Champions Week: Day 3

NEW YORK – It seemed like a normal race morning in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

The drivers awoke early, attended a meeting with NASCAR President Mike Helton, donned their uniforms, signed autographs, participated in live television interviews, climbed into their race cars and drove off to the cheers of their fans.

But this was no normal race morning.

The setting was Times Square in New York City. The drivers took to the streets of New York for the NASCAR “Victory Lap,” which began with a live national television appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America.

A procession of the Top 10 drivers and cars departed from Good Morning America’s Times Square Studios and ended at the ESPN Zone restaurant, where the drivers met with sponsors and media.

“It’s pretty neat to be able to block off the streets of New York like they did today,” said Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet. “It says a lot for New York accepting what we do and how big our sport has become. It’s great to see all the people watching and participating.”

Mark Martin has finished in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 in 16 of the last 18 seasons, including three consecutive appearances in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. His unique, long-term perspective on NASCAR’s visits to New York – which date back to 1982 – gave him plenty of appreciation for this year’s warm welcome from the City.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of [the Chase] for all three years,” said Martin. “It’s gotten bigger every year. It really gives me a warm feeling about our sport, that I love so much, to see the folks here support it the way they have.

Where past champions have gone before … NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, posed for photos in Times Square after the Victory Lap was completed. During the shoot, a feature of NASCAR’s Champion’s Week in New York for many years, was especially poignant for Johnson – a moment he now shares with dozens of other series champions who came before him.

“The pictures we took in Times Square; I’ve seen those photos with all of the other champions and it was a moment I was really looking forward to,” said Johnson. “We were out there doing the photos and there were fans everywhere, screaming and yelling and getting involved. That really made it fun.

“I think our season speaks for itself,” said Johnson. “I’m more focused on experiencing this moment with my wife, with my team, with Mr. [Rick] Hendrick [car owner], with Chad [Knaus, crew chief] – everything that we have from here on out is revolved around sharing this moment with the team members and with the sponsor. We are one big family and really looking forward to that.”

With the Victory Lap completed, the countdown continues toward the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Awards Ceremony on Friday evening. NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has been joined in New York by the rest of the Top 10 drivers, along with 11th-place finisher Tony Stewart.

Next up for this exclusive group is the NASCAR / National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) Myers Brothers luncheon on Thursday. This prestigious event, at Cipriani on 42nd Street, includes presentations to the special award winners of 2006. In addition, the champions from all of NASCAR’s other series will be recognized.

After Thursday’s luncheon, all of the champions will gather for their annual champions’ photo shoot, at Rockefeller Plaza. On Thursday evening, the group of champions will be treated to an exclusive Champions’ Dinner at the Waldorf=Astoria.

On Friday, Johnson and his team will pose for formal photos on New York’s Park Avenue before attending several pre-awards ceremony receptions. Then, Johnson officially will be crowned NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion; the Awards Ceremony begins at 7 p.m. in the Waldorf=Astoria’s Grand Ballroom. SPEED will broadcast a live Awards Ceremony pre-show, “NASCAR Takes Manhattan,” beginning at 7 p.m. (ET), while TNT will air the ceremony at 9 p.m. (ET).

Pit Stop Tour
For any local race fans that missed the Victory Lap, several slower-moving cars will be visible throughout Champion’s Week. In fact, several race cars will be parked on display at many popular New York locations every day this week.

From 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., today through Friday, six city locations will host the Champion’s Week Pit Stop Tour, where fans can view NASCAR stock cars up close. The locations are: Times Square/Military Island (Broadway between 43rd and 44th Streets); Bryant Park (6th Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets); by the News Corp. Building (6th Avenue between 48th and 49th Streets); Madison Square Garden (7th Avenue between 31st and 32nd Streets); at the Tissot Retail Gallery/Tourneau Atrium (57th & Madison Avenue); and the Sprint retail store located at 175 5th Avenue, between 22nd and 23rd Streets.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2006

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