Daytona Beach, Fla. — NASCAR got quite a jolt Thursday when R.J. Reynolds, the sponsor of the Winston Cup Series, said it might sever sponsorship ties with NASCAR.
"It's really not a sponsorship," NASCAR's chief operating officer George Pyne said. "It's more like a marriage."
The possibility that the marriage might end, and the seismic consequences of such a breakup, was the main topic at media day, the six-hour Q&A festival NASCAR began three years ago to make the lead-up to the Daytona 500 feel like the Super Bowl.
Things are going so well that, even in rough economic times, hardly anyone at media day thought NASCAR will have trouble finding a new sponsor.
Other issues on the 2003 ledger include the partial closing of the garage area to fans and basic body templates that must fit all makes of cars, meaning the small differences between the makes will grow even more minuscule.
Those changes pale in comparison to what could happen if the tobacco deal ends. RJR's contract runs out in 2007, and if the company is serious about moving on, the top series in NASCAR will no longer be known as Winston Cup.