- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

We know NASCAR drivers are closely tied to their sponsors. Dale Jr. has Budweiser. Mark Martin has the U.S. Army. Matt Kenseth might as well be known as Mr. Dewalt.

But this latest news from the auto racing ranks really got me chuckling.

The Charlotte Observer reports that officials from Sunoco are ticked at NASCAR and driver Kevin Harvick, who won last Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Why? Because Sunoco is supposed to be the official fuel supplier of NASCAR, and Harvick entered victory lane wearing a helmet and uniform with the logo of Shell-Pennzoil, a rival company.

Now, it’s not that Harvick isn’t allowed to have a deal with Shell-Pennzoil. Sunoco’s complaint stems from that fact that Harvick’s sponsorship was tied to Shell’s “automotive lubricants,” not their gasoline. Sunoco is complaining that Shell-Pennzoil’s logo amounted to the promotion of the company’s gas products.

Harvick has agreed to wear a helmet with a less prominent Shell logo, and his uniform will have to be redone.

Of course, this begs the question: how does a company promote one of its product lines, but not the company itself? Does NASCAR really need an “automotive lubricant” category for its sponsorships? It would be like a driver being sponsored by the Taco Bell Gordita, but not Taco Bell itself, because McDonald’s has the exclusive rights to all fast food chain sponsorships.

NASCAR does a great job with its sponsorships, but my sense is that this type of overspecialization could result in decreased value for some of the deals. You can’t blame Sunoco for being a little ticked in this instance.

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