AT&T asks court to reconsider ruling in Burton logo dispute
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- With the AT&T paint scheme still on the No. 31 Chevrolet, Jeff Burton went out for the first practice session Friday and blew an engine.
Not a good omen, but a minor nuisance compared to the team's long-term problem.
AT&T officials followed their legal option Friday of asking the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the ruling from earlier this week. The court sided with NASCAR and threw out a lower court ruling that allowed the AT&T logo on the car.
Cingular, which was the primary sponsor for Burton, merged with AT&T and eliminated the Cingular brand.
NASCAR officials said Richard Childress Racing could not change the logos on the No. 31 because of exclusivity rights for Cup series title sponsor Nextel.
"This case has never been about NASCAR's right to grant exclusivity," Burton said Friday. "That's never been questioned. The question on this case has everything to do with what AT&T was told they could and could not do."
Cingular and Alltel (which sponsors the No. 12 Dodge driven by Ryan Newman) were granted a grandfather clause and allowed to continue their sponsorship agreements after Nextel became the Cup series title sponsor in 2004.
"I don't think anybody in this sport has a problem with the exclusivity that NASCAR can grant, including AT&T," Burton said. "We respect NASCAR's right to grant exclusivity. The sport has benefited from that, no question.
"But it's AT&T's interpretation that they never were told they could not change the brand."
The latest ruling puts the sponsorship situation on Burton's car uncertain for the future.
"We have no choice but to think about the 'what if?'" Burton said. "We just signed a long-term commitment with them. They've told us over and over they want to be with us.
"But this ruling is another hurdle, or a hurdle, that they have to jump over. We don't know what it all means at this point."
If the appeals court refuses to reconsider it's ruling, as expected, AT&T probably won't be on Burton's car next weekend at Bristol.
"I know AT&T is committed to us," Burton said. "But this ruling makes that more challenging.
"There is a reality if AT&T isn't allowed to put their logos on the car, it may not be beneficial for AT&T anymore. At that point, something might have to change. We just don't know."
Burton believes this lawsuit will have an impact on NASCAR regardless of the final outcome.
"The concerns that are being questioned in this case need to be spelled out more clearly in the future," Burton said. "This case certainly requires NASCAR to look at things differently to make sure everything is spelled out very clearly to everyone so we don't have this situation again.
"It's NASCAR's charge to do what's best for the overall good of the sport. We respect that. It's our charge to make sure we have the funding that it takes to have race teams. And I think NASCAR respects that."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.