By David Firestone
At first glace, this driver suit looks like it has no primary sponsorship at all, but dig deeper and you find the real story behind it.
From 2000 to 2008, car #12 in the Sprint Cup was driven by Ryan Newman and sponsored by Alltel Wireless. In 2002, Ryan Newman’s first full season the series was sponsored by Winston cigarettes and called the Winston Cup Series. In 2004, Winston left the series and Nextell took over as the series sponsor. At that time, there were a number of wireless companies sponsoring cars in the Cup series, including Cingular and Alltel. As they were under contract with teams before the Nextell sponsorship took effect, they were allowed to stay as car sponsors in the Cup series under a grandfather clause.
The first phantom sponsorship happened in 2007, when Cingular merged with AT&T. That set into motion a chain of events that began early in the season, when AT&T tried to re-brand the 31 car driven by Jeff Burton, and Sprint said that it was a violation of the grandfather clause. After a number of injunctions and legal wrangling, came the 2007 Sharpie 500 at Bristol in August, when NASCAR, under pressure from Sprint told the 31 team that they could not have any AT&T logos on the car, hauler, pit shirts, driver or crew uniforms, or helmets. The result was this unique scheme.
Eventually a settlement was reached where the Cup team could keep AT&T decals on the car for the rest of the season, but would have to find a new sponsorship for the next season. This deal was met, and the next year, Jeff Burton drove a Caterpillar sponsored car.
In 2009, the Alltel sponsorship changed because Verizon purchased most of Alltell’s assets. Instead of a long court battle, Verizon, who was also sponsoring Roger Penske’s IndyCar teams basically sponsored the team but focused on their Nationwide Series with car logos, as the restrictions on Verizon were not in effect in the Nationwide Series, and allowed car #12 driven by David Stremme to run a Penske Racing scheme for the car they were paying for. That resulted in this very stylish David Stremme driver suit, currently in my personal collection.
The thing I find interesting is the fact that even though the car was running Penske decals, no mention of Penske is visible on the collars or shoulders, and no television logos are present.
I also think it is interesting that the red stripes across the chest look like Verizon logos, but are just different enough to throw Sprint off the scent.
Unless the primary sponsor of the series changes again, with seems unlikely in the foreseeable future, I can’t imagine this happening again. It also should be noted that both AT&T and Sprint took flak for their actions during the controversy. I really hope this doesn’t happen again in racing, ever.