NASCAR says Nextel will become the title sponsor of its top racing series.

Nextel would take over the sponsorship deal that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco has had since 1972 with the Winston Cup series. It is estimated that R.J. Reynolds has invested from $30 million to $60  million a year in marketing its top cigarette brand through NASCAR.

Despite signing a five-year extension to remain the top sponsor last year, R.J.R. said it was giving NASCAR permission to look for a new sponsor for the Winston Cup series because of the uncertain business climate in the tobacco industry.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)