LOUDON, N.H. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is optimistic about his sponsorship relationship with the National Guard despite the U.S. Army's decision to end its association with another team, Stewart-Haas Racing, next season.
Earnhardt, in second place in NASCAR's Sprint Cup standings, said Friday he was "disappointed" by the Army's decision announced last Tuesday.
"I feel that our (National Guard) program is really productive," Earnhardt said before qualifying for Sunday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "Apparently, they don't feel like theirs was productive."
Ryan Newman, who drives for SHR, attributed the decision to end the sponsorship to "true politics."
Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota and Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia are backing an amendment that would prohibit military sponsorship of sports. McCollum lost a House vote a year ago to end military sponsorships of NASCAR, professional wrestling and fishing, but is trying again to have about $80 million in sponsorship cut from the defense budget.
"I hope whatever they do it's going to be good for the Army," Newman said. "Their decision is their decision and it's unfortunate for us. I was a proud representative of the name and the people and the colors and everything else.
"It seems that time has come and passed," he said, "but we are here to win for them this weekend."
Tony Stewart said he knew the Army's departure from his team was possible but "it was a little bit of a surprise."
Now the National Guard Association of the United States wants the Guard to continue its sponsorship with Earnhardt.
"There is an effort underway in Congress to prohibit the U.S. military from sponsoring professional motorsports as part of military recruiting," the association's president, retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr. said.
"On the surface, this may seem like a good idea in the face of current fiscal challenges. But a closer look reveals that such a ban would provide no real savings and only serve to hinder Defense Department efforts to reach the most qualified potential recruits."
At his news conference on Friday, Earnhardt wore a red, white and blue cap with the words "National Guard" on it and a blue shirt with the same words in white capital letters.
"I feel pretty good about the relationship I have with the Guard," he said, "but it was just disappointing when any company or big entity like that leaves the sport entirely."