Sprint set to replace CEO; NASCAR title sponsor status TBD beyond 2016

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One of the things in the business of racing you have to watch is when a company makes a change at the top, and what impact the new person will have on a company’s racing program.

Oftentimes, if the new person fails to match the enthusiasm of interest level of his or her predecessor, or deems the sponsorship isn’t worth the ROI, the sponsorship either runs to the end of its contract or ends early. This occurred in IndyCar last year as Phillips Van Heusen’s IZOD brand, under new management, slowly decreased its involvement before announcing – in what was no real surprise – it was withdrawing as a title sponsor at the end of the 2013 season.

So with the news Wednesday that Sprint is making a change at the top – CEO Dan Hesse will be replaced by billionaire entrepreneur Marcelo Claure, per media reports – the status of Sprint in the business world is something NASCAR will need to watch for at least the next two years.

Per The Wall Street Journal, a Sprint board meeting Tuesday determined the company would end its pursuit of T-Mobile, which after Sprint (third) is the fourth largest telecom company behind leaders Verizon and AT&T. Those two combining did not please regulators, the WSJ said.

The report has one other key piece of news that’s NASCAR-related: Sprint, as a company, has lost money every year since 2007. That 2007 season marked the end of Nextel’s title sponsorship before Sprint, the new parent company after it took over Nextel, was named starting with the 2008 season.

Per Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass, Sprint’s contract as NASCAR Cup title sponsor runs through 2016, and roughly a year from now, there will be questions as to whether this will be extended or whether NASCAR’s marquee series will need to begin a new search.

Sprint/Nextel has been the Cup Series’ title sponsor since 2004, when it replaced R.J. Reynolds and Winston – a partnership that dated to the 1970s.

The Nationwide Series has not yet named a title sponsor to replace Nationwide; that sponsorship ends at the end of this season.

Hartley to make F1 debut from back of grid after penalty

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Brendon Hartley’s hopes of a points finish on his Formula 1 debut took a hit on Friday after the FIA confirmed the Toro Rosso driver will start the United States Grand Prix from the back of the grid due to an engine penalty.

Porsche factory driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Hartley was drafted in by Toro Rosso as a surprise replacement for Pierre Gasly in Austin, with the Frenchman tied up with Super Formula duties at Suzuka this weekend.

Hartley took to the track in an official grand prix session for the first time on Friday in Austin, marking his first run-out in an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 20120.

However, FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his pre-race report that changes had been made to the power unit on Hartley’s Toro Rosso car since the last race in Japan, triggering a grid penalty.

Toro Rosso elected to take a new internal combustion engine, MGU-H, energy store and control electronics on Hartley’s Renault power unit, totaling a 25-place grid drop that will be applied after qualifying. Confirmation of the penalty is set to follow later today.

The penalty comes as a setback for Hartley, but was necessary as Toro Rosso found itself short on engine elements to get to the end of the season.

Hartley is not the only driver to have a penalty confirmed, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne also taking new engine elements, also confirmed in Bauer’s report.

A new ICE, turbocharger and MGU-H for Hulkenberg will see him drop 20 places on the grid, while an eighth ICE of the year for Vandoorne will trigger a five-place drop.