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Sponsor defections hit Sprint Cup stars

LOUDON, N.H. — For sale: Prime real estate on the hood of cars driven by former Cup champions Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon.

All it takes to grace the made-for-TV, rolling billboard is a deep-pocketed sponsor looking to jump into NASCAR or bolster its profile by forming a partnership with one of the sports marquee stars.

Gordon and Stewart — who have six championships between them — are chasing corporate America’s dollars just as much they’re driving for a title over the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

They’re not alone.

Corporate sponsors have dried up to the point that Kyle Busch said he might have to fold his truck team next season. Busch could be one-and-done in the low-budget series if a full-time sponsor can’t be signed to keep it afloat.

“The people that have the money to do it, can’t or don’t want to do it,” Busch said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “The guys that want to do it, don’t have the money.”

Busch has run into circumstances in the truck series in which other teams are slicing rates and giving away sponsorships for practically nothing, leaving him scrambling to find a company willing to pay a higher price that a driver like Busch commands.

“I think it’s going to be pretty detrimental to not have myself in the series,” Busch said.

In a troubling sign that NASCAR and corporate America have not emerged unscathed from the economic swoon, Stewart and Gordon have done everything short of putting out a want ad to stir sponsorship interest. Gordon is nearing the end of a nearly 20-year relationship with DuPont, and Stewart needs a primary sponsor for 14 races next season.

Old Spice announced this year it would withdraw Stewart’s sponsorship based on a change in marketing strategies. Gordon recently saw a potential deal with Wal-Mart collapse at the bargaining table.

“The Wal-Mart thing was a little disappointing because I feel like everybody was wanting to see that company in this sport for a long time, and we would have loved to have represented them,” Gordon said.

NASCAR, easily America’s top racing series, has seen TV ratings and attendance slide this season.

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