Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2004 | 9:41 a.m.
Brian Hilderbrand covers motor sports for the Las Vegas Sun. His motor sports notebook appears Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or (702) 259-4089.
Billy Ballew Motorsports, which earned its first victory in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in September at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, has hired Kerry Earnhardt to drive the team's No. 15 Chevrolet Silverado in 2005.
Earnhardt, the eldest son of the late Dale Earnhardt, will replace Shane Hmiel, who is leaving the Truck Series for a full-time ride in the NASCAR Busch Series next season.
Earnhardt, 34, competed in three NASCAR Nextel Cup Series races this season for Richard Childress Racing and posted a best finish of 24th at Talladega Superspeedway in October. He also drove in eight NASCAR West Series races this season, where he had five top-10 finishes.
Team owner Billy Ballew also announced that the team would begin using engines supplied by Dale Earnhardt Inc. next season.
"I am excited about joining Billy Ballew Motorsports with Dale Earnhardt Inc. support," Earnhardt said. "Billy Ballew Motorsports has really stepped up their program. It is obvious that the Billy Ballew Motorsports team has tremendous potential and I think I have potential as a driver, so hopefully that will be a good combination for us next year."
Hmiel drove the No. 15 Chevy to 10 top-10 finishes in 25 races this season, including a victory in the Las Vegas 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 25. Hmiel finished 13th in the final NCTS points standings.
"This one-two Earnhardt punch is just what this team needed," Ballew said. "We were able to get our first series win this past season at Las Vegas and by adding Kerry and utilizing DEI power for our efforts next year, I feel we can contend week in and week out.
"We're extremely excited about this opportunity to align ourselves with one of the strongest names and one of the strongest organizations in motor sports."
The 2005 NCTS season opens Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.
BUSCH'S DAY: NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch on Monday kicked off NASCAR's annual Champion's Week in New York City with television appearances on NBC's "The Today Show" and "Live with Regis and Kelly."
Busch, the inaugural NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion, so impressed the producers of "Live with Regis and Kelly" that he reportedly was invited back to serve as a co-host at a later date.
"You haven't been able to wipe the smile off my face," Busch said after the first day of his week-long tour of New York City.
Today, Busch was scheduled to visit the New York City Fire Academy and take part in training drills and on Thursday, he will join NASCAR and Nextel officials to open NASDAQ. On Friday, during the annual awards banquet, Busch will be presented a check for $5.2 million from series sponsor Nextel for winning the championship.
STEWART HONORED: Tony Stewart, who raised more than $270,000 for the Victory Junction Gang Camp by hosting a benefit concert this summer, was named the 2004 Fourth Quarter NASCAR USG Person of the Year.
One of the four quarterly finalists will be named the NASCAR USG Person of the Year and will receive a $100,000 check at the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series awards banquet. The prize will be divided evenly between the driver and the charity of his choice.
The other quarterly finalists were Jeff Gordon, Elliott Sadler and Dale Jarrett.