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Racing no longer Loomis' top priority

9/9/2005

RICHMOND, Va.-- The future of Jeff Gordon's crew chief is
up in the air when his contract with Hendrick Motorsports runs out
at the end of this season, and Robbie Loomis said Friday that he
"probably" won't be making the calls next season for the No. 24
team.

Loomis, Gordon's crew chief for the last of his four series
championships in 2001, said he's in the process of reprioritizing
his life to place God first, family second and racing third after
having racing in the top spot throughout his career.

"To do that, I've got a lot of things I've got to work
through," Loomis said.

First, Loomis will try to help Gordon reach NASCAR's Chase for
the Nextel Cup championship. To succeed, the team needs an
impressive run Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.

"If we get the car in the Chase, the next 10 weeks I'm going to
put all my focus towards getting that car to win the
championship," he said.

Loomis also backed off, but only slightly, from a statement he
made earlier to reporters, telling them he already had determined
he wouldn't be back next year.

"I probably used the word probably," said Loomis, whose
contract is expiring. "It's a good time for me to reprioritize my
personal life and get things figured out there."

One of the things Loomis said he wants to focus on is spending
time with his mother, Sally, who was seriously ill last season.

"I feel like the good Lord gave me some extra time, and I want
to make sure I utilize it the right way," he said.

Gordon, who will start Saturday night's Chevrolet Rock & Roll
400 12th in the standings and 30 points out of the top 10 that
qualifies for the playoff, said he's been barraged for months with
questions about whether Loomis would return in 2006.

"I love Robbie as my crew chief and, unfortunately, because we
haven't put the performance out there, that speculation just
continues to build," Gordon said. "I want more than anything to
get ourselves in this Chase, go with that championship and it would
be Robbie Loomis as the crew chief.

"But, the future is what it is and it's based a lot on what his
desires are and his life."

Erin and Betty
Erin Crocker, who made a dubious debut in the
Busch Series on Friday night, will drive full-time on the circuit
next season for Evernham Motorsports.

Her sponsor will be General Mills and the brands Cheerios and Betty Crocker.

The 24-year-old Crocker will drive in three more races this
season after Richmond -- at Charlotte, N.C., Texas and in the
season-ending Busch race at Homestead, Fla. She'll be in the No. 40
car in a partnership between Evernham and FitzBradshaw Racing, Ray
Evernham said.

Crocker got off to a slow start Friday, spinning out in practice
and making the race only because her team had sufficient owner
points to get her a spot.

"I just got a little anxious and looped it around," she said.
"I can still start my first Busch race, but … as competitive as
I am, I wish I had done it on my own."

She didn't fare much better in the race, spinning out in turn 3
and taking out Busch Series regulars Kenny Wallace and Jason
Keller.
"I don't know if something happened to the car or if it was
just my inexperience," Crocker said. "I feel bad. I apologize to
those guys I took out, but that's racing."

The accident came after she had run 123 laps at Richmond
International Raceway, and likely showed the car owner how much
learning his new driver will need to do.

Kasey Kahne, one of Evernham's two Nextel Cup drivers, told his
boss about Crocker more than a year ago, and said watching her
drive Sprint cars was impressive.

"I knew she wasn't just a good lady driver, this girl was a
great race car driver," Evernham said, adding that when he put her
some ARCA races this year, "she was very hungry to do more,
somewhat impatient, hence the name 'fiery redhead.' She would
constantly grab me by the shirt and say, 'Dad,' as she calls me,
'when are we going to race some more?'"

Evernham planned to spot for Crocker in Friday night's Emerson
Radio 250, and said her enthusiasm about getting started led to one
of her first lessons as a driver.

"Erin was beating up on me before and I said, 'There's two
people you never beat up on -- your owner and your spotter -- and you
just beat up on both of them,'" Evernham said.

Crocker, who started 42nd in Friday night's race, will be the
11th woman to race in the Busch Series.

"It's happened a little faster than I could have ever hoped
for," she said. "Ray keeps letting me know this is going to be
the toughest thing in my life and that I have a lot of work to do,
but I think we can get there at some point and, hopefully, it's
sooner than later."

After you, pal
Lots of attention is being paid this week to
the potential for a beating and banging festival on Saturday night
as drivers battling for a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup
championship use their cars' noses to try to improve their chances.

Short-track racing always gets physical, and that came through
loud and clear two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway, when Chase
contenders Ryan Newman and Dale Jarrett had two dustups, the second
of which sent both reeling in the standings.

After being hit earlier in the race by Newman -- contact Newman
insists was unintentional -- Jarrett retaliated with a right turn
into Newman, wrecking both cars.

NASCAR quickly penalized Jarrett two laps. But all's well
between them now, Newman said, after a chat last weekend.

"I told him like I told everyone on national television that I
didn't intentionally hit him but it was obvious that he
intentionally hit me," Newman said Friday.

Jarrett also raised some concerns about previous incidents on
the track, Newman said, and "we walked out arguing about who was
going to open the door for each other."

"I think we should be all right."

Newman will start the Chevrolet Rock & Roll 400 on Saturday
night 11th in the points race, just a point behind Jamie McMurray.
Jarrett is 14th, 117 behind, but said that while he's still
mathematically alive to make the Chase, he knows the odds are long.

"Maybe a 40-car wreck, and that may be stretching it," he
said.

Final word
"In what other sport is there so much excitement
about who runs 10th?" -- Kyle Petty on the setting of the 10-car
field for NASCAR's championship battle.