American claims top motorcycle world title

Published October 31, 2006

Owensboro, Ky., will always be stock car country, but Nicky Hayden should get a mention in the burg that's the proud home of NASCAR's Darrell and Michael Waltrip and Jeff and David Green.

By finishing third in Moto GP season finale Saturday in Valencia, Spain, Hayden, 25, became the second rider to leap from second place in the finale to win the world championship in the motorcycle equivalent of Formula One.

Hayden is the seventh American to win the premier-class championship, joining Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz and Kenny Roberts Jr.

SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND: Dale Earnhardt Jr. needed only about an hour to nail his dialogue for the character Tommy the Mechanic in the video game Scarface: The World is Yours. And why not? Judging by some of his radio chatter, Earnhardt has been practicing for his debut as a voice-over artist for years.

INSIDE JOB: Earnhardt conspiracy theorists, rejoice. NASCAR's most popular driver got the benefit of a big break Sunday at Atlanta, helping him rally to finish third.

Earnhardt led 14 of the first 23 laps and was in the top 10 on Lap 31 when he pitted with a vibration in the No. 8 Chevrolet. He fell to 41st, a lap down, and his diagnosis of a tire going flat was flat wrong. Earnhardt worked to the front on Lap 61 after the leaders pitted for tires under green. But he would have to have pitted again if eight green flag laps had followed.

Then on Lap 82 NASCAR issued a caution for debris, allowing Earnhardt to get back on pit sequence with top cars. He gained two spots in the standings to fourth, 84 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.

WHO YA LIKE?: Top Chase for the Championship drivers at the remaining three tracks -

- Texas Motor Speedway, 1.5 miles: Denny Hamlin, 5.5 average finish in two starts; Jimmie Johnson, 7.0 average, six starts.

Jeff Burton, Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne, Kenseth and Mark Martin have won there.

- Phoenix International Raceway, 1 mile: Johnson, 8.66, six starts; Jeff Gordon, 8.93, 15 starts.

(Burton (2), Kyle Busch, Earnhardt Jr. (2), Harvick, Kenseth and Martin have won there.)

- Homestead-Miami Speedway, 1.5 miles: Harvick, 9.4, five starts; Gordon, 9.57, seven starts.

(No Chaser has won there.)

MAYBE, MAYBE NOT: Penske Performance president Tim Cindric would not rule out the possibility of crew chief changes during the offseason, but said rumors that Matt Borland would leave Ryan Newman's No. 12 Dodge program for Team Red Bull's new operation were "just speculation."

Newman is 17th in points, winless in his past 42 races. First-year teammate and 2004 series champ Kurt Busch is 16th, but has a win.

"When you don't have a season you expect to have ... there's always speculation," Cindric said. "I think we're going to look at how we are this season and what's best move going forward to ensure we have better season next year."

ALMS: XM Satellite Radio will be unveiled today as the primary sponsor for Andretti Green Racing's American Le Mans Series car for 2007. Bryan Herta, an AGR Indy Racing League driver until the this season ended, is the main driver. Dario Franchitti, still with AGR in the IRL, will be his teammate on a limited basis.

The ALMS will run a support race for the April 1 Grand Prix of St. Peterburg IRL race.

JUAN'S SCHEDULE: Chip Ganassi Racing said Monday that former CART champ Juan Pablo Montoya is scheduled to compete in the final three Busch Series races at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.

Brant James can be reached at brant@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8804.