Lowe's and Richard Childress Racing announced Friday that Lowe's sponsorship of the No. 31 Chevrolet driven by Mike Skinner in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series will conclude at the end of the season. The change may also mark the end of Skinner's run behind the wheel of the RCR ride.
Childress was presented with an opportunity to sign a new sponsor to a multi-year agreement. Following discussions regarding a possible extension of their current deal, both Lowe's and the team agreed to forgo the final year of their contract (2002) and end the relationship at the end of this season. Lowe's will remain the primary sponsor of the No. 31 car for the rest of the season. The company also intends to make an announcement concerning its plans for 2002 in the near future.
The announcement comes on the heels of RCR's sponsorship agreement with Cingular, which will begin in 2002. Cingular and RCR have agreed to a four-year deal. The driver and the number of the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet will be announced in the near future. Cingular, however, does want someone other than Skinner behind the wheel.
"I think it's terrible, I think it's a sin that this 31 team pulling together where these cars have come and run up front at Daytona and then to have this happen," Skinner said. "To be told you won't be the driver of this car the following year, what did we do wrong? We've been in contention to win several races and a lot of mechanical things happen, which is no fault of the driver. And the driver has messed up some, too."
Skinner, however, says he has a supporter in his team owner.
"I know Richard is doing everything in his power to keep me in the car," he said. "He has told me he thinks I'm the best race car driver out there who is available. That's a good compliment, but that doesn't change anything.
"Hopefully, all the luck will turn around. I would love to see a change of heart on their part and hopefully make a choice that Mike Skinner has a shot at that thing."
In the meantime, however, Skinner says he's willing to listen to offers.
"We are exploring our options right now and I have a chance to cover my own tail and talk to other car owners," he said. "If a good opportunity comes up to us, we'll go from there."
Skinner is returning to action this weekend at Michigan International Speedway after suffering injuries in a wreck at Chicagoland Speedway on July 15. During his absence, Robby Gordon drove the Lowe's Chevrolet.
When Gordon's bid for victory in last week's Winston Cup race went up in smoke after a battery for a television in-car telemetry device blew up, Skinner felt his frustration.
"I said, 'Well, it's not you,'" Skinner said. "How many times have all of us seen that car leading and then it falls out? I always thought it was my fault. I don't guess it was.
"I know Jeff Gordon had some problems with that device earlier in the year, but it was in practice. Poor Richard Childress. How many times has that blue and yellow car been in front where it looks like it is going to win the race. Then a gear breaks or a piece of rubber gets in the alternator or a box catches on fire or a tire blows out. It's been a rough time."