NASCAR 2018 roundtable – Is losing Lowe’s a big blow for NASCAR?

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Lowe’s, the home improvement chain that has sponsored Jimmie Johnson since his NASCAR Cup Series debut in 2001, announced Wednesday that it won’t return to the seven-time champion’s car after this season. The company is leaving the sport and will not sponsor any car next year.

What does this mean for NASCAR? Is it a huge setback for Hendrick Motorsports? Our experts weigh in.

On a scale from 1-10, how concerned are you that Lowe’s, the primary sponsor of Jimmie Johnson, is dropping the seven-time Cup champion and is leaving the sport entirely?

Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: 9.5. I’ve said for a while that the greatest key to the health of our sport lies in the strength of our team ownership. Never in the history of NASCAR has the economy been this strong and the viability of sponsorship been this weak. It’s not because NASCAR no longer offers value, it’s because corporate America — in the wake of the Great Recession — has become very specific in where it spends advertising dollars. It has become far more difficult to legitimize why our athletes deserve $20 million a year to be associated with a product, versus aligning that product with a football, baseball or basketball team. That said, I’m amazed Lowe’s didn’t show the honorable allegiance to the greatest driver our sport has ever seen and let him finish with the only sponsor he has known in his Cup career. Estimates have Lowe’s earning $71 billion in 2018 revenue — yet it chose not to see the checkered flag with our sport’s greatest competitor of all time. Very disappointing.

Ryan McGee, ESPN senior writer 10. This was the brand you could turn to and say, “Well, yeah, sure, it’s bad right now, but yes, there is still a huge corporation that will do a full season of primary sponsorship!” And that’s the sting here. That marriage between Lowe’s and Johnson is one of the longest, most successful runs of all time. But the departure is just a bad look for the sport as a whole. The shocking part to me is the complete withdrawal. I would’ve expected a cutback, as pretty much every other primary sponsor has done. But to vanish after so many years, cars, wins, Cups and even a track title sponsorship? A North Carolina-born giant that moved its headquarters to the Charlotte area in no small part because of its proximity to the racing world? That’s crazy to think about.

Alisha Miller, ESPN.com: 9.5. If the second-oldest full-time driver, who, oh yeah, also happens to have a few Cup series trophies sitting in his library, cannot sustain the likes of a Fortune 500 company, then there are some serious issues bubbling up in the sport of NASCAR. The concern also lies with the ripple effect of such a business decision because the long-term impact does not bode well for the “young guns” aiming to secure sponsorship with companies who have far less in the piggy bank to throw at a sport with declining attendance and TV ratings. Instead of wondering why Lowe’s left, I can’t help but now wonder: Which major sponsor is next to bail?

Scott Page, Jayski editor: 7. This is a hit to NASCAR and the team, but, in the big picture, this is an issue beyond the sport as much as anything. Lowe’s has some financial issues that have been building for a while and it just doesn’t make sense to put $20 million-plus into a NASCAR program right now. I would like to have seen them stay involved in the sport in some way, but they are under a lot of pressure from investors to improve the bottom line and I’m sure NASCAR was a big target to chop. With that said, it’s a bit of a black eye to the sport for Johnson to not be able to keep them involved. If Lowe’s can’t justify staying, is any sponsor safe?

Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: 9. It’d be 10 but with more than 20 years in the sport, there is something to be said about reaching a point of diminishing returns, especially at a time when it seemed like every year there was an announcement about layoffs at Lowe’s. But there’s no way to make this look pretty. The seven-time Cup champion has lost a sponsor at a race team that has produces results, brokers business-to-business relationships and delivers solid social media efforts. Lowe’s, Target, Sprint, Farmers Insurance, Dollar General, Go Daddy … if you’re not concerned, it’s because you are blind from having your head deep in the sand.

Scott Symmes, ESPN.com: 9. This is hard to sugarcoat because it continues a troubling trend — and it’s Jimmie Freakin’ Johnson we’re talking about here. The list of recently departed sponsors is lengthy; Home Depot, Target and Lowe’s stand out because they left/are leaving popular, performing drivers (Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson and Johnson). No one wants to see a seven-time champion finish his career (Johnson has two more years left on his Hendrick contract) with little or no sponsorship, but that could become a reality. These are tough times financially for NASCAR teams, and the decision by Lowe’s hammers that point home.



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