Inotes:/I Busch Fastest In Practice

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SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Kurt Busch was the fastest of the 49 NASCAR Winston Cup drives who practiced Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for qualifying for Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

Busch toured the 2.5-mile speedway at 181.734 mph to top Brett Bodine’s stock car record. Bodine went 181.072 during qualifying in 2000.

“We’re executing what we did in testing and applying what we learned,” Busch said. “It’s a fun race track because it’s 90 degrees at a time. The other tracks, you see 180 degrees.”

Busch was amazingly close to his practice speed from two weeks ago, when he went 181.777 July 10.

Bill Elliott, continuing to be fast, went 181.613 mph and was second-fastest Friday. Elliott has won two straight poles and went to victory lane after Sunday’s Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway.

“It is a work in progress,’ Elliott said. “The guys have done a great job, and I’m very proud of them. We’ve got some good race cars.”

Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin was third at 180.992, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth (180.759) and Mark Martin fifth (180.578).

Speeds should be higher during qualifying, which is slated for 10:05 a.m. (ET) Saturday. Track temperatures should be much lower than Friday, when it was at or above 90 degrees during practice.

Busch said he is ready to make a run at his first Brickyard 400 pole.

“I felt lucky at the pill draw (for qualifying order), but we didn’t draw as good as we would have liked,” Busch said. “We will probably go out at 1:30 p.m. Our fastest runs have been at 3:30 p.m. We’ll make one change, and we’ll be ready.”

Coors Back With Ganassi, Marlin
Coors has extended its contract with Chip Ganassi Racing and will continue as sponsor of Sterling Marlin’s No. 40 Dodge for three more years, the team and sponsor announced Friday.

“We are excited to extend our successful partnership with Coors Brewing Company,” team owner Chip Ganassi said. “We exist to win races and add value to our sponsors investments. Coors has been a tremendous partner, and we’re looking forward to winning more races together and working with Coors’ employees and wholesaler network.”

The Coors Brewing Company has been a NASCAR sponsor for 20 years, starting in 1983 with Bill Elliott and Melling Racing. Coors joined Team SABCO in 1994, with SABCO becoming Chip Ganassi Racing in 2001.

Marlin’s Coors Light Dodge has been in the Top 10 in points since the 2001 Daytona 500 and leads the current Winston Cup standings.

“The on-track success of Sterling Marlin has lead to major in-market success for the Coors Light brand,” said Steve Saunders, director of event marketing at Coors Brewing Company. “That on-track success has significantly impacted our business. We’re thrilled to give our fans three more years of the Silver Bullet car, and we’re excited to be associated with a championship caliber team.”

Marlin has been in the points lead since the second race of the season.

“I’ve had a great relationship with the folks at Coors since Day 1,” Marlin said. “They give us great support, and we’re glad to continue that relationship.”

Rudd Blasts Yates for Comments
Speaking of relationships, the Ricky Rudd-Robert Yates continues to sour, and by all appearances, will end at the end of the season. There are no official announcements planned this weekend, as rumor had it, but Rudd sounded upset at the current situation with the No. 28 team.

“Well, my contract is ending and it’s not gonna be renewed there at Yates Racing,” Rudd said. “As far as any obligations from that standpoint, Robert technically didn’t owe me anything other than why are you breaking up a team that’s successful on the race track. I felt like at least an off-the-record explanation of why is he destroying this race team. I think he wanted to make it look like I was gonna walk and I was gonna leave. I held in there until the latest possible time I could, and it’s pretty obvious now that Yates Racing will only consist of two teams next year.”

Rudd said he is sure someone associated with Yates signed Elliott Sadler to a contract for next season. Business is business, Rudd said, but he clearly was not pleases with the things Yates has said publicly, especially about the supposed in-fighting between Rudd and crew chief Michael McSwain.

“The thing that I’ve gotten tired of reading is all the distractionary bullcrap that’s been said about this race team – that he’s destroying this race team,” Rudd said. ’All Robert has to do is keep his mouth shut and let us go out there and run this race team the rest of year and try to win him a championship. But all this stuff about distraction -- the crew chief is fighting with the driver -- it’s all nonsense. It’s all nonsense to take the heat off him.”

The “heat” is Yates’ contract with Texaco/Havoline. The sponsor surprised Yates by picking up its option for next year, supposedly leaving Yates with three sponsors and two teams.

Supposedly, Texaco could move to Ganassi, who would start a third team for Rudd. But Rudd said no deal is done, and retirement can’t be eliminated as one of his options.

“No, and the reason I say that is when you sort through all these teams that are out there, all of them have a tremendous amount of potential for success,” Rudd said. ”The trouble with me is that I’ve got to go with a team that can come out of the box right away. I don’t have three years. When I say building, I’m not building it by myself, but the team effort that it takes to get a team to the point where it can be competitive for a championship, you’re talking about two or three years in most cases. If that could be short-cut and come out of the box in year one and be competitive, I’ll look seriously at doing that. If it’s gonna be a two or three year buildup process even though everybody means well, I don’t have two or three years left in me to get it to that point and then step aside and give it to somebody.”

Rudd has been linked to the Jerry Jones/Andy Petree team, but he indicated that wasn’t a possibility any more.

“That’s a team that’s out there and needs a driver, and that’s obviously a team that I’ve talked with,” Rudd said. ”As far as getting to the point of signing, I’ve looked at these teams, and the more I look the more confused I get.”

Gordon, Montoya to Swap Rides?
Ever since Jeff Gordon started having success in NASCAR, many have wondered what else could be out there for him to conquer. Formula One, perhaps? Gordon always said no, but there’s a chance he’ll finally get to drive an F1 car.

Gordon and F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya could switch cars in a test session later this month at Indianapolis, with Gordon driving Montoya’s Williams-BMW around Indy’s infield road course and Montoya driving Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet around Indy’s oval.

“There’s an opportunity for us to swap rides for a day that we’re working on, but nothing has been completed,” Gordon said Friday. “Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that it happens, and then we’ll all learn more about it when it does happen for sure.”

Labonte to Help Beamer Foundation
Bobby Labonte and Joe Gibbs Racing will remember the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack by fielding a red, white and blue Pontiac in the Sept. 23 race at Dover International Speedway. The team and driver will also donate all the royalties from sales of merchandise of the car to the Todd M. Beamer Foundation.

Beamer led a passenger revolt on the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania before hitting its intended target.

“Everybody can remember what they were doing last Sept. 11th,” Labonte said. ”I know
I do. It’s been close to a year, and my personal thought is that we don’t remember it enough because what happened changed all of our lives. Now, we’ve kind of gotten back into the rut of, ‘Our lives go on.’ Well, you know what? It’s still a day that we’ll never forget. Nobody should ever take lightly of what could happen again in the future, if it ever does.

“Obviously, Todd on (Flight 93) – the great American heroes that they are – took care of what could have been a lot worse situation and sacrificed their lives for a lot of other people. It’s just a great situation that we’re able to do this. We’re so excited that we’re part of it, and we can give every bit of it to a great foundation like the Todd Beamer Foundation.”

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