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Bush third sitting president to attend Daytona race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- President Bush will bring his
re-election campaign to the Daytona 500.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Friday that
Bush will attend NASCAR's biggest race Feb. 15.

It will be Bush's second visit to Daytona International
Speedway, where he was grand marshal for the Pepsi 400 in July
2000. His father, George H.W. Bush, attended the July race in 1992
during his unsuccessful presidential re-election campaign.

President Ronald Reagan attended the 1984 Pepsi 400.

Bush needs more support from voters with a high school education
or less, who currently are more inclined to vote against him,
according to an AP-Ipsos poll. The NASCAR crowd is increasingly
diverse, however, and includes far more upscale, well-educated
voters than the auto racing crowds of 20 years ago.

Hmiel reinstated
Shane Hmiel, suspended last September for
violating NASCAR's substance abuse policy, is eligible for
reinstatement and plans to compete in the Craftsman Truck series
race Friday at Daytona International Speedway.

The 23-year-old driver has already been back in a race car in
2004, qualifying 11th for the ARCA series event here Saturday. ARCA
is not sanctioned by NASCAR.

"Our consultant in these matters recommended Shane be allowed
to return to competition," NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said
Friday.

Under NASCAR's substance abuse policy, all competitors are
subject to random drug testing.

The substance involved was never revealed, but NASCAR officials
said when he was suspended that Hmiel could seek reinstatement
after agreeing to attend counseling and undergoing periodic random
testing.

Hmiel, son of Steve Hmiel, director of motorsports and technical
operations for Dale Earnhardt Inc., was eighth in the Busch series
standings before being placed on indefinite suspension.

Shane Hmiel will try to qualify a Ford truck for Ballew
Motorsports for the Florida Dodge Dealers 250.

Ready to roll
Morgan-McClure Motorsports, a three-time winner
of the Daytona 500, will field a fully sponsored No. 4 Chevrolet
for Kevin Lepage in qualifying Sunday for the race a week later.

The team, which struggled in 2003 while using six different
drivers and racing in just 30 of the 36 Cup events, said Friday it
has signed a one-year sponsorship agreement with YOKE TV.com, a
web-based television station that begins broadcasting May 1.

"The people are exciting that we're going to work with," said
team president Larry McClure. "They are going to bring in some TV
personalities and sports personalities and it's going to create
excitement all year long."

Ernie Irvan got the team's first Daytona victory in 1991, and
Sterling Marlin won consecutively in 1994 and 1995.

Said's test
Road racing specialist Boris Said will get his
first real superspeedway test Saturday night in the Budweiser
Shootout, and he couldn't be more excited.

"I can't wait for it to start," Said noted. "I've been
waiting for this since about five minutes after winning the pole."

That came last June at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., not
on an oval such as Daytona International Speedway.

"It's a big challenge. I have zero experience. ...
Realistically, everyone is expecting me to fail. So anything I do
better than that is a plus. ... I'm prepared for anything. But,
most of all, I'm going to have a good time."

Said is one of 19 starters in the race for last year's pole
winners and former Shootout race winners.

Retired driver Ernie Irvan, who won the Daytona 500 in 1991, has
been acting as Said's coach and mentor.

"There's no doubt that road racing and oval track racing are as
different as day and night," Irvan said. "If Boris somehow can
finish in the top 10, that would be exceptional."

BACE out

BACE Motorsports announced Friday morning that Tony Raines and
the No. 74 NEXTEL Cup team will not run the 2004 Daytona 500.
Citing lack of sponsorship, owner Bill Baumgardner determined
that it would not be in the best interest of the organization to
run the entire NEXTEL Cup schedule in 2004.

"After the investment we made in 2003, we don't have anything to
prove by going out there and running a second full season out
of pocket," Baumgardner said. "What we accomplished last season
as a first year Cup team was nothing short of remarkable, and
I'm proud of Tony Raines and his teammates in the BACE shop for
the hard work they put into those results."

In 35 starts as a rookie, Raines posted 15 top-25 finishes,
including a string of four consecutive top-20s down the stretch.
He finished sixth at Rockingham and 13th in the season finale
in Miami.

"Sure it's disappointing not to be running the full schedule,
especially after the momentum we built at the end of last year,"
Raines said. "But you can't be ruled by emotion, or you'll
find yourself out of this sport in a hurry. BACE has been
winning in NASCAR for over a decade, and Bill has three
championship rings to attest to that success. The corporation
that decides to join us in the NEXTEL Cup Series will reap the
rewards of one of the hardest working teams in the NASCAR
garage, and we're looking forward to the day that happens."

Spark plugs
The official entry list for the Daytona 500,
released Friday, includes only 45 cars vying for the 43 starting
spots. ... Terry Labonte goes into the 2004 season having been
running at the end in a series-high 42 consecutive races. The
modern-era record is 56 straight by Jeff Gordon in 2001-02. Kevin
Harvick was the only other driver to complete all 36 races last
season.

Information from SportsTicker was used in this report.