In NASCAR, the fuel that powers everything is sponsorship dollars. And when you're a driver at the Sprint Cup level, you better be able to sell yourself to a potential sponsor. Especially when you're entering the free agency phase of your contract.
A good case in point is Ryan Newman, who is in his fifth and likely final season at Stewart-Haas Racing, where he is teammates with Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick. Newman, the 2002 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year, has signed a personal services contract with toothbrush-maker Oral-B, which builds 330 million toothbrushes annually at its facility in Iowa City.
Newman's deal with Oral-B is somewhat unique in that it is not connected to the team; Newman's No. 39 SHR Chevrolet SS carries no Oral-B decals or signage, and the deal is strictly between the driver and the sponsor.
The new relationship carries a lot of responsibilities with it. Newman has had a very busy week servicing his sponsor.
On Wednesday, the veteran driver traveled to the Oral-B plant in Iowa City to meet with many of the 500 or so employees who work there. The company released two videos, one which "celebrates the importance of American-built products and what they mean to him (Newman)," as well as a "2-minute documentary featuring its Iowa City factory workers and celebrating the essence of 'Built in the USA.'"
Friday afternoon, Newman qualified 21st for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Afterward, he spent 90 minutes meeting with fans, signing autographs and interacting with military veterans from Hope For The Warriors, a national nonprofit that assists post-9/11 service members, to amplify the organization's resources that help veterans reintegrate into the civilian workforce.
Oral-B is pledging $100,000 to Hope For The Warriors and "asking people to join them in supporting service members as they further develop professional skills and enhance their ability to navigate the transition into the civilian sector, including new careers, business ownership and advanced educational opportunities."
The Fourth of July weekend in Daytona is the second stop on Oral-B's "Built in the USA" tour, which includes visiting race cities with Newman during key American holidays - Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day and Veteran's Day. Oral-B also is doing a lot of trackside activation, including visiting campgrounds and handing out samples of its products. The toothbrush maker is also running a series of contests, games and giveaways at the tracks it visits.
Newman and his wife, Krissie, are scheduled to be the featured guests in Saturday's DIS Tweetup, an informal gathering of race fans who are social media-savvy. All in all, it's a lot of activity for the driver.
And, oh by the way, tonight he's got a race to run.
Like most every restrictor-plate race, tonight's Coke Zero 400 likely will come down to who can position themselves for a last-lap charge to victory, as Newman did when he won the Daytona 500 here in 2008.
"I think our Outback Chevrolet will be competitive," said Newman after qualifying on Friday. "In restrictor-plate racing, to finish first, first you must finish, and we'll see if we can put ourselves in position. You have a strategy, but you also have to let it play out. Part of your strategy is to have a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C and sometimes a Plan D. That all changes with the weather, track position and tires and what everybody else is doing at the same time, so we'll see."