NASCAR NOTEBOOK

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Date: Nov. 20, 2006
Publisher: The Tampa Tribune
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,248 words
Lexile Measure: 1380L

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Monday November 20, 2006

Section SPORTS

Page 4

NASCAR NOTEBOOK

Rookie Hamlin Happy At No.3

HOMESTEAD - Denny Hamlin completed a spectacular rookie season with a third-place finish in Sunday's Ford 400, a third-place finish in the Nextel Cup standings, and a bet won with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart.

Hamlin made a handshake wager with Stewart that he would finish higher in the points than Stewart did as a rookie in 1999. Stewart finished fourth, although that was before the Chase for the Championship format reset the points with 10 races remaining.

"It's just fun to be competitive with Tony in that kind of way," Hamlin said. "We were able to finish higher in the points than he did his rookie year. I would trade it for just his stats alone when I'm done with my career."

Hamlin was named the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award, although it was a forgone conclusion. He finished with two wins, three poles, eight top-fives and 20 top-10s.

"I told [team president] J.D. [Gibbs] 'don't get all excited now and expect me to finish in the top three every year,'" Hamlin said. "These seasons don't come by very often. But what I'm excited about, I know the potential of me as a driver is not nearly at its peak yet."

EVENTFUL DEBUT: Former Formula One star and Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya acquitted himself well in his Nextel Cup debut, although his day ended with a fiery crash.

Montoya started 29th in a fourth Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge and fell a lap down, but he rallied to run as high as 13th. He was running 21st with 15 laps remaining when, while racing with Ryan Newman, he hit the wall in Turn 2 and the rear of his car burst into flames.

The No.30 Dodge dropped so much oil on the track the race was red-flagged for cleanup.

"It's going to be hard," Montoya said. "I knew when I signed with Chip that it wasn't going to be easy. I'm racing against great drivers, and it was awesome racing against them today. I think it's been getting better and better race by race."

Besides Sunday's race, Montoya has made four starts and has a best finish of 11th. He'll move to Ganassi's No.42 Dodge next year, replacing Casey Mears.

STRONG FINISH: Two-time Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr. lost the rookie of the year competition to Hamlin, but he'll take some momentum into next year after scoring a career-best second-place finish Sunday.

Truex did his best racing late in the season in the Dale Earnhardt Inc. No.1 Chevy, picking up three finishes in the top six and five in the top 14 in the last nine races.

"For a long time there, we were just kind of shooting in the dark," Truex said about the season. "It took us a while to get some experience and some confidence. Once we got that, we just got on a roll, and our cars have been really good ever since."

LAST HURRAH: Mark Martin's final race in his 19-year run driving Roush Racing's No.6 Ford ended with a quiet 18th-place finish.

"Yeah, it's been a long time and a lot of water under the bridge," Martin said. "We've done a lot together, and nothing will ever change that."

Martin will drive a limited schedule next year, sharing the Ginn Racing No.01 Chevy with Regan Smith.

BREAKING UP: Newman, whose forgettable season ended with a 23rd-place finish, apparently will have a new crew chief next year.

Matt Borland, Newman's crew chief since he came into Nextel Cup in 2002, took personal leave for the final two races and is expected to take an upper-management position at Penske Racing.

Team engineer Mike Nelson filled in for Borland for the final two races.

NOT THIS TIME: Stewart, driving the same car in which he won at Atlanta and Texas in recent weeks, was a non-factor and finished 15th.

He easily finished 11th in the points, the top spot outside the Chase, which is guaranteed to pay at least $1 million from the point fund.

HOT LAPS: Greg Biffle's victory Sunday gave Ford a sweep of Ford Championship Weekend. Martin won Friday's Craftsman Truck Series race, and Matt Kenseth won Saturday's Busch Series race, both in Fords. a Biffle has won nine races, including the last three at Homestead, with the car he drove Sunday. The car was originally a Taurus and was "reskinned" as a Fusion for this season.

Tony Fabrizio

(CHART) NEXTEL CUP FORD 400

At Homestead-Miami Speedway

Pl. (Start) Driver Car make Laps Money

1. (22) Greg Biffle Ford 268 $323,800

2. (20) Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet 268 $260,458

3. (33) Denny Hamlin Chevrolet 268 $183,500

4. (1) Kasey Kahne Dodge 268 $190,689

5. (7) Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 268 $157,586

6. (19) Matt Kenseth Ford 268 $141,991

7. (2) Scott Riggs Dodge 268 $91,100

8. (31) Carl Edwards Ford 268 $99,475

9. (15) Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 268 $119,986

10. (10) Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 268 $85,400

11. (23) David Stremme Dodge 268 $94,508

12. (24) Scott Wimmer Chevrolet 268 $65,950

13. (13) Joe Nemechek Chevrolet 268 $107,645

14. (5) Jeff Burton Chevrolet 268 $95,895

15. (21) Tony Stewart Chevrolet 268 $120,411

16. (11) Reed Sorenson Dodge 268 $76,925

17. (28) Paul Menard Chevrolet 268 $64,925

18. (26) Mark Martin Ford 268 $82,725

19. (14) Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 268 $113,216

20. (40) Tony Raines Chevrolet 268 $70,700

21. (6) Brian Vickers Chevrolet 267 $75,600

22. (27) Jeff Green Chevrolet 267 $89,458

23. (16) Ryan Newman Dodge 267 $109,108

24. (12) Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 267 $112,786

25. (43) Bill Elliott Chevrolet 267 $63,700

26. (25) Dave Blaney Dodge 266 $78,033

27. (34) Travis Kvapil Chevrolet 266 $75,622

28. (38) Kyle Petty Dodge 266 $73,775

29. (37) Ken Schrader Ford 266 $92,689

30. (8) J.J. Yeley Chevrolet 265 $100,325

31. (41) Dale Jarrett Ford 265 $96,625

32. (39) Casey Mears Dodge 261 $95,983

33. (9) David Gilliland Ford 257 $90,483

34. (29) Juan Montoya Dodge 251 $61,425

35. (42) Jamie McMurray Ford 250 $108,050

36. (4) Elliott Sadler Dodge 230 $90,991

37. (18) Sterling Marlin Chevrolet 213 $60,800

38. (3) Kyle Busch Chevrolet 206 $78,600

39. (17) Mike Bliss Dodge 201 $60,400

40. (35) Robby Gordon Chevrolet 187 $60,175

41. (30) Bobby Labonte Dodge 83 $96,911

42. (32) Jeremy Mayfield Dodge 78 $59,675

43. (36) Kurt Busch Dodge 9 $100,506

RACE STATISTICS

Time of Race: 3 hours, 12 minutes, 23 seconds. Margin of Victory: 0.389 seconds. Caution Flags: 11 for 43 laps. Lead Changes: 15 among 10 drivers. Lap Leaders:K.Kahne 1-18; Kyle Busch 19-46; K.Kahne 47-104; D.Earnhardt Jr. 105-106; J.Johnson 107-108; P.Menard 109; K.Kahne 110-117; D.Earnhardt Jr. 118-162; M.Truex Jr. 163-189; E.Sadler 190-206; K.Kahne 207-209; S.Riggs 210; K.Kahne 211-213; G.Biffle 214-248; J.Yeley 249-256; G.Biffle 257-268. Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K.Kahne, 5 times for 90 laps; D.Earnhardt Jr., 2 times for 47 laps; G.Biffle, 2 times for 47 laps; Kyle Busch, 1 time for 28 laps; M.Truex Jr., 1 time for 27 laps; E.Sadler, 1 time for 17 laps; J.Yeley, 1 time for 8 laps; J.Johnson, 1 time for 2 laps; P.Menard, 1 time for 1 lap; S.Riggs, 1 time for 1 lap.

Photo credit: The Associated Press

Photo: Juan Pablo Montoya's car bursts into flames after hitting the wall during the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Copyright 2006, The Tampa Tribune and may not be republished without permission. E-mail library@tampatrib.com

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