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OWNER SAYS NEMECHEK IS STILL OUT DESPITE HIS RECENT SUCCESS

While car owner Felix Sabates is happy that his driver, Joe Nemechek, finally won his first Winston Cup race, the victory hasn't changed Sabates' mind: He'll have a new driver in the No. 42 Chevrolet next year.

"We made a decision, and you can't look back on the decision you make," Sabates said Monday after Nemechek won at New Hampshire on Sunday. "It's just that things were not meshing the way they should have been. We spent 2 1/2 years together, and didn't have any success."

Frankly, the Cuban-born Sabates is wondering what took Nemechek, who will turn 36 Sunday, so long to break through.

"I think when (rival car owner) Robert Yates said Joe could qualify but couldn't finish, Joe had something to prove," Sabates said. "I never had any question about Joe's ability. There was just something missing.

"All of a sudden, we made changes and he finished sixth at Darlington and he won at New Hampshire. Joe is auditioning for a ride. Maybe he's making things click now."

Sabates missed Nemechek's big day in New Hampshire because he was attending the Carolina-Jacksonville NFL game. He'll also skip the next two races, at Dover, Del., and Martinsville, Va. A charity obligation will prevent him from making the trip to Martinsville.

And Dover? "I'd rather drink a bottle of laxative than go to Dover," the candid Sabates said. "I don't like that place."

Crew chief Dodson comes back

It hasn't taken Barry Dodson long to make an impact in his return to the Winston Cup series.

The veteran crew chief walked away from NASCAR's top series to cope with his grief in 1995, less than a year after his children -- 17-year-old son Trey and 16-year-old daughter Tia -- were killed in an auto accident.

He began his comeback last year, taking a job in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series. Last month, he returned to Winston Cup as crew chief for Bahari Racing.

Shortly after, New York businessman Jack Birmingham bought the team and began dismantling a 13-year-old operation yet to win a race.

He let go all but eight of about 40 employees. Retained was Dodson, expected to be a key to the future of the renamed Eel River Racing team.

Birmingham persuaded Dodson to stay in Winston Cup, where he has called the shots for 19 victories. Dodson was the pit boss for Rusty Wallace when he won the series championship in 1989.

Birmingham also released driver Derrike Cope and has replaced him on an interim basis with Todd Bodine, who immediately had two top-20 finishes before wrecking while running 14th Sunday in New Hampshire.

"Our goal for the rest of the season is to consistently finish in the top 20 in races," Birmingham said. "All the pieces started to fall into place when Barry decided to take the job. He commands respect throughout the Winston Cup garage."

Although he has been almost overwhelmed by resumes and phone calls, Dodson has not begun hiring wildly. He still has only 11 crewmen, far fewer than most of his counterparts.

"A smaller crew allows us to get who we want," Dodson said. "It also gives me a greater chance to pay attention to every little detail in making sure the turnaround here is permanent."

Bodine would like to hook on as the team's full-time driver, but he is said to have competition from Winston Cup driver Wally Dallenbach and Mike Bliss, Dodson's driver in the truck series.

"They're getting better every week," Bodine said. "With Barry Dodson and the crew he's assembling, this team has its eye on the future."

Montoya leads CART points race

Dominating rookie Juan Montoya (seven wins in 16 starts) leads the CART FedEx series heading into Houston on Sunday for a street race. With 194 points, Montoya holds a 25-point lead over Dario Franchitti. Greg Ray, winner of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League event at Dover in August, is moving closer to his first IRL crown. With just one race remaining after Las Vegas, Ray has a commanding 44-point advantage over Scott Goodyear before Sunday's Vegas.com 500 at Las Vegas.

High tech scoring

The way the Indianapolis Motor Speedway keeps track of race cars has evolved as much as the machines themselves.

Ninety years ago, someone had to write a number on an adding machine tape each time a car crossed the start-finish line. Results weren't official until an audit was completed the next morning.

Now the electronic scoring and timing are digital, instantaneously computing and displaying time intervals and speeds on turns and straightaways.

After an upgrade, announced last week, the information will be sent to scoring monitors, track scoreboards, track video monitors and TV feeds. It will be accurate to .0003 seconds, said Harry van Dooren, president of the Netherlands-based company that will supply the AMB TranX system.

The new system will be tested in December at Walt Disney World Speedway, and installed at Indianapolis in time for the Indy 500 next May.

It's the newest refinement of a system developed 10 years ago in which a "black box" in each car sends a signal as it passes over equipment embedded in the track. Scoring has come a long way at Indy.

The track was built in 1909, two years before the first 500-mile race, and the cars' positions and speeds were computed at first with a nautical chronometer.

"They were still using it as a backup into the '80s," speedway historian Donald Davidson said. "It had an adding machine tape in it, and every time the front wheels would trip this wire it would record a time, down to 100ths. And somebody would stand there and actually write the car number on the tape."

It's hard to imagine anybody running across the track these days with the cars racing at speeds above 220 mph. But it wasn't always that way.

"I talked to an old guy one time who said his job was to stand there and every time the wire broke, he'd have to run across the track and tie the thing up again," Davidson said.

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