CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The long battle between Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Panther Racing for Army National Guard sponsorship ended Thursday, with the coveted funding moving to Graham Rahal's car for the upcoming IndyCar season.
The Rahal organization sought the sponsorship last fall, but Panther Racing appealed to keep the contract it has held since 2008. All military sponsorships are reviewed annually.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office denied Panther's appeal last month, and RLL said the guard will be the primary sponsor for Rahal's No. 15 Honda.
''I think everybody that knows me knows I've always been extremely patriotic person: I'm proud to be an American and I've always displayed it on my helmet and on my race shoes,'' Rahal told The Associated Press. ''So for me, there is more pride to be involved in this than anyone can know. I've always felt strongly that the guard should have an American driver and there's a lot of pride in having that seat.''
Panther Racing signed American driver J.R. Hildebrand starting with the 2011 season, the year he crashed on the final lap while leading the Indianapolis 500. The team let Hildebrand go following the 500 last season, and used a variety of drivers - none of them American - to fill the seat.
In NASCAR, the National Guard sponsors Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 11-time most popular driver.
RLL team co-owner Bobby Rahal doesn't believe driver nationality is the most important part of the organization's winning bid.
''Graham, being an American and he's always felt very patriotic to his country, will be a great spokesman and I think that was an important element,'' Bobby Rahal told AP. ''But you also want to make sure the driver is competitive. Nationality is important, but you've got to deliver the goods.
''Beyond that, we thought our proposal to the guard was very compelling. It went way beyond a race car, it had a lot of merit.''
Panther Racing team owner John Barnes was recently honored with the ''Spirit of Hope'' award at the Pentagon for his support of the Armed Forces through his work with Operation: Hire Our Guard. Through the program, Panther Racing invited local business and military leadership to its events and educated employers on the unemployment crisis facing veterans.
Rahal called Barnes' efforts ''noble'' and said his team will continue similar initiatives.
''Much of the program will remain similar to what guard has needed,'' Bobby Rahal said.

Recent NASCAR Discussions

Daytona 500 Betting News and Notes on Wed, Feb 2017 by Blade
Advance Auto Parts Clash Betting News and Notes on Sun, Feb 2017 by Michael Cash
2017 NASCAR Changes on Wed, Feb 2017 by Michael Cash
Can-Am 500 Betting News and Notes on Sun, Nov 2016 by Blade
Advertisement

NASCAR Odds

Driver Odds
Can-Am Duel 1 - Odds to Win @ Daytona International Speedway
Brad Keselowski #2 +350
Joey Logano #22 +450
Kyle Busch #18 +600
Kevin Harvick #4 +750
Chase Elliott #24 +800

Nascar Top Stories

Thumbnail Elliott, Earnhardt to start up front at Daytona Qualifying for the Daytona 500 took place on Sunday and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott find themselves set to...
Thumbnail Earnhardt Jr. Favored in Daytona 500 Despite missing the better part of the 2016 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the early favorite to win the 2017...
Thumbnail Daytona 500 Odds We are about a month away from the 2017 Daytona 500. Here is an early look at the odds to win the race.
Advertisement
Advertisement