Idover Notebook:/I Sunday

DOVER, Del. – There was a superstar, a famous son, walking through the garage area Sunday at Dover Downs International Speedway, bringing a large entourage with him.

No, it wasn’t Dale Earnhardt Jr. Too short. And he doesn’t have a wife and kids.

It was Cal Ripken Jr., the Baltimore Orioles third baseman who’s best know for hold the major-league record for consecutive games played. Ripken was the grand marshal and honorary starter for Sunday’s race, renamed the MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 in his honor.

Ripken was visiting Dover hours before the Orioles played at home against the New York Yankees. Ripken spoke at the drivers’ meeting, and he and his family rode around the track before the race in a convertible.

“For the most part, since I announced my retirement, a lot of good things have happened to me,” said Ripken, who will leave baseball at the end of the season. “There was a lot of support from all the ballparks that I played in for the last time. It’s been pretty overwhelming. When you throw this in the mix, this takes it way over the top.

“As a result of being a baseball player, a lot of cool things can happen to you away from the game. This is probably the coolest thing. It’s an extreme honor and a very new experience for me.”

Ripken admitted he wasn’t a follower of NASCAR, though he had friends who were.

“I said it was a new experience, and it is pretty brand new,” Ripken said. “When you’re a baseball player or an athlete, you spend most of your time trying to perfect your skill. Sometimes our exposure is very limited. In my case, it’s been all around. I have a lot of friends that love being a part of this, and they’ve told me I need to get over here and see it.

“We drove in on the golf cart, and I couldn’t get over the slope of the track. That’s my first impression. I’m looking forward to many, many other impressions.”

Ripken left open the possibility of owning a Winston Cup team after he retires.

“A couple weeks from now I’ll be a total free agent,” Ripken said. “I’ll be able to look into anything that I want. I’m really looking forward to new experiences and trying to figure out something for the next phase of my life that drives me like baseball did. A lot of football players, baseball players have gotten involved. They get tremendously excited.

“Who knows? This is one of my first experiences, but this could grow into something else.”

Historic Race for Labonte
Terry Labonte competed in his 700th NASCAR Winston Cup race Sunday, making him the seventh driver to do so. Labonte, a two-time series champion, has been racing Winston Cup since 1978.

“It really doesn’t seem like it’s been that long,” Labonte said. “I can remember when Bill (Elliott) and I first started, and to me anyway it doesn’t seem like that many years ago. Looking back on it that is a pretty big number. It’s a lot of races and a lot of years. I still enjoy doing it and I still enjoy going to the races every weekend. So I guess the time has gone by pretty fast.”

Labonte and his younger brother Bobby are returning home Sunday night to Corpus Christi, Texas, where the town will dedicate a park in their name.

“It will be a big week for us,” Terry Labonte said. “The people of Corpus Christi are excited about it and Bobby, and I are excited about it. The folks in Corpus Christi have decided to do this and have been working on it for a while. We’ve got a lot of fans down there in Corpus, and I think the people really just got tired of reading ‘letters to the editor’ about doing something. They had talked about renaming expressways and this and that and they came up with the park idea. I think that’s great idea and we’re really honored.

Aero Package Stays the Same
NASCAR president Mike Helton said at Sunday’s drivers’ meeting that the aerodynamic package used earlier this year at Daytona and Talladega will remain in place for the Oct. 21 EA Sports 500 at Talladega.

NASCAR has tested some ideas recently, but apparently it has decided to stand pat. Helton did say there would be some “minor adjustments” to the Fords but didn’t indicate what kind of changes.

Stewart Makes Donation to Auction
Tony Stewart will donate the helmet and driver’s uniform he wore in Sunday’s race to the “Auction for America” on eBay.

“Like many Americans, we just wanted to do something to help the rescue and recovery efforts going on in New York City,” Stewart said. “We’ve seen some people shell out a good chunk of money for authentic pieces of racing memorabilia.

“So we had a special helmet painted up specifically for that purpose. We weren’t sure how we were going to auction it off until we saw what eBay was doing, then we figured we’d throw in the firesuit as well.”

The “Auction for America” is an attempt to raise $100 million in 100 days for several charities, most notably United Way’s “September 11th Fund.” The State of New York and New York City are partners in the auction.

Still in the Hunt
Jeff Green is 318 points behind Kevin Harvick in the chase for the Busch Series championship, but after winning Saturday’s 200, Green feels he’s still in the race.

“We’ve got eight races left, and we think we can win every one of them,” Green said. “We’re still trying to win a championship. I know we gained points today. We’re going to have to have more days like this to beat Kevin. We’re not giving up until we get to Homestead.

“We’re trying to win another championship. This will be, hopefully, my last shot at winning the Busch championship. I’m going to try to run Winston Cup for the rest of my career.”

Green, the defending Busch champion, is moving to Richard Childress Racing’s No. 30 Winston Cup team in 2002.

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