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TNT had to wait for Charo

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

By Roger Diez

I don’t know how many of you caught the Winston Cup Awards show on TNT Friday night. I only got in on the last hour and a half (hey, Charo was on Hollywood Squares), and just caught the speeches of the top five Championship finishers.

A word of advice to Kevin Harvick: don’t quit your day job to go on the stand-up comedy circuit. Most of the other speakers did an adequate job, but I’m happy Robby Reiser wrote letters for people to read and cut his speech mercifully short. I was impressed with the speaking aplomb of new champion Matt Kenseth, who seemed relaxed and at ease at the podium. Of course, having a check for more than $5 million in your pocket will do that.

Jack Roush had to be a happy man, with his first title in 16 years of trying, after having dominated every other form of racing he’s been involved in. Of course, my heart went out to poor Mark Martin, who has been so close so often, and had to watch his protege accept the accolades he’s sought for so long.

The Roush crew looks like it will remain pretty much intact for the inaugural year of the Nextel Cup. The one rumored defection was Jeff Burton, but after an abysmal season, he will continue at Roush Racing for 2004 in the No. 99 car, hoping for vastly improved results. Citgo will not be back as primary sponsor, so the team is searching for a replacement. Hopefully Ford’s new engine package and aero modifications will get Burton and the 99 team back in the hunt.

Other changes for the 2004 season include a change in status for the No. 1 DEI car, piloted by John Andretti. After a round of “musical drivers” in 2003, the car is losing Pennzoil sponsorship and will run a part-time schedule under what is being called “a different marketing program” in 2004, participating in special races to be determined. The team’s announcement specified only the Daytona 500.

Jeff Green will be back aboard the Petty Enterprises No. 43 car, after doing a creditable job in mid-pack machinery the last part of the 2003 season.

Richard Childress Racing will put Johnny Sauter in the seat of the No. 30 Chevrolet for 2004 after a frustrating 2003 season. Sauter shared the No. 21 RCR Busch car with Harvick this past season, and between them the pair earned enough points to have won the championship! Sauter got the No. 30 ride after both Ward Burton and Jeremy Mayfield elected to pursue other interests. Sauter does have Winston Cup experience, running several of the late-season races in the No. 4 McClure car.

OK, a couple of weeks ago I predicted in this space that Ford wouldn’t release Kasey Kahne to race for Ray Evernham’s Dodge team. So I’m not perfect! Kahne will indeed take over the No. 9 car from Bill Elliot in 2004, while Elliot scales back to a part-time (12 to 15 race) Nextel Cup schedule. Bill won’t be idle the rest of the time, though. He intends to do some Busch and Craftsman Truck races, run his dirt car, and do testing and development work for the Evernham team.

Want to buy a used (possibly used-up?) racing series? CART may be on the auction block soon, as the series’ proposed buyout by Open Wheel Racing Series (OWRS) appears to be on the skids. The major reason cited was the probable size of the field for 2004. The number of cars is expected to drop below 18, a circumstance that is a “material adverse effect,” violating one of the conditions of the OWRS bid.

Alternatives include cessation of operations by CART and liquidation of assets, or reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The latter scenario would allow OWRS to purchase certain CART assets and assume certain liabilities, enabling OWRS to operate the series as planned next season. There’s also a lot of financial mumbo-jumbo and interlocking corporate prestidigitation involved, all of which is way above my head. I just want to see a healthy series, one that will run (as scheduled) at Infineon Raceway so I can finagle a press pass, courtesy of the Appeal.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist. Leave a message for him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.