NASCAR: No early exit expected for title sponsor Sprint

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CHARLOTTE – The last time NASCAR needed a title sponsor for its premier series, the existing company was replaced with four years remaining on its contract. But executives aren’t expecting a repeat with Sprint already having announced its impending exit after the 2016 season.

“Do I think (Sprint) will exit early? No,” NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps told MotorsportsTalk after NASCAR played host to the opening news conference Monday of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. “Do I think we’ll find someone for ’16? No. Only because we want to make sure the process is really followed smartly.

“Trying to rush through to find something for ’16 … although on one hand, people might say, ‘You get someone new, (and) they’re not a lame duck’ or whatever term, I don’t think that’s the right approach. And the good thing is since Sprint is very engaged, they are honoring their commitments to us, which are extensive. So I think we’re in a good spot.”

Sprint officials have indicated they fully will honor the remainder of its deal, and NASCAR Chairman Brian France said Monday after his annual State of the Sport address that he didn’t expect Sprint would be replaced early.

NASCAR and Sprint entered into negotiations about the title sponsorship last fall, and the wireless communications company announced its departure in mid-December with two years left on a three-year extension that was signed in 2011.

Sprint was rebranded as the title sponsor in 2008 after its merger with Nextel, which signed a 10-year deal estimated at $70 million annually to replace R.J. Reynolds’ Winston brand starting in 2004.

RJR revealed in January 2003 it had requested an exit from its deal (which ran through 2007) if NASCAR could find a replacement. Less than six months later, Nextel was unveiled in a splashy New York news conference as the successor for the following season.

The economic climate isn’t as strong for NASCAR funding a decade later, but Phelps said the candidate pool was less of a factor than finding a suitable fit. Phelps said it took about a year to land XFINITY, which will replace Nationwide as the backer of NASCAR’s second-tier circuit this season.

“I know what this process is going to look like,” Phelps said. “Getting XFINITY on board, we were very regimented, because it’s not just about money. It’s about finding the right marketing partner for the sport. It’s about brand alignment for our sport and for their brand, so it’ll be a very thoughtful process.”

Phelps wouldn’t disclose any potential candidates but said “we’ve had a number of calls saying, ‘Sure, we would like to take a look at this.’ ” NASCAR also hasn’t limited the search to any particular categories.

“We’re trying to stay as broad as we can at this point,” he said. “Given the investment that it will require, you’ve already started to narrow your field. A local company selling widgets is not what it’s going to be. We need a company with significant resources, particularly on the marketing side to be able to really look at this.”

Phelps said Chief Sales Officer Jim O’Connell will be leading the search for a new title sponsor, but NASCAR’s executive team would be involved heavily.

“It’s a big undertaking because it’s such an important position in the sport,” Phelps said. “There’s a lot of weight on the whole organization’s shoulders. Everyone is going to have a touchpoint to this.”

“We do have time to find someone, and I firmly believe we will find someone. We’ll find the right partner for us.”

Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen’s two-man battle in Motocross provides surprises

Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross
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The 2019 Motocross season is one-third in the books and the title battle may have already come down to a two-man contest, while the pair of contenders might just be a little surprising in their own way.

Strictly by the numbers, no one can count Eli Tomac’s early season charge of first- and second-place finishes shocking, but threepeating in Motocross is such an incredibly difficult feat that no one would have been surprised to see him struggle out of the gates either. And in fact, that is precisely what happened.

Tomac came out of the gates slow in Round 1 and was seventh by the end of Lap 1 of Moto 1 – hardly the auspicious start he hoped for. He rebounded only as far as fourth and that ultimately cost him a chance to win the overall. Tomac won Moto 2 to claim second overall.

In Round 2, Tomac found his rhythm and won both Motos and grabbed the red plate. For the moment, he had the momentum with three consecutive Moto wins.

Tomac stumbled again in Round 3 – this time finishing only fifth in Moto 1 and earning only 16 points to dig a deep hole that eventually surrendered the red plate to Ken Roczen.

It was at Thunder Valley in Round 3 that a pattern emerged. Tomac would not make it easy on himself early in the day, but was more than capable of winning the second Motos to overcome his deficit.

That Roczen has won this season is also not a surprise in itself. Many believed his ascent to the top step of the podium was way overdue.

That he has run so well, however, was not entirely expected at the start of the season. Since injuring both arms in a pair of accidents, Roczen came tantalizingly close to snapping his winless streak a dozen times. He won heat races during the Supercross season and finished second at Anaheim I, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Seattle earlier this year.

He just couldn’t secure the overall win.

Roczen’s Moto 1 victory at Hangtown might have been the precursor to another disappointing weekend, but once Tomac got into the lead, Roczen zeroed in on the Kawasaki’s back tire and finished second in route to the overall victory.

Roczen lost the overall and the red plate to Tomac in Round 2 at Pala, but he stood on the podium in both Motos. Roczen podiumed twice again in Round 3 while taking that overall victory to regain the red plate in what has become a seesaw affair in the early part of the 2019 season.

Last week, Roczen looked more like Tomac with his desperate struggle in Moto 1 and sixth-place finish. That was the first (and so far only) time this season that he failed to stand on the podium.

Roczen’s Moto 2 win last week was just enough to put him second overall with barely enough points to force a tie at the top of the leaderboard with 176 points apiece.

Meanwhile, Tomac failed to win either Moto with a third in the first race and runner-up finish in the second.

The moral victory and advantage may shift to Roczen this week.

As they have swapped the victory in the first four rounds with Roczen winning the odd-numbered events, he sees this weekend’s Round 5 as an opportunity.

“I’m looking forward to next weekend’s race,” Roczen said in a team press release. “The track is sandy. It’s very similar—actually almost identical—to what I ride on a regular basis at home.”

Tomac and Roczen enter Round 5 with a 32-point advantage over two riders tied for third in the standings.

So far Zach Osborne and Jason Anderson have not been in the same league as the leaders, but it only takes one slip of the wheel to fall out of the points in in a race and allow these racers to close the gap.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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