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Driver: safety before fashion

Jeff Burton, among the most outspoken NASCAR drivers on safety issues, wants to see everyone close to pit road wear safety equipment, including helmets for over-the-wall guys and fire suits for everyone else.

Even his wife.

NASCAR is considering helmets for crew members after Bobby Burrell, front tire changer for Ricky Rudd, was seriously injured in a pit road accident Sunday at Homestead. Crew members claim helmets slow them and limit their vision. Burton doesn't care.

"I'd love to see us make some sort of rule about minimal apparel that you have to have on pit road and also on the pit boxes," Burton said. "Then, if the helmets are a disadvantage, they're a disadvantage to everyone and it really doesn't matter."

Burrell, Rudd's front tire changer, was injured when Ward Burton's car banged off Casey Atwood's and into Rudd's pit stall while the team was changing right side tires.

Burrell, who was thrown headfirst into the pit wall, remained in good condition Wednesday at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, a day after being upgraded from serious and moved from intensive care to a private room.

This week, owner Robert Yates, who fields cars for Rudd and Dale Jarrett, ordered his crew members to wear helmets.

Jeff Burton said anyone close to pit road should wear safety equipment, including crew chiefs, owners, and his wife, Kim, who watches races from atop the team's pit box.

"I think she ought to have a fire suit on," Jeff Burton said. "She's not going to do it because she likes to look good and likes to dress up and buy all those clothes that cost me too much money. But I'd like to see everybody that's on pit road have a fire suit on.

"I mean, why not?"

CHANGES COMING: Ray Evernham Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will announce plans Friday for next season, including driver changes for both teams.

Jimmy Spencer, who is leaving Travis Carter's No. 26 Ford, is expected to replace rookie Jason Leffler in the No. 01 Dodge for Ganassi, who also fields the No. 40 for Sterling Marlin.

Jeremy Mayfield, released from the No. 12 Ford by Penske Racing South, is expected to join Evernham as a teammate to Bill Elliott, replacing rookie Casey Atwood in the No. 19 Dodge.

Evernham said his first-year operation is not prepared to start a third team. But Atwood, who has two poles and finished a career-best third at Homestead, said he will remain with the organization.

BENEFIT AUCTION: A 10-day online auction of helmets and uniforms worn by drivers in the U.S. Grand Prix made $187,356 for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A helmet worn by Formula One champion Michael Schumacher was the most popular item, receiving 60 bids and selling for $55,200. Ralf Schumacher's helmet drew the second-highest bid at $25,100, and 2001 race winner Mika Hakkinen's driver's suit the third-highest at $20,300.

DRIVING THE LANE: Kevin Harvick and Michael Waltrip will be in the TNT/NBA studios in Atlanta tonight for a live appearance on the NBA postgame show. They will race remote control cars with the NBA talent, Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith.

WHAT ABOUT CINDY LOU?: The Grinch will venture out of his cave high above Whoville, along with his dog, Max, to ride on Spencer's No. 26 as part of a special paint scheme at Atlanta.

"Like me, he is a gruff guy who actually has a heart of gold," Spencer said. "If he takes me to Victory Lane in Atlanta, I'll hold hands with my crew guys and sing just like they do in the movie."

Race facts

Track length: 1.54 miles.

Race length: 325 laps, 500.5 miles.

Defending champ: Jerry Nadeau

Track race record: Dale Earnhardt, 163.296 mph, Nov. 12, 1995.

Track qualifying record: Geoff Bodine, 197.478 mph, Nov. 15, 1997.

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

Winston Cup

WHAT: Napa 500.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Friday, qualifying (3 p.m., TNT); Sunday, race (noon, Ch. 8); Hampton, Ga.

2000 WINNER: Jerry Nadeau.

FAST FACTS: Jeff Gordon clinches his fourth series title with a finish of 32nd or better, even if second-place Ricky Rudd wins. He would clinch merely by starting each of the last two races. Events at Atlanta have been won from the pole 13 times. Dale Earnhardt leads drivers with nine wins at AMS.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Gordon, 4,829; 2. Rudd, 4,524; 3. Tony Stewart, 4,465; 4. Sterling Marlin, 4,391; 5. Dale Jarrett, 4,336; 6. Rusty Wallace, 4,245; 7. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 4,213; 8. Bobby Labonte, 4,211; 9. Kevin Harvick, 4,151; 10. Jeff Burton, 4,143.

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