NASCAR Tests Fan Loyalty

NASCAR fans are famous, perhaps infamous, for their loyalty. Loyal to a driver, sponsor, team, or manufacturer. This year, unlike any before, that loyalty will be tested. The economic crisis has caused a tremendous shakeup of the industry.

Fans got a taste of things to come last season, when the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., left the team his late father created and joined forces with rival Jeff Gordon and the Hendrick team. Millions of fans were left shaking their head when the famous #8 Budweiser scheme did not go with him.  Junior ended up in the #88, with sponsorship split between National Guard and AMP Energy Drink.  If the automobile manufacturers sold as much as the #88 merchandise, there would be no need for a bailout.

The question now is, “Can all fans be as faithful as those of Earnhardt?”  Even now, only weeks before the season opener, the drivers, teams, numbers, and sponsors are not fully set. However, the fans of some of the more popular drivers already know there will be color and number changes:

Jeff Gordon – keeps the #24 and primary sponsor Dupont, but has a new color scheme.

Tony Stewart – started a new team, will have a new number (14), and new sponsors, including taking the one formerly associated with…

Carl Edwards – the #99 now wears the black and green of Aflac full time.

Mark Martin – we’ve seen him change teams and numbers a few times over the past several years, now he joins the powerhouse Hendrick organization and drives the #5 Kelloggs/Carquest/Cheez-it car.

Bobby Labonte – the popular Texas native leaves the Petty team and joins Hall of Fame Racing, which merged with Yates Racing, and switched from Toyota to Ford. DLP is only a limited sponsor. Original owners Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman are no longer part of the organization.

At least 17 cars will now have multiple sponsors.  Will the fans respond by supporting them? If so, the economy will soon get a boost that rivals any stimulus package.