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Bettenhausen Motorsports gives Groff an IndyCar ride

There was Robbie Groff, hanging out in the pits at Daytona International Speedway during the 24 Hours of Daytona earlier this month. Groff's mind, though, was on the IndyCar Series, a series he has "dreamed of driving in" since he started racing at the precocious age of 6.

This season, it won't be just a dream. The 28-year-old Californian, one of the winningest drivers in Indy Lights history, landed an IndyCar ride last week with Bettenhausen Motorsports.

"This is the single biggest day in my racing career," Groff said the day of the announcement.

April 17 figures to be equally as big. Groff will make his IndyCar debut for Bettenhausen at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, only a few miles from Northridge, where he grew up. It will also mark the first time that Groff and his brother, IndyCar driver Mike Groff, will compete in the same race.

Under his deal with Bettenhausen, Groff will drive at Long Beach and the Portland Grand Prix in June. If things go well, Groff will enter more races during the season.

Nigel on Letterman: Nigel Mansell, who played in last week's Bob Hope Classic golf tournament, will be a guest on The Late Show with David Letterman on Monday. The same night, Mansell, who lives in Clearwater, will appear on the American Sports Awards on ESPN. Finally, the reigning IndyCar Series champion is the subject of a lengthy profile in the March issue of Playboy magazine. By the way, the IndyCar season begins March 20 in Australia.

My, how times change: Here's a bit of perspective on Sterling Marlin's win at the Daytona 500 last Sunday. Counting sponsor awards, Marlin won $253,275 for three hours and 11 minutes of driving. Marlin's father, Coo Coo, won $307,142 in his entire 15-year career. After hearing that, who wouldn't be coocoo?

Aikman adios: Remember how Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman was in the middle of Marlin's celebration Sunday? Apparently, Aikman almost missed the hoopla. Seems he had a flight out of Daytona that afternoon and had planned to leave the speedway before the race was over. But when it looked as if Marlin might win, Aikman stuck around for the finish.

Martin the author: NASCAR driver Mark Martin has a book called Strength Training For Performance Driving. The book, Martin's first, gives detailed instruction in fitness, nutrition and strength training for race car drivers, crew members and "performance-minded drivers" on America's highways. "You've got to be strong, flexible, alert and able to concentrate while going 190 mph for 500 miles," Martin said.

New NASCAR TV deal?: While NASCAR Winston Cup racing is the fastest growing sport in the nation, its TV arrangement lags. Although most leagues have a package deal with one network, NASCAR's TV deals still are done by the individual races. Apparently, that won't change.

"As far as total dollars are concerned, we're more than a step behind," said NASCAR president Bill France Jr. "But our revenue has been growing. . . . The individual tracks will continue to do their own television deals."

Quote of the week: This one comes from NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine, who designed the bobsleds for the U.S. Olympic team: "I'm pretty nervous. I'm thinking, if we don't have success, am I going to have to move to Jamaica?"

Change in plans: IndyCar's season-ending Monterey Grand Prix has been moved from Oct. 2 to Oct. 9 to get a prime-time TV spot on ESPN at 9 p.m.

Terry Labonte held off Harry Gant to win the Goodwrench 200 NASCAR Busch Grand National stock car race by 0.25 seconds, about two car lengths.

Labonte, driving a Chevrolet, led twice for 34 laps, including the final 29 on the 1.017-mile North Carolina Motor Speedway oval in Rockingham.

"We didn't pit the last time to get tires," Labonte explained. "We could have gotten four more, but I forgot what the rule was. . . . But it worked to our benefit."

A seven-car crash on lap 23 put Dale Earnhardt and 1993 Daytona 500 winner Dale Jarrett out of the race. Mark Martin, who won seven Grand National races in 1993, led 93 laps, but wound up eighth after a collision.

The last of six caution flags came out on lap 186 when Kenny Wallace, the brother of Winston Cup star Rusty Wallace, blew his engine and hit the wall.

Hermie Sadler was third, followed by Randy LaJoie and pole-starter Robert Pressley.

David Bonnett was 18th in his first start since the Feb. 11 death of his father, Neil, at Daytona.

Grand Prix of Miami: Tommy Kendall edged fellow Ford Mustang drivers Dorsey Schroeder and Ron Fellows to win the pole position for today's race, with an average speed of 88.241 mph.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

Today's race

Race: NASCAR Goodwrench 500.

Track: 1.017-mile North Carolina Motor Speedway, Rockingham, N.C.

Green flag: 12:30 p.m.

Distance: 492 laps (500 miles).

Pole-sitter: Geoff Bodine.

Defending champion: Rusty Wallace.

TV: TNN.

Radio: WFNS-910 AM.

Fry's pick: Brett Bodine.

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