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NASCAR getting in its New York groove

Published June 1, 2004

CONCORD, N.C. - NASCAR president Mike Helton was apparently in a New York state of mind on Sunday before the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

During the customary introduction of dignitaries before the rules-reading portion of the prerace drivers' meeting, Helton recognized South Carolina Lieutenant Gov. Andre Bauer.

But Helton introduced him as the lieutenant governor of New York.

When a member of the gallery responded "South Carolina," Helton, still unaware of the slip, apologized saying, "Sorry, I am still thinking North Carolina."

Perhaps he, like NASCAR, is looking beyond its traditional base of North Carolina and into the future.

NASCAR on Friday revealed that it has targeted Staten Island as the proposed site of a lucrative and eagerly anticipated new venue in the New York area. League officials have held discussions with New York but also have identified prospective locations in New Jersey.

OWN THE PLACE: Lowe's name is on the motor speedway outside Charlotte, and was on the names of the cars that won both races there over the weekend. But the fact that cars sponsored by the home improvement company won Saturday's Busch series race (Kyle Busch) and Sunday's Nextel Cup event (Jimmie Johnson) is more a testament to how Hendrick Motorsports owns Lowe's Motor Speedway.

"(Johnson) has this track figured out like (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip) have Talladega figured out," said rival team owner Robert Yates, who finished fifth with Elliott Sadler.

Johnson has won here three times, twice in the 600-miler, once in the nonpoints all-star race. Jeff Gordon has won seven times, including three all-star wins. Now Busch, a Busch series rookie, is tapping into the expertise of a shop located a few minutes from the track.

"I think this year our whole group is working better than ever before," team owner Rick Hendrick said.

TOUGH ENOUGH: At 600 miles, the Coca-Cola event is generally brutal on powerplants, but 37 cars finished and Ryan Newman's No. 12 Dodge was the only car officially retired with a blown engine. Newman's engine gave out with just eight laps remaining.

Ricky Rudd, whose Wood Brothers team was the only Ford team that elected to use the new Yates/Jack Roush hybrids and new cylinder head, finished 26th. Rudd blamed bad handling for the placing.

"The motor was good," he said. "But you've got to have a chassis that complements the motor. We were bad in the corner, so we couldn't take advantage of the motor. This motor liked to go, but we were losing about 300 rpm more in the corner than we should have been."

STIFF UPPER LIP: Waltrip's second-place showing was his best of the season; he had not finished better than 10th. He was 30th in points before Sunday and improved six spots. Still, he's 613 points behind leader and teammate Earnhardt.

Waltrip said he has stayed confident through the malaise.

"I just don't think there are a lot of people in this world who can run second in a NASCAR Nextel Cup race," he said. "I know I have the talent and the ability and that just reaffirms that."

CLOSE CALL: Rubens Barrichello's second-place finish at the Grand Prix of Europe on Sunday was not as routine as teammate Michael Schumacher's sixth win in seven races.

Barrichello endured a collision with BAR's Takuma Sato with 14 laps left when the 27-year-old Japanese driver attempted a pass. Sato had to pull off after the accident.

"It was a bit too amateur for Sato to do that," Barrichello said. "He was not in a position to overtake."

STATUS QUO: The top three in the Grand Prix of Europe reflect the Formula One standings: Schumacher, a six-time winner in seven races, has 60 points, followed by Barrichello (46) and Jenson Button (38).

RECORD PAYOUT: Buddy Rice completed his journey from substitute driver to Indianapolis 500 winner Monday night, collecting a record $1.76-million for his victory.

His winnings included $100,000 for claiming the pole for Sunday's race in his G Force/Honda. He's the first pole-sitter to win the Indy 500 since Arie Luyendyk in 1997.

Runnerup Tony Kanaan received $659,240 and third-place finisher Dan Wheldon earned $533,040. Bryan Herta received $366,440 for coming in fourth.

Kosuke Matsuura was named rookie of the year, worth $25,000 of his total $294,740 purse for finishing 11th, the best of the first-year drivers.

- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

[Last modified June 1, 2004, 01:00:29]


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