Why sponsors should sign with Martin Truex and MWR today
In the past two weeks, Michael Waltrip Racing saw one of its teams removed from NASCAR's Chase and lost a sponsor in NAPA Auto Parts that's been with the team since its inception. The team has become a lightening rod for criticism and now faces the difficult task of trying to find a major sponsor when most of the players have already made their arrangements for 2014. But for the right company, MWR offers a unique opportunity for next year and beyond. The team has a great deal of work ahead finding that company and convincing them that the #56 is the place to spend their NASCAR advertising dollars.
Get your Truex gear before it's gone!
The beginning of the 2014 season will bring an unprecedented amount of attention to the team. The NASCAR media world will be focused on how the team rebounds from getting rapped by both NASCAR and its former sponsor, NAPA. And the only thing the media likes more than tearing someone down is the redemption story of building them back up. Many are already saying the Martin Truex Jr, the driver who at most suffers from guilt by association, has been singled out for the greatest punishment. The story of his redemption could very well be one of the biggest NASCAR storylines in 2014.
On track, there's no reason to think that Truex will not have success next season. The MWR cars have gotten progressively better over the past three seasons. With two drivers atop the Chase standings (and a combined 10 wins in 27 races), Joe Gibbs Racing proved in 2013 that Toyota power is here to stay. Their biggest problem, reliability, is something that TRD seems to have solved. The failures at Chicago had more to do with the five hour rain delay than an inherent problem with the engines themselves. Truex himself has also steadily improved along with the equipment. He's led laps and been near the front in addition to his win earlier this year at Sonoma.
Provided he can put the events of 2013 behind him, 2014 has the potential to be a breakout season for the 33 year old driver. Any sponsor that signs on for the ride has the potential to receive an enormous amount of exposure in the process. They will be forever linked to the Truex redemption and be featured as a major part of that story. “We went through some tough times, but (insert sponsor here) stepped up and really made us whole again,” is a clip that would play on SportsCenter over and over again.
Team's will to win:
Yes, the events at Richmond proved over the line. Yes, the team went too far in trying to qualify one of their own. But look at it in another light. Michael Waltrip Racing is three drivers working as one solid unit. This is a team whose drivers are willing to do whatever they can to help a teammate. When is the last time you've heard of a feud between MWR drivers? When is the last time there's been dissension in the ranks? There hasn't been. Even Bowyer, who once called his owner the worst driver on the track, is on board and buys in to the team-first attitude. This is no team where one driver is at a teammate's throat or cannot wait to see that teammate leave (looking at you, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano).
That's the kind of environment a company should want to be a part of. The backlash from Richmond should ensure that MWR doesn't step outside of the rulebook again, so the worry of the team going too far should be minimal. But if I'm buying in as a corporate partner, I know that I have a team that has a drive to win and the teamwork to make it happen. I know that what Clint Bowyer learns on the track, he's going to share it with my guy too. I know that if Brian Vickers' team finds speed, my guy Truex is going to get that information too. After all, if they're willing to crash or pit to gain a single position, I think it's a safe bet they'll share a corner entry point or spring rate. If I'm committing $10-15 million to a race team, I want one that's all on the same page. There's no question that's the case at MWR.
Another thing I would want as a corporate sponsor is some measure of control as to what's going on. While it's fairly certain that MWR knows where NASCAR's line is right now, I want to make sure that I have my finger on the pulse of what's going on. Given the situation MWR now finds itself in, it's unlikely they're going to deny a potential sponsor that kind of input on what takes place. That level of interest and input isn't for every company; some simply want to slap their logo on a car that will provide them a return on investment. But for the right company- think the attitude Gene Haas and Haas Automation brought to the Kurt Busch deal- that kind of input would be both welcome and unique in the world of NASCAR.
A company would also have a great deal of control in terms of the contract itself. Most teams at MWR's level are looking for a two or three year commitment. That ensures the team won't have to turn around and court the company all over again the following year. MWR isn't in a position to demand that. Instead, the company can sign a more limited agreement because the team simply has no choice. They can also demand the kinds of concessions and escape clauses to protect them should something untoward take place in the future. It's essentially a no-risk proposition for the company; if the team does well, the company will benefit. If the team does poorly or is mired in controversy once again, the company can cut bait with little to no fiscal consequence.
Along with control and protection, a company that signs on with MWR now is going to receive far greater value for their dollars than they would have a year ago. With most teams having already lined up their plans for next season (even if those plans have not yet been announced), there are not many companies in the market for a major Sprint Cup sponsorship. So MWR's asking price is going to essentially be whatever they can get.
The #56 is not a backmarker, either. Truex has one race win, 13 top five and 30 top ten finishes, a pole start and nearly 700 laps led over the past two years. They qualified for the Chase last year and almost did so again this year. Since coming over to MWR, Truex has improved his final series points position every year (this year will be the exception thanks to Richmond's events). He has a teammate in Clint Bowyer who's also shown the ability to run for a championship. His other teammate, Brian Vickers, won earlier this year and is likewise primed for a breakout season. This is a good race team that's part of a fast racing organization. Those kinds of opportunities aren't available everywhere.
Of course there will be some measure of backlash to a company that comes on board now. But in terms of risk-reward, signing up with Martin Truex Jr and Michael Waltrip Racing is a no-brainer for the right company. Don't forget that M&M/Mars has stuck with Kyle Busch despite the driver being involved in a number of incidents over the years. They made the decision that Busch's performance on the track (and the exposure that performance brings) is worth the negative press that comes with Kyle's issues. Gene Haas is putting millions of his own dollars behind Kyle's brother Kurt despite the elder Busch being a sponsor's nightmare over the years. There are companies out there willing to ride out the bad times if the opportunity is good enough. The only question is whether MWR can find them before Truex rides off- and takes that opportunity with him.