Rick Ware Racing has launched a new sponsorship sales strategy, with colleges and universities playing a starring role.

RWR, which this year returned to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as an “open, non-chartered team,” is offering university athletic departments primary status of the No. 51 car at no cost.

The team plans to sell against the inventory to secure cash deals with school alumni, supporters and their businesses.

RWR has thus far announced partnerships with two schools in the 2017 season: East Carolina University and Clemson University.

ECU signed a three-race deal that kicked off with last weekend’s AAA Drive for Autism 400 at Dover International Speedway.

The school’s other two races include the Crown Royal presents “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23rd and the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 9th.

Clemson University will sponsor the June 11th Axalta presents the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway. The school will outfit the car with a throwback paint scheme in celebration of its 1981 national football championship.

“We design a good-looking car and follow up with associate sponsors, who are usually donors or big supporters of the schools. There is a lot of interest from people who want to be associated with such a special event,” said Bryan Clodfelter, Rick Ware Racing marketing director.

“They will hopefully pay most of our expenses, if not a little more.”

RWR’s status as a single car team in the MENCS precipitated the nontraditional sponsorship sales strategy, he said.  “We’re one of the most underfunded teams on the circuit. We have to get more creative than most folks.”

RWR targets athletic departments for sponsorship, not the school themselves.

“We want to make sure universities and their supporters know we’re not taking any money out of their athletic funds,” said Clodfelter, noting that the topic is one of the first things he explains when discussing the program during radio and TV interviews.

Last weekend’s AAA Drive for Autism 400 was the first race of the season with a school on the car. The team did not have time to secure cash sponsors after inking the ECU partnership last week, he said.

RWR will cap each sponsorship at a maximum of three races, said Clodfelter, noting that sponsor interest will begin to wane with additional races. Most schools will sponsor two races, he said.

The sponsorship was a no-brainer for ECU, said Greg Herring, East Carolina University assistant athletics director/marketing and fan engagement.

“The sponsorship doesn’t cost us a cent, and we get millions of dollars’ worth of national exposure for our athletic program.”

The sponsorship helps support the athletic department’s strategic plan (“Undaunted”) to increase brand awareness at the regional and national levels, he said.

“We’re always looking for ways to enhance our image in the collegiate landscape, particularly at the Power 6 level,” said Herring, referring to the American Athletic Conference’s initiative to be included with the Big Ten, SEC and other conferences. The AAC last month released a strategic plan that outlines the steps the league needs to take to achieve elite status in college athletics.

ECU provides information on its athletic programs and academic curriculum on the back of driver hero cards distributed at races, said Herring.