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THIS ONE'S FOR PAUL

One of the most successful teams in racing is back in the pits for its first race since its co-founder, actor Paul Newman, right, died last month. In Thursday's practice for tonight's nonpoints IndyCar race in Australia, the Newman/Haas/Lanigan cars of Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal featured small decals honoring Newman's life. They included a logo with "PL," a nickname most racing friends called him, and a notation: "In fond memory of a great friend of racing." "We have just a few little things on the cars," team general manager Brian Lisles said. "Paul was a very low-key person. We've paid our respects in our own private way, and that's the way we wanted to do it."

Rain plays role, Johnson on pole

HAMPTON, Ga. - Another week, another rainout.

And, oh, by the way: another pole for Jimmie Johnson.

Rain washed out Sprint Cup qualifying for the third consecutive week Friday, forcing NASCAR to set the field on points at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It gave Johnson the top starting spot in Sunday's Pep Boys Auto 500, and put the 11 drivers chasing him for the title right on his bumper.

That means Greg Biffle lines up second, followed by Jeff Burton.

Red Bull recovery might take time

Red Bull Racing fired the employee responsible for manipulating Brian Vickers' car. But the team knows that isn't enough to overcome the perception that cheating is behind its improvement this season.

"The old saying that 'any press is good press' is wrong in this respect," said Johnson, who has seen his team slip onto the wrong side of the NASCAR rule book numerous times. "...I've lived it firsthand. It's a tough thing to overcome."

Barely competitive in 2007, the team's inaugural season, Vickers has challenged for wins and was in position for his best points finish. All that was sullied when NASCAR discovered illegal sheet metal on the No.83 Toyota after Vickers' 11th-place finish at Martinsville.

NASCAR docked Vickers 150 points, fined crew chief Kevin Hamlin $100,000 and indefinitely suspended Hamlin and car chief Craig Smokstad. Vickers fell from 15th to 17th in points (his best is 15th in 2006, his final season at Hendrick).

"Having made huge strides as a team this year, we are all embarrassed over this situation," Vickers wrote this week in an e-mail to media.

Squeaky wheel, or in this case tire

Tony Stewart will gladly take some credit if Sunday's Cup race is free of tire troubles. The outspoken two-time champion assailed Goodyear after the March race in Atlanta, calling the product "the most pathetic racing tire I've ever been on in my professional career." Several other drivers also griped about the hard compound, but no one was as vicious as Stewart. Goodyear returned to Atlanta to test new tires twice before this weekend's event and Stewart said Friday that he was pleased with the current tire selection.

Times wires

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