Nextel-Sprint merger trickles down to NASCAR starting in 2008

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- To no one's surprise, NASCAR and Sprint officials announced Saturday that NASCAR's top series will change its name next season from Nextel Cup to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2008.

Nextel's merger with Sprint was completed in 2005, one year after Nextel replaced Winston as the title sponsor of the Cup series.

Sprint is eliminating the Nextel name for all its corporate branding, so changing the name of the NASCAR sponsorship agreement coincides with the company's marketing plans.

"To leave Nextel on Cup title would be inconsistent with where we are headed for the future," said Tim Kelly, chief marketing officer for Sprint. "This is an important step in the development of our brand."

But it's the third name for the Cup series in four years after going 32 years with Winston as the title sponsor.

"In a perfect world, you want to do that as infrequently as possible," NASCAR chairman Brian France said of the name changes. "However, there comes a time when a great opportunity outweighs that issue. We're very confident this particular change is going to be beneficial to the industry."

NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter estimates it will cost Sprint $2 million to change all the signage at NASCAR tracks and company stores to reflect the change for the start of next season.

NASCAR is in the fourth year of a 10-year agreement with Sprint/Nextel that pays NASCAR $75 million a year and gives Sprint/Nextel exclusivity rights in the Cup series.

However, two telecommunications sponsors of Cup teams -- Cingular for the No. 31 Chevy driven by Jeff Burton and Alltel on the No. 12 Dodge driven by Ryan Newman -- were grandfathered in when the Nextel deal began.

Cingular recently changed its name to AT&T (through its own merger) and won a court decision to place the AT&T logo on Burton's car. NASCAR is appealing that decision and filed a $100 million countersuit against AT&T.

Some people will ask why it's OK for Nextel to change its name, but it's not OK for Cingular?

"No. 1, we have a contract allows this to happen [for Nextel]," France said. "No. 2, we want it to happen. The [AT&T] ruling is under an appeal, that's all I can comment, but [the Sprint name change] has no affect at all. We're confident of our position and we intend to prevail."

The new Sprint logo for the Cup series is similar to the current yellow and black oval for Nextel.

"This is something we can build on for a long time," France said. "Frankly, we did not want to be a part of Nextel if the main efforts we're going to Sprint. It's very obvious their focus for the future is on the Sprint brand."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.