NASCAR

Nationwide to shift funding to Cup

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)

Nationwide will end its seven-year run as entitlement sponsor of NASCAR's second-largest series at the end of the 2014 season and refocus its motorsports spending to other areas of the industry.

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NASCAR announced a new deal Wednesday to extend Nationwide's contract as its official auto, home, life and business insurance partner through 2017. The insurer also becomes the presenting sponsor of the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award.

Nationwide to spend more on track sponsorships and in the Sprint Cup Series, where it recently funded the car of two-time Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Bristol and Richmond. Nationwide has a three-race commitment with Stenhouse this season, and has agreed to sponsor four Sprint Cup races next year.

''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,'' said Nationwide chief marketing officer Matt Jauchius.

NASCAR will search for just the third sponsor since the its No. 2 series debuted in 1982. Anheuser-Busch sponsored the development series through 2007, then was replaced by Nationwide in 2008 in a deal worth at least $8 million a year to NASCAR.

NASCAR chief sales officer Jim O'Connell, part of the team that extended Sprint's entitlement deal with the Cup Series, extended Nationwide and signed Camping World as sponsor of the Truck Series, will look for a replacement.

''We've been thrilled with Nationwide as a partner and they've helped us grow our series tremendously as just the second partner in 31 years,'' O'Connell 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. We look at the series as a tremendous asset and an opportunity to increase someone's involvement.''

Sprint's sponsorship of the top Cup series was extended in 2011 and runs through 2016. Camping World's sponsorship of the Truck Series runs through the 2015 season.

NASCAR is still facing an identity crisis in the Nationwide Series despite a rule adopted in 2011 that allows drivers to earn points in only one series. It was designed to put more emphasis on the young, developing drivers after five consecutive seasons of Sprint Cup stars winning the championship while moonlighting in Nationwide.

While it led to consecutive titles for Stenhouse Jr., Cup drivers still compete in the Nationwide races with overwhelming success. Cup drivers have won 22 of the 26 Nationwide races this season - and Kyle Busch has 10 of the victories.

O'Connell said Nationwide found great success marketing around the up-and-coming drivers. Jauchius added the series is a true ladder system for all parties.

''''The NASCAR Nationwide Series is a great proving ground not only for drivers and crew members, but for sponsors, too,'' Jauchius said.

Tagged: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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