* Top 10 could feature as many as four first-time members
* Wood to run for ST Motorsports in 2005
NEWS & NOTES
Major broadcast gains posted at Darlington ... The NASCAR Busch Series race at Darlington last Saturday again produced tremendous increases in both households and viewers. The exciting finish between Jamie McMurray (No. 66 Duraflame Dodge) and Ashton Lewis Jr. (No. 46 Lewis Motorsports Chevrolet) in the BI-LO 200, had a 72% increase in households (1,322,000) over the penultimate event on the same date last season at Rockingham (769,000), also broadcast on TNT. In addition, viewers (1,675,000) increased 67% over last year's race (1,004,000). The BI-LO 200 aired directly against college football among other programming.
Four drivers eyeing first Top-10 finish in final standings ... The final race of the 2004 season could produce as many as four drivers who would appear for the first time in the final NASCAR Busch Series Top 10. Series champion Martin Truex Jr. and runner-up Kyle Busch are first-timers, while Ashton Lewis Jr. whose close second-place finish to Jamie McMurray last week at Darlington was yet another season highlight, is seeking to secure his first Top-10 finish in four full-time seasons in the series. David Stremme (No. 14 U.S. NAVY Chevrolet), last year's Raybestos Rookie of the Year, is 50 points from 10th, but has to be aware of the presence of defending race winner Kasey Kahne (No. 38 Great Clips Dodge), who enters this final event only seven points behind Stremme in 11th. There is still some wiggle room for drivers to move up or down in the Top 10. Fifth-place David Green trails Ron Hornaday by 62 points while sixth-place Mike Bliss is just 12 points behind Green. On the flip side, Jason Keller will be making his sixth consecutive appearance in the NASCAR Busch Series final championship standings.
Wood to run for ST Motorsports in 2005 ... Jon Wood has agreed to drive for ST Motorsports next season, team owner Tad Geschickter announced late Tuesday. Wood, 24, has spent the last two seasons driving full-time in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and is currently 14th coming into Friday's season finale at Homestead. He finished fifth in the series last year, and also won at Kansas and Martinsville. Wood, the grandson of NASCAR pioneer Glen Wood and the son of Eddie Wood, owner of the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, will team with current ST drivers Stacy Compton (No. 59 Kingsford/Bush's Baked Beans Ford) and Robert Pressley (No. 47 Clorox/Wisk Ford). "I wish the 2005 season was already here," Wood said. "I can't wait. The thing that excited me most about Tad and ST Motorsports is those race teams are his biggest priority, his only priority. It's all they do. It's like my dad's operation -- he has the one team and it's all he does. I like that kind of commitment." Wood has two starts in the NASCAR Busch Series to his credit -- his last was at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2002 where he finished sixth.
Dodge makes late run in manufacturer's standings ... Dodge has made a late-season run in the Bill France Performance Cup standings thanks to Jamie McMurray's back-to-back victories for the manufacturer at Phoenix and Darlington. Dodge now has four wins on the season and totals 159 points. Chevrolet has already claimed the 2004 championship, and enters Saturday's finale at Homestead with 20 wins and 252 points. Ford is second with nine victories and 203 points. Chevy is the overall leader at Homestead with five wins.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Cellular One Chevrolet) has three wins at Homestead. Six drivers have one win each, including defending champion Kasey Kahne and Kevin Lepage (No. 71 McDonald Motorsports Chevrolet -- 1996) who are entered in Saturday's field. ... Kahne's victory last year was his first in the NASCAR Busch Series. ... Nemechek is tied with Mark Martin for the lead in top fives at Homestead with five; he leads in top-10 finishes (six). ... Nemechek and Jason Keller are looking to become the first drivers to start all 10 NASCAR Busch Series races at the track.
One year ago at Homestead, six drivers entered the race separated by just 89 points from first to sixth. The title wasn't decided until the final laps of the race when Brian Vickers finished ninth to David Green's 11th, securing the championship by a mere 14 points, the second-closest finish in series history. ... Jamie McMurray will try for his third straight series victory, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since two-time series champion Sam Ard did it in 1984. ... Should Martin Truex Jr. finish the race at Homestead, he would become the first NASCAR Busch Series champion to complete the season without a DNF. ... Casey Mears (No. 1 Miccosukee Indian Gaming & Resort Dodge) made his first NASCAR Busch Series start at Homestead in 2001; he finished 28th. ... David Gilliland, who drives in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series, will practice and qualify for Robby Gordon -- Gordon is competing in the SCORE Baja 1000 Desert race this week. ... Jennifer Jo Cobb (No. 50 Vassarette Chevrolet) will attempt her first NASCAR Busch Series start at Homestead. ... For the third consecutive year, the NASCAR Busch Series champion will participate in Champion's Week activities in Tampa and Orlando as a precursor to the NASCAR Busch Series Awards Banquet at the Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando on Dec. 10. Truex is scheduled to participate in media activities in Tampa on Dec. 8 at the Tampa Marriott Westshore Champions Restaurant, Truex also will be available, along with members of the NASCAR Busch Series Top 10, in Orlando at a site to be announced on Dec. 9 prior to the banquet.
"We did it." -- Martin Truex Jr. to Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the start-finish line at Darlington after clinching the 2004 NASCAR Busch Series championship.
"It should make for an exciting end to the season." -- Kasey Kahne, defending champion at Homestead.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Since the NASCAR Busch Series first competed at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 1995, only one driver has won the event more than once. Joe Nemechek certainly has the facility figured out since he's won here on three occasions.
His first victory came in 1997 when he led the most laps and took the checkered flag by a margin of .397-second over two-time series champion Randy LaJoie. Nemechek scored a second win in 1999 beating Dale Earnhardt Jr. by less than a second. The third and most recent series win for Nemechek at Homestead came in 2001. He started in 20th position, took the lead with five laps remaining and triumphed over Elton Sawyer by 1.247 seconds.
What: Ford 300 (Race No. 34 of 34 in the NASCAR Busch Series).
Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, Fla.
When: 1 p.m. ET, Saturday, Nov. 20.
Track Layout: 1.5-mile banked oval.
Race Length: 300 miles/200 laps.
Posted Awards: $1,352,677.
TV: NBC, 1 p.m., ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.
2003 Winner: Kasey Kahne.
2003 Polesitter: Greg Biffle.
Top 10 in points: 1. Martin Truex Jr. 5,030. 2. Kyle Busch 4,773. 3. Greg Biffle 4,434. 4. Ron Hornaday Jr. 4,107. 5. David Green 4,045. 6. Mike Bliss 4,033. 7. Jason Keller 3,964. 8. Ashton Lewis Jr. 3,771. 9. Kenny Wallace 3,745. 10. Jason Leffler 3,661.
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday -- Practice, 9 a.m. -- 11:15 p.m.; Qualifying, 1:30 p.m. following NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series qualifying.