Saturday Homestead Notebook

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - After posting his worst qualifying effort in the last 12 races, Jimmie Johnson went out and posted the fastest lap on Saturday afternoon during the second practice session for the Ford 400.

Johnson turned 34 laps in the practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway with his best lap coming on lap 1 at 167.665 mph.

Carl Edwards, who trails Johnson by 141 points, was seventh quick in the today's first session with a lap of 166.164 mph.

Denny Hamlin topped the final session in his No. 11 Toyota with a lap of 164.429 mph.

Johnson and Edwards were fourth and 23rd, respectively, in the last practice of the 2008 season.

Benson's Future Undecided
Johnny Benson won his first career NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship Friday night. But the veteran driver won't be back to defend his title for Bill Davis Racing.

While BDR plans to field both a truck operation as well as a Sprint Cup Series team in 2009, Benson will not be one of its drivers.

Benson was coy about what he exactly has up his sleeve for next season, which could include a full-time truck ride for another team or a series of separate deals for truck series, Nationwide and even Sprint Cup rides.

Sources have reported Benson is headed to the Red Horse truck team next year but neither driver or team have confirmed that story.

There's always the chance Benson could head back to his native Michigan where he is involved in the management of Berlin Raceway or drive supermodifieds around the Midwest.

Busch Bummed About Banquet
Since joing the Toyota team, Kyle Busch has been hyped up all season about the possibilty of driving a Formula One car. The opportunity was to take place next weekend during Toyota Motorsports Day at Fuji Speedway, Japan.

But since he will be required to go to Saturday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series banquet to collect his sixth-place trophy, Busch will be unable to attend.

"I don’t get to drive the Formula One car anymore," Busch said. "I have to go to the Nationwide banquet and accept my sixth-place awards instead.

"NASCAR took me away from the Formula One car."

Busch's teammate Denny Hamlin, who will be in attendance to turn some laps in a Cup car, might get that chance that Busch wanted.

"It’s just kind of wait-and-see," Busch said. "I would love to (drive the Formula One)."

The event will showcase the Toyota Cup and Formula One teams for the fans.

Junior OK with DEI Merger
Dale Earnhardt Jr. thinks the recent announcement of the Dale Earnhardt, Inc. - Ganassi merger will be a good for the team he left last season.

“It gives those guys a good opportunity to try to get through the season financially," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Chip Ganassi is a racer. They really need somebody like that. I just hope that they move forward and make some things happen. It is tough this year, tough next year, especially for all the guys trying to find money. That is this biggest problem.

“There are some great personnel at Ganassi. Steve Hmiel will be reunited with a bunch of old employees at DEI and buddies. The need a racer around there over the top of things and really making hard decisions. It will be interesting to see how all of that works. I think it should be seamless and it should be productive for everybody”

Drivers Support Testing Ban
A majority of the NASCAR garage applauded NASCAR's decision to suspend testing in 2009 that was announced at the track on Friday.

“I think it’s a great move by NASCAR,” said Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford. “I think that gives a little bit of relief to the teams, as far as expenses, and the team owners. That’s a good thing. It’ll make it a little easier on all the guys.”

“Good decision, good for NASCAR,” said Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 07 Chevrolet. “We have to save our team owners and sponsors some money and that is a good way to do it.”

The move will also help the smaller teams, including Robby Gordon Motorsports.

“It’s the great equalizer for us," Gordon said. "The new testing rule is the greatest equalizer that NASCAR has ever done. The COT was maybe halfway there, but eliminating the testing allows a single-car team like ours to use all our notes and data we've accrued and closes the gap with the multi-car teams."

Homestead - The Championship Track
In a historic first for motorsports, Homestead-Miami Speedway will host five world-class motorsports championships in 2009, as the IndyCar Series and Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series join the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series Championships. In doing so, Homestead-Miami will become the first speedway ever to host all of the premier North American motorsports championships.

Homestead-Miami Speedway will be the site of the 2009 IndyCar and Grand-Am finales on Oct. 10, and NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend Nov. 20-22.

“This is a moment on par with any announcement in recent motorsports history,” said Homestead-Miami Speedway President Curtis Gray. “Because this is more than a South Florida celebration; this is international motorsports history. As host to the championship finales of the IndyCar Series, Grand- Am and NASCAR, Homestead-Miami Speedway is irrefutably The Championship Track.”

Ambrose Gets Another Sponsor
Bush’s Baked Beans will serve as a primary sponsor in the Sprint Cup Series for Marcos Ambrose’s No. 47 Toyota at Richmond (May) and Darlington. The brand will also serve as a major associate sponsor for 10 events next season.

Mears Ends Hendrick Career
Casey Mears makes his final start for Hendrick Motorsports in Sunday's Ford 400 before moving to the next stage of his career.

Mears will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet Sunday before moving to the No. 07 Chevrolet of Richard Childress Racing next season.

"I earned my first Cup win with Hendrick Motorsports, and that will always be very important to me,” Mears said. “There were good moments, but there were also times of frustration. I appreciate the opportunity that [team owner] Rick [Hendrick] gave me to race for him."

Mears made 71 starts for Hendrick with one win, one pole, six top-fives and 15 top-10s.

Final Penske Start for Newman
After starting the season with a Daytona 500 win, Ryan Newman ends the year with his final start for Penske Racing.

Newman will take the green flag Sunday for the last time behind-the-wheel of the ALLTEL Dodge before he moves to the new Stewart-Haas racing team next season.

"It's hard to believe the time has come to move on already," Newman said. "It's a bittersweet weekend to be sure and I'm hoping to go out with a great success for Roger and everyone at Penske Racing."

Phoenix TV Ratings Mixed
ABC's coverage of last Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix earned a final national rating of 3.6, according to Nielsen Media Research, down a tad from the 2007 number of 3.7.

The final 30 minutes of last Sunday's telecast was moved to ESPN2, which received a 3.3 national rating.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2008

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