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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Nextel has impressed doubters

From wire reports

When NASCAR announced last June that Nextel would be the new sponsor of its elite racing series, the skeptics were front and center.

Oh, no, they grumbled … another corporate giant muscling into sports. The doubters predicted that Nextel would dip its toes into NASCAR, slap people on the backs for a while, play their cellphone greetings incessantly, then eventually disappear from the sport, as several sponsors have done over the years.

It’s too early to tell long-term, but Nextel has made a good early impression and appears to be in the sport for the long haul.

“Our goals were to announce our presence, announce the change in the name and colors,” said Michael Robichaud, Nextel’s senior director for sports, entertainment and marketing. “We’re fans and we’re excited to be here. We honored the traditions (of the sport). We didn’t shove phones in people’s faces.

“The fans know we’re here, why we’re here. They’re sort of looking at us to see how we’re going to treat (auto racing). They’re asking, are we in it for the money, or are we truly embracing the partnership?”

After the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. announced it wanted to terminate its contract following the 2003 season, ending 33 years as the series sponsor, NASCAR was ecstatic about quickly finding a new sponsor willing to pay $700 million over 10 years. Restrictions on tobacco advertising limited how much RJR could promote NASCAR.

Thus far, Nextel has run only one new television commercial: Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving on a football field. But Nextel has more commercials coming. And Nextel is offering 10 driver cellphones in their team colors.

Before the Daytona 500, Tom Kelly, Nextel’s chief operating officer, said, “(With) the legal issues around (RJR’s) product, we have an opportunity to interact with different forms of the media and different audiences in ways that they couldn’t.

“There’s a natural fit that I think NASCAR recognized as being good.”

Stewart flaring temper again

A refresher course in anger management might be in order for Tony Stewart.

His volatile temper used to cause him problems off the track. Now it seems the outbursts of rage have taken over on the track.

And other drivers have noticed. They’re wondering what in the world is going on with the 2002 Winston Cup champion.

Stewart has been involved in bumping incidents during five of the last six Nextel Cup events. Rubbing is racing in NASCAR, but Stewart’s overly aggressive driving of late is leading to a lot of angry reactions.

Rusty Wallace tops the list. After bending sheet metal with Stewart last weekend at California, he saw Stewart give him an unfriendly hand gesture on a caution lap.

“He’s really screwing up a lot lately,” Wallace said after the race. “He got me in the back really hard at Bristol. He got me in the back at Martinsville. He caused a huge wreck last week at Talladega, and then he runs me right through the fence this time.

“I’m sick of his childish actions. The boy needs to grow up. He’s frustrated, I guess, but he’s got to keep his emotions in check.”

NASCAR officials met with Stewart last Friday to discuss his behavior, but no penalty was assessed. Even after the incidents two days later, Nextel Cup director John Darby said no additional action was needed.

Preps begin for Lowe’s race

More than a dozen teams from the NASCAR Nextel Cup and a similar number from the Busch Series will take part in testing at Lowe’s Motor Speedway next week as teams begin preparations for the Charlotte track’s events later this month.

Busch teams will be on the track from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, with Cup teams on the track from 4 to 10 p.m. those same days. IPower Dash Series cars will test from 9a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, followed by Automobile Racing Club of America teams from 5 to 10 p.m.

Kevin Harvick, Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, and Greg Biffle are among those scheduled to participate in at least one day of the Cup testing.

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