BRISTOL, Tenn. – The fight between NASCAR and AT&T heated up Friday when the telecommunications giant refused to use a paint scheme or logos on Jeff Burton’s car at Bristol Motor Speedway.
AT&T is still sponsoring the car but had to remove its logos because the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an injunction that had permitted their use.
At issue is if AT&T is allowed as a sponsor under NASCAR’s exclusivity agreement with series sponsor Sprint Nextel.
NASCAR says only Cingular and Alltel, two companies involved in the sport before the Sprint Nextel deal, can compete. AT&T believes its 2006 merger with Cingular allows the company to participate. It doesn’t want to use the Cingular logos because it is phasing out the name.
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AT&T says NASCAR vetoed all of its submitted designs, and its only option was to use a plain orange car in Saturday night’s race.
“NASCAR left us with no choice,” said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said. “Because we love the sport, we are willing to take this approach, which literally does nothing for our brand image or identity. We don’t want to disappoint the great NASCAR fans, and we want to continue to support Jeff Burton and Richard Childress Racing.”
But NASCAR officials vehemently maintained they approved several paint schemes, including a “Go Phone” design that was identical to one used in 2005. The older scheme said Cingular, and NASCAR says AT&T updated the design to remove the brand name.
“AT&T has been dishonest with the fans and with NASCAR, and it’s time to stop,” said NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston. “NASCAR has approved several paint schemes. The choice to run the logo-less car is RCR’s decision.”
Poston also produced photographs of two Cingular stores located near the race track.
“Obviously, they still think the Cingular name is good enough for these stores,” Poston said. “AT&T knew what the rules were when they merged with Cingular. It’s time for them to do the right thing and honor the agreement.”
AT&T is expected to ask the U.S. District Court in Atlanta to hold another injunction hearing to place the logos back on the car.
Burton, meanwhile, said his team was trying not to let the legal wrangling become a distraction. In addition to a plain car, the logos have been removed from his uniform and the team transporter.
“I think reasonable people can come to reasonable solutions, and I’m still holding on to that,” Burton said. “In order for that to work, people have to be willing to be reasonable. Hopefully, we can get there. I can’t see where it is in the sport’s best interest to ask a sponsor who has been part of this thing for years to not be here.”