By Compiled from Times wires
Published June 17, 2003
NASCAR could be close to finding a new sponsor for the Winston Cup series - as close as scheduling a news conference for Thursday morning in New York, according to ESPN.com.
Several media outlets, including ESPN.com, have reported that Nextel Communications is the front-runner to replace R.J. Reynolds' Winston brand as sponsor of the top stock car series.
A NASCAR spokesman, however, denied a deal has been reached with Nextel. "It's safe to say that the first phase of (looking for a primary sponsor) was when we were looking for sponsors to hook up to our series. Now we have moved to the second phase and have companies seriously interested," NASCAR spokesman Herb Branham told the Miami Herald. "That's where we are now. We can't talk about one specific company because it's still too early to do that."
Don Miller, president of Penske Racing South, which fields the Alltel-sponsored No. 12 Dodge, told the Charlotte Observer last week that he believed a deal was in the final stages. "We would be happy to win the Nextel Cup in our Alltel car," he said.
NASCAR chairman Bill France told the Associated Press that it was "fundamentally premature to say we were in final negotiations with anyone."
NEW FORD: NASCAR officials will get their first look at a prototype of the Taurus that Ford plans to race next season. The car was built by Wood Brothers Racing, and the preview will be at the team's shop today in Stuart, Va.
Greg Specht, manager of Ford Racing, said if all goes as planned the next step will be to run the car on a racetrack, then take it to the wind tunnel before further development. NASCAR said approval of the car for competition could come as early as August. That would give the Ford teams time to begin building new cars for next season.
The Taurus currently being raced was introduced in 2002. Pontiac and Chevrolet introduced new cars this year, while Dodge has the same model it introduced in 2001. BEAT-UP BODINE: Brett Bodine was at Michigan International Speedway with his broken right collarbone supported by a sling, missing caps on eight teeth, a black left eye, a bruised forehead, tailbone and ribs.
"It's just great to be able to walk around," said Bodine, who crashed after being knocked unconscious during practice. "I got banged around pretty good, but it could have been worse."
Last week, Hooters said it would not sponsor Brett Bodine Racing after Sunday's race.
"We're working on some deals," said Bodine, the only owner-driver in the Winston Cup series. "Hopefully, we'll get something buttoned up this week."
PAPIS BACK: Champ Car veteran Max Papis is returning to CART with PK Racing. Papis, winner of three career CART races, will take over the No. 27 car beginning with this weekend's race at Portland, Ore. Bryan Herta, another CART journeyman, drove the car Sunday at Monterey in place of Patrick Lemarie. Herta finished 11th.
LE MANS: Florida-based Champion Racing placed third overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The team of Emanuele Pirro, JJ Lehto and Stefan Johansson brought its Audi R8 in behind two Bentleys. "I am so proud of my team," Champion Racing owner Dave Maraj said. "We experienced some minor problems but conquered them and ran a perfect strategy. We may not have been the outright race winners but my "private' team ran the best-placed Audi."
FAST LAPS: CITGO Petroleum Corp. will discontinue its sponsorship at the end of the Winston Cup season, leaving Jeff Burton's No. 99 Ford seeking a sponsor. ... Mike Skinner was fired as driver of the No. 4 Pontiac by Morgan-McClure Motorsports. Johnny Miller, the Trans-Am Road Racing series points leader, will drive the car this weekend in Sonoma, Calif. No permanent replacement has been named, but John Andretti, fired last week from Petty Enterprises, is the front-runner. ... Michael Schumacher has scored 999 for his Formula One career: "In Germany that number means you have to buy everyone a drink." ... Sam Hornish Jr. posted the highest finish for a Chevrolet-powered car this season on the IRL circuit, taking fifth Sunday at Pikes Peak International Raceway. ... F1 head Bernie Ecclestone bought a minority stake in the cash-strapped Minardi team. BAR-Honda shareholder Craig Pollock said it was a conflict of interest for Ecclestone to own a team and run the series, but McLaren Mercedes boss Ron Dennis said he had no problem with it.