NASCAR's Kenseth still searching for sponsor
The endless sponsor plugs in NASCAR can be almost comical sometimes, and a skilled driver can always figure out a way to name-drop a company into any conversation.
So it was no surprise when Matt Kenseth began rattling off sponsor names as soon as he climbed from his car following his Saturday night win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
''It's not too late to come back,'' he gently reminded them. ''We don't have any sponsors coming back for next year.''
Kenseth said it with a smile and the quip drew a hearty laugh, but there isn't anything funny about his situation.
The 2003 NASCAR champion is losing primary sponsor Crown Royal at the end of the season. Despite three wins and a solid shot to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, team owner Jack Roush has been unsuccessful in his bid to find significant funding for the No. 17 Ford.
Fortunately for Kenseth, Roush Fenway Racing is one of the most lucrative teams in NASCAR and Kenseth is not in danger of losing his job.
''The 17 car is secure in Roush Fenway's livery,'' the team owner said. ''We will run it with or without a sponsor next year, but it will be a shame if we are not able to attract sponsorship.''
It's a tough time financially in NASCAR, where teams are in competition away from the track as they race each other for the same sponsorship dollars.
Joe Gibbs Racing opened the weekend at Charlotte by announcing it had inked Dollar General to a sponsorship deal on several of its cars, including 12 Sprint Cup races for Joey Logano and a full Nationwide schedule for Brian Scott. JGR beat out several other teams for the business, including mighty Hendrick Motorsports, and Dollar General ended its longtime relationships with Turner Motorsports in the Nationwide Series and Sarah Fisher Racing in the IndyCar Series to put all its marketing money into the Gibbs deal.
So JGR goes into 2012 flush with funding - the team even returned cash to Home Depot to free up the 12 races on Logano's car for Dollar General.
But that organization is an anomaly right now, and Roush, despite its success and position in the sport, finds itself in sponsorship trouble.
Only Greg Biffle is so far fully funded for next year for Roush. The organization has yet to fill points leader Carl Edwards' schedule and has announced nothing at all for Kenseth or David Ragan.
In the Nationwide Series, Roush has been running points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne with limited funding and neither driver knows what the organization has planned for them next season.
Although Roush has promised to keep Kenseth's team going, he's not said anything definitive about what he'll do with Ragan, Stenhouse and Bayne.
''We are talking to people with some interest, but this is my 24th year of being in the business and this is the most difficult time I've had,'' Roush said. ''We have gone through a transition with our sponsors from a time where they wanted to compete for a top car to where now the best sponsors want just enough of a car to be able to do their promotions and want to share the bulk of the expenses if they can't.
''It's a really strange time. I've never seen anything like this. I'm not sure what we'll have coming out of it and it will be different than it has been in the past.''
Kenseth has kept a sense of humor about the sponsorship plight this season. The team has used several different companies to plug sponsorship holes ranging from Affliction - a clothing line that boasts wild designs that don't exactly fit Kenseth's dry personality - to Saturday night's sponsor Fluidmaster, a manufacturer of toilet parts.
Although Kenseth went all-in on the toilet jokes, he's keenly aware of how difficult the sponsorship climate is right now.
''I'm not going to get stressed out about it, especially right now in the Chase and with all the things we've got going on,'' he said. ''I don't know really what else we can be doing, except for trying to be competitive and run good. Those guys in the marketing and sales department need to figure that out and need to figure out how to get that done.''