Thursday's motors: NASCAR to go without title sponsor on Cup series in 2020

Jenna Fryer
Associated Press

Nashville, Tenn. – NASCAR has signed Busch Beer, Coca-Cola, Geico and Xfinity as its “premier partners” in a change to its traditional sponsorship model.

The premier series starting next year will be known as the NASCAR Cup Series and not feature a title sponsor. Winston, Nextel, Sprint and most recently Monster Energy have served as the entitlement sponsors for the stock car racing series.

Team owner Joe Gibbs speaks as he is honored at the NASCAR Cup Series Awards.

“This has been a monumental year for our sport, one highlighted by significant changes in our business model to ensure long-term viability and growth,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said of Thursday’s announcement. “As we begin this new chapter, we are joined by four incredible brands with deep-rooted histories across all levels of our sport. We are honored to have this elite group represent our NASCAR Cup Series for years to come.”

All four of the premier partners will be featured in multiple platforms across the sport, including integrations in broadcast, NASCAR digital and social channels, event entitlements, in-market promotions and at-track activations. The four companies will also have a presence in the championship race and the All-Star race.

Winston was NASCAR’s first non-automotive major sponsor and the tobacco company helped grow the regional racing series into a national brand over a 33-year relationship. The series was the Winston Cup Series until the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company ended its sponsorship in 2003.

Nextel replaced Winston to form the Nextel Cup Series, and that became Sprint after the two companies merged. The series has been the Monster Energy Cup Series the last three seasons.

When Monster decided to end its entitlement role, NASCAR decided to change its sales structure and move away from one presenting sponsor. The final model, announced Thursday hours ahead of the season-ending awards ceremony, simply features the four premier sponsors in all signage and most NASCAR markings.

“This new model will provide our premier partners with a heightened level of integration and visibility across all aspects of our sport,” said Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR executive vice president and chief sales and operations officer. “Each of these partners have demonstrated their commitment to our brand-loyal fan base and we are excited about how these brands will elevate the NASCAR Cup Series.”

Busch Beer returned as an official NASCAR partner in 2018 as sponsor of the Busch Pole Award, which will continue. Busch Beer will also sponsor a yet to be announced Cup race in 2020. Anheuser-Busch’s history in NASCAR dates to 1978 when it first sponsored the Busch Pole Award, and Busch was the “official beer of NASCAR” from 1988-97.

Coca-Cola has been involved with stock car racing for 50 years and became a NASCAR Official Partner in 1998. Coca-Cola will continue its sponsorship of both NASCAR Troops to the Track and NASCAR Salutes, the portion of the season focused on highlighting industry-wide appreciation of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Coca-Cola will also continue to own race entitlements at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway. Additionally, Coca-Cola becomes the presenting sponsor of the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season championship trophy.

Geico is already NASCAR’s “official insurance provider” and will be the presenting sponsor of a season phase.

Comcast’s Xfinity brand signed a 10-year partner agreement in 2015 as title sponsor of the second-tier Xfinity Series. Xfinity will maintain its Xfinity Series sponsorship and sponsor the elimination race to set the championship field at Martinsville Speedway.

Gibbs wins France award

Joe Gibbs was honored with the Bill France Award of Excellence, capping a year in which he was elected to NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, won his fifth Cup championship as a car owner and thoroughly dominated the competition.

Gibbs was surprised with the honor, given at the start of Thursday night’s season-ending awards ceremony.

“Our family, we just appreciate everything about this sport,” Gibbs said. “We were worried about coming into NASCAR, and we were welcomed in. It’s a thrill for us.”

The award named for NASCAR’s late founder is not given every year. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the last recipient in 2017 and it was not awarded last year. There have been only 26 winners since the award began in 1965. Gibbs received the award from Ben Kennedy, the great-grandson of its namesake.

Gibbs drivers won 19 of 36 races this season including last month’s championship-clinching win by Kyle Busch. Gibbs had three drivers in the four-driver finale and it was Busch who emerged the victor for his second career Cup title.

This season was dedicated to Gibbs’ oldest son, J.D., who died in January at age 49 from complications of a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease. A month later, Denny Hamlin led a 1-2-3 Gibbs sweep at the Daytona 500.

Gibbs, who turned 79 late last month, was a three-time Super Bowl champion coach for the Washington Redskins, a team he quit twice, each time surrendering the high-profile job to devote more time to his family and NASCAR.

Gibbs’ sons, J.D. and Coy, followed him into JGR, and it was J.D. who discovered Hamlin at a late-model test at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina in the early 2000s.

J.D. Gibbs played defensive back and quarterback at William & Mary (1987-90) while his father coached the Redskins. He transitioned into NASCAR and the family business when the elder Gibbs launched his NASCAR team in 1992. J.D. Gibbs was eventually co-chairman of JGR after starting with with the organization as a part-time driver and over-the-wall crew member.

He even made 13 NASCAR national series starts between 1998 and 2002. He stepped away from JGR in 2015 when it was announced he was suffering from “conditions related to brain function.”

Elliott most popular

Chase Elliott’s run as NASCAR’s most popular driver hit two consecutive years when he was voted as the sport’s top star.

Elliott won the award last season, the first since Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired to end his streak of 15 consecutive years as winner. Earnhardt Jr. fell one year short of the record 16 set by Hall of Famer Bill Elliott – Chase’s father.

The award is based on a fan vote and sponsored by the National Motorsports Press Association. Bill Elliott won the award every year between 1984 and 2002 until he removed his name from consideration. But the honor was returned to his family last year with Chase’s first victory, and the 24-year-old now seems to be a lock to reel off his own impressive run.

Fans are drawn to his workmanlike approach – like his father – and simple and unassuming attitude. Chase Elliott still lives in his Dawsonville, Georgia, hometown and hasn’t let his four seasons driving at NASCAR’s top level for Hendrick Motorsports change his character.

“It’s more than a trophy or an award, it’s about the people you see at the race track,” Elliott said. “You go to the track and it’s cool to see people wearing your hats and shirts, that’s what drives me. “

Elliott won three times this season and made it to the third round of the playoffs.