New Drivers Have New Cars at MNBA 500


Friday, October 24th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) _ Kevin Harvick won the Busch Series title in 2001 while running a nearly complete Winston Cup schedule at the same time.

Brian Vickers is hoping four races of that double duty will be enough to give him the Busch championship, too. He leads the standings by 23 points over 1994 champ David Green, with Jason Keller, Ron Hornaday and Scott Riggs all within 44 points of the top spot.

Vickers, who turns 20 on Friday, is one of four drivers getting a head start on the 2004 Nextel Cup season by joining their new teams for the final four races this year, starting with the Bass Pro Shops MNBA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

``If anything, I think running both races will help me because I'm guaranteed double the track time at every race track from here on out,'' said Vickers, who'll be the youngest full-time Winston Cup driver ever. ``I'm just fortunate to have been given this opportunity and hope to make the best of it.''

Joe Nemechek, Ward Burton and Scott Wimmer also debut in new rides.

``This will be an excellent opportunity for the team to learn about me and for me to learn about them,'' said Nemechek, who takes over the No. 01 Pontiac. ``They're going to see what I am like and what I like in a race car. It would have been very hard to do all of this in Daytona next year.''

Vickers steps in for Nemechek with Hendrick Motorsports, joining teammates Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Terry Labonte. Burton leaves Bill Davis Racing after nearly eight seasons to jump in the No. 0 Haas CNC Racing Pontiac, with Scott Wimmer taking his place.

Vickers and Nemechek got an early start on their early start, testing with their new teams at Phoenix this week.

``This will sure help us in understanding how we communicate,'' Nemechek said. ``Each driver and crew chief has different ways of explaining the feel and setup of the car.''

This won't be Vickers' first Winston Cup start _ he finished 33rd earlier this month in the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

``It wasn't what I expected,'' he said. ``Looking back, I know things could have been a lot worse. We finished the race without damaging the car and learned a great deal. I guess that's really what it's all about at this point for me.''

Wimmer is in his third season with Davis' Busch team, so he's very familiar with the operation. He's also made a handful of Winston Cup starts during that time, and often was relied upon as a test driver.

In fact, he tested the No. 22 Dodge for Burton in preparation for last week's event at Martinsville Speedway.

``I'm at the shop every day, so all the guys know me and I know them,'' Wimmer said. ``So this is really the best way I could get my first full-time ride in Winston Cup, driving for a team that I know really well.''

The reason for all these changes? Well, the chase for the Winston Cup championship is all but over, with Matt Kenseth holding a commanding 240-point lead. And since none of these drivers is currently in the top 20 in the standings, they don't lose anything by changing cars at this point.

``Really, since we know this is where we're going to be next year, it just makes sense to go ahead and start getting ready for next year,'' Wimmer said. ``Hopefully, this'll make it that much easier to do that.''