Column: Get ready for another name change

Published 12:18 pm Friday, June 22, 2007

By Staff
With many of us still calling NASCAR's top series the Winston Cup, get ready for another name change. It is all but a foregone conclusion the series will be re-branded as the Sprint Cup series for the 2008 season. Nextel, the current namesake, merged with Sprint in 2005.
Much like all sponsorship arrangements, an official announcement would have to be made soon in order to coordinate changes in signage and product. It would take most, if not all, of the off-season to make major changes like the colors and signage at the tracks all the way down to the small details like letterhead and business cards.
For decades, NASCAR has thrived because of corporate involvement via sponsorship money. The sport would not have the presence it currently has without the corporate sponsorships and NASCAR is very serious about protecting those sponsors and their exclusive rights.
Sprint and Nextel merged and the name is changed. Cingular and AT&T merged and NASCAR lobs a $100 million dollar lawsuit at AT&T because the name on Jeff Burton's car was changed from Cingular to AT&T. The major difference is that a name change is permitted under the contract signed when Nextel assumed the naming rights. With that being said, the attorneys for AT&T ought to be dancing a jig because of this news.
Richard Childress is the cat that ate the canary in all of this. This is turning out to be a battle of wills between the two giants of the telecommunications industry and neither will blink. For that reason, AT&T last week signed a three-year contract extension with RCR to remain on the hood of the No 31 car.
Given the district judge's ruling earlier supporting AT&T's name change on car and depending on the outcome of the $100 million lawsuit, we could see a drastic change in how NASCAR does business with its partners.
Speaking of corporate sponsors, there has been no movement on who will ultimately end up on the hood of Dale Earnhardt Jr's car next season. During an appearance on Speed Channel last Sunday night, Darrell Waltrip dropped some pretty heavy hints on this situation. DW indicated that Budweiser would not move with Junior, but the new sponsor would be "something you could drink, but not in a red can."
Pepsi has an existing strong relationship with Rick Hendrick, so it could be a Pepsi product. However, Adidas is a name that keeps popping up and with Junior on the verge of signing a personal endorsement deal with the German shoe and athletic apparel maker, a full blown sponsorship deal might not be far behind.
Infineon Speedway at Sonoma, California is next on the schedule. This is the first of two races on schedule where the drivers turn right and left, a road track. As par the course, there are a good many road course specialists entered into the race.
In fact, some of the regulars have given way to a specialist. Michael Waltrip is coming out of the No 55 Napa car this week and Terry Labonte will drive the car. Labonte is a good road-racer, but more importantly, has a past champion's provisional at this disposal. Tony Raines will be replaced by Ron Fellows for this race in the no 96 DLP car.
Get ready for never-ending coverage after Juan Montoya wins this race. He is my pick to win and will become the first foreign born driver to win on the top series. He won earlier this year in a Busch car at Mexico City and will visit victory lane this week, as well.