Jimmie Johnson is going to need a new sponsor for the 2019 season.
Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that Lowe’s, Johnson’s only Cup Series sponsor, wouldn’t return to the team for the 2019 season.
“Working with Hendrick Motorsports, Jimmie, [crew chief Chad Knaus] and the entire No. 48 team has been an incredible journey,” Lowe’s CCO Michael P. McDermott said in a statement. “Rick Hendrick and his organization have been exceptional partners, and we could not have asked for more from Jimmie – a consummate champion and an incredible representative for our brand and his sport.
“The No. 48 team is a valuable property and has been an integral part of building the Lowe’s brand, which makes today’s decision difficult as we now look to invest in other strategic initiatives. Although we are evolving our strategy, there’s no question that being a part of seven championships and many history-making moments has been valuable for Lowe’s.”
The possible exit of the company was teased when Hendrick announced Johnson’s contract extension during the 2017 season. While Johnson signed for three more seasons through 2020, Lowe’s signed an extension through 2018. The company also elected to eschew its familiar blue paint scheme on Johnson’s car for 2018 and instead go with a black car that advertises the company’s professional services.
Lowe’s or its tool brand Kobalt has been listed as a primary sponsor for each of the seven-time champion’s 583 career Cup Series races. The company’s departure is yet another massive blow to a sport struggling to retain longtime sponsors and entice new ones to make significant investments.
“I’ll always be grateful to Lowe’s for taking a chance on me and believing that I could win,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure where I’d be right now if they hadn’t committed to the No. 48 team. It’s hard to see them move on, but we’ve made history together and celebrated so much success on and off the track. There’s still a lot left to do in 2018.
“I have more to accomplish in this sport. I feel the best I’ve ever felt physically. I’m motivated. I’m focused on winning races and chasing more championships. Someone will be a big part of writing that story with us. I’m not going anywhere.”
Target left Kyle Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2017 season; it had served as a longtime sponsor of both Ganassi’s Cup Series and IndyCar teams and made the decision to leave motorsports not long after becoming the shirt sponsor for MLS franchise Minnesota United.
There have been a lot of other high-profile companies who have stepped out of motorsports in recent years. Just 12 companies who sponsored cars in the 2001 Daytona 500 is scheduled to serve as a primary sponsor of a car in some capacity in 2018.
Lowes joins Target, Dollar General, Home Depot, UPS, Subway, National Guard, Sprint, and Miller as major companies that have either gotten out of NASCAR completely in recent years or significantly reduced their presence.
— Jordan Bianchi (@Jordan_Bianchi) March 14, 2018
And we haven’t even touched on the sponsorship contract the sport signed with Monster to replace Sprint as the Cup Series title sponsor in 2017. Monster is reportedly sponsoring the series for a fraction of what Sprint did and at a cost similar to what teams were asking for full-season primary sponsorships (like Lowe’s has with Johnson).
There’s no way to spin it; one of the longest-serving and most prominent sponsors leaving the Cup Series is a very clear sign that the NASCAR sponsorship game isn’t a thriving one. We’ll see how Hendrick Motorsports — and the rest of the sport — adapts.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.