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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Is A Fascinating Marketing Study

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
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Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended a 143-race drought on NASCAR's Sprint Cup series on Sunday.

It's a very long time to not have a win, even in NASCAR where a 43-car field each week only yields at 2.3 percent chance of winning, assuming other factors are equal.

It's even more remarkable when you consider that Earnhardt's team is the most well-heeled team in the entire sport, which gives them the ability to make the machine part of the game the best it can be.

When you consider that "Little E" had a 76-race losing streak before his most recent one, it's hard to believe that year in and year out his popularity never wanes.

He has won the honor of the sport's most popular driver a record nine times.

In the sports marketing world, there's never been someone like Junior, who, no matter what he does gets the kind of fan support that he does.

It would be one thing if he had characteristics that allowed him to transcend outside the racing world, but he doesn't.

He's not charismatic and is hardly among the most passionate or hot-headed drivers. He doesn't have the sex appeal of Danica Patrick or Anna Kournikova.

Yet, year after year, his fans continue to buy his memorabilia in great volume. The only conclusion? His last name is the most valuable last name in all of sports.

Peyton and Eli wouldn't be as marketable as they are without the Super Bowls. But Junior's last name is gold, as fans naturally adopted him after his father, Dale Sr., died at Daytona in 2001.

But there's actually a question as to whether Earnhardt helps move the needle for the company's that pay big bucks to sponsor his car.

Pepsi used him to drive their energy drink product Amp. It didn't work. Its place in the energy drink space fell.

Budweiser used him to help win the beer war. Although they were the market leader overall sales fell while he had "Bud" on his hood.

There's also scrutiny on his National Guard deal, as some politicians want to cut sponsorship of Earnhardt's car and others because they claim it fails to yield the bang for the buck.

In one instance, the National Guard reportedly paid more than $32 million to Earnhardt's owner, Hendricks Motorsports, and it only produced 343 National Guard recruits.

Perhaps all this is unfair. There's a case to be made for the fact that Gatorade's market share hasn't significantly increased since signing Michael Jordan in 1991.

And he didn't do much to help sales of other products he pitched, including Ballpark Franks and Rayovac batteries. Sports marketing may work, but only so much.

We know Junior can sell the gear and he has the most loyal fans in sports, but has he moved product without winning? I'd say the jury is still out on that one.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com