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Fans line Manhattan streets as Cup cars roar

12/2/2004

NEW YORK -- Welcome to New York City Speedway, the world's
busiest, bumpiest racetrack.

That's what part of midtown Manhattan turned into for about 15
minutes Thursday when traffic was halted long enough to allow nine
of the 10 drivers from NASCAR's inaugural Chase for the Nextel Cup
championship to drive their cars in a loud parade that began in
Times Square.

Calling it "NASCAR's New York City Victory Lap,'' the drivers
who will be feted Friday night at the annual awards banquet, bumped
and thumped their way along Broadway and finished in front of
NASCAR's New York offices.

The drivers were cheered as they were introduced before the
drive, with the biggest welcome for fifth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr.
With the cars lined up side-by-side, there were more cheers as
entrepreneur Donald Trump said the traditional "Gentlemen, start
your engines.''

The only top 10 driver missing was Jeff Gordon, who had the flu.
Gordon spent Wednesday night in a New York hospital to receive
intravenous fluids for dehydration, and was released Thursday.

Led by a bright yellow Chevrolet pace car and champion Kurt
Busch in his blue and red No. 97 Ford, the procession took off
slowly, with some of the drivers revving their engines and
squealing their tires. The noise echoed off the skyscrapers along
the route.

Speeds never got above 20 mph along streets that were lined with
hundreds of people, including NASCAR fans, obvious from their
logoed hats and jackets, and surprised New Yorkers, drawn by the
rumbling of the cars and police barricades.

Many spectators left their offices in shirt sleeves despite the
morning cold. Some looked surprised by the scene, and many waved
checkered flags, clapped or took pictures. Dozens hoisted cell
phones to either allow someone on the other end to hear the
commotion or to take pictures of the odd scene.

One cab driver watched closely, then leaned from his window and
shouted: "Hey, make more noise.''

Fourth-place finisher Mark Martin is one of the few current
drivers who was part of NASCAR's first postseason visit to New York
in 1982. He could hardly believe the reaction to Thursday's event.

"I'd have to say NASCAR has arrived,'' Martin said. "The
difference between '82 and now, it's phenomenal. Nobody knew we
were even here in '82.''

Matt Kenseth, last year's champion and eighth in this year's
points, thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

"That was pretty amazing, to be able to shut down the city like
that,'' Kenseth said. "I don't think traffic will be the same all
day.''