NASCAR Christmas Wishes

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - With one eye on next season and the traditions of Daytona, the NASCAR community always embraces December holidays. Engines are quiet. Facilities are at rest. It's time to take deep breaths, enjoy friends and family, and - not the least - count blessings.

Family, of course, is paramount. Beginning with NASCAR's founding France family and extending through the years, generations of stock-car racing's cornerstone families trace their interests and careers to the sport.

One such group is the Tennessee-native Marlins. Sterling Marlin, a fixture in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, was introduced to the sport by his father, Coo Coo Marlin. Sterling Marlin introduced the sport to his son Steadman, who's competed in the NASCAR Busch Series, and now a new generation of Marlins may be on the horizon. Steadman and his wife Mandy welcomed their first child, Stirlin Blaise, on March 21, and according to Sterling, the family Christmas will feature little Stirlin's first holiday. All will be going to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands for New Year's celebrations.

Another new NASCAR arrival, Olivia Grace Compton, will be introduced to Christmas holiday traditions. Olivia's dad, NASCAR Busch Series driver Stacy Compton and his wife Vickie welcomed Olivia, their first child, at 8:45 a.m. on Dec. 7. Her father expects Olivia to meet Santa Claus on Christmas Eve since she enjoys being up all night long.

One of NASCAR's newest families, the Busch family, also intends to huddle during the holidays. Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion, will celebrate with his parents, Tom and Gayle, and his younger brother Kyle, the Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Busch Series. But there's a twist - they'll do it in their new home state of North Carolina.

"This will be the first Christmas that my entire family will be on the east coast," Kyle said. "We have finally all moved here from Las Vegas. So we will be hanging out, spending time with family and friends and eating some of my Mom's awesome cooking for Christmas."

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year, Kasey Kahne, will do the opposite this holiday season - he'll head for the west coast. Kahne, who also drives the No. 38 Great Clips Dodge in the NASCAR Busch Series, hails from Enumclaw, Wash. So he'll enjoy a northwest holiday through Jan. 3.

Joe Nemechek, who also drives the No. 87 Cellular One Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series, and his wife Andrea are heading west, too, but they'll stop in Sun Valley, Idaho. The Nemecheks are taking son John Hunter, daughter Blair and eight-month-old daughter Kennedy Grace on a skiing Christmas holiday. Joe's parents Joe Nemechek Sr. and Martha also are along, and the whole clan will stay at the ski lodge of Nelson Bowers, who owns MB2 Motorsports, Nemechek's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series team. All except Grandpa Joe and little Kennedy Grace plan to hit the slopes.

NASCAR Busch Series driver David Green already has his Christmas present - a new car. Well, not really. Green will switch numbers and drive Brewco Motorsports No. 27 Kleenex Chevrolet in 2005. Or, as he puts it, "I will now be in touch with every household out there." Green and wife Diane plan a stay-at-home Christmas in North Carolina with daughter Kaylie Rae and son Austin.

And finally, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Jamie McMurray is spending his down time island-hopping. First, McMurray taped a segment on NBC's "The West Wing," late last week, then flew to Hawaii for a three-day photo shoot for FOX Sports with Kasey Kahne. The duo will be featured in promos leading up to the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 20.

"I've never been to Hawaii, so I'm really looking forward it," McMurray said. "I mean, if you're doing a promo shoot, I can't think of a better place to do it than Hawaii. After those two shoots, I'll be spending some time at home with my family before we gear back up for the 2005 season with January testing."

That's right - Preseason Thunder, the annual preseason test sessions at Daytona International Speedway - is only a few weeks away. It begins Tuesday, Jan. 11 through Jan. 13 with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams that finished in odd-number car owner points. NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teams test from Jan. 15-16. NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams that finished in even-number car owner points test from Jan. 18-20, and NASCAR Busch Series teams test from Jan. 22-23.

"Once Jan. 1 hits, I'm off doing sponsor stuff, then testing through (the) first of February," Green said, referencing the West Coast edition of Preseason Thunder, which occurs Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and from Feb. 1-3 at California Speedway.

For drivers like Ricky Rudd who finished 24th in the point standings but enjoyed a late-season surge with the addition of new crew chief Michael "Fatback" McSwain, testing can't get here fast enough. Especially since the series has worked through the inaugural "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup," the new method of crowning a champion that was introduced in 2004. The top 10 drivers and any within 400 points of the leader following race No. 26 compete for the series championship during the season's final 10 races.

And Rudd intends to be in the Top 10 in 2005.

"I think it is a very realistic goal and we are going to have to work hard for it," Rudd said. "But I feel like top 10 in the points at the cut off point is not impossible. I think it is a realistic goal."

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