In a NASCAR paddock riddled with change, consistency is key to sustainable success

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When it comes to success at NASCAR’s top levels, most point to the talent of the team, quality of the car and depth of the organization as the chief driving factors.

The one aspect that few seem to discuss, however, is consistency, both within teams and the sponsors that support them.

Which is funny, because a glance through the stats shows that consistency may be the most important factor of all.

Look through the top drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series paddock and the effect of sponsorship becomes quite clear.

Jimmie Johnson. Joey Logano. Denny Hamlin. Brad Keselowski. Kyle Busch.

Between the drivers listed above are nine championships, four Daytona 500 victories and 185 Cup series wins in the past 14 years.

The stars all share immense talent, drive for NASCAR’s top organizations and work with some of the best crew chiefs and pit crews in the history of the sport.

However, they also all share one major tangible asset: committed long-term sponsors.

Johnson’s name has become synonymous with greatness in NASCAR since his rookie season in 2003, with seven championships and a host of victories in the sport’s biggest races.

Through it all, Johnson’s carried one major sponsor – Lowe’s.

With consistent support behind him, Rick Hendrick has never had to worry about finding the money to keep Johnson in the car. ‘Mr. H’ has just had to make sure that Johnson has a competent pit crew, and that the seven-time champ and crew chief Chad Knaus continue to talk and work together well.

However, while Hendrick and Johnson may be stalwarts within the garage area, no company sets a greater example for the rewards of consistency than Team Penske.

For 51 years, Roger Penske has used the concept of consistent quality to make the ultimate motorsports dynasty.

From the very beginning, Penske’s organization has adopted what has since been referred to as ‘The Penske Way’, striving to perfect the weekly routine under the motto, “Effort Equals Results.”

Team members are expected to be cleaned up, courteous and professional, and everyone is held to the same standard. Drivers may maneuver their cars as aggressively as anyone in the paddock, but from the moment they step out of the machine they’re again held to the standards of the organization.

The culture at Penske trickles down from the track to the shop. ‘The Captain’ has one of the lowest turnover rates in motorsports, and has parlayed that level of consistency to arguably the greatest career of any car owner in racing history, with well over 450 victories across a plethora of series.

“This is how we built the company and I think if you can show leadership opportunities and you reward the people, and it’s not always about money,” Penske said in a Daytona media availability. “There are people who would come and work on the 22 car, the 2 or the 21 just to be part of the team and I think that’s what we try to develop through the whole organization.  I look, quite honestly, every single month with every company we have I’m looking at turnover and when you have high turnover, you usually get poor results and you know you’ve got to make a change.”

While his team’s consistency has been crucial to success on-track, it has also made Penske’s organization enticing for sponsors looking to enter or stay in the sport.

MillerCoors has ridden with Penske in some shape or another for 27 years, sponsoring a host of drivers including Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch and, most recently, Keselowski, whose contract Penske intends to extend. On Friday, Shell-Pennzoil announced that it would stay with Penske’s NASCAR and IndyCar programs through 2022 and beyond, sponsoring Logano on the Cup side with crew chief Todd Gordon.

“I think it’s an exclamation point on the commitment that Shell and Pennzoil have to the sport, to the industry from the standpoint of where they do business, and I think the ability for us to partner with them is exactly our game plan,” Penske said. “That’s our mission – to be with partners – and if I look back and think about the success we’ve had over these years it’s been because of partnerships that are long-term.  In today’s world of risk and uncertainty, to be able to have this opportunity is amazing for me.”

A similar story could be seen over at Joe Gibbs Racing over the weekend, as longtime sponsor FedEx re-upped with Hamlin as part of a new multi-year extension.

Hamlin has competed with support from FedEx since his move to full-time Cup racing in 2006, rallying to a plethora of victories including last year’s Daytona 500 and twice (2010, ’14) heading to Homestead-Miami Speedway with the championship within reach.

The majority of Denny Hamlin’s success has come with FedEx on the hood. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

With consistent backing Hamlin has evolved into a perennial championship contender, a feat he owes largely to his dedicated sponsor.

“FedEx has been with me for my entire career, and I’m honored to have them continue as the sponsor of the #11 team,” Hamlin said.  “As a racer, you only dream of an opportunity to compete for wins and championships at the highest level, and I have been fortunate to do that with FedEx and JGR for more than a decade.”

Other dominant drivers have seen similar support in recent years. Kyle Busch brings sponsorship from Mars, Inc. Matt Kenseth has brought back DeWalt with Joe Gibbs Racing after winning a championship with the company and Roush Fenway Racing in 2003. Hendrick Motorsports has kept the support of Axalta Coating Systems (formerly DuPont Performance Coatings) despite the retirement of the sponsor’s longtime star Jeff Gordon.

A peek at the history books shows many of NASCAR’s legends similar sponsor support through the years. Richard Petty still has dealings with STP decades after the end of his driving career. Dale Earnhardt carried the logo of GM Goodwrench from the zenith of his career all the way until the end of his days.

Even a few of the paddock’s journeyman drivers – the Michael Waltrips and Paul Menards of the world – have seen lengthy stays in NASCAR with significant triumphs due to sponsor support.

In a sport that embraces the grind like no other – competing in 38 of the year’s 52 weeks with sponsor commitments – developing consistent routines is critical to long-term success.

Even as the landscape and structure of NASCAR goes through massive shifts, the teams that can take consistent approaches – both in performance and financing – to each season and adapt them to the new changes as necessary seem to be the ones that most frequently find success.

So if you’re looking for the next stars of NASCAR, look for drivers and teams with consistent rides and support to grow for many years to come.

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