Departure of Craftsman brand opens door for new title sponsor in '09

Updated: November 15, 2007

Terry Renna/AP Photo

A new sponsor will brand the windshields in the truck series after the 2008 season.

Desperately Seeking Sponsorship

NASCAR's marquee circuit changed its sponsor from a tobacco giant to a telecommunications company in 2004. Its No. 2 stock car league is soon to begin competing under an insurance firm's banner after a quarter-century allegiance to beer money.

With such stark changes as precedent, it begs the question of what the Craftsman Truck Series will become in 2009 when the household-name tool company departs after a 14-year relationship.

Fans and teams likely won't find out for several months, but when they do, the news might not be as surprising as those other title sponsors that recently have come aboard.

Echoing the "tough trucks, tough racing" slogan the series has advertised for three years, there might be another "tough" sponsor forthcoming.

"I'm not sure that we're going to see a huge departure from a company that is more male-focused, but we're not discouraging those companies from looking or taking a hard look," said NASCAR chief marketing officer Steve Phelps. "We might go past what some people might think are obvious places to look."

While shopping a sponsorship believed to be valued at about $5 million a year, NASCAR's marketing gurus certainly will explore all avenues. But in truck racing, Phelps and other marketing experts say, the demographic skews more toward males than in Nextel Cup and Nationwide Series racing -- in other words, a sign that might point toward another sponsor along the lines of a tool maker.

"It's a great opportunity for the right type of brand, given that it's the truck series," said Zak Brown, CEO and founder of Just Marketing, an Indianapolis-based marketing group active in motorsports. "I think Craftsman was a good fit, and for a company who kind of goes after that male 25-to-54, blue-collar working individual, it's a very good sponsorship to acquire."

Phelps said NASCAR is looking for a company willing to activate its sponsorship, meaning it will spend money to advertise on the series' television broadcasts and in other ways to better promote the series. For a lesson in activation, the new sponsor would be well served to study the old.

Currently, when a truck enters Victory Lane, a red Craftsman toolbox marked with the race site and date is placed on the truck. Enter most truck teams' home garages, and you'll find those toolboxes in trophy cases. They might be the most recognizable regular award in racing this side of the NHRA's "Wally" trophy.

Craftsman's on-track use of its sponsorship doesn't end there. When the Sears, Roebuck and Co. division joined up with NASCAR at the start of the first season in 1995, company officials asked if the name could be displayed at the top of the windshield on every race truck. NASCAR complied, and that prominent name placement continues today.

"With our formative relationship, we had a lot more of a partnership from the beginning, where you can influence the relationship rather than the sport being at its peak and things working the other way around," said Scott Howard, manager of marketing partnership and activation for Sears. "We were able to brand every single truck with our brand."

Although Craftsman started it, Phelps said the series' next sponsor would be afforded that same opportunity for windshield branding. It's just one of what NASCAR sees as several good selling points.

"We're certainly pleased with where things are with the trucks right now -- they're positioned well, and we've got a strong, avid, passionate fan base for the truck series," Phelps said. "We think, going into the marketplace, that we'll have a lot of interest and ultimately find the right partner.

"It is a good time to go out and sell it."

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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Clanton Lands At Roush Fenway

Just three years ago, Joey Clanton thought his days of making a career in racing were over. Operating a couple of Zaxby's restaurants in Georgia appeared to be his destiny.

Now, the connection between man and chicken is still there, but it's a matter of full-time driver and sponsor. Clanton carried Zaxby's sponsorship to a JTG/Wood Brothers Ford last season in the truck series, driving it on a part-time basis alongside ESPN commentator Stacy Compton.

Tuesday, Roush Fenway announced it is bringing that No. 09 truck and sponsor to its stable, with Clanton as its full-time driver. He'll race alongside 2006 rookie of the year Erik Darnell and rookie Colin Braun.

"I am really thrilled about this opportunity with Zaxby's and Roush Fenway Racing," said Clanton, who had five top-10s in 16 starts in 2007. "Jack Roush will give me the equipment and the resources I need to win races, and that is what I intend to accomplish this year -- winning races. I can't wait to get to Daytona and start testing next month."

No. 60 Seat Filled At Wyler

Jack Sprague

Sprague

Richard Johns, a part-time Busch Series driver in 2007, signed last week with Wyler Racing to drive the No. 60 Toyota formerly piloted by Jack Sprague.

Johns brought an Internet company sponsorship to Wyler, allowing him to sign a two-year contract. The 25-year-old Georgia native will be a newcomer to the trucks, a change in the seat he is taking.

"It's going to be different going from a veteran driver like Jack last year to a young, up-and-coming one like Richard this season," said Wyler Racing general manager Tom Buzze.

Johns made 15 Busch starts last season in a Team Rensi Ford with an average finish of 28.0.