Sponsorship uncertainty surrounds Team Rensi and driver Hamilton

Updated: September 30, 2008

AP Photo/Tim Stewart

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he's "very close" to announcing a 2009 sponsor for the No. 88 Nationwide car.

With its sponsor leaving at season's end, times are tough for Team Rensi Motorsports and driver Bobby Hamilton Jr. While the goal is to remain a full-time Nationwide Series team in 2009, both Ronnie Russell, the team's president, and Hamilton know that may not happen.

But instead of simply locking the doors and calling it a day, they are considering every conceivable option to keep as much of the team intact as possible, whether that means moving to NASCAR's Camping World East Series, running a partial Nationwide schedule or even buying a few former Sprint Cup Series cars and moving to ARCA.

Hamilton recently ran the Camping World Series event at Dover with a car he owns out of a shop in Tennessee -- if need be he'll combine that operation with Team Rensi's in an attempt to keep driving and keep Team Rensi in business.

"We'll do what we need to do," Hamilton said at Kansas Speedway. "Some of the sponsors we're looking at are Nashville-based. We'll do what we need to do -- we're looking out for Bobby and Team Rensi and all the guys involved in Team Rensi.

"We want to be here [in the Nationwide Series]. There are some situations that could occur where it looks really good [to come back]. Then again, there's no ink [on a contract]. Until somebody starts sending me a check and a driver's suit, I've got to look out for me.

"I've talked to other owners in the [Craftsman] Truck Series and the Cup Series, but there's nothing in the Nationwide Series -- there's no money [available]. You're either a Cup guy [running in the Nationwide Series] or you don't get anything. We're having to do what we need to do."

In addition to talking with sponsors, Russell said the team is working with NASCAR, which is helping the team prepare for any potential sponsorship meetings. With the economy going through a rough stretch, Russell knows some companies will cut back -- as current Rensi sponsor Smithfield Foods will following the season.

Russell also knows that when things have gotten tough in the past it's caused some companies to market even more aggressively to remain visible to consumers. His hope is one such company will take a chance on Team Rensi.

"I think there's a bunch of [teams] in the series that are running out of time," Russell said. "Time is not on our side. After [Kansas] we have five more races and our season will be over with. At that point, we really need to know what direction we're going in."

Russell knows the economy goes in cycles, so the goal is to find a way to remain viable until things turn around.

"In the ARCA Series or the Camping World Series, it requires less money. And those cars are still tools that you can take and market with, and that's how we've got to look at it," Russell said. "That's how we've all got to look at it.

"Whatever it takes for us to keep our people employed and be able to be here, someday, when times turn good again is important. That's how we're looking at it. We're not going away without a fight."

Mark Ashenfelter is an editor at ESPN. He can be reached at mark.ashenfelter@espn.com.



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Sponsor for the No. 88?

Brad Keselowski


With the U.S. Navy electing not to sponsor Brad Keselowski and JR Motorsports in 2009, the team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in search of backing. The owner was asked at Kansas Speedway whether the fact Keselowski would try to qualify for two Sprint Cup Series races later this year would help, but it sounds like a deal may be closed even before that occurs.

"I believe it does help us tremendously. We're very close on being able to announce something on our programs for next year," said Earnhardt, who also fields the No. 5 Chevrolet in the series in conjunction with Hendrick Motorsports. "We're really excited about how good that looks right now.

"But everything that Brad does in a positive way, whether it be in [the Sprint Cup] garage or the Nationwide garage certainly helps our program. And he's dedicated to it -- he really is -- and I appreciate his efforts. We give him a good opportunity and he's repaying me by his loyalty and his energy toward that program."

Odd and ends

With Denny Hamlin's win at Kansas, Toyota clinched the manufacturers' championship with five races remaining. The automaker won the crown in just its second season in the Nationwide Series. … Dollar General will sponsor Braun Racing's No. 32 entry for the entire 2009 campaign after sponsoring the car in 13 races this season. The driver lineup will be announced at a later date, but Toyota Sprint Cup Series drivers Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers and Hamlin have been in the car most of this season.

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