Crew chief Miller joins Burton; Hamlin reassigned

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jeff Burton was going to have a new
crew chief next season. He's got him three races early.

Scott Miller took over as the crew chief for Burton's No. 31
Chevrolet this weekend for the Dickies 500. Miller, who had been
the crew chief for Dave Blaney in the No. 07 car, will remain with
Burton for the rest of this season and into 2006.

Blaney is going into his final three races for owner Richard
Childress before being replaced next season by Clint Bowyer, a
Busch rookie who is second in points in that series. Blaney
qualified 13th for Sunday's race, and Burton was 32nd.

Burton's previous crew chief, Kevin Hamlin, moved this weekend
to the No. 07 Chevrolet and will be assisted the rest of this
season by Gil Martin, who will move with Bowyer from Busch to Cup.
Hamlin has been offered another position in Childress'

"We're making these moves to get a head start on 2006,"
Childress said.

Martin remains the crew chief for Bowyer's No. 2 car in the
Busch Series. Bowyer trails Martin Truex Jr. by 100 points going
into the O'Reilly Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday.

Racing for the USA
Jeff Gordon is getting another chance to
go to Paris for an all-star race.

The four-time NASCAR Nextel Cup champion was supposed to drive
for Team USA last year at the Race of Champions Nations Cup, but
had to withdraw because of a severe case of the flu.

"I was really bummed out about that," Gordon said Friday. "I
said, 'I'll be there next year.'"

And Gordon will.

He will team up with Travis Pastrana, a five-time X-Games gold
medalist in motocross, in Paris for this year's Nation's Cup on
Dec. 3, the day after the NASCAR awards ceremony in New York.
Drivers from 10 countries and several types of racing will compete
on a challenging one-kilometer, figure-eight parallel course
designed and built especially for the Race of Champions.

"I was pumped when they came to me," Gordon said. "I'm really
happy to have Travis Pastrana, I'm a huge fan of his, and the guy
is fearless. He has been doing a lot of rally races as well."

Gordon was part of the winning Team USA in 2002, along with
Jimmie Johnson and Colin Edwards. That race was in the Canary

Staying at Homestead
Ford will remain the title sponsor for the
NASCAR Nextel Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck series finales through

The 10-year extension announced Friday with Homestead-Miami
Speedway is Ford's largest-ever motorsports agreement. Ford will
have the "official car" and "official truck" on race weekends,
and entitlement rights to all three races in NASCAR's season-ending
weekend. This year's finales are in two weeks.

Let the people decide
So, where is the best place to tailgate
in the South?

On a college campus on a fall Saturday afternoon, at the
Kentucky Derby, or the infield at Talladega?

Which is the better sports rivalry: Alabama vs. Auburn in
football, Duke vs. North Carolina in men's basketball, or Dale
Earnhardt Jr. vs. Jeff Gordon in NASCAR?

Those are among the 13 categories -- and varied list of nominees
in each -- for the inaugural Southern Sports Awards that will be
presented Nov. 30 in Atlanta. Fans will determine the winners in
each category in online voting (www.southernsportsawards.com).

NASCAR is well-represented, even with nominees for "Coach of
the Year." Along with Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer,
Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox and others are Greg Zipadelli, the
crew chief for Tony Stewart, and Chad Knaus, the crew chief for
Jimmie Johnson.

Roush Racing, which has all five of its drivers in NASCAR's
10-car championship chase, is a nominee for "Best Management."
The night race at Bristol and the Daytona 500 are among 11 choices
in "Best Sports Experience," along with The Masters golf
tournament and the Kentucky Derby.

Richard Petty, NASCAR's winningest driver, will be honored at
the awards ceremony for lifetime achievement, as will former North
Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith and Florida State football
coach Bobby Bowden.

Spark plugs
Robbie Reiser, the Nextel Cup crew chief for Matt
Kenseth, wasn't in Texas on Friday. He was in Wisconsin with his
ailing father. … Since this isn't an impound race, Nextel Cup
drivers will get two 45-minute practice sessions Saturday morning.
Mike Bliss had the top practice speed Friday at 190.921 mph, then
qualified sixth at 191.333 mph in the Geek Squad Chevrolet. …
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe and his three sons attended
qualifying Friday. Bledsoe took part in a driving school at the
track earlier this year, but this was the first time for him to see
the NASCAR drivers doing their thing in person. Even though the
Cowboys have a bye week, he won't be able to attend Sunday's race.
He's traveling to see family.