Photo courtesy Chip Ganassi Racing

PNC Bank becomes primary sponsor for Scott Dixon’s car in IndyCar

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Chip Ganassi needed a sponsor for his star IndyCar driver and refused to compromise the value of Scott Dixon simply to slap any company name on the side of the car.

Little did the team owner know he only had to look in his own hometown for a solution.

PNC Bank on Tuesday announced an increased partnership with Ganassi in which the Pittsburgh-based institution will be the primary sponsor for Dixon. The car was unveiled in Indianapolis.

Ganassi still lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh, went to the same high school as PNC Chairman Bill Demchak and opened his first account with the bank as a teenager.

“Chip has a few years on me, I won’t say how many,” Demchak told The Associated Press. “We’ve known each other 30 years or something.”

That relationship led to an initial partnership between PNC and the Ganassi organization that began in 2014. PNC brought corporate clients to IndyCar races.

“Frankly, we were pleasantly surprised at the reaction we got from clients, the business we got from clients, and the potential for sponsorship,” Demchak said. “When (Dixon) came up as open this year, much to my surprise, it was a pretty easy decision to step up and sponsor the car.”

Terms were not released.

Ganassi used patchwork sponsorship on Dixon’s car last year after Target left IndyCar after nearly 30 years with Ganassi. Target also pulled out of NASCAR to concentrate on soccer at the end of last season.

Ganassi didn’t panic, used three different sponsors on Dixon’s No. 9 car last season, and Dixon won one race, the pole for the Indianapolis 500 and finished third in the championship standings.

“We had plenty of opportunities to give it away, and I have to say that I was not overly joyed with that prospect,” Ganassi said. “We maintained some sort of level of competitiveness throughout the transition and here we are now set for 2018 and forward.”

Dixon is a four-time IndyCar Series champion and will finish his career as one of the best racers in American open-wheel history.

Dixon is coming off a class victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which was the 200th win for the Ganassi organization. Dixon is ranked fourth on IndyCar’s all-time win list with 41, one victory behind Michael Andretti. He trails only A.J. Foyt and Mario and Michael Andretti in career victories.

“I was on the phone with the bank one day and they said `It’s interesting that Dixon’s car is open. It’s an interesting opportunity for someone,”‘ Ganassi said. “It took me by surprise to hear that. I’ve never had any sort of partnership or major sponsor based here in Pittsburgh.”

Ganassi doesn’t want the focus of this new sponsorship package to be on a merger of two Pittsburgh-based companies.

“Our brands are a little larger than Pittsburgh,” Ganassi said. “It’s nice to bring these two brands together, and it’s nice we are both from Pittsburgh, but it’s not the meat of the deal.”

The IndyCar season opens in March and PNC Bank plans on having a strong presence throughout the season. Demchak sees the value in activating at IndyCar events and the potential for both PNC and the Ganassi organization.

“We bring businesses and corporate executives to the races, and the emotion, if you target the right clients, the emotional attachment to Indy is really strong,” Demchak said. “It’s a client event that is not typical. It’s not taking them to the Masters, or a golf tournament. It’s something totally different, and it’s powerful. It appeals to our broad-based consumer client across the country, and with Scott in the car, there’s going to be a lot of television coverage showing our name.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes Indy 500 should never have guaranteed starting positions

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Bruce Martin Photo
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INDIANAPOLIS – Like many viewers watching last weekend’s Indianapolis 500 “Bump Day” on NBC, former NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was captivated by the drama.

He also believes INDYCAR should not follow NASCAR’s path of “Chartered Teams” locking up positions in the major races; such as the Daytona 500. That has taken away the excitement and drama of the Daytona Duels.

“Not trying to get myself in the weeds here, but I think Indy could look at the history of NASCAR and how it has changed the excitement for some of the Duels and qualifying,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports.com. “I would not go in that direction. If I was in control of things, I would not pull those levers to have guaranteed spots. The thrill of Bump Day and the battle for the final row, increased the value of Sunday and viewership for Sunday. It taught people about other drivers and teams. We don’t learn those things if you don’t see them going through that battle and experience.

“I thought it was a tremendous win for the people that want to keep things at Indy as they are.”

Earnhardt, who is part of NBC’s crew for Sunday’s telecast of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, believes the way it all played out created a storyline that enhances the interest in the 500-Mile Race.

“I experienced the drama before with Bump Day that has happened here in this race in the past, but I thought it was symbolic with the conversation going on about guaranteed spots,” Earnhardt said. “For the folks who are the traditionalists who believe you have to earn your way in, it was a great day for those folks and their argument. Fernando Alonso and how that story played out and his reaction to not making it, I thought he handled it like the champion he is. All of that was interesting.

“The little teams beating the big teams was pretty cool. It created some really exciting stuff and did nothing but build excitement in the race.

“Even though Alonso is not in the race, I’m just as interested, or more interested, than I was before. Them not being in the race didn’t change it for me. If anything, that whole drama and how it played out made me more excited to see the event.”

Earnhardt is attending his first Indianapolis 500 in person. He will be part of NBC’s Indianapolis 500 Pre-race show along with Mike Tirico and 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick.

Earnhardt will also drive the Pace Car to lead the 33-car starting lineup to the green flag to start the 103rdIndianapolis 500. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time.