I saw the weirdest thing a few days ago.
I was in the middle of one of my thrice-daily Jayski.com runs, checking the paint scheme gallery for some of the cars that will run next year, when I saw a No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford for Carl Edwards that had Kellogg's and Cheez-It decals plastered all over it.
Now, don't get me wrong, I had been aware of this sponsorship switch for at least a month. I knew it was coming. But something about seeing a tangible representation of the scheme just felt weird.
For one, it maintained the bright yellow that Kellogg's had been using with Hendrick Motorsports since 2004, as well as the red and blue that had been accent colors. I knew they were Kellogg's colors, but something about them felt more like Hendrick colors. Keep in mind that before Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined the team, all four cars ran that shade of yellow in their numbers.
The blue also matched up best with CarQuest Auto Parts, a remaining Hendrick sponsor that had partnered with Kellogg's on the No. 5 car for the past few years.
It felt kind of like a Hendrick Motorsports Ford, and kind of like somebody's Photoshop project for a NASCAR computer gaming website. It felt like one of those ideas that sounded good at the time but didn't quite work out.
That's when I remembered that it was a real car, due to hit the track in 2010, and that the 16-year relationship between Hendrick and Kellogg's was no more.
It's just part of the business—sponsors go wherever they feel they can get the most bang for their buck. Two races with the young and fit Carl Edwards made more sense to company execs than 18 races with the older (but similarly fit, and better performing on-track) Mark Martin.
Sponsor loyalty cannot be relied upon in the business anymore. How else can one explain Valvoline returning to Roush in a primary sponsorship role with Matt Kenseth next year, nine years after leaving Mark Martin for an ill-fated experiment in team ownership?
For what other reason would Subway shift its loyalty from Greg Biffle to Tony Stewart to Carl Edwards over the past three years?
It happens with every team, both big and small. Richard Childress Racing snagged two defectors; Caterpillar ended a 10-year relationship with Bill Davis Racing after the 2008 season to back Jeff Burton, while Cheerios ended an eight-year pact with Petty Enterprises to sponsor Clint Bowyer.
Budweiser spent seven years with DEI from 2001 to 2007 before putting their money on Kasey Kahne when Earnhardt Jr. left. DeWalt had been with Kenseth since the late 1990s before leaving this year, although the company has chalked that up to not having the marketing dollars.
Regardless, it's rare to see a driver, team, and sponsor stick with one another for any significant length of time anymore. We just don't see as many Richard Petty-STP, Robert Yates-Texaco, or Morgan-McClure Motorsports-Kodak combinations anymore.
Sure, there will always be a DuPont car for Jeff Gordon, a Lowe's car for Jimmie Johnson, and a Menards car for Paul Menard. Miller Lite will continue to adorn the hood of a Penske car, Interstate Batteries and the Home Depot will stay with Joe Gibbs Racing, and Michael Waltrip will always be able to bank on NAPA sponsorship dollars. Red Bull owns its own team. Aside from that, it's a free-for-all.
NASCAR has gotten considerably more expensive as of late, with most team owners fielding at least two to three cars. Everybody wants to have four.
This facilitates an environment in which sponsors are, as of late, less willing to be patient or stick with a good thing in place. Instead, they're always trying to take the next step up, looking for a way to align themselves with a better driver for less money, even if it means sponsoring fewer races.
It's unfortunate that it's the way of the business, but it's the nature of the beast these days. So when you see Jeff Gordon rejoin the Coca-Cola Racing Family, Tony Stewart appear on Cheerios and Wheaties boxes, or Joey Logano someday pitching Budweiser, don't say I didn't warn you.
I mean, Mark Martin's a GoDaddy driver now, after all. It can't make any less sense than that.