CRANDALL: Signs of the times at Furniture Row

Image by Gavin Baker/LAT

CRANDALL: Signs of the times at Furniture Row

Insights & Analysis

CRANDALL: Signs of the times at Furniture Row

Money buys speed, and Furniture Row Racing needs money.

It’s not breaking news that one of the organization’s co-primary sponsors, 5-hour ENERGY, is ending both its team sponsorship and time in NASCAR when the final checkered flag waves in Homestead. And because 5-hour is choosing to put its money elsewhere, it has created uncertainty for the reigning and defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions.

Reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. admitted he cannot put a percentage on the chances he will be with championship-winning team next season. Despite the lack of a sponsor at this point, though, championship car owner Barney Visser is adamant his team will compete next year.

“I think in another week or two I’ll have a better answer for you,” said Truex. “[A] better percentage – right now, we need sponsorship and that’s as simple as it gets. It’s hard to say, is there a 50 percent chance we get that in a couple weeks or a hundred percent chance or two percent? I don’t know. I can tell you that everything is based upon that.”

How times have changed.

A well-funded NASCAR pack from 2005. (Image by Robert LeSieur/LAT)

Back in the sport’s heyday, NASCAR and its teams relied on being factory-supported. The manufacturers shelled out the money for the drivers they wanted in the cars, while also playing a part in the teams getting the necessary parts and pieces.

Well, a lot has happened through the years, but the simple summation is that the sport and its teams have evolved to where neither can survive without the resources of manufacturers in addition to money from corporate America — the sponsors — to help pay the bills.

Furniture Row is an example of just how true that is. FRR is now in the second year of working through sponsorship shortfalls. Don’t forget, Visser had to shut down the 77 team after the ’17 season because of a lack of funding when the hope had been continuing to run the second car.

Now, the No. 78 needs funding for a large chunk of its season: 5-hour ENERGY committed to 14 races this year. Visser does not want to have to go back to supporting the team from his own pocket, as he did for years.

The question, and the sad part of this deal, is why can’t Furniture Row find a new sponsor to slot in less than a year after dominating the series and winning the title?

That’s where the money buys speed equation gets complicated, and this problem for Furniture Row is most likely not a one-size fits all. Some pieces to the puzzle:

Furniture Row is looking for a certain amount of money from a potential partner. It knows what it needs to field a car, and will want that amount from its sponsors. A sponsor in the early 2000s was likely to pay around $20 million for a full season: all 36 point races and then the non-points race run in Daytona and the All-Star Race. Today, the number seems to be upward of $30 million a season.

However, more and more teams are having to find multiple sponsors to put on the cars to make up a complete season’s worth of support, and this is exactly what FRR is looking to do. 5-hour ENERGY is splitting this year with Bass Pro Shops, and Auto-Owners Insurance also gets primary space on the car.

Sponsors are going to come to the negotiating table wanting to know what they are getting for their money. They’ll likely also have an idea of what they’re willing to pay, and won’t hesitate to walk away if the price tag doesn’t suit them.

Martin Truex Jr. (Image by Matthew Thacker/NKP/LAT)

Then there is the driver. When Truex initially signed with FRR a few years ago, it was probably for a different number than he might be looking at now with an extension on the table. After all, he’s the champion, and you’d expect him to value his services accordingly.

“I’m starting to hear rumors,” Truex said about his future. “That’s kind of how it works in this sport, I’ve been in this position before. I’ve got a great team — Barney has done a lot for my career. It’s something we all want to keep going, and just need a little bit of time to let the dominoes fall into place and see if we can keep it going — and if not, I have to figure it out from there.”

With the playoffs just around the corner, the possibility that the reigning championship team can’t keep its championship driver — for whatever reason — doesn’t bring on the warm and fuzzies. The fact that NASCAR is living in the “everything is great” world where it has more official partners than it can count while its teams struggle to put together full-season packages evokes laughter laced with concern.

Proceed with caution when trying to lay it all on NASCAR, though, or presenting it as further proof of the sport’s downward slide. But we can hate what the sport has become to put Furniture Row Racing in this position.

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