‘Junior Blue’: What Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2015 Nationwide-sponsored Sprint Cup car will look like

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Nationwide is officially on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s side.

Just a half-hour before NASCAR announced that Comcast’s XFINITY brand in 2015 will replace Nationwide Insurance as the entitlement sponsor for what is now known as the Nationwide Series, the Columbus, Ohio-based insurance company revealed what Earnhardt’s Sprint Cup race car will look like carrying NWI colors.

Those colors — which we’re calling “Junior Blue” — will be heavy on blue and white, similar to the so-called “Petty Blue” on Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Ford Fusion driven by Aric Almirola.

Nationwide has been the entitlement sponsor for the NNS the last seven seasons. Due to changes in marketing strategy, it elected to let its current contract with NASCAR lapse at the end of this season.

In turn, NWI will become one of Earnhardt’s primary sponsors in the Sprint Cup Series starting in 2015, part of a three-year deal. Nationwide will essentially replace National Guard, which is ending its motorsports sponsorship programs in NASCAR and IndyCar (Graham Rahal) at the end of this season.

MORE: Nationwide Insurance gets early start on Dale Jr. primary sponsorship

Fans will get a sneak preview of sorts of that new sponsorship and the colors in this weekend’s final qualifying race for the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Richmond International Raceway.

Nationwide Insurance will also increase its associate sponsorship presence in 2015 on the cars of Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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Michelin appoints new North American motorsports director

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Michelin North America has named Tony Ménard as director of motorsports, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Ménard is succeeding Chris Baker, who has held the role for the past eight years. Baker is scheduled to retire in March of 2020, ending a lengthy career that began with Michelin in 1982.

“Chris has played a vital role in the growth and success of our motorsports program, both for BFGoodrich and Michelin in North America,” said Matthieu Bonardel, global director for Michelin Group’s motorsports business entity. “His passion and understanding for motorsport fueled growth in the organization and established credibility in the market. Chris’s leadership propelled the Group, which experienced tremendous success with race wins, and advanced the way the brands leveraged our motorsports participation to benefit the overall business.”

A native of Le Mans, France, Ménard has served in several positions during his 30-year career with Michelin, most recently serving global business leader for Michelin brand in the passenger-vehicle category. Ménard has worked closely with the North American motorsports team since early July in preparation for the transition.

Baker oversaw the development of the motorsports function for Michelin and BFGoodrich Tires brands as a single business unit in North America. He also directed the expansion of Michelin’s involvement in IMSA sports-car racing as the “Official Tire of IMSA” and BFGoodrich Tires partnership with SCORE International Racing as the “Official Tire of SCORE.”

During Baker’s tenure, BFGoodrich achieved an unprecedented 650 off-road class wins, including five overall victories in the Baja 1000. The brand also demonstrated performance in the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing, Ultra4 King of Hammers, and provided strong support of grass roots racing across North America with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), National Auto Sport Association (NASA), and Super Production Challenge in Canada.

“I am incredibly grateful to Michelin for the opportunities and support throughout my career, and to all the folks that I have worked with and continue to work with,” Baker said. “I want to thank all the teams, partners, officials and fans who have made our relationships so successful and are essential to the brands’ successes. I look forward to witnessing the continued success of our motorsports programs under Tony’s leadership, as well as the contributions of the Michelin Motorsport North America staff and volunteers, who are completely dedicated and invested in representing our brands in competition.”