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Name change about marketing, bank says

Now known as the Bank of America 500, the Oct. 17 Sprint Cup at Lowe's Motor Speedway will have a new name this fall: the “NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America.”

Bank officials say the change will highlight an affinity banking program started in 2007 in which customers can get cards and checks printed with a NASCAR driver's image, as well as earn “RacePoints” to redeem for merchandise, race tickets or special events.

The switch comes as banks and other corporations receiving federal bailout money have faced more scrutiny for spending on big events.

After Northern Trust Corp. was slammed for its sponsorship and spending at the Northern Trust Open in California, Wells Fargo in February removed the Wachovia name from the professional golf tournament held every spring in Charlotte. The bank declined to attach its own name, instead calling it the Quail Hollow Championship.

Bank of America officials say renaming the October race isn't an attempt to downplay the bank's name, noting that it and the bank's red and blue logo are included in the new name.

Mike Hargrave, the bank's motorsports platform executive, said the bank began considering a new name about a year ago, and that affixing “NASCAR Banking” to the race is a natural progression of the marketing for that program. Hargrave pointed to other companies that have highlighted specific aspects of their business in race names, such as the Subway Fresh Fit 500 in Phoenix and the TUMS Fast Relief 500 in Martinsville, Va.

“This is an advertising opportunity for us,” he said, adding, “We still want Bank of America to be front and center on this event.”

The bank also plans to boost RacePoints rewards and add to the 13 drivers now featured on checks and cards, Hargrave said. In addition, customers who sign up for NASCAR Banking can get two tickets to any race on the Sprint Cup schedule.

Bank of America is in the fourth year of a five-year sponsorship contract for the October race, which was previously known as the UAW-GM Quality 500. Hargrave said no decision has been made on if the race will keep the NASCAR Banking name next year, revert to its old name or take on a new name.