Sprint Nextel, NASCAR's top series sponsor, bought the largest sports sponsorship ever sold, exclusivity included, and has spent close to $100 million a year since 2004. Cingular and Alltel were allowed to stay as team sponsors under certain restrictions.
But in a preliminary injunction ruling in May, a judge said AT&T could replace Cingular on the No. 31 Nextel Cup car because the restriction on rebranding wasn't spelled out in NASCAR's contract with Richard Childress Racing.
Those in the industry said it was widely known that Cingular and Alltel could not rebrand if one of them merged with another company in the volatile telecom world. But NASCAR didn't put it in writing, so AT&T's blue globe has been on the hood of the orange No. 31 for the past two-plus months.