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Pittsboro Abuzz About Potential Winston Cup-RJR Split

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PITTSBORO, N.C. — The slumping economy may leave NASCAR running on empty.

Days after Union 76 pulled out as the sport's official fuel oil, there's word that RJ Reynolds is looking to do the same.

Racers and fans all the way from Daytona Beach, Fla., to Pittsboro have their opinions about the sport's future.

The buzz at the Pit Stop Cafe in Pittsboro is about racing - not about who's going to win next week's Daytona 500, but about who's going to pay the prize money.

RJ Reynolds has been the primary sponsor for Winston Cup racing for 32 years. Last July, RJR signed a new 5-year contract with NASCAR.

But now the company says "business dynamics have changed." RJR officials have been speaking with NASCAR about finding a new series sponsor.

RJR means more than just cigarettes and cookies to NASCAR. It's a staple of racing culture and would leave big shoes to fill if its sponsorship were to vanish.

First of all, it would be tough for a lot of people to get used to saying some other company besides Winston Cup.

Local driver Andrew Medlin competes for Premiere Motor Sports and for team owner Steve Husketh. Both men say the sport is bigger than the names plastered on tracks and glued to their hoods.

"I think there's some companies that would be willing to step up that would take this position," Husket said, "and the sport would continue on."

Even if it continues with fewer cars on the track.

Dwindling sponsorships have already thinned out the competition. Husketh said there will be at least 20 fewer cars qualifying at Daytona than there were three years ago.

"These people who have these sponsorship packages in place are lucky to be able to run this year," he said.

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