For Bubba Wallace and RPM, finding sponsors remains uphill climb

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Fans certainly will dig that Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. is sporting some vintage Petty blue on his race car this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

The colors represent the Petty Garage, the performance car and restoration shop operated by the Petty family. Also on the car is Medallion Bank, a loan-focused bank whose founder is Richard Petty Motorsports majority owner Andrew Murstein.

In other words, the team owners -- Richard Petty and Murstein -- are funding the car this weekend. It shows that Wallace, the first full-time African-American driver in the NASCAR Cup Series since 1971, still needs sponsorship despite an immense media push in February capped with Wallace's second-place finish in the Daytona 500.

Few expected sponsorship to magically appear for a team that didn't have the majority of the season sold, but it certainly is another indication of the sponsorship climate. The team won't say how many races it has left to sell, but it has announced only about eight additional races of sponsorship with 27 races left in the season.

The team says it has more sponsorship announcements coming and is hopeful that Click n' Close will come on board for more races after doing three early this year. The team has announced a few races with STP, a couple with Air Force and at least seven with Smithfield partners for the 36-race season. The Cosmopolitan hotel came on for Las Vegas after the Daytona 500 run.

"The [owners] are very supportive of Bubba and this race team moving forward and continuing, but we do have some open inventory this year," RPM CEO Brian Moffitt said.

"We have had a lot of discussions with partners about some races, but it just hasn't panned out, primarily the timing is really brief [since talks began]. ... Richard and Andy made the commitment years ago to get this team back to prominence, and we're still going down that path."

Wallace sits 22nd in the NASCAR Cup standings with 160 points. Last year at this time, RPM driver Aric Almirola was 19th in the standings with 189 points.

That difference shouldn't be too startling. Wallace is a rookie and the team made the transition from Ford to Chevrolet, becoming an affiliate of Richard Childress Racing and moving to a shop on the RCR campus in Welcome, North Carolina.

Wallace drove to the front and led six laps at Bristol on April 16, a big step for the team, before fading.

"We're really excited for the second half of the year to get Bubba to some of these tracks [for a second time]," Moffitt said. "We've made mistakes as a group. As a rookie, Bubba's made a few, but we're also very supportive of him.

"We knew this was going to happen. Transitioning from a different manufacturer to a new manufacturer, we knew there would be some growing pains. We're pleased overall."

As far as funding, the team not only is working on the rest of this season but trying to work with companies about additional sponsorship for 2019 and 2020.

Moffitt said in the current environment, a team likely will have three or four main sponsors over the course of a season. He said RPM had a call Tuesday morning about a potential sponsorship for Talladega but that the team didn't think scrambling to put together a last-minute sponsorship package would be the best experience for the sponsor.

"Most budgets are set in August or September, so we're still in quite a few conversations for this year," Moffitt said. "But we're starting the process for 2019 and what that could look like."

Moffitt said matching Wallace's popularity to Petty's popularity is the selling point to partners.

The sponsorship this weekend will highlight a new online store for Petty's Garage, so the team also will be able to collect data to potentially show to companies about the impact of a sponsorship. Teams don't reveal how much they ask for sponsorship, but a team such as RPM likely could command $200,000 to $400,000 per race.

"Right now, we just need the industry to know that even with the positive media that Bubba has received and socially ... we feel like we've got a good thing," Moffitt said.