Changing times: NASCAR team now sponsored by drug that helps smokers quit
HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) - For more than three decades, NASCAR's top series was
sponsored by a cigarette company.
Free packs were handed out at the track. Fans wore shirts and flew banners that promoted the potentially deadly habit.
Well, times have changed.
On Sunday, a Nextel Cup car will be sponsored for the first time by a drug that helps smokers kick the habit. Casey Mears unveiled a special green paint
scheme on his No. 41 car for Nicorette gum.
The promotion is meant to bring attention to Richard Petty's ``Quitting Crew,'' in which five racing fans will use the company's products in their
attempt to give up smoking.
``These five quitters are all winners here today,'' Petty said.
For more than three decades, NASCAR drivers raced for the Winston Cup championship. That relationship ended after the 2003 season, when RJR was replaced as the title sponsors by cell phone giant Nextel.
No wonder Petty felt a little strange to take part in Friday's announcement at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Just a few years ago, it wouldn't have been possible.
``Times have changed, circumstances have changed,'' said Petty, a seven-time Winston - not Nextel - Cup champion. ``The government kept tightening and tightening, and it was a situation where we came to realize this was a dangerous product. This is the next level to take care of that.''
Petty's son, Kyle, summed up NASCAR's new message to smokers.
``It's important that we have race fans come back week after week,'' Kyle said. ``We need them long-term.'' ---
DRIVER CHANGE:@ Nextel Cup teammates Jeremy Mayfield and Kasey Kahne will split driving duties in the next two Busch series races for the No. 6 Dodge.
Evernham Motorsports released rookie driver Paul Wolfe this week after only three events.
Wolfe finished 26th in his first two events at Daytona and California. After skipping the road race in Mexico City, Wolfe managed just a 30th-place showing in last week's Busch race at Las Vegas, sealing his fate.
Mayfield will drive the car Saturday in the Aaron's 312 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with car owner Ray Evernham serving as the crew chief. Kahne will be behind the wheel for next weekend's race at Nashville Superspeedway.
Evernham, who called the shots for three of Jeff Gordon's four championships before becoming a car owner, downplayed is role as crew chief.
``I help all my teams,'' he said. ---
NEW LOOK:@ Baby faced Kasey Kahne put on a few years for this week's race, showing up at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a beard.
The 24-year-old Kahne decided to grow the beard after he forgot to bring his shaver to last week's race at Las Vegas.
``I've been letting it go,'' he said. ``It's not a three-day thing. It takes a while.''
Maybe the facial hair will change Kahne's luck on the track. He's gotten off to a dismal start this year - 38th in the points after the first three races, with no finish higher than 22nd.
But don't get used to Kahne's new look.
``I'm going to have to shave Monday,'' he said. ``I've got some things to do that I've got to get cleaned up for.''---
LOCAL FAVORITE:@ Jimmy Kite's Indy car career stalled out, so he's giving trucks a try.
Kite, who grew up in nearby Stockbridge, made his debut Friday night in the Craftsman Truck series at what passes for his home track.
Kite had previous experience on the 1.54-mile trioval from his days in the Indy Racing League.
``This is a great opportunity,'' said Kite, who drove the No. 06 truck for MRD Motorsports. ``I couldn't have picked a better track to make my debut than
He's not pushing for a ride in the Nextel Cup series, saying he prefers the shorter IRL schedule.
``I've got friends over there and they're making a good living, but I kind of like when I ran Indy cars,'' Kite said. ``It just seems more laid back. It's
not what I call high maintenance. It seems like a lot of fun.''
But Kite didn't have much success in the IRL, and the open-wheel series is relying more on foreign-born drivers than it did in its formative years.
``It's really changing over there: where they're finding the drivers, where they're picking them, the sponsor part of it,'' he said. ``There are a lot more
opportunities over here (in the truck series) and these things are a lot of fun. They are an absolute blast to drive.''