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Quickest medical aid becomes a top priority

NASCAR took steps on Thursday to allay driver complaints about slow reaction times by local emergency medical teams, announcing that a permanent emergency medical technician will travel with the tour to each race site.

NASCAR decided against hiring a medical doctor, president Mike Helton said, because it was determined that local teams would best be able to interface with local doctors. Helton said the as-yet-undisclosed person would "provide a familiar face" for drivers and act on NASCAR's behalf "to get the tracks where we want them to be."

Ryan Newman waited in his overturned car for several minutes in August at Watkins Glen before emergency personnel figured out how to remove him from the car. The new EMT will be dispatched in a chase vehicle from pit road when an accident occurs.

ON SECOND THOUGHT: NASCAR's change to the way the driver champion will be determined came a year late for Jimmie Johnson, who scored a win and six top threes in the final 10 races to finish second in points. He would have won under the new system.

"I think no matter how the points were, we'd be a contender this year," he said, "but I wish we could go over and get the trophy from Matt (Kenseth). That would be nice."

FAMILY TIES: "Papa" Joe Hendrick, 84, and his 23-year-old grandson, Ricky, will share ownership this season of Brian Vickers' No. 25 Nextel Cup car and Kyle Busch's No. 5 Busch series entry. The younger Hendrick quit racing after a shoulder injury and earned his stripes as an owner when he convinced his father, Rick, to put Vickers in a car. Vickers won the Busch championship last season.

"I taught him pretty good," Joe Hendrick said. "I taught him to get out of the car and let someone else drive it and own it."

GET USED TO IT: Though the flubs are occuring less often, many are still struggling with "Nextel" Cup instead of "Winston Cup." That goes for the highest levels.

"We get fined if we use the old sponsor instead of the new one," NASCAR vice president of communications Jim Hunter said during a news conference Thursday. "I'm into that fund pretty good."

CHANGES: Team owner Jack Roush has an easier time joking about his contentious past dealings with NASCAR since Kenseth won his team's first points title.

"It's not a surprise that after one of Roush's drivers wins a championship, they made a change," he said, joking.

PIT STOPS: Roush said he was "80 percent certain" that a full-time sponsor would be signed for Jeff Burton's No. 99 within the first few races. NASCAR announced that pit road officials will employ football-style hand signals to relay infraction information.

_ BRANT JAMES

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