CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Three-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon will return for a 14th season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, though he will be one of only two drivers piloting the red and white bulls-eye cars next year.
Target will go from two sponsored IndyCar entries to just one in 2015 as the retailer shifts spending to promoting its drivers. Target also sponsors Kyle Larson, who just wrapped up NASCAR's top rookie honors in the Sprint Cup Series.
"We are just reallocating dollars, there's no difference in anything else," said Dan Griffis, vice president of experiential marketing and alliances at Target. "I would put our investment in racing as the only full-time sponsor in both IndyCar and NASCAR, against any other sponsor in the sport."
Ganassi and Target celebrated their 25th anniversary this year. The partnership began in open wheel, eventually grew to the sponsorship of two IndyCar entries, and expanded into both NASCAR as a primary sponsor and sports cars as an associate sponsor.
"You don't know how fortunate I feel to begin another season partnering with Target in both IndyCar and NASCAR," Ganassi said Tuesday. "They have been far more than a partner for a very long time and have been so committed to the sport of auto racing. I am also very much looking forward to their new marketing campaign that supports the racing program. I know it will be fantastic."
Michael Andretti gave Target and Ganassi the first victory in 1994, Jimmy Vasser won the first championship in 1996 and Juan Pablo Montoya the first Indianapolis 500 in 2000.
In all, Target-sponsored Ganassi cars have won 10 championships in open wheel and four Indy 500s. Of Target's 97 wins, 92 are in IndyCar, one in NASCAR and four are in sports cars — including the prestigious Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2006, too, with Dixon, Casey Mears and the late Dan Wheldon.
But as the retailer increased spending on the sponsorship of cars, it got away from the popular commercials it produced in the 1990s starring Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Montoya and an occasional cameo by Ganassi. Target will now try to recapture some of that buzz in new marketing strategies that will debut next year and feature Dixon and Larson.
Griffis said the two drivers will not appear together in any broadcast spots, but each ad will have different versions.
"We did have success back in the '90s, and we've tried to go back and look at what different assets worked and how we utilized them in the past," Griffis said. "We are constantly evaluating the marketing mix and where we go heavy on some things and where we go light on others, and we determined that for the fan base in both series, the engagement level was basically too light."
The move comes on the heels of a NASCAR analysis by Repucom, a global sports research firm, that found Target was second only to Lowe's in NASCAR in exposure value among primary car sponsors.
And, Griffis noted, that Dixon and Larson are two of Target's most well-known brand ambassadors. A Facebook post on the Target page last week that congratulated Larson on winning rookie of the year received 3,500 percent more "likes" than any previous posting on the official page, Griffis said.
Dixon, who last year moved into a tie for fifth with Bobby Unser on IndyCar's all-time win list, has earned all but one of his 35 career victories in a Target car. The New Zealander won championships in 2003, 2008 and 2013 and has finished in the top four of the standings the past nine seasons.
Ganassi is in the process of revealing his 2015 driver lineups over the course of this month. Tony Kanaan is expected to return to the No. 10 car in IndyCar, just with sponsorship other than Target.
Although Target had been widely-viewed as the primary sponsor of the No. 10 car under Dario Franchitti and Kanaan, it actually only covered a small portion of races each season. The rest of the year the car was sponsored by other companies, some of which were Target vendors.