Fans line Manhattan streets as Cup cars roar

Updated: December 2, 2004, 7:57 PM ET
Associated Press

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.''

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press