Thursday, April 26, 2007

No ruling yet in AT&T's case against NASCAR

ATLANTA (AP) — Jeff Burton's No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet will bear the familiar Cingular markings for at least two more weeks.

There was no decision Thursday on AT&T's request for an injunction to have its logos placed on Burton's car. Instead, U.S. District Court Judge Marvin H. Shoob listened to almost four hours of arguments from NASCAR, AT&T and Nextel and then set May 7 as the deadline for briefs to be submitted in the case.

At Thursday's preliminary injunction hearing, NASCAR attorneys defended the decision to prevent Cingular — the primary sponsor of the No. 31 car — from changing its branding on the car to the AT&T blue globe.

Cingular merged with AT&T in December, and AT&T is phasing out the Cingular brand.

Sprint Nextel Corp. sponsors NASCAR's premier series, the Nextel Cup, and has exclusive rights as the telecommunications company for the series. The only exceptions are companies, including Cingular, that already sponsored cars when Nextel reached its agreement with NASCAR.

"We have changed our name, but we are the same company as we were before we changed our name," said David Balser, attorney for AT&T Inc.

"Sprint has said the value of its investment would increase if they could drive us out," Balser said to Schoob. "That is what this is about, your honor. Sprint Nextel is trying to use our name change to drive us out of the sport."

NASCAR attorney David Gelfand said AT&T would be welcome to sponsor a car in NASCAR's Busch series or truck racing, but he said Nextel was entitled to exclusivity through its 10-year, $700 million investment that began in 2004.

"Those are the benefits NASCAR is seeking to protect," Gelfand said.

NASCAR president Mike Helton attended the hearing.

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said Nextel's investment benefits every racing team.

"NASCAR is defending every driver, team and track involved with NASCAR," Poston said. "The court's ruling will be important to protect the very flexible and open environment that allows for hundreds of sponsors to successfully participate in NASCAR. ... NASCAR will continue to protect the industry in any future attacks on our key partners."


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