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Cup drivers can finally get back in the mobile carrier business

Joey Logano had a good time in a digital ad for Verizon. Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Joey Logano appears in a digital public service campaign with LeBron James and Drew Brees, athletes whose accomplishments are widely known and whose names are familiar to most sports fans.

As part of his speaking role, Logano only says his first name before putting on his helmet inside his race car. When James, in encouraging youth to aspire to science and technology careers, says "We don't need more LeBrons," most sports fans will know who he is. The guy saying "We don't need more Joeys" isn't as familiar of a face.

Does Logano wonder whether people will search "race-car driver" and "Joey" to find out who he is?

"I don't know," Logano said with a laugh. "That's what they told me to say. I don't know exactly the reason.

"The fact that I had a Shell helmet on, there's a lot of brand identity. ... They're on our car 33 races out of the year so there's a lot of brand identity that goes together. That should help with that."

It's ironic that Logano talks about the Shell brand identity in light of this campaign, considering the campaign was created by Verizon, a company that hasn't been allowed to create much brand identity with NASCAR Cup drivers for more than a decade.

A longtime Team Penske sponsor, Verizon is using Logano to encourage students to aspire to be engineers or do other tech jobs. It is the first time that Logano could do work for Verizon because Cup drivers were barred from doing commercials for the company after Nextel entered the sport as the NASCAR Cup Series sponsor in 2004.

Now that Monster Energy has replaced Sprint, drivers and teams once again can align themselves with other mobile carriers and phone manufacturers.

The last time Verizon had any connection to the Cup was seven years ago. After Verizon bought out Alltel, it sponsored Penske drivers in the Cup in 2009 and 2010 but could not have its logos on the car because the grandfather clause in the NASCAR agreement with Nextel prohibited any new cellular sponsorships. The change in the name from Alltel to Verizon was considered a new sponsorship despite it being a buyout.

NASCAR even forced the team to change what it felt were Verizon "check" marks that were part of the paint scheme in the week leading up to the Daytona 500.

The company moved all its support to IndyCar following 2010 and now sponsors the series.

"We want to give them the full value of everything we can possibly give them and make sure it is a good deal for both ends," Logano said. "Things like this are natural fits -- it's a natural fit and authentic and that's the most important ones to do."

There are no additional plans by Verizon to use Logano at the moment. This certainly is a baby step into seeing more mobile device companies getting back into NASCAR.

AT&T sponsored a car after its acquisition of Cingular Wireless and had a court battle with Sprint before a settlement resulted in AT&T eventually leaving Richard Childress Racing. T-Mobile has been courted by teams, including RCR, over the last year.

"Obviously Verizon with the IndyCar team has been around for a very long time," Logano said. "It's nice the NASCAR side can get a little more involved with a lot of their programs and initiatives that they can promote."

Logano said he learned from his Joe Gibbs Racing days as a driver for The Home Depot about the importance of appearing in an advertising campaign that targets more than just race fans.

The shorter version of the Verizon ad that appeared during the NCAA men's basketball tournament doesn't include Logano and some of the other athletes. The longer version online does, and Logano believes it will help his brand.

"There's nothing bad that comes out with this thing," Logano said. "It's well done [and] especially when you're in a spot with Hall of Famers of their sport -- I'm far from being a Hall of Famer in my sport but it's cool to be part of a spot like that."