For the first time in over 30 years, NASCAR was in unfamiliar territory; searching for a new title sponsor.

R.J. Reynolds last year signed a five-year contract extending its title sponsorship of what will, for the 32nd and final time this season, be called the Winston Cup Series.

But in a business environment in which a sluggish economy compounded with regulatory limitations and litigation against the tobacco industry, RJR earlier this year told NASCAR it was free to look for a new title sponsor for its top series.

Just more than four months later, that new sponsor was announced on Thursday.

t1 announcement

 Say goodbye to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. And say hello to the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.

The world of stock-car racing changed quickly and dramatically Thursday morning with the announcement that Nextel Communications Inc. of Reston, Va. will back NASCAR's top series for 10 years, starting in 2004.

Nextel replaces R.J. Reynolds, whose Winston brand has become synonymous with NASCAR since it joined the sanctioning body in 1971. But in early February, RJR told NASCAR it wanted out of a five-year contract extension it signed last year. NASCAR started looking around, and four months later has a deal some estimate as high as $90 million a season.

Nextel and NASCAR envision expanding its already broad fan base, and there was a lot of discussion about the youth market Friday. RJR, because of advertising restrictions, couldn't go after anyone under age 18, but Nextel has no such restrictions.

"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," four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon said. "Who knows where they can take it now going forward in the future?"

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