Ranking the 10 Most Popular Brands in NASCAR History

Brendan O'Meara@@BrendanOMearaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2015

Ranking the 10 Most Popular Brands in NASCAR History

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    CHRIS O'MEARA/Associated Press

    Fewer things are more synonymous with NASCAR than its branding.

    Part of the appeal is the message that marketers are trying to tell by slapping on a skin of paint and daring you not to eat M&Ms.

    The top brands in NASCAR aren’t just the alpha sponsors that emblazon car hoods like Lowe's, Jimmie John’s and FedEx.

    “Fans understand the importance of sponsorship to the sport. They realize that’s what makes the sport go,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s chief marketing officer, on FoxBusiness.com. “If you’re a sponsor in another sport, fans can appreciate it, but will they actively support you?”

    And it extends beyond pure sponsorships: Some of those brands are tracks or races.

    Some of those brands are the people themselves.

    Read on to see 10 of the most popular brands in all of NASCAR.

10. Lowe's and the No. 48

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The slogan at Lowe’s is “Never Stop Improving.” It’s a very American, very Ben Franklinian sentiment.

    Who better to exemplify the spirit of that slogan than Jimmie Johnson, the six-time Cup champion? Make no doubt about it—the No. 48 is a Lowe’s Chevy. The partnership started in 2001 when not many people knew who Johnson was, let alone what he would go on to accomplish.

    Johnson told Motor Racing Network:

    Lowe’s believed in me before I had any success. They're all I’ve ever known in my Sprint Cup career, and their support of me and the No. 48 team is second to none in the sport.  We’ve been together for this crazy ride and I’m so happy we’re continuing. They truly are family and I’m proud to represent them.

    Boom, confetti!

9. The Chase

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Chase is its own brand within NASCAR, especially with the latest format that emphasizes—now here’s a concept—winning. The Chase feels more charged than ever.

    Twenty-six races act as the prologue for the 10-race sprint to Homestead. There’s even a bracket, and don’t we all love brackets. Even Dickie V filled out his Chase Grid.

    The latest Chase nearly was done in by a non-winner of one race in Ryan Newman, but this new formatcomplete with pressure and dramais a winning brand built into the sport’s mythos.

8. The King of Beers

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    Terry Renna/Associated Press

    Budweiser re-upped with Kevin Harvick in June of 2014 five months before he was the last man standing at Homestead.

    The King of Beers—a questionable sobriquet at best, especially among hipstersonce had Dale Earnhardt Jr., Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott and Rickey Craven, just to name a few. Budweiser, in a twist of irony, has good taste.

    Open up any tailgater’s cooler at any NASCAR event, and there will, without question, be some frothy cold Buds. And when Harvick stands alone in Victory Lane, he takes a few cherished swigs of brew.

7. Mountain Dew

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    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Mountain Dew goes back quite a ways in NASCAR. Check out this sweet ride.

    The effects it has the on the body and tooth enamel will forever keep dietitians and dentists in business.

    Mountain Dew has branded itself as a soft drink for those about to do extreme activities. It’s a perfect pairing for NASCAR’s speed and horse power.

    "The story is really about opportunity," said George Cox, Mountain Dew brand manager, on NASCAR.com. "With Dew, Dale and NASCAR there's this awesome marriage. Dale is the embodiment of the person we're trying to target with Diet Dew."

    Mountain Dew has an edge that Coca-Cola doesn’t have. That suits the sport well and makes Dew a unique and visual brand of NASCAR’s past and present.

6. The Brickyard

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    Dave Parker/Associated Press

    Like Daytona, the Brickyard holds a special place among the racing elite.

    The Brickyard’s bricks are as iconic as Churchill Downs’ Twin Spires or Fenway Park's Green Monster. They make the Brickyard a brand unto itself.

    “I think it’s the obvious second,” said Clint Bowyer on the Fan. “Only behind the Daytona 500.”

    Attendance has been down for the NASCAR race at the Brickyard, but that doesn’t diminish how important the track and race are to the sport.

    Jeff Gordon added on the Fan, “This race is only second to the Daytona 500 in terms of prestige to NASCAR.”

5. Winston

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    A crash during the last season of the Winston Cup.
    A crash during the last season of the Winston Cup.SAM DEAN/Associated Press

    NASCAR and Winston go together like nicotine and tobacco. Starting in 1971, the tobacco company was the sports title sponsor until 2003, when sponsorship moved away from cigarettes to Nextel’s cell phone technology.

    Steve McCormick of About.com noted that Winston had become “social baggage.” By 2003, many restaurants began banning smoking.

    McCormick wrote:

    NASCAR has reached the point though where being associated with Winston is holding it back. For a number of years now tobacco advertising has been severely restricted. There are strict limits on where the Winston brand can be shown. These limits have affected NASCAR's ability to market and strengthen its primary product.

    NASCAR isn’t exactly stronger than ever, but its brand is a whole lot shinier. Whether that’s good or bad is in the eye of the beholder.

4. Junior

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    Rick Kern/Getty Images

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been NASCAR’s favorite driver for years. Slathered on top of that, he races for Hendrick Motorsports, is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 and serves as a force on Twitter with 840,000 followers.

    In just one year on Twitter (he joined after winning the Daytona 500 in 2014), he has already racked up nearly 5,000 tweets.

    Earnhardt, once more reserved, is now a “natural” in front of the camera. In 2004 he started his own production company to give him creative control over the products he endorses.

    “I feel like, when I’m talking, I’m saying what I believe,” he told FoxSports.com. “It’s not like I have to get out of my comfort zone at all. When I’m up there talking about Nationwide and Wrangler and other partners like that, it comes real natural. It comes real easy.”

    Now get out your Dale call and do some doughnuts in your favorite wetland.

3. The King

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    If NASCAR had a logo the way the NBA or MLB does, it would probably be in the shape of Richard Petty.

    As the all-time leader in wins with 200, Petty has the type of clout in the sport the way Bill Russell does for the NBA or Ted Williams had in baseball while he was still alive.

    Yes, Petty is revered, but not unilaterally. When he piped off about Danica Patrick only winning a race if everybody else stayed home, it ruffled more than Patrick’s cool demeanor. It stuck in Tony Stewart’s craw, Patrick’s teammate and team owner.

    “I think that (a race) would pretty much settle it once and for all, maybe get him to shut up a little bit, too," Stewart said to Brant James of ESPN.com. "I will supply the cars. If he wants to race her, I'll make sure they have exactly the same setup in the car and give him the chance. He can drive one of my 14 cars. I don't care."

    Longtime fans of NASCAR would love to see the King behind the No. 43 STP again, especially if it means beating Patrick.

    That aside, Petty’s accomplishments and contributions to the sport of NASCAR will, to quote Gladiator, echo through eternity.

2. The Daytona 500

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    The Great American Race isn’t just a race. It’s an event. It’s a spectacle. It’s its own entity.

    It’s the one race, much like horse racing’s Kentucky Derby, that the lay fan will attend, either remotely or in person.

    Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said on Daytona's website: 

    The power of the Daytona 500 brand remains unmatched in motorsports. The recognition by Forbes.com not only validates the significance of this prestigious event to its fans and competitors, but also demonstrates the incredible global reach and value ‘The Great American Race’ represents to our partners.

    The 500 is NASCAR’s biggest draw and biggest brand, and it kicks off every new season.

1. The Intimidator

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    CHRIS O'MEARA/Associated Press

    Dale Earnhardt Sr. would be on the Mount Rushmore of NASCAR drivers. There he’d be with the mirrored sunglasses and a mustache Teddy Roosevelt would be jealous of.

    There was a reason he was called The Intimidator, and as The Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer wrote:

    Earnhardt was the toughest man to ever climb in a stock car, the face of American racing and the blue collar everyman the fans could relate to. His death — in a crash that insiders viewed as rather routine — stunned NASCAR, raising questions about mortality, safety and moving on.

    Getting a bump from Earnhardt—scary as that might have been—was a rite of passage for many drivers, especially upstarts.

    He left a legacy that still burns bright and is reflected in his sona driver who isn’t quite as fierce, but no less competitive.