Vroooom! Shell Oil Back Big Time At Nascar

Shell Oil, back in Nascar for the first time in a decade, will rev up its recently signed sponsorship of Richard Childress Racing's driver, Kevin Harvick, with an integrated campaign launching at this weekend's Daytona 500 Nextel Cup kickoff race.

Shell and its Pennzoil brand will grace Harvick's No. 29 car, the No. 31 car driven by Jeff Burton and the No. 07 car driven by Clint Bowyer.

The retail element at Shell's 13,000 stores includes in-store branding and merchandising, including an interactive life-sized cutout of Harvick that includes a recording of his voice, special-edition apparel exclusive to Shell locations, collectibles, race schedules and a Shell Racing gift card.

Beyond Shell stores, the company is launching an interactive road show called "Passionate Experts" that debuts today at Daytona and visits 15 cities this spring, including race venues.

The program, really a pitch for Shell-branded gasoline versus the generic discount brands, includes interactive exhibits, games and interactive videos encasing a product pitch for Shell fuels offered through demonstrations.

The demo uses an engine that has been bifurcated so one half runs on Shell gas and the other on discount gas. Then the engine is examined for build-up and sludge.

Gerardo Amado, Shell gasoline brand manager said the effort furthers the "Top Tier" awareness campaign Shell launched last year to promote its three-year-old V-Power gasoline brand and the fact that its Regular, Plus and V-Power grades of gasoline meet the "Top Tier Detergent Gasoline" standard that GM, BMW, Honda and Toyota instituted last year.

"What we are showing consumers is the distance between quality of Shell gasoline set by major automakers," he said. "This has been a continuation of our communications with consumers about the difference between Shell and others that do not meet top tier. We introduced 'Top Tier' to consumers, and this year we are building on that same message."

The tour also has a PR pitch for clean energy, "Future of Energy," that examines alternative energy resources, and a display about bio-fuels.

Later this year, the company will kick off a national network and cable TV advertising campaign with a 30-second spot via Shell's agency, JWT, Houston, depicting Harvick in a humorous on-the-road driving experience with two actors portraying Shell scientists.

Shell will also have links and race information on its corporate Web site, Shell.com/us.

This is a big year for Nascar, now the second-richest sport after the NFL, and No. 1 in Fortune 500 sponsorships. The sport, which brought in a reported $3 billion, including $650 million in sponsorship from marketers last year, begins an eight-year contract this year with ABC-ESPN. In November, Bank of America signed on, paying a reported $15-20 million a year to be the official bank of Nascar, and Tylenol became the official pain medication of Nascar, dethroning long-time sponsor Goody's Headache Powder.

Also this year, in an effort to woo younger fans and update its image, Nascar launched a "Car of Tomorrow" program, featuring a Nascar concept vehicle that will participate in actual races and signed former "American Idol" Kelly Clarkson.

Clarkson will do a concert at a Nascar track, a TV spot and appear at Nascar events. The relationship kicks off Sunday before the Daytona 500 Nextel Cup race, when Clarkson headlines the Nextel Tribute to America on Fox.

If there's a blip on the Nascar screen, it is that TV ratings were down 10% toward the end of the season, with attendance down at most tracks.