DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR's top series is changing its name for the second time in five years, switching from Nextel Cup to the Sprint Cup starting in 2008.
It's only the third name change in NASCAR's 60 years, but had been expected since Nextel merged with Sprint in August 2005. NASCAR allowed Nextel one name change in the 10-year contract it signed with the telecommunications giant before the 2004 season.
While admitting name changes are not ideal, NASCAR chairman Brian France has maintained its premier series needed to be in line with the Sprint brand since that's what the company is now called.
"We need to be with their main brand," France said Saturday as the new Sprint Cup logo was unveiled. "We're hopeful this is the brand they stick with for a long, long time. I would be surprised if it wasn't."
NASCAR's top series was called Grand National Series at its inception, and was called the Winston Cup Series when tobacco company R.J. Reynolds sponsored it from 1971 to 2003.
But RJR asked out of its contract in 2003, and Nextel took over with a 10-year, $700 million deal. The series became the Nextel Cup Series in 2004.
That name was put in jeopardy 20 months later when Nextel merged with Sprint, and company officials said they took extensive measures to research the logo and name. Relying on fan feedback, focus groups and surveys, the company decided to use the Sprint brand, name and logo.
"It was a long and thorough process to determine how to integrate our NASCAR sponsorship into our overall brand strategy, while still keeping the NASCAR fan at the heart of the decision," said Spring chairman Tim Kelly.
"The process extended well beyond the NASCAR sponsorship."
Refocusing the NASCAR sponsorship on the Sprint line of products and services coincides with the July 1 launch of "Sprint Ahead," a national campaign focusing on the speed of its products.
"Our new brand campaign focuses on the importance of speed in people's daily lives and illustrates their ability to get information where they want it when they want it," Kelly said. "NASCAR was built on a tradition of speed, so it was a natural tie for us."
Sprint also announced the SprintSpeed Million promotion, which will pair 12 fans with the 12 drivers competing for the series title this season. The fan paired with the eventual series champion will win $1 million.
The Associated Press News Service