While the announcement that Budweiser would become Kevin Harvick’s prime, but not exclusive prime, sponsor in 2011 grabbed most of the headlines, the lower-key announcement that Marcos Ambrose would take over for Kasey Kahne next year in Richard Petty’s #9 Ford with majority sponsorship by Stanley Tools is of far more interest than many are taking note.
Ambrose reuniting with Ford, for which he won a couple of championships in the Australian V8 series, is a key element in the matter. The blue oval boys are in a unique position when it comes to manufacturer placement in NASCAR. Unlike Chevrolet and Dodge, they’re not placing “unwillingly owned by taxpayers” stickers on their rear bumper, and unlike Toyota their mascot availability includes Jack Armstrong the all-American boy. It also includes Jack Roush, who although the most prominent face for Ford in the garage has zero public recognition save that of one who has an unfortunate penchant for plane flights ending badly. Richard Petty? That’s an entirely different matter. Even the least motorsports-minded individual recognizes the iconic King. The ultimate goal of every manufacturer in NASCAR is selling cars. Roush sells to gearheads. Petty sells to all who list themselves as being here courtesy of the red, white and blue.
Now, add to this mix the ebullient Ambrose. He is the epitome of a charming Aussie, a cuddly family man ever wearing a smile coupled with an aw-shucks manner and the accent that makes the ladies go aww. For the boys, there’s the fact Ambrose is a hard-nosed driver, one far more likely to cut someone off than cut them some slack. In the garage, Ambrose is considered to be as cuddly as a Tasmanian devil. Which, not surprisingly, is the nickname he earned during his driving days Down Under. In short, the combination of Petty and Ambrose is a marketing dream. Little wonder Stanley signed on. Bring in James Lunday for a touch of tool-savvy sex appeal and you’re in slam-dunk land.
And yes, Ambrose can drive. While he is prone to lapses of letting his aggressive style beat himself, he is getting better at tempering this trait. Provided RPM can provide decent cars, Ambrose will be a driver to watch for all the right reasons come 2011.
So why does this add up better than Harvick, who’s a title contender right now, hooking up with Budweiser?
The issue Harvick and Richard Childress face with the #29 transforming from a gas can to a beer can is what to do with the portion of team budget not covered by Anheuser-Busch. Or, more accurately, its parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev, a Belgian corporation that tacked on the first part of its name after buying A-B in 2008.
While NASCAR and beer go together like, well, NASCAR and beer, in an increasingly morals for thee but not for me society it is an ever-shrinking number of companies willing to associate themselves in any fashion with alcoholic beverages. Which is often understandable. Allstate invested massive amounts of capital in its long-running ad campaign featuring Kasey Kahne being pursued by a trio of accident-prone dateless desperates. Imagine the joy and delight in Allstate headquarters when Kahne’s primary sponsor went from Dodge to Budweiser and their logo was plastered on the rear quarter-panel. After all, what insurance provider wouldn’t be ecstatic at having their brand coupled with one directly tied to , despite all admonitions against, drunk driving… oh wait…
There is also the complication alcohol sponsorship presents in the realm of merchandise sales. Referring back to Kahne, while he is getting past the teenybopper cute portion of life, his bright baby blues still make the young hearts swoon. Too bad they’re not old enough to buy anything at his souvenir trailer, which next year won’t be a problem as Kahne becomes one of the Red Bull boys. Although already hyper teenagers further hypered on energy drinks presents its own set of problems, at least to their long-suffering parents. But we digress.
In the final analysis, while Harvick and Budweiser enjoy the higher profile, it is Ambrose and Stanley who stand the most to gain from their nascent NASCAR relationship. Provided Stanley doesn’t drop the tools… er, ball.