NASCAR already had plenty to celebrate at its Sprint Cup Series awards banquet.
Sprint, however, made a welcomed late addition.
As the awards banquet drew to a close late Friday night at the Wynn Las Vegas, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse told the audience his company has agreed to a contract extension to sponsor NASCAR's Cup series through at least the 2016 season.
"NASCAR fans are great customers who reward us with their loyalty," Hesse said.
The news couldn't have come at a better time for NASCAR, which ended the 2011 season with a TV ratings increase in the Cup series, an exciting, down-to-the-wire championship battle and significant improvement in attendance at many tracks.
"This capped off a fantastic season for us," said Steve Phelps, NASCAR's chief marketing officer.
"To have an early renewal signed with our sport's largest sponsor sends a tremendous message to our industry about where our sport is today and what lies ahead in the future."
The current 10-year deal between Sprint and NASCAR expires at the end of the 2013 season but talks on an extension have been ongoing throughout the year.
By completing an extension early, Sprint will have at least another five years of sponsorship, which coincides with NASCAR's five-year Industry Action Plan, designed to help the sport grow and reach new audiences.
"Sprint has been very successful in using our sport as a platform to enhance its brand and drive their business," NASCAR Chairman Brian France said in a statement. "They have been a fantastic partner and we are immensely pleased to continue with Sprint as the entitlement partner for our premier series."
The Kansas City-based wireless phone company, then known as Nextel, made the original $750 million agreement in 2004 to rename NASCAR's top series. Those rights included naming the season series and championship, as well as the annual all-star race.
"We've been a sponsor eight years now and we have found significant value in terms of branding with one of America's top sports," said Steve Gaffney, Sprint's vice president of corporate marketing. "Not to mention the value in working with the very loyal NASCAR fans."
Gaffney would not disclose financial terms of the extension, or quantify the agreement in any way, citing a confidentiality agreement with NASCAR.
Sprint has activated its sponsorship in a number of creative and innovative ways, including the introduction of NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile, the exclusive application that allows millions of Sprint customers to keep up with every lap of NASCAR action on their wireless devices each year.
The company also developed the Sprint Experience mobile marketing display, which entertains more than 500,000 fans each year at Cup races across the country.
Gaffney said Sprint will continue to explore new ways to add value to its sponsorship and provide new points of entry for fans into the sport.
The Cup series sponsorship deal began in 2004 with Nextel, which was eventually acquired by Sprint. The series was re-branded the Sprint Cup Series in 2008.