NASCAR Sues AT&T for $100 Million Over Sponsorship Agreement

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NASCAR filed a $100 million counter claim against AT&T Inc. on Sunday, accusing the wireless provider of interfering with its exclusive sponsorship agreement with rival wireless company Nextel.

The suit also asks that NASCAR be granted the right to kick AT&T — and all telecommunications companies other than Nextel — out of its top series in 2008.

NASCAR filed the suit electronically in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, alleging breach of contract, fraud and misrepresentation, and conspiracy to aid and abet wrongful interference with Nextel.

NASCAR and AT&T have been battling all season over NASCAR's refusal to allow AT&T to put its logos on Jeff Burton's car. Burton and his Richard Childress Racing team have a sponsorship agreement with Cingular, which has since been purchased by AT&T.

AT&T is re-branding the company, but NASCAR would not allow the logos to be changed, citing its agreement with Nextel. Cingular and Alltel were grandfathered into the sport when Nextel entered in 2004, but no changes are permitted to their deals and no other telecommunications companies are allowed into the sport.

NASCAR claims Nextel has exclusivity through its 10-year, $700 million investment.

AT&T sued, and U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob issued a preliminary injunction last month that allowed the Cingular logos to be replaced. He also barred NASCAR and any entity affiliated with it from interfering with AT&T's rights as primary sponsor of the car in the Nextel Cup series.

Burton has raced with AT&T logos since the May 19 ruling. He and Childress both said Sunday they were close to a contract extension for both the driver and AT&T.

In its counterclaim, NASCAR charges that AT&T and Cingular breached its contract with NASCAR, noting the company agreed to abide by NASCAR rules.

NASCAR is seeking a ruling that it "may take certain actions for the 2008 season in order to protect NASCAR and all participants in the sport by placing NASCAR into full compliance with the terms and conditions of the Nextel Sponsorship Agreement."

"Cingulars refusal to follow NASCAR rules and accept NASCARs denial of this paint scheme, and the filing of this lawsuit, has undermined NASCARs authority as the sanctioning body of stock car auto racing," said the suit.

Most notable among those "certain actions" is that "NASCAR may exercise its discretion not to offer NASCAR membership to Cingular or AT&T for the 2008 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season."

NASCAR also contends it should have the right to not offer a driver and car owner agreement for 2008 to any car sponsored by a telecommunications company other than Nextel.

Alltel sponsors Ryan Newman for Penske Racing.

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said NASCAR does not comment on pending litigation.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel could not be reached for comment.