CONCORD, N.C. - Ken Schrader, the oldest full-time driver in NASCAR, turns 49 today, and his sponsor is going all out to make it a special birthday.
Schwan's Home Service is bringing some of its home-delivery trucks to Lowe's Motor Speedway on Sunday before the Coca-Cola 600, and the first 49,000 fans will get free ice cream and refrigerator magnets.
"Pretty nice stuff. Sure beats a card and a necktie," Schrader quipped.
Schrader, who drives the No. 49 Dodge for BAM Motorsports, joined what is now the Nextel Cup series in 1985, when he was rookie of the year. He went the first 18 years without missing a race until he failed to qualify for the Brickyard 400 in August, snapping a string of 579 consecutive starts.
In 2004, he has a best finish of sixth, which came at Bristol.
"We've had a couple of pretty good runs this season, and that helps everything," Schrader said. "Running well can cure a lot of things. This team is growing in that direction. This is a young race team but we get better every time out."
ODD TIMING: Ryan Newman and the rest of the drivers have had 31/2 hours of practice, all during the day.
Yet NASCAR'S longest race is run almost entirely after the sun goes down, a discrepancy not lost on Newman.
"It's the crew chief's call and I'll do what he says, but it is pretty crazy to be practicing when we're practicing," he said. "We'd be better off not practicing."
Track temperature made a difference Thursday in qualifying. Newman went out fourth and Jimmie Johnson 52nd and last. The track was cooler for Johnson, providing better grip, and he knocked Newman off the pole with a track record of 187.052 mph.
The Nextel Cup drivers had an off day Friday. Practice for the 600 resumes this morning, when teams will have their best chance to simulate race conditions.
ROBINSON REBOUND: Shawna Robinson, the most recent woman to drive in Nextel Cup, is making a comeback in the Busch series.
She'll drive one of three entries sponsored by Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, joining Regan Smith and Stanton Barrett.
Robinson has made eight career Nextel Cup starts, third among women. Janet Guthrie made 33 starts from 1976-80, and Louise Smith had 11 from 1949-50.
POPULAR VOTING: More people than ever are taking part in NASCAR's voting for most popular driver.
More than 1.25-million votes have been tabulated, well ahead of last year's pace of about 700,000. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the award in 2003, again leads, with Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Michael Waltrip and Tony Stewart rounding out the top five.