National Guard to end sponsorship of Dale Jr., IndyCar’s Rahal (UPDATED)

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UPDATE (9:45 p.m. ET): Hendrick Motorsports and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner Bobby Rahal have issued responses to today’s news that the National Guard will not continue to sponsor their respective NASCAR and IndyCar teams.

In their short statement, HMS said that the team has a contract in place to “continue the National Guard program at its current level in 2015.”

“We have not been approached by the Guard about potential changes and plan to honor our current agreement,” the release ends.

As for Rahal’s statement, here it is in its entirety:

“We were informed this afternoon that the National Guard will end all sponsorship of motorsports, including both IndyCar and NASCAR at the conclusion of the 2014 seasons. This is obviously very disappointing news to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing given the significant incremental brand exposure we have worked to produce for the National Guard in our first season together, including various off-track marketing and advertising programs focused on supporting the mission set forth.

“We will continue to work hard to uphold the honor and integrity of the National Guard throughout the remainder of the season. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing would like to thank the National Guard for allowing us the privilege of representing some of the finest men and women, those ‘citizen soldiers’ that protect our freedoms and safety each and every day… as we Focus Forward!”

The National Guard has been one of the most prominent sponsors of American motorsports in recent years. But as part of a planned redesign of its sports sponsorship program, it will sever ties with both NASCAR and IndyCar.

That means the end of their sponsorships with HMS driver and NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr., and second-generation IndyCar pilot Graham Rahal.

Both contracts are set to expire at the end of this season according to the Army National Guard’s acting director, Maj. Gen. Judd H. Lyons.

“Significantly constrained resources and the likelihood of further reductions in the future call for more innovative and cost-effective ways of doing business,” Lyons said in a statement released today.

Lyons added: “We believe industry and open competition can help us identify effective and efficient solutions to help us meet our marketing and recruiting objectives within budget constraints.”

This year alone, the Guard spent $32 million on its NASCAR sponsorship with Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports, plus another $12 million for its IndyCar sponsorship with Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Earnhardt has enjoyed the Guard’s backing since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, while Rahal and RLL took over the Guard’s IndyCar program this season after it had been with now-defunct Panther Racing from 2009-2013.

However, the Guard’s NASCAR program came under fire in May when USA Today released a report stating that the Guard had spent more than $26 million on that particular sponsorship but failed to sign up a single recruit.

The USA Today report also revealed that out of almost 25,000 recruit prospects that the Guard received through the program in 2012, only 20 of them met the Guard’s entry qualifications – and none of those 20 decided to join.

Despite those numbers, Lt. Col. Christian Johnson, the Guard’s marketing head, maintained in today’s announcement that the Guard racing programs played “an important role” in building brand awareness that “helped us achieve extraordinary recruiting and end-strength objectives over the past decade.”

This year, Hendrick Motorsports has appeared to be working hard to prepare for a post-Guard life. The team has recently brought brands like Nationwide Insurance and DC Comics into the fold, with Nationwide in particular coming on as a primary sponsor for Earnhardt over the next three seasons.

Since 2012, the Guard has drawn down its sports sponsorships to just those in NASCAR and IndyCar while eliminating programs in motorcycle racing and professional fishing.

Today’s announcement from the Guard noted that its marketing budget in the 2015 fiscal year is expected to be about half of what it was in the 2012 fiscal year.

INDYCAR: Honda Indy GP of Alabama postponed until Monday due to rain

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After two red-flag race stoppages due to rain, hydroplaning and several on-track incidents, Sunday’s INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama has been postponed until Monday.

The race will resume at 11:30 a.m. ET, live on NBCSN, at the 2.3-mile permanent road course of Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. The race was stopped at Lap 22 Sunday afternoon. It had originally been scheduled for 90 laps, then was cut to two hours, and efforts had been made to hopefully get at least one full hour of racing in.

All of those efforts failed due to Mother Nature. It’s expected that the race will resume somewhere around Lap 25 on Monday after likely two pace laps.

However, there’s more bad news: Rain is also in the forecast for Monday in the Birmingham area.

Josef Newgarden, who is the defending winner, also started the race after capturing the pole during qualifying on Saturday. He led all 22 laps Sunday before the race was called.

Newgarden is scored as the race leader, followed by St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe, Zach Veach, Robert Wickens, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon and Ed Jones.

Restarting eleventh though 20th on Monday will be Jordan King, Spencer Pigot, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud, Max Chilton, Rene Binder, Matheus Leist, Gabby Chaves and Tony Kanaan.

Rounding out the rest of the field are Zachary Claman DeMelo, Will Power and Charlie Kimball.

INCIDENTS:

* The race began under rain and it never stopped. Marco Andretti experienced the first incident when he spun into the grass on the last turn on Lap 3 but was able to get back underway.

* Rookie Matheus Leist had difficulty getting started, missed the pace laps and didn’t get onto the track until just before the green flag dropped.

* Gabby Chaves had to pit just nine laps into the race because his helmet visor was fogging up. He also took fuel at the time.

* Charlie Kimball spun in the final turn and made contact with the fence, causing suspension damage. It brought out a full-course yellow caution and Kimball had to be towed to the pits.

Kimball told NBCSN that Ed Jones got into the back of his car and forced him into grass and wall.

“I was just going through the corner and he ran into the back of me, and apparently the (race) stewards reviewed it and no action taken,” Kimball said of Jones. “I vehemently disagree with that.

“When you’re driving a race, especially in the wet, you have to be conscious of what the other cars are. Yeah, it’s hard to see, but at the same time that’s just a dumb move. He’s not a rookie anymore. He needs to not be making rookie mistakes like that.”

* On the restart on Lap 17, Josef Newgarden spun but was able to regain control. Not so lucky was his Penske Racing teammate, Will Power, who spun and hit the inside retaining wall, ending his day.

“I couldn’t see a thing,” Power told NBCSN. “It was just hydroplaning out of control. I just can’t believe they went green on that, how bad it was and so much standing water.

“Very disappointing, but to me, very dangerous. I kept telling Roger (Penske), ‘I can’t see a thing ahead of me.’ It’s the last thing we needed. Very disappointing.”

* The race was stopped under red flag conditions on Lap 19 because there was so much puddling on the track.

* During the 37-minute red flag stoppage, Graham Rahal gave his perspective on how bad the conditions were to NBCSN:

“I’ve raced a long time and the lack of visibility today is the worst I’ve ever seen, by far,” Rahal said. “The underwing on this new car is pretty powerful and it’s just throwing water absolutely everywhere.

“We just have to figure it out. It’s not ideal right now, we need to get some of this flooding out of here, but so far I think the Firestone rain tires have done a good job and the car seems to be happy. You just have to keep it safe. I’m not kidding you: on the front straight, I can’t see my own nose cone.”

* Zachary Claman DeMelo was assessed a two-lap penalty for unapproved repairs on his car during the red-flag stoppage.

* During caution on Lap 23, Tony Kanaan had an issue getting up a hill, slipping his tires, potentially with his gearbox. After stopping, he finally got going and took his car to the pits for service.

* Ditto for Graham Rahal, who also lost a couple of positions when he spun before what was supposed to be the restart, only to see the red flag come out for a second time.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* The start of the race was moved up a half-hour from its originally scheduled start time of 3:38 p.m. ET.

* Actor Channing Tatum was grand marshal and gave the command to start engines.

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