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200-mph Ads: The Top 5 NASCAR Paint Jobs

The logo on Tony Stewart's car is readable even at difficult angles. AP Photo

During last Saturday's NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, I had a heck of a time keeping track of who was who, even on my 61-inch super-clear DLP-technology screen. Often I simply could not make out the cars' numbers or logos.

Tony Stewart's distinctive Home Depot car was an exception. I never had trouble spotting him, except when he was at the back of the pack and not on TV much. But after Stewart fought his way to the front, you couldn't miss him.

Home Depot was surely pleased.

But pity Interstate Batteries, which plunked down several million dollars to sponsor J.J. Yeley's car. Up close, the paint scheme looks great. But I'll be darned if I could find it from my couch without one of those annoying graphic pointers the TV crew employs to follow cars around the track.

“The Interstate Batteries car has a distinctive paint job, a bright green, yet on television, its graphics look muddled," points out Paul Ostasiewski, professor of marketing at Wheeling Jesuit University.

Keep it simple

Ostasiewski has been studying all this and has some suggestions to maximize the $15-20 million per year a sponsor pays for its 200-mph billboard.

"A car’s paint scheme has to be designed so a major sponsor’s name can be easily read, particularly on television where it’s usually seen for a few seconds before cameras cut away to show another car," Ostasiewski says.

He also advises teams to think of their entire package.

“The Home Depot car has a bright orange and black paint scheme. The car’s graphics are also unique and easy to read. The orange carries through to the driver Tony Stewart’s uniform and that of the crew, all of which shows well on television. The scheme was so distinctive that when Tony Stewart graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, the background color of the photograph matched Stewart’s uniform. It was very effective.”

Buck tradition

Tradition needs to give way to smarter design, Ostasiewski figures.

“Conventional wisdom says the logo should be high on the hood," he explains. "Yet with the current cars’ sloping hoods and the camera angles used in television production, a better placement is lower, closer to the front. Up high, the name is harder to read.”

Few traditions are older in racing than sponsorship stickers on the side of the cars. But those secondary sponsors have little chance of being noticed on television. Ostasiewski has some ideas here, too. For one, the stickers shouldn't just be placed together in what becomes a giant blob behind the front wheel.

"It might look better if teams could arrange the stickers in a more organized way, like along the rocker panel area. They’d still be visible close up yet might look better.”

The Top 5

Ostasiewski ranks the five best-looking cars from a sponsor's view:

Car #20, Home Depot

Car #17, DeWalt Tools

Car #8, Budweiser

Car #32, Tide

Car #2, Miller Lite Beer

Robert Roy Britt

Freelance writer Robert Roy Britt is an explainer of things, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience, and author of the science thriller “5 Days to Landfall.” His writing is here.