KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Right now things are going along swimmingly well for Tony Stewart.
Four days ago he won the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The victory propelled him into second place in the point standings, just eight points behind leader Carl Edwards.
There are just three races left in the Chase for the 2011 title and more than a few predict that it all could be settled between Edwards and Stewart at the last event of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
As pleasing as all that might be for Stewart the driver, perhaps now he is as equally satisfied as Stewart the team owner.
On Tuesday, Stewart announced that Quicken Loans would join Stewart-Haas Racing as a primary sponsor for the No. 39 Chevrolets driven by Ryan Newman and an associate on the No. 14 Chevys raced by Stewart.
Quicken will be Newman’s primary sponsor for nine races in 2012, coming on board with the U.S. Army, slated for 21 events and Tornados, which could be the principal backer for as many as five more.
It’s anticipated that Stewart Haas will make at least two more sponsor announcements in the future.
For any NASCAR team to acquire new financial support is a significant achievement. Sponsorship is the lifeblood of every organization and it has not been easy to gain in the last few years, largely because of the sagging economy.
As a result some organizations have gone out of business while others – make that several others – have had to enact massive layoffs.
It’s a situation that continues today and has already affected the NASCAR landscape. Two of Sprint Cup’s most powerful teams – Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing – will likely be reduced from four teams to three because of a lack of sponsorship.
Nearly all organizations now have multiple sponsorships for their teams. This allows them to implement the competitive budgets they need without having to pitch one company for full-season financial support.
Where single sponsorships were once common, they are now prohibitively expensive and a very hard sell.
“There is still a loot of value in NASCAR and announcements like we made today prove that,” Stewart said. “But the economy is tough. I always talk to sponsors about how aggressive our team is. We are young and we’re able to step outside the box. Some of the organizations which have been around a long time kinda get in the mode of, ‘This is who were are and this is how we do it.’
“I don’t think we are stuck in that rut. We find creative ways to take what potential sponsors’ goals and objectives are and make it work for them.
“It’s nice to have multiple cars to work with. Ryan’s car has not had a single season-long sponsor and that makes it very appealing to that partner that doesn’t necessarily want spend all the money it takes to sponsor one car for one year. They can share.
“We saw that a couple of years ago with the No. 88 team (Hendrick Motorsports with partner sponsors Amp Energy Drink and the National Guard). That arrangement made things very attractive for other sponsors.”
There’s no doubt that Stewart’s victory at Martinsville enhanced his team’s value and made it more rewarding for its present sponsors with increased appeal to potential new ones.
“NASCAR racing is a performance-based industry all the way around,” Stewart said. “Whether you are on the competition side or the business side, it’s very important to win races.
“But it’s also important to be able to figure out things outside the box and not just about asking partners to write checks. It’s about how they can use the sport to grow their business.
“It is still every bit as difficult as it was two years ago when the economy fell off. We talk about the competition on the track but it’s just as tough off the track. It’s very competitive today and that is what makes having an announcement like this one very special.”
While Stewart the businessman has already achieved a measure of success, he will play a different role in the championship hunt.
It will be Stewart the competitor that gets the job done on the track. The native of Columbus, Ind., knows exactly when to make the identity change; when to put on the game face.
“I’ll put it on Thursday like I always do,” Stewart said. “I’ve been in this sport long enough to know where and when to put the right focus.”
Stewart’s win at Martinsville bolstered his, and his team’s, confidence largely because they were successful at a track on which routinely they haven’t performed well.
Stewart was so elated with the victory, and how he stood in the Chase, he suggested Edwards would be so worried he would suffer a lack of sleep.
Stewart maintains those sentiments and admits increased confidence has a lot to do with that.
“At Martinsville we had a car that, after 200 laps, looked like it was going to be one or two laps down at the end of the day,” he said. “It didn’t and that’s what gives us the sense of confidence.
“We are through the Talladegas and the Martinsvilles and now we are going places where I feel like we can control our own destiny.
“It’s nice to know that you don’t have to rely on anyone else having problems. It’s nice to know we can control our own destiny.
“It’s an awesome position to be in right now.”
Stewart feels his team can do very well at the three upcoming tracks – Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.
“Everybody in the organization has worked hard. It’s not like we’ve done something different,” said Stewart, whose three victories this year have all come in the Chase. “We are coming around to the tracks where we run well. At Martinsville, we were at a track where we don’t run well, and we got it turned around.
“But I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again over the next three weeks. You take it one day at a time. I said before the Chase started I didn’t think we were one of the teams that deserved to make it. I wasn’t on my list of guys I thought could win this thing.
“Now, we can win it. But we still have to go out and do our job. We have three tracks ahead that are really good for us and we look forward to running them.
“And that’s a perfect position to be in right now.”