Originally created 11/28/02

French driver eyes NASCAR



ATLANTA - Alain Prost, the Frenchman who won four Formula One championships, is making a study of NASCAR racing on behalf of some possible European sponsors.

Prost was one of many open-wheeled drivers at the Homestead-Miami Speedway last week for the Winston Cup Series season finale, the Ford 400.

"I watch NASCAR very often on TV, and I like it," Prost said. "But I had never seen the cars and the people. It was quite nice."

Prost started his own Formula One team, but it ran out of money in 2002. Now he's looking into NASCAR.

"I wanted to see the ambience and to see a few people, to understand the business and to get some information about the series," he said. "I cannot say more. I am trying to understand it, first. There is a huge interest for this series, even for sponsors, in Europe. I am more or less mandated by companies that asked me to see if it is interesting or not."

Prost's attention seems to continue the exodus from the open-wheeled divisions to stock cars. John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon all left rides on the CART and Indy Racing League circuits for full-time work in Winston Cup. Christian Fittipaldi left CART and will drive in selected stock car events next season before joining Winston Cup in 2004.

Former CART champion Jimmy Vasser is testing Dodges for Chip Ganassi Racing with hopes of landing a permanent job. CART driver Max Papis also was working the garage area looking for work.

OFFSEASON SHAKEUPS: A major shakeup proved beneficial for Jack Roush last season, so another car owner is looking into turning his team upside-down.

Roush flip-flopped crew chiefs and crewman from Mark Martin's team and Kurt Busch's. Martin responded by finishing second in the Winston Cup Series point standings, while Busch was third.

Now Richard Childress is wondering what it will take to turn his three teams around.

"We've had meetings for three weeks to try to understand where our performance has gone," said Bobby Hutchens, general manager at Richard Childress Racing. "We've looked at cars, we've looked at motors, we've looked at (car) bodies, we've looked at tires; we've looked at ourselves. We're trying to uncover every rock. We have to figure out what we're missing. I don't know. Maybe we're trying too hard.

"We've got to get better."

Childress swapped crew chiefs and crew between Kevin Harvick's team and Robby Gordon's. It didn't prove the kind of spark he hoped. Jeff Green was the best of the three, finishing 17th in the final standings. Gordon was 20th and Harvick was 21st.

FALCON'S FIRST FLIGHT: The new Falcon Indy 01-A, the first car designed and manufactured in the Unites States for the Indy Racing League, will be available to race teams for the 2003 season.

Falcon Cars president Michael Kranefuss, a former car owner on the CART FedEx and NASCAR Winston Cup Series circuits, hopes his car will be as competitive as the British-made Dallara and G-Force chasses already used in open-wheeled racing.

"We are devoting our energies exclusively to competing in the Indy Racing League," Kranefuss said. "It is our mission to become recognized as producers of race cars that are capable of consistently winning races and championships."

The new cars will be built in Concord, N.C.

RATINGS GAME: Television ratings for the season-finale Nov. 17 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway were the highest against the National Football League in stock-car racing history.

The Ford 400 delivered a 5.2 national racing, according to Nielsen Media Research.

That race helped NBC and TNT combine for an average rating of 4.3, an increase of 13 percent over the 2001 season and a 59 percent increase over ratings from before the $2.6 billion television contract was signed in 2000.

NBC's 10.9 rating of the Daytona 500 last February was the highest in the race's 24-year broadcast history and the most of any car race since the 1984 Indianapolis 500 drew a 12.9 rating.

PIT STOPS: Todd Bodine had successful endoscopic back surgery to repair a ruptured disc suffered in NASCAR Busch Series crash during qualifying at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. He is expected to be fully recovered in time for the 2003 season ... Bodine's car owners, Carl Haas and Travis Carter, said Bodine will drive their Ford next season if they can find a sponsor ... As expected, Ken Schrader was selected as the new driver for the Andy Petree Racing's No. 55 Chevrolet. Petree also is looking for sponsorship ... Dodge and Ford were granted a special two-day test starting on Dec. 9 at the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway to go over the new rules for restrictor plate cars.