Will Jeff Gordon Retire When Dupont Sponsorship Expires?

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IMarch 4, 2009

In four-time NASCAR Cup Champion Jeff Gordon's career there has only been one primary sponsor on his car. 

DuPont, a multi-faceted company "puts science to work," according to their corporate tag line.

This company, specializing in products ranging from nutrition and electronics to home construction and automotive finishes, decided in 1993 that they needed another marketing platform that would take their brand to new heights.

They discovered a sport that was just increasing in popularity: NASCAR racing. They rolled the dice and took a chance on a primary sponsorship with a young, unproven NASCAR driver by the name of Jeff Gordon. 

Gordon had literally no track record at racing's highest level, but owner Rick Hendrick believed in the young whipper-snapper of a driver and convinced DuPont they should back him as well. 

DuPont's name went on the hood of the No. 24 Chevrolet and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. 

The DuPont trademark symbol has graced the hood of Gordon's car from the time he, as a rookie, won the qualifying race at Daytona for the first time in 30 years. DuPont has remained the primary sponsor throughout Gordon's illustrious career.

Unfortunately, the downturn in the economy has also taken its toll on one of NASCAR's most storied car sponsors.  DuPont recently announced they would pull back on many of their track-side hospitality promotions due to their fiscal state of affairs.

As a company, Dupont's 2009 objectives are clear.  Jeffrey L. Keefer, Dupont Chief Financial Officer said, "We will drive earnings and cash, reduce costs by $1.1 billion, reduce capital spending 20 percent from 2008 levels and reduce working capital by $1 billion."

The cost cutting measures have unfortunately trickled down to their NASCAR sponsorship.  While the funding for the sponsorship of the car has not yet been affected, DuPont will reduce its entertaining at the track from 37 races to six this year.

"The economy has had a huge impact on us...the current environment, along with the high cost of hospitality, have forced us to make significant cuts," said Larry Deas, Dupont's motorsports manager, to Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal.

Obviously, Jeff Gordon himself has been feeling this pressure.  He attempted to reduce expenses by cutting back on his own salary, flying commercial, and taking his own car to the track, all in an effort to help Hendrick Motorsports and his team cope with the declining sponsorship.

But will all of Gordon's cost-cutting measures be enough? 

More importantly, will Dupont, as a corporate entity, be able to maintain its profitability enough to continue its corporate sponsorship of the No. 24 car?

DuPont has been the only primary sponsor that Gordon has ever known.  Frankly, most fans cannot even imagine Jeff Gordon naming any other sponsor in his interviews.

Sure, Gordon has had other sponsors.  He has worked with Nicorette, the stop smoking medication, as well as secondary sponsors Pepsi and Frito Lay.

Gordon will also have a new look on the car at the upcoming Atlanta race.  The National Guard will be on the hood in a great new paint scheme for the No. 24 Chevrolet.

But DuPont and champion Jeff Gordon have been inextricably linked year after year.  Their fates have been intertwined both in the market and in the fastest growing sport in the country.

Dupont's sponsorship deal with Hendrick Motorsports was recently extended until the end of the 2010 season.  With the economic times and the cutbacks in sponsorship that DuPont has already made, many feel the writing is on the wall and that significant sponsorship will indeed come to an end after next year.

If that is the case and DuPont is forced to exit the sport as other sponsors like Tide and GM Goodwrench have done before them, it might also be the time for Jeff Gordon to bid his final adieu.

There is something psychologically poignant about these kinds of endings and new beginnings.  As Dupont potentially fades from the sport after their almost two decade run, Gordon too might feel it is the end of an era, signaling his own time to go.

This is an ironic notion to contemplate as Jeff Gordon sits atop the current point standings and seems poised to pull off his first victory in over a year. 

But perhaps that is just the point and Gordon knows in his heart of hearts that, as his DuPont sponsorship run potentially comes to an end, so may his own career on the track be about to close. 

Many would argue that Gordon is one of the most marketable drivers in the sport today.  But even Dale Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver and leader of Junior nation, has had troubles this year attracting sponsorship to his race team.

Because of the reduction in hospitality promotions, DuPont has publicly said that they now have to look for new ways to use their sponsored driver Jeff Gordon: 

"Jeff has been the star attraction at DuPont's hospitality tent in the past", Larry Deas noted.  "The company will have to use Jeff in ways that we haven't in the past."

Those words are telling and may just signal the beginning of the end.  And with the end of DuPont's sponsorship may just be the end of the great career of Jeff Gordon behind the wheel, driving that spectacular No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet.