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Stewart-Haas lost the U.S. Army from Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Chevy and Office Depot is gone from Stewart’s No. 14. Danica Patrick came aboard this season with the potential of rare, full-season sponsorship from Go Daddy. Winning the Daytona pole only spiked the buzz among all the brands.

Drivers are hampered by NASCAR policy in some cases. Sprint’s exclusive naming rights deal for the Cup series eliminates other communications companies like AT&T from consideration, and big tobacco sponsorship money is no longer welcome in NASCAR.

Unlike other sports, where a fast food chain could become the official burger of multiple teams in the same league, there’s no crossover in Cup. Johnson and teammate Jeff Gordon won’t both be driving with Lowe’s plastered on the car in the same race.

But walking down pit road is still like entering a Costco: chips and soda, oil and beer, car parts and fertilizer as far as you can see. Still, challenges remain.

“It just continues to be a tough sponsorship market,” said Jill Gregory, the NASCAR vice president of industry services who helps connects sponsors with teams. “There’s more inventory available and I think teams are starting to have to get more creative. Some of that sponsorship that cascaded down to the Nationwide and Truck Series are sticking with Cup. There’s more competition than ever.”

If a business is willing to open its wallet, NASCAR is still among the best bang-for-buck value in sports. Mobil 1 is entering its 11 year as an official NASCAR partner and a new contract extension runs through 2017.

According to Mobil 1, NASCAR fans are nearly twice as likely to prefer, try and recommend the brand because it is the “Official Motor Oil of NASCAR.”

“What’s appealing to us is the ability to be able to tell our technology story, and we know how engaged fans are involved from a digital standpoint,” Mobil 1 global brand manager Rebecca Aldred said. “We wanted a way to reach and engage the fans with the technology story and explain why half the NASCAR teams choose Mobil 1.”

Mobil 1 signed up again even with fewer eyeballs on the televised product.

ESPN’s ratings from the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway were down 25 percent from 2011, the most-viewed race in network history. Ratings were down or flat for all 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship races last season.

Earnhardt Racing president Steve Lauletta said ratings are just one slice of a successful sponsorship puzzle.

“When people see TV ratings are lower than they were, and attendance lower than they were, it doesn’t mean it’s still not a viable place, because it is,” he said. “You just have to think differently. We just have to be more creative and figure out ways to deliver value.”

With team budgets slashed, that means thinking outside the car. Teams and sponsors team up for contests on social media and other outlets to spread the word of various products. Kevin Harvick hitched a ride with Budweiser Clydesdales on Wednesday morning down a random Florida street to deliver his sponsor’s beer, among other prizes, to Marine veterans. This Bud’s always for you _ even at 10:30 a.m.

Gone are the days of the early 2000s _ before the crippling economic swoon _ when corporate America was the one offering the first pitch.

“I tell Chip (Ganassi), part of me is wishing I was here when CMO’s were knocking on the door saying, `How much do I make this out for?’” Lauletta said.

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