Grainger In For Long Haul

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Sponsor continuity isn’t a phrase often heard around the NASCAR circles, especially among its top three divisions.

Loyalty to a team or a driver, much less the desire or the money to stay in the sport on a long-term basis, is fleeting at best in most cases.

And then there’s Grainger Industrial Supply, the sponsor for Greg Biffle in the NASCAR Busch Series. Not only has Grainger stuck with Biffle and Roush Racing for the past four years, it has also progressed through two series and, in 2003, will make the jump to a third.

Now that’s what you call loyalty in NASCAR. Grainger began its NASCAR history with Roush and Biffle in the Craftsman Truck Series in 1998 during Biffle’s rookie campaign. Three years later, the two advanced to the Busch Series together.

After a tremendously successful rookie season in that division in 2001, Grainger and Biffle will run for a Busch Series championship this season before moving on to greener pastures in the Winston Cup Series full-time in 2003.

No other primary sponsor in the history of NASCAR has made such a progression. There have been Busch Series sponsors, such as DeWalt Tools and Caterpillar that have made a successful jump to Winston Cup, but neither of those sponsors ever participated on a full-time basis in the CTS. And only DeWalt has the same driver (Matt Kenseth) it did in the Busch Series.

Amoco sponsored Dave Blaney in the Busch Series for a couple of years and then moved on to Winston Cup with him for two additional seasons, but the sponsor has since dropped out of the sport on a full-time basis.

ALLTEL, which sponsored driver Ryan Newman on a part-time basis in the Winston Cup and Busch Series last year, will move up to the Winston Cup level with Newman in 2002.

Without a doubt, Grainger’s situation with Roush Racing is a unique one.

“It’s been a tremendous relationship between Roush Racing and Grainger,” said team owner Jack Roush. “We have a sponsor that saw a fairly limited opportunity to make business sense out of a motorsports program and they took and set their goals and their objectives for it. They made their investment and they got their return on it in the Truck Series.

“The next step was the next more expensive program, which was the Busch program, and they had to figure out a way to establish a strategy as far as their investment and their marketing promotions to make that program work for them. And they’ve done just that.

“Now that the Busch program is working effectively for them, the next step was to invest in the most expensive program we offer and in our industry, and that’s Winston Cup. They (Grainger) are growing at the same time that Greg (Biffle) is progressing. The crew chief (Randy Goss) is learning, and we’re building the whole program around it. It’s been a wonderful thing to have the whole thing grow up together.”

Biffle will attempt to make his Winston Cup Series debut in the Daytona 500 in February. He’ll run a seven-race Winston Cup schedule in 2002 with a sponsor yet to be named, and then Grainger will take over as the primary sponsor of the No. 60 Roush Racing Ford full-time in 2003.

“Grainger has been a tremendous supporter of ours over the years,” Biffle said. “The first time they had gotten into any motorsports venture was with Roush Racing when they came in with us. I’ve been their driver ever since, and it’s been tremendous.

“We moved onto Busch and now we’re going to move up to Winston Cup, so that shows you something about them. You couldn’t ask for a better sponsor, and I know Jack and the whole Roush organization appreciates their support. We’re going to continue to try to be as successful for them as we can be.”

The leading North American provider of maintenance, repair and operating (MRO) supplies, services and related information to businesses and institutions, Grainger is headquartered in Lake Forest, Ill., and the company’s common stock is traded on the New York and Chicago stock exchange. According to Biffle’s 2001 press kit, the company, founded in 1927, did $4.5 billion in sales in 2002 and has over 16,800 employees.

The company first hooked up with Roush and Biffle prior to the 1998 CTS season, a year that produced more than favorable on-track results. Biffle earned eight top-five finishes in 27 races and finished eighth in the points while winning series rookie of the year honors.

“Greg was identified as an up-and-comer by Benny Parsons, and he certainly didn’t let us down that first year,” said Jim Choate, Regional Sales Manager for Grainger. “From a talent standpoint, Greg certainly had what it took. The trucks were different than what he was used to, but the team came together and they got the job done.”

“When we were first getting into the whole NASCAR relationship, we didn’t know a whole lot about NASCAR sponsorships,” said Lisa Ballotti, Grainger’s Marketing Manager of Sponsorships. “It was a good opportunity for us that year, and we were really enthusiastic about it. The Truck Series was a learning ground for us to begin to understand how the whole NASCAR relationship works.

“We learned about the hospitality aspect of it, our customers as race fans and how to entertain them at races. The first year was a bit rough, but the second year everything started to click. Everything happened at a great pace for us. Things have only gotten better over the years and we’ve continued to be delighted with the success of the team.”

Things came together quite nicely for Biffle and his team in 1999 and he posted a series high nine victories and finished second in the points. It was only inevitable that the Grainger team would win a CTS championship in 2002 as Biffle posted five victories and edged Roush Racing teammate Kurt Busch for the title.

Three years in the truck series was enough for both, however, and the program was upgraded to the Busch Series for 2001. All Biffle did this past season was win the Busch Series Rookie of the Year Award as well as earn five victories, and the instant respect of his Busch Series competitors.

Biffle is considered by many as the favorite to win the Busch Series championship in 2002.

The recent downtown in the economy has forced many NASCAR sponsors to the sidelines, but Grainger has been wise about its investment and continues to make its presence in the sport known.

“One of the things that puts us in a good position is managing expenses,” Choate said. “Our management team has been very good about getting us through this tough time that the economy is going through right now. Our progression is not unlike the corporate culture in this country. We’ve been careful to do things right. We’ve been there for the long haul, and we want to continue to be a successful partner with Roush Racing for the long-term.”

And that could bring some pretty nice accolades down the road. Should he win the Busch Series title this season, Biffle will become the first driver to win championships in both the Craftsman Truck Series and the Busch Series. That’s a big priority with him.

But he’ll also be shooting for an amazing feat in 2003. He’ll be looking to become the first driver ever to win rookie of the year titles in all three of NASCAR’s elite divisions.

“Should that happen, that’ll really be something, won’t it?” Biffle quipped. “But it won’t be something just for me. It’ll be something that everyone at Roush Racing, and at Grainger, will be able to share. Those are the people that have made this thing happen, and that’s something I really want to give to them to show my appreciation. Who knows then, if we win the Busch championship this year, perhaps we could win a Winston Cup title down the road. That would be unbelievable. Three titles in three top divisions.”

And, through thick and thin, Grainger will have been there for all three of them.

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