It's official: NASCAR Nextel Cup Series

NEW YORK CITY, NY - At a press conference in the heart of New York City's Times Square, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) announced that Nextel Communications will become the new title sponsor of its premium division.

NEW YORK CITY, NY - At a press conference in the heart of New York City's Times Square, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) announced that Nextel Communications will become the new title sponsor of its premium division. Starting next year the 32-year old Winston Cup Series will be retitled the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.

"Thirty years ago, my father Bill France, Sr. stood before a much smaller group of media that is gathered here today and announced a new association with the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company and its Winston brand," said Bill France, Jr. "Back then, our company and the sport were young and growing, but still regionalize. My dad believed RJR's commitment to NASCAR would take us to new heights and make us a national sport.

"Today NASCAR takes another giant step for the future of the sport. On behalf of NASCAR's drivers, teams, tracks, sponsors and 75 million fans, it's an honor for me to welcome Nextel as the new title sponsor of our premium series, the NASCAR Nextel Cup, beginning with the 2004 season."

Nextel, a wireless communications company based in Reston, Virginia entered into negotiations with NASCAR approximately two to two-and-a-half months ago, and the two came to a swift agreement of terms. All monetary contract points are being kept proprietary under the ten-year agreement. Nextel representatives did comment that they would funnel more cash into the championship points fund, and continue direct payments to speedways on the circuit.

"Nextel is revved up to write a new chapter in NASCAR history," said CEO and President of Nextel, Tim Donohue. "It's like we're joining one of the largest, most passionate families in America, one we've admired for some time. It's no surprise why we at Nextel would be so interested in becoming part of the NASCAR team. Simply put, it is the most popular and exciting sport in America, and it has the most dedicated fans."

Nextel also confirmed that they would sponsor the annual all-star event traditionally held at Lowe's Motor Speedway known previously as "The Winston". They did not state what the new event would be called, or the 2004 location.

The new title sponsor allows NASCAR to spread the word about the second most popular sport in America. While their three-decade partnership with R.J.Reynolds Tobacco Company propelled NASCAR to where it is today, Nextel will be able to help the sport bridge new arenas.

Particularly, the youth market and more mainstream advertising. Due to limitations on cigarette advertising, RJR was restricted in its ability to co-brand with NASCAR. Nextel will be crucial in NASCAR's pursuit of more mainstream markets and creating a new generation of stock car racing fans.

"We want everyone in America to be a NASCAR fan," said NASCAR Chairman Bill France.

"My father would be proud," France continued. "We've come a long way toward fulfilling his vision, and we've come a long way toward making NASCAR racing a national sport with fans spread across America. We still have miles to go to achieve our goals, but we are confident we are well on our way, with Nextel as our new partner."

Nextel has some 15,000 employees and generated $8.6 billion in domestic revenue last year. They are most known for their national "direct connect" feature, which is a coast-to-coast long-range walkie-talkie available only through Nextel.

In condition to the agreement between the two companies, the primary sponsors on the cars of Robby Gordon (Cingular Wireless) and Ryan Newman (Alltel), which feature rival wireless communications companies will be grandfathered into the contract and allowed to remain. No future wireless company, however, may enter into the sport in any sponsorship mode (race sponsor, track sponsor, car sponsor, etc.)

Four time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon and championship hopeful Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were both in attendance press conference. The two were presented with their own phones, each emblazoned with their logos (24, 8).

"It's an honor to have you," Gordon said to the Nextel company. "Thank you and welcome to the team."

When Gordon was asked about the possibilities the Virginia company's participation can bring to the sport, he was quite enthusiastic.

"I think by Nextel being a part of our sport now, it just broadens NASCAR," said Gordon. "Mr. Donovan mentioned now he can go out and go to all the fans. I think that's really impressive about this team of Nextel and NASCAR being put together. I think, who knows where they can take it now going forward in the future.

"Unfortunately, R.J. Reynolds has been limited in a lot of areas, and they've done a fantastic job, but I see there are very few limitations as to where Nextel can take it."

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who hails from a long Southern racing lineage, also was pumped about the limitless reach Nextel and NASCAR can now forge.

"I'm really excited about the new relationship with Nextel," stated Earnhardt. "Aside from being a Nextel customer for two years, I've been really excited about the new announcement here, just looking forward to it. It opens up a lot of doors and a lot of opportunities.

"I've been around the sport for many, many years. We appreciate what RJR has done. It's been a huge, huge catalyst for where we are now, but a lot of things change and you have to be mindful and willing to accept that.

"We're looking forward to the new steps we're taking. As a young driver, this solidifies a lot of the future for myself, and Jeff included, and a lot of the drivers coming into the sport in the future. So real excited about it."

Earnhardt, whose father was a seven time Winston Cup champion, currently sits second in the points, M.com asked him if it would mean anything different to win the last ever Winston Cup.

"I don't think so," said Earnhardt. "That's a good point. I don't think it will be any more significant one way or the other. Its still the championship, there's always going to be a championship, the sooner I can win it the better though."

NASCAR promised that as they move forward in their pursuit to beat the NFL as the most watched sport in America, that they would not loose site of the foundation and 53-years of tradition that has been the backbone of the sport.

"As we look ahead, we will always remember our past," said France. "Let me remind you of what my father said during the original NASCAR meeting held in December, December 14th, 1947.

"He said, and I quote, "I believe stock car racing can become a nationally recognized sport." And then he added, "We do not know how big it can be if it's handled properly." I'd like to think he'd be proud of how we have handled the sport so far.

"Tradition is part of who we are and what we do. Tradition is also a guiding principle of change. We are mindful of that. It's important to our fans and it's important to us. At NASCAR we will continue to explore new opportunities, new concepts and new horizons. Nextel offers is a fresh perspective and a world of new opportunities for our drivers, teams, car owners, tracks and fans."

Change is integral in any sport as they move to reach new heights and expand into different sectors of society. NASCAR Nextel Cup Series doesn't exactly roll off the tongue quite yet, and some people will surely refer to NASCAR's elite division as the Winston Cup series for quite some time. However, even the traditionalists have to agree this is a step towards greatness.

NASCAR will always be steeped in Southern tradition and have a reverie for its roots. Long time fans may balk at the schedule being tweaked and refined, and fear that their sport is leaving them behind. But NASCAR looks to coddle its die-hard fans, while trying to embrace new demographics.

The sport's "golden son" may have addressed it the best, when he was asked about how core fans will react to today's news: "I think that they'll accept the new title sponsor rather well," said Earnhardt. "I can't see anybody not getting excited about such a great opportunity, such a huge step forward for the sport.

"It solidifies a lot of credibility in the sport, so it's a grand move. I think a lot of even the core, core fans are going to accept and be excited about this."

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About this article
Series Automotive , Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Robby Gordon , Ryan Newman