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.

2016 Knoxville Nationals champ Jason Johnson succumbs to injuries from sprint car crash

Photo courtesy Jason Johnson Racing official Facebook page
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Former Knoxville Nationals champion sprint car driver Jason Johnson has died from injuries suffered in a crash Saturday night in a World of Outlaws race at Beaver Dam (Wisconsin) Raceway).

Known as the “Ragin’ Cajun” for his aggressive style of racing, Johnson, 41, passed away this morning, according to an announcement by WoO. He was one of the most respected and well-liked drivers on the circuit by both fellow competitors and fans.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Johnson, a Eunice, Louisiana resident, was racing for the lead in the main event on the one-third-mile clay track with eventual race winner Daryn Pitman, when Johnson crashed on Lap 18 shortly after a restart.

Johnson’s car left the track surface in Turn 3 and flew through at least one billboard adjacent to the racetrack, according to media and witness reports.

It took rescue workers several minutes to extricate Johnson, who was taken by ambulance to a local hospital before being airlifted to Aurora Summit Hospital in Summit, Wisconsin, according to the Journal Sentinel report.

How many will remember Johnson:

Johnson, who won the 2016 Knoxville Nationals – the sport’s biggest race – in Iowa in storybook fashion, had been a primarily part-time racer on various sprint car circuits from 1998 until he went full-time on the Outlaws series, capturing Rookie of the Year honors in 2015.

MORE: Knoxville win should be big boost to Jason Johnson’s season, career

Johnson had 12 wins on the Outlaws circuit, including two victories this season.

The Journal Sentinel also posted a statement from SLS Promotions, which promoted Saturday’s race:

“Everyone at SLS Promotions offers our deepest, most sincere thoughts, prayers and condolences to Bobbi Johnson (Jason’s wife), Jaxx Johnson (the couple’s son) and the entire Johnson family and JJR Racing team.

“Jason was a great competitor and true ambassador for the sport. It was an honor and a privilege to work with him during his time on the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series trail. Jason will never be forgotten”

Other notables also commented on his death on social media:

According to the Journal Sentinel, Johnson is the second driver in four years to die at the small track northwest of Milwaukee. In September 2014, Scott Semmelann, 47, was killed there while practicing for an Interstate Racing Association event.

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