have been building for a while and it just doesn’t make sense to put $20 million-plus into a NASCAR program right now.
“I would like to have seen them stay involved in the sport in some way, but they are under a lot of pressure from investors to improve the bottom line and I’m sure NASCAR was a big target to chop. With that said, it’s a bit of a black eye to the sport for Johnson to not be able to keep them involved. If Lowe’s can’t justify staying, is any sponsor safe?”
At the end of the day, Johnson likely will have little issue finding a new primary sponsor. But is Lowe’s decision to leave him a bad sign for NASCAR? Absolutely.
So, too, is the sport’s recent retirement crisis, which has shifted the spotlight to a glut of talented, yet largely unproven drivers.
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