Negotiations for next TV deal in final stages

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Negotiations for a new Nextel Cup television
contract could be completed before the end of the season, NASCAR
chairman Brian France said.

The current $2.6 billion, six-year contract, with Fox and NBC
splitting the season, expires at the end of the 2006 season.

"We're getting down to the wire," France said Saturday at
Kansas Speedway. "Looks to be in the next four to six weeks or
sooner there will be some firm announcements of where we'll land."

France would not comment on which networks are part of the
negotiations, but speculation has centered on ESPN and ABC, its
parent company, joining Fox and NBC, each of the entities taking
one-third of the season. FOX would get the Daytona 500 and the
first third of the season, ESPN and ABC would divvy up the middle
third, including the Brickyard race, and NBC would televise the
10-race Chase for the championship.

"It's competitive," France said of the bargaining. "But the
last three, four weeks we've been very surprised at all the
interest in network to cable.

"The package may change and look a little different, but we're
very convinced we'll get proper value. We're more concerned about
getting the right partners. We've got great ones now, but we want
to make sure whatever happens we get partners who treat us like our
current partners do."

He also noted that the Busch Series, with its viewership up
nearly 30 percent this year, is also in line for a new TV deal.

"The Busch Series is quietly doing NBA or regular season
baseball numbers," France said. "It's wearing out other sports.
Busch will never be the Cup Series, but we would like the new
agreement for that to be a franchise of its own, treated with
promotion and announcers that differentiate that series a little
better as we go down the road."

Sauter doesn't get wish
Headed down the backstretch in the last
lap of Saturday's Busch race at Kansas Speedway, Johnny Sauter
thought his Hollywood moment had come.

One wrong move, he knew, and the side-by-side battle between
Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle would end with both in the wall. Sauter
would drive safely through the mess and win the United Way 300 -- in
a car wearing the United Way's colors and logo, in the first NASCAR
race ever to have a charity's name in its title.

But Sauter, whose Dodge is sponsored by Yellow Transportation -- one of the corporate presenters of Saturday's race -- had to settle
for third after Kahne and Biffle avoided trouble and Kahne shot
ahead at the end to win by 0.03 seconds.

"I thought I had them covered," Sauter said. "I knew we had
fuel to go the rest of the way, and I ran in the top five all day.
I thought this was our big break to bring it home for the hometown
sponsor, but I just wasn't able to do it."

Still, the third-place finish in his sponsor's back yard --
Yellow is based in nearby Overland Park -- was a needed boost for
Sauter. In his last outing, two weeks ago at Dover, Del., he lost one car
in a practice crash and another in an 11-car pileup on the second
lap of the race.

Setting a different pace
If the pace car looks a little
different this weekend, that's because it is.

The Ford Fusion, which will replace the Taurus next year as the
manufacturer's racing entry for Nextel Cup and Busch events, made
its on-track debut before Saturday's United Way 300 in the Busch
Series and will also be the pace car for Sunday's Nextel Cup race,
the Banquet 400.

"We got a great response from the public when we unveiled our
NASCAR Fusion race car in Charlotte earlier this year," said Burt
Diamond, the global marketing manager for Ford Racing Technology.
"We've got high hopes that this car will be a winner on the track
and in dealer showrooms."

The new Fusion also will serve as the pace car next month at
Homestead, Fla., -- in the Ford 400, naturally.

Spark plugs
Kevin Harvick returned to Kansas on Saturday
morning after making a quick trip home to Winston-Salem, N.C., on
Friday night because his father-in-law, John Paul Linville, is
faring poorly in his battle with cancer. Harvick finished fourth in
Saturday's Busch race and will start 20th in Sunday's Cup race. …
Rusty Wallace will make his 700th career Cup start Sunday. … No
Cup race at Kansas Speedway has been won by a driver starting worse
than 11th. Two drivers have won from the front row, including Joe
Nemechek's victory from the pole in 2004.