NASCAR's premier series renamed

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Though Saturday's announcement came as no surprise, it's now official -- NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series has changed its name to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, effective Jan. 1, 2008.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Though Saturday's announcement came as no surprise, it's now official -- NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series has changed its name to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, effective Jan. 1, 2008.

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France joined with Sprint's Tim Kelly (chief marketing officer), Tom Murphy (vice president of experiential marketing) and Dean Kessel (director of NASCAR Nextel Cup Series marketing) in the media center at Daytona International Speedway for the announcement and unveiling of the new series logo.

The timing of the name change announcement coincides with the launch of a new advertising campaign that will mark the aggressive promotion of the Sprint brand and the phase-out of the Nextel name. Sprint will supplant Nextel in all aspects of the title sponsorship, including the all-star race in May.

The name change results from Sprint's ascendance as the dominant brand after Sprint's acquisition of Nextel for $35 billion in 2005 led to the formation of Sprint Nextel Corp., one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world.

"When we originally entered into the first agreement with Nextel, we actually and they actually contemplated the possibility that this might happen," France said. "Obviously, they didn't know at that point about being acquired by Sprint, or the merger, but what they did know was they were in a fast-moving industry in telecom, and they wanted to get bigger.


"The question for us is, while it's never easy to change the name of your primary series, you most important series ... but in talking to the Sprint group for some time now, it's very obvious to us that their focus, and rightly so, will be against the Sprint brand."

France acknowledged the possibility of confusion between the Sprint Cup Series and open-wheeled sprint cars had entered the discussions between NASCAR and the title sponsor but were not a major concern.

"It's obviously something we talked about, but we're very comfortable with it," France said. "The branding that will be done in this series and all the effort Sprint has made on its own will help mitigate any kind of confusion."

France also sees an important contractual distinction between the change from Nextel to Sprint and the re-branding of Cingular Wireless to AT&T on Jeff Burton's No. 31 Chevrolet, a dispute that led to litigation involving NASCAR, AT&T and Sprint Nextel. AT&T won a preliminary injunction against NASCAR that allowed the placement of the AT&T logos on the Cingular car, but that ruling is currently in appeal, and NASCAR has filed a $100-million counter suit against AT&T, which is pending.

"The difference is that we have a contract that allows them to do it, and we permitted it," France said of the title sponsorship agreement with Sprint Nextel. "They (AT&T) seized on really a technicality, and we'll have to see if the court systems will see it our way as we go down the road.

"We think they're very separate issues, and we're comfortable with that."

Kelly echoed France's perspective.

"As Brian said, we had the contractual right to make the change, and we had to move forward with our business and not be distracted by things that were happening in the courts," Kelly said. "It was the right thing to do for Sprint and for NASCAR to make this change at this point. That's why we made it now."


Accompanying the announcement of the name change was the introduction of the SprintSpeed Million presented by Motorola, where one fan will be paired with each of the 12 drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup with a guaranteed $1 million on the line. The sweepstakes opens July 15 and closes Sept. 3, after which the 12 fortunate fans will be chosen in a drawing. The fan whose driver wins the championship gets the $1 million prize.

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