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ANDERS: Ware Racing, ECU deal was calculated risk

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Jordan Anders

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, July 23, 2017

When the news was released in late May that East Carolina was going to be partnering with Rick Ware Racing to sponsor a Monster Energy Cup Series entry, the concept seemed simple enough.

RWR put the Pirates’ colors and logos on their No. 51 Chevrolet at no cost to the university, at the same time hoping the chance to get some recognition at the national level in association with ECU would entice businesses from Greenville and the surrounding area to pay to be associate sponsors on the car.

As most know from the news this week, that didn’t happen, and the race team had to scrap its plan for East Carolina to be back on its car for today’s race at Indianapolis.

When I talked to Bryan Clodfelter, RWR’s marketing director, last week, he was bitterly disappointed as he admitted that he potentially overestimated the interest that local companies would have.

For a small team like Rick Ware Racing, Clodfelter is doing the job that front-running operations have entire teams to do. RWR’s experiment with putting universities on the car free of charge, then trying to collect on smaller associate sponsorships, was a calculated risk, but it’s one that a team that size has to take in order to attract some eyeballs.

The ECU car certainly did that. A 1:24 scale die cast of the car is in production and will ship in November. Clodfelter told me the minimum order to have that collectible put into production was 850, meaning there were plenty of ECU fans out there willing to lay some money down for a piece of the deal.

The team is still working to drum up support to get East Carolina back on the car for its third scheduled race at Richmond on Sept. 9. I hope they’re able to find that support, because teams that size need to be rewarded for taking risks in the name of the all-powerful sponsorship dollars.

Plus, let’s be real: that car looked fantastic.

INDY: The No. 51 will take the track with the rest of the field at Indianapolis today, the 24th time that NASCAR’s premier series has raced at the famed racetrack.

The crowd today will be a fraction of what it was in the first years of the event. Given, that’s the case with just about every track on the circuit now, but the decline at Indy has been incredibly stark in part because of just how vast the place is — it can hold more than 400,000 — but also because of its quickness.

As recently as nine years ago, the Brickyard was absolutely jam-packed for NASCAR’s annual trip there. Of course, that’s the day widely remembered for the Goodyear tire debacle that ruined the 2008 edition of the race. The event has never recovered and attendance has sagged ever since.

I’ve said this before and will again: I still think NASCAR has to have a presence at Indy. Is the racing phenomenal? Not usually. Those cars are not designed for a big, fast, flat track like Indianapolis and it shows. But in order to maintain its spot as the premier motorsports brand in this country, NASCAR simply has to keep its toe dipped in the pool of perhaps the most recognizable track in the United States.

Also, the racing in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race with a different aero package and restrictor plates was a vastly improved product, and the word is positive feedback might mean NASCAR uses the same rules in the Cup Series next season. That could be a much-needed shot in the arm.

ELDORA: Another year has come and gone for one of my favorite nights of the NASCAR season.

The Camping World Truck Series’ annual dirt trek at Eldora Speedway on Wednesday night was a blast, as usual. Dirt novice and series regular Matt Crafton eventually drove off with the win, but the race provided plenty of action and even more bent up sheet metal.

The trucks on dirt are possibly the most unique thing NASCAR does all year. It throws a bone to drivers who come from dirt backgrounds, like rookie Stewart Friesen, who has a best finish of 12th on asphalt this year, but led 93 laps at Eldora and finished second. Seeing different players at the front is always fun.

Christopher Bell, currently second in points, crashed early and drove his battered truck all the way back to the front before a flat tire proved his undoing late. Despite the fact it was bounced around between three networks with the feature being buried on the FOX Business Network, the race provided every bit the show fans could have hoped for.

Now, say it with me: NASCAR doesn’t need anymore dirt races. Just keep the one and keep it special.

PREDICTION

I think Joe Gibbs Racing gets its second straight win today, but not in the form of Kyle Busch’s third Brickyard triumph. I like a guy who has three top-5s in the last four races at Indy, including a second-place finish a year ago.

PICK: Matt Kenseth.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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