Target ends 16 years of NASCAR sponsorship; Chip Ganassi to keep Kyle Larson as driver

— -- LONG POND, Pa. -- Target will focus its sports marketing budget on soccer and drop its 16-year NASCAR sponsorship of Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2017 season.

The decision leaves Kyle Larson, second in the NASCAR Cup Series standings, without an announced sponsor for the majority of 2018.

Target had a 28-year relationship with Ganassi and was a major sponsor of his IndyCar, NASCAR and sportscar programs throughout the past three decades.

Ganassi said Larson, who turns 25 next week, will continue to drive for the team.

"Kyle Larson is a once-in-a-generation talent," Ganassi said in a statement. "He and the No. 42 Chevrolet will still be on the track for a long time.

"The only difference is that they will have different colors."

Target, which ended its IndyCar sponsorship of Ganassi after last season, said in a statement that it was shifting its focus to soccer.

"As we looked to evolve our sports marketing program, soccer provided Target with a unique opportunity to reach our guests in new places, and at all levels of the sport," Target said in a statement. "Through partnerships with Major League Soccer, Minnesota United FC, US Youth Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Target has been able to create meaningful connections with players, fans and families, no matter how they participate in the sport."

Jimmy Spencer was the first Ganassi driver to carry the Target colors full time in 2002, the second year Ganassi owned the NASCAR team after purchasing it from Felix Sabates. It has served as a sponsor of Ganassi's NASCAR teams since then, and while Ganassi sold some races to other companies, Target still was a majority sponsor.

"We are enormously proud of how Chip and the entire Ganassi Racing team have represented the Target brand throughout our partnership," the Target statement said. "Together, we've seen tremendous success in NASCAR over the past 16 seasons, both on and off the track. ... We have incredible respect for Chip and the talented team he has assembled, and are confident they will continue to see great success for years to come."

Target had leveraged the program to its vendors, often selling space on the car, which had made the team optimistic it would remain even though it had dropped the IndyCar program. Ganassi is in talks with potential replacements.

"I have had an unbelievable relationship with Target for 28 years, and I have to thank them for their longtime support," Ganassi said. "It has been so much more than a team-sponsor relationship. They have their fingerprints on so much of what Chip Ganassi Racing has become.

"I have had numerous mentors and developed great friendships over the years at Target and fully expect many of those to continue, but this news simply closes one chapter of our race team and also begins a new one."