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Hmiel suspended for Truck radio remarks

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Championship contender Dale Earnhardt Jr.
will have as new spotter for the season finale because NASCAR
suspended Steve Hmiel on Saturday for the rest of the weekend.

NASCAR said Hmiel, director of motorsports at Dale Earnhardt
Inc., made disparaging remarks about series officials over the
radio during Friday's Truck Series race at Homestead-Miami
Speedway. Hmiel was spotting for his son, Shane, when he became
angry about a ruling against him.

He was called in for a meeting with NASCAR president Mike Helton
Saturday morning and was sent home.

"It showed complete disrespect for NASCAR and its officials, so
after a meeting with Mike Helton, he was sent home for the
weekend,'' said NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo.

Hmeil was not available for comment, and DEI officials did not
announce who would replace Hmeil during Sunday's race. Earnhardt is
fourth in the standings, 72 points behind leader Kurt Busch.

Tough rooting spot
Kyle Busch isn't really sure who to root for
Sunday when he watches the race for the Nextel Cup championship.

His choices are older brother, Kurt, who is leading the points
and searching for his first championship. Or, he can pull for Jeff
Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Kyle's teammates at Hendrick
Motorsports.

"It's difficult because my brother is family, obviously, so I
have to root for him,'' Busch said. "But Jeff and Jimmie are my
teammates, and that makes them family, too.

"I'd love to see my brother win his first championship, but I'd
be excited for Hendrick Motorsports to see Jimmie or Jeff win it.
I'm pulling for all three of them. I hope one of them is able to
bring the trophy home this weekend. Whichever one gets it, that's
the way it was meant to turn out.''

Busch will move up to the Nextel Cup series next season after a
successful rookie campaign in the Busch series. He tied Greg
Biffle's series record for most victories in a season by a rookie
with five, and battled Martin Truex Jr. down to the wire for the
championship before coming in second.

Communicating success
Nextel is completing the first year of
its 10-year, $700 million commitment to sponsor NASCAR's premier
stock car series and the head of the communications giant could not
be happier about the result.

"This whole year has just been phenomenal,'' Nextel CEO Tim
Donohue said Saturday during an interview at Homestead with The
Associated Press.

"The metrics that we look at when you try to measure has this
been a business success -- every one is better than we originally
anticipated,'' Donohue said. "Whether it be awareness of the
brand, how many people would go through the experience or how many
fans in the stands are actually using a Nextel phone during the
race.''

He said the most pleasing thing has been the acceptance by fans
since Nextel replaced longtime title sponsor Winston cigarettes.

"You've got to remember you had Winston here for 32 years,''
Donohue said. "My charter to the organization was I really wanted
to take the first year to win the hearts and minds of the fans.
Yeah, I want to sell some telephones and, yeah, I want people to
sign up for service, but I really want to be known as a great new
sponsor that people like and trust and who are enhancing the sport.
I think that we've done a good job of that.''

Champ spread too thin
Matt Kenseth's reign as series champion
will end Sunday when someone else wins the Nextel Cup championship,
and in some respects, it's not a minute too soon.

Kenseth said his Roush Racing team is burnt out from the 36-race
schedule and the effort to defend their title.

"I could really see the team run into the ground this year and
I've never seen that before out of our team,'' Kenseth said. "I've
always seen energy and enthusiasm. The last five or six weeks, I've
seen dragging and wanting to get it over and it's hard to perform
when everybody is like that. It's something we need to address this
winter.''

One solution Kenseth has is cutting back on his personal
schedule, saying he "spread myself a little too thin.''

Kenseth heads into the finale eighth in the standings.

Going, going ... Gaughan?
Brendan Gaughan said Saturday he still doesn't
know what his Nextel Cup future is, but sounded as if he won't be
back with Penske Racing.

Gaughan drives the No. 77 Dodge, and Penske officials have said
they were still deciding if they would bring him back for a second
season. Heading into the finale, he is 28th in points standings
with one top five and three top 10s.

"I don't know what is going on yet. I have some plans, and no
matter what I do, I'm going to be back running some truck races for
my Orleans team,'' he said. "I could say yes to a lot of things,
and I could say no to a lot of things. I think most other drivers
are not in that position.''

Gaughan's family is big in the Las Vegas gaming industry,
founding the The Orleans hotel and casino, so Gaughan can be choosy
with his job offers.

"I'm not here for the money part of this sport,'' he said. "I
want to be a racecar driver. This is a desire, not a need.''