Monster Energy in, Sprint out in NASCAR

LAS VEGAS — NASCAR has found a new sponsor for its premier series.

Monster Energy, one of the largest energy drink companies in the world, will replace Sprint as the sponsor for NASCAR’s No. 1 series, NASCAR announced Thursday afternoon in a hastily arranged news conference.

The exact name for the top series has yet to be determined, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said, and he would not release the length of the deal other than to say it was a multiyear agreement.

But either way, Monster’s marketing will undoubtedly usher in a new era of stock car racing.

Monster sponsors athletes across all forms of motor sports, and it has an edgy feel to its millennial-targeted branding. The energy drink had been most associated with action sports, but will now have NASCAR as a major part of its image.

“Motor sports is their DNA,” France said. “When you walk through their lobby in California, you see that. That’s who they are. They understand motor sports. They understand how to execute, too. You’re going to see that.”

On a stage flanked by two relentlessly smiling Monster Energy girls dressed in form-hugging black outfits, France heralded a new day in NASCAR. He used the word “fun” a half-dozen times and spoke of how Monster could help reshape NASCAR’s image.

“We’re in the fun business,” France said. “This is where people come to have fun. What better brand to have associated with us than people who understand that?”

Monster will also sponsor the All-Star Race in May and become the official energy drink of NASCAR. It was unclear what kind of impact the deal would have on premier series car sponsors like 5-Hour Energy, but competitors may be grandfathered into the deal as was the case when Sprint/Nextel arrived.

It will also continue to sponsor Kurt Busch’s No. 41 car at Stewart-Haas Racing, Monster Chief Marketing Officer Mark Hall said.

Busch was among the many drivers in the audience for the news conference, sitting among the racetrack executives and media in a conference room at the Wynn Las Vegas.

Moments before the announcement, drivers asked by USA TODAY Sports were enthusiastic about what Monster could do for stock car racing.

“I think it’s awesome for our sport,” Austin Dillon said. “It’s going to give us an edgier look that we haven’t had for awhile. It could really excite the younger fans. It’s just a cool look for our sport.”

Dillon said he envisioned parties and other events that would excite a millennial audience more than NASCAR has done in the past.

Denny Hamlin, who said he knows Monster Energy Chief Marketing Officer Mitch Covington personally, smiled at the thought of what the marketers can do with this opportunity.

“The brand that’s coming in, you feel like they have the ability to reach out to those millennials and that’s really the future of our sport,” Hamlin said. “It’s positive on all fronts.”

The announcement was part of a long journey that began in December 2014, when Sprint announced it would not return to NASCAR after its contract expired. NASCAR initially said it expected to sign a replacement by mid-2016, but the search dragged on through the fall and even the completion of the season.

For a time, there was speculation NASCAR might go into 2017 without a title sponsor at all. And as late as Wednesday, no announcement on a sponsor was expected.

But as drivers and members of the NASCAR industry filed into the annual Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon on Thursday morning, NASCAR announced a news conference would take place shortly after the conclusion of the event.

“I know the industry was starting to get a little bit nervous about the timing of this,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR chief global sales and marketing officer. “I think the timing is actually perfect. We didn't step on our championship and what happened —  crowning a seven‑time champion. We didn't step on our existing partner. We were very, very patient to find the right partner, and that right partner is Monster Energy.”


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