A month after the military sponsorship of professional sports and teams survived a close vote in Congress, the Army National Guard extended its sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt Jr. through next season.
NASCAR's most popular driver, who has been aligned with the National Guard since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, will be backed by the Guard in 20 races in 2013, including the Daytona 500.
On July 17, an amendment to ban military sponsorship of sports and teams narrowly was defeated 216-202. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., and a co-sponsor of the event, has indicated he intended to continue pursuing the legislation.
The amendment by Kingston and co-sponsor Betty McCollum would have removed $72.3 million from the Department of Defense's appropriations. There was much debate over the return on investment from the $26.5 million that the National Guard spent this season to sponsor Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet.
A National Guard official told USA TODAY Sports in May that the Guard had been contacted by 24,800 individuals about joining because of the sponsorship, and that none joined out of 20 qualified candidates.
The National Guard Association president and retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett Jr. disputed the validity of those statistics, though, and said the Guard must do a better job of measuring the value of the sponsorship. "I don't think anybody has the right numbers," Hargett said. "I don't think we have tracked those numbers correctly."
The National Guard actually will be increasing its investment from this season when it had 18 primary paint schemes.
"National Guard Citizen Soldiers represent the more than 3,200 communities across the United States in which they live, work and serve their state and the nation," Lt. Col. Michael Wegner, marketing branch chief of Army National Guard, said in a statement. "What NASCAR gives us is a national marketing platform that also can be leveraged at that local level, touching recruiters, potential recruits and influencers. With our all-volunteer military and rigorous enlistment standards, it plays a key role in increasing the awareness of what the Guard does and the many career opportunities and benefits it offers."
Earnhardt is ranked fourth in the standings with one victory this year. He will carry the National Guard paint scheme on his Chevy this weekend at Michigan.