Champion's Week: Day 5 - Pre-banquet awards

NASCAR Winston Cup Champion's Week -- Day 5 Outgoing sponsor R.J. Reynolds receives Myers Brothers Award NEW YORK (Dec. 5, 2003) -- During its 33 years of NASCAR Winston Cup Series sponsorship, R.J. Reynolds has dispensed millions ...

NASCAR Winston Cup Champion's Week -- Day 5
Outgoing sponsor R.J. Reynolds receives Myers Brothers Award

NEW YORK (Dec. 5, 2003) -- During its 33 years of NASCAR Winston Cup Series sponsorship, R.J. Reynolds has dispensed millions of dollars and hundreds of trophies to deserving award winners.

On Friday morning, those tables temporarily turned.

RJR was presented the 44th Myers Brothers Award at the annual Myers Brothers Breakfast hosted by the National Motorsports Press Association and ConocoPhillips. It's an honor voted upon by NMPA members and bestowed for outstanding contributions to the sport of stock-car racing.

Friday marked the fifth time RJR has received the award. This time, it came hours prior to the sponsor's last official act, the evening's 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series awards ceremony.

"We're leaving a family," said Rich Habegger, Winston Cup director for RJR's Sports Marketing Enterprises, of RJR and NASCAR's longtime association.

So is ConocoPhillips, the source of NASCAR's official fuel. ConocoPhillips, which supplies the 76 brand of racing fuel, is leaving after 53 years of series sponsorship

"It's going to be different without Winston and 76 Gasoline," said 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth.

RJR and ConocoPhillips weren't the only award recipients at Friday's annual breakfast. Here's a look at other year-end honorees:

* One of NASCAR's best-known and most popular drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., had the fact officially confirmed for him on Friday. He accepted the Grands! Biscuits NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award, becoming the second member of his family to receive it. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt, won it posthumously in 2001. Over three million fans cast ballots during season-long voting in 2003.

* Ryan Newman of Penske Racing, who led the NASCAR Winston Cup Series with 11 pole positions, won the Bud Pole Award and received a check for $100,000.

* Mike Maiwald of Hendrick Motorsports won the Clevite Engine Builder of the Year Award. Maiwald, the engine builder for Jeff Gordon's No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, received a check for $77,000.

* Tony Stewart of Joe Gibbs Racing won the MBNA Mid-Race Leader Award. He accepted a $5,000 check, which he said he will donate to the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

* Robbie Reiser, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion crew chief, accepted the Mechanix Wear Pit Crew of the Year award on behalf of Kenseth's No. 17 DEWALT Ford team. He also accepted the $75,000 check.

* Newman won the Mobil 1 Command Performance Driver of the Year Award. He accepted a $100,000 check.

* Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports won the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Favorite Driver of the Year Award. He accepted a $75,000 check.

* Ricky Craven of PPI Motorsports won the USG Person of the Year Award and accepted a $100,000 check.

* Kenseth won the Waste Management Picking Up Places Award for the second consecutive year. He accepted a $75,000 check.

* Earnhardt Jr. won the Goodyear Gatorback Fastest Lap Award and accepted a $75,000 check.

* Kenseth won the 76 Gasoline Champion's Award and accepted a $76,000 check.

* NASCAR class of 2003 ... As the season's first snowflakes fell, Kenseth, NASCAR Busch Series champion Brian Vickers, NASCAR Craftsman Truck champion Travis Kvapil and NASCAR's nine touring and weekly series champions gathered for a group shot at New York's Central Park.

Playing off a horsepower theme, the champions posed with one of the city's horse-drawn carriages. They also posed on some rocks with the New York City skyline in the background.

"This has been a terrific week for all of our champions," said Chris Boals, NASCAR's director of regional touring and the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series. "To bring these 12 incredible drivers together in New York is a special event that all of these great champions, along with their teams and fans, will cherish for years to come. We have been so fortunate to receive the support of the City of New York, the Mayor's Office and the people of New York to hold this special photo shoot."

An interesting note: Three of the NASCAR's 2003 champions hail from Wisconsin. Kenseth is from Cambridge, Kvapil is from Janesville, and NASCAR Midwest Series champion Steve Carlson is from West Salem. The trio raced against each other early in Kenseth and Kvapil's Late Model careers, when they battled veterans like Carlson on the state's short tracks.

"We'd show up to a race track and if Matt was there or if Steve was there, they were always the guys we were gunning for," Kvapil said. "They were fast wherever we went. Matt and I came in as young guys and were able to use the NASCAR stepping stones to our advantage and work our way up the ladder. I'm hoping that, in a few years, I can get into NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and get back to rubbing doors with Matt again."

* Kenseth gets a new set of wheels ... Also on Friday morning, Kenseth added a rather large item to his championship spoils. Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing Technology, awarded a Ford GT sports car to the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup champion, who drives the No. 17 DEWALT Ford for Roush Racing. The car was a gift from the manufacturer, Ford, to Kenseth.

Fast Facts

What: NASCAR Winston Cup Series Awards Ceremony.

Who: Top 10 drivers in the final 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup championship standings, led by champion Matt Kenseth.

Where: Grand Ballroom, Waldorf=Astoria Hotel, New York City.
When: 7-10:30 p.m. ET, Friday, Dec. 5.

TV: 9 p.m. TNT (tape-delay).
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.

Final 2003 NASCAR Top 10: 1. Matt Kenseth 5,022. 2. Jimmie Johnson 4,932. 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 4,815. 4. Jeff Gordon 4,785. 5. Kevin Harvick 4,770. 6. Ryan Newman 4,711. 7. Tony Stewart 4,549. 8. Bobby Labonte 4,377. 9. Bill Elliott 4,303. 10. Terry Labonte 4,162.

Master of Ceremonies: Allen Bestwick.
Musical entertainment: Harry Connick Jr., LeAnn Rimes.


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Ricky Craven , Brian Vickers , Steve Carlson , Travis Kvapil
Teams Team Penske , Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing