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Johnson covered bottle of NASCAR sponsor

8/3/2004

Jimmie Johnson was fined $10,000 on Tuesday for using a sign to
hide the name of a sports drink made by a NASCAR sponsor because he
has his own deal with a rival company.

"It ended up being an expensive move on my part," Johnson
said. "The bottom line is I'm just trying to defend my options as
a driver."

When Johnson climbed from his car after winning Sunday's race at
Pocono Raceway, he placed a sign in front of the PowerAde bottle
that NASCAR officials had put on top of his car.

PowerAde, an official sponsor of NASCAR, is made by Coca-Cola.
Johnson has a sponsorship deal with Pepsi.

Like several other Pepsi or Gatorade-sponsored drivers, Johnson
has been knocking the bottle off his car when he gets to Victory
Lane. Two weeks ago, NASCAR president Mike Helton told drivers they could no longer do that.

Johnson tried to circumvent the edict by taking a sign that said
Lowe's -- the primary sponsor of his car -- and placing it in front
of the bottle. NASCAR said Johnson was not "following the
directive of a NASCAR official" and called the act "detrimental
to stock car racing."

NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said Helton had warned the drivers
about Victory Lane conduct two weeks ago in New Hampshire.

"We're going to address these situations in an orderly fashion,
just as we always have," he said. "We expect our drivers to
follow this protocol."

This is the latest flap between the companies that spend
millions of dollars for product placement each week at a NASCAR
event.

Because so many companies are vying for air time, and teams and
drivers all have separate agreements, there is often uncomfortable
overlap.

Johnson had a problem earlier this year when he won the
Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway and had to knock away
several bottles of Coke placed on his car.

Often times sponsors will try different marketing ploys to get
exposure. At the Pepsi 400 in July, Coca-Cola sponsored the cars of
several drivers and had them wear special firesuits so they would
stand out in a race dominated by its rival soft drink company.

Tony Stewart, who is sponsored by Coca-Cola, finds the entire
situation a conflict of interest. He pointed out that NASCAR has a
sponsorship deal with Coke and its products, but that International
Speedway Corp. -- NASCAR's sister company -- has a deal with Pepsi
products.

"I think it's a bad position corporate NASCAR has put us in
to," he said. "We have sponsors that we're responsible to and we
have obligation to, and I don't think it's fair for anybody to put
anything on top of our race cars after we won the race."

Because Victory Lane is choreographed -- the TV networks have the
driver wait inside the car until he is ready for the live shot of
the postrace celebration -- Johnson said he can't escape being seen
on TV in front of a rival sponsor.

"With all this controversy, we're creating more exposure for
this other brand," he said. "So I'm not sure what I'm going to do
next."