- Associated Press - Thursday, October 13, 2011

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - In the ongoing fight to secure sponsorship dollars, Joe Gibbs Racing emerged victorious Thursday with a new deal that puts Dollar General on several of its race cars.

The partnership with JGR puts Dollar General in all three of NASCAR’s national series. The general merchandise chain will sponsor Joey Logano for 12 Sprint Cup races, a full Nationwide schedule for Brian Scott and will be on 10 Nationwide races on a second JGR car. The deal also includes 10 races for JGR driver Kyle Busch in the Trucks Series team he owns.

"This is a big day for us at Joe Gibbs Racing, and I think this is a big step also, a big day for NASCAR," team owner Joe Gibbs said. "What you have here is one of the premier companies in America … and we’re thrilled to be a part of their team."

Gibbs will have to understand if nobody outside the JGR organization shared his enthusiasm.

The Dollar General deal came at the expense of Turner Motorsports, one of the few competitive independent teams in the Nationwide Series, and of Sarah Fisher Racing in the IndyCar Series. Both programs were dropped as the company pooled all of its sponsorship money together to get the JGR deal completed.

Dollar General chairman Rick Dreiling, who celebrated in Victory Lane with Fisher and driver Ed Carpenter two weeks ago at Kentucky, said the chance to be featured on a car in the elite Cup series was the missing piece of its marketing platform.

"Our employee and our customer indexes well past 100 percent on this sport, they love this sport," Dreiling said. "A lot of our customers work on cars, they have cars, they have little race cars and they can relate to these guys. So it really worked itself out to where it was a natural decision."

Dollar General had been the primary sponsor of the No. 32 Nationwide team for Turner Motorsports, which has already informed its employees of a potential downsizing at the end of the season because of the lack of funding. And Fisher has said she was hopeful the Kentucky victory would change Dollar General’s mind about cutting all sponsorship of her team.

So there was a fair share of the sour grapes mentality Thursday at JGR, one of the healthiest teams in the industry, landing a sponsor that so many other organiziations desperately need. It didn’t help that JGR claimed it went to Home Depot _ sponsor of its No. 20 car since its first full season in 1999 _ and asked the company to step back for 12 races to make room for Dollar General.

The list of teams that could have used 12 races is endless:

_Clint Bowyer’s new deal with 5-Hour Energy is for only 24 races _ leaving 12 for Michael Waltrip Racing to sell for next season.

_Tony Stewart has never been able to fully fund teammate Ryan Newman’s car, and he’s searching for sponsorship dollars to run Danica Patrick’s entry for the full season next year.

_Hendrick Motorsports has a 12-race gap open on Kasey Kahne’s car for next year.

_Roush Fenway Racing needs a sponsor for Matt Kenseth to replace Crown Royal, hasn’t announced if UPS will be back on David Ragan’s car and still needs funding for Nationwide drivers Ricky Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne.

_Richard Childress Racing is cutting down from four cars to three next season as General Mills goes from primary sponsor of Bowyer to a shared primary sponsorship of Jeff Burton.

Toss in the expected loss of Red Bull Racing, which is expected to close at the end of the year if a buyer can’t be found for its two-car team, the closure of Kevin Harvick Inc. that will cut two Trucks Series entries, and there’s a lot of teams moving from boardroom to boardroom in a frustrating chase for the same dollars.

Turner Motorsports currently fields four Nationwide cars and three Trucks Series entries, and general manager T.J. Puchyr said Thursday the organization "will obviously shrink next season."

"The fact is we’re not going to be able to replace Dollar General," Puchyr said. "We’re going to have at least two cars and at least one truck, but we have enough balls in the air that we think we’re going to be bigger than that. It’s a hard sell right now."

Harder than 2008, at the height of the economic crisis, when many top teams had to merge to survive while others went out of business?

"At the end of 2008, the competition on the race track was harder," said Puchyr. "Now the competition is twice as hard in the boardroom."

That was the biggest eye-opener for Stewart when he left JGR to become co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. He’s had to constantly fight to bring in additional dollars for Newman’s car, which gets $7.4 million for 15 Cup races in a deal that must be renewed each year. But Stewart learned last year just how cutthroat the courtship of sponsors can be during his successful negotiations with Mobil 1 last season.

Stewart complained after the deal was completed that his current sponsors had fended off poaching from other teams.

He said Thursday the climate was no different, but was able to see both sides to the Dollar General deal with JGR.

"Obviously for (Dollar General) to get 12 races, Home Depot wanted to give away 12 races," Stewart said. "You would assume that a sponsor that had the whole year that is giving up 12 races, there was a reason they had to do that in the first place. You can look at it two ways, you can say it is frustrating (for rival teams), but you can say at the same time that it is good (NASCAR) is able to at least keep a sponsor that may not want to do it full-time, but still wants to be a part-time sponsor."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who owns a two-car Nationwide team, has had his struggles landing sponsorship and was cognizant during a race at Daytona last season how much money he’d lost in two wrecked race cars. But NASCAR’s most popular driver doesn’t think the issues to find funding have put NASCAR in a dire situation.

"As long as they are holding races and holding events and paying money for every position, people are going to show up and race regardless of how expensive it is and they will work within their means," Earnhardt said. "You see that throughout the entire garage. Everybody has to adjust to what they are able to do.

"There are only so many sponsors to go around, and people have to get creative to make things work."

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