David Green (No. 37 Timber Wolf Pontiac) and Bobby Hamilton Jr. (No. 25 U.S. Marines Corps Ford) came up short in their quest for the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series championship ? Green by the second-smallest margin in the history of the series. Don?t count on either of them to settle for anything less than the top spot in the standings come this season?s end.

Green had one of the best years of his career in 2003, topping in many ways 1994, the year he won the NASCAR Busch Series title. Green won one race in ?94, and three in ?03. He scored 10 top-five finishes in ?94, and 11 in ?03. He had 14 top-10 finishes in ?94 and an astounding 21 nine years later.

He finished first in the standings in ?94 but second in ?03. That?s not going to be good enough this season.

?Ever since the beginning of last year, I?ve been pumped full of optimism day in and day out because of what this team did for me and what they continually show me,? Green said. ?There?s not a lack of confidence or excitement to go into the season. To be at the top year after year, we have to continue to work harder. We worked as hard as anybody out there last year, and the rewards were there. My team set an example last year that they can make an old guy go pretty good.?

Also a top favorite for this year?s NASCAR Busch Series championship is Hamilton, who bettered the rest of the field in several events over the last half of the ?03 season. He won a series-high four races in ?03, and with his Team Rensi Motorsports outfit, still led by crew chief Harold Holly, there?s no reason to doubt that Hamilton will back for more of the same.

?I like [being a title contender], because the bottom line is you get more media attention for your sponsors. You get more media attention for yourself and your team,? Hamilton said. ?Any time you can get in a position that we?re in now, you definitely want to take advantage of it. If we can just carry half of [2003?s momentum] through the first half of the season and pick up where we left off, we?ll be fine.?

Hamilton says his confidence has rubbed off on his race team.

?When they get to the race track, they talk the same ?smack? as I do,? Hamilton said. ?They do the same thing. Everybody is really pumped up, and we have to be, because the minute you walk in the gate just hoping to get a top 10, you?re beat. When we walk in the gate, we?re here to win, and nothing else.?


No surprise here... Joe Nemechek (No. 87 CellularOne Chevrolet) turned the quickest lap of the day in the second session of the NASCAR Busch Series portion of NASCAR Preseason Thunder Saturday. Nemechek, often one of the series favorites at Daytona, turned the track at a speed of 181.097 mph. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Chance 2 Racing Chevrolet), who won all three of last year?s restrictor-plate races in the series, was second-fastest in the second session, with a speed of 180.756. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 81 Chance 2 Racing Chevrolet) was third at 180.267. Rounding out the fastest cars in the first session were Curtis Markham (No. 18 MBNA Chevrolet), David Green, Mike Bliss (No. 20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet), Mike Wallace (No. 4 GEICO Chevrolet), Michael Waltrip (No. 99 Aaron?s Sales & Lease Chevrolet), David Stremme (No. 19 Braun Racing Dodge) and Kevin Harvick (No. 21 PayDay Chevrolet). Truex, who ended the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series season with two consecutive second-place finishes, was fastest in the first practice session. He toured the 2.5-mile facility at a speed of 179.975. Earnhardt, Truex?s car owner, was second quickest at 179.842. The rest of the fastest speeds in the first session were set by Waltrip, Markham, Harvick, Bliss, Green, Wallace and Wallace again, in a second car.

Notes... Justin Labonte, driver of the No. 44 U.S. Coast Guard Dodge, will visit Coast Guard units in Charleston S.C. Jan. 20 and 21. The visit is Labonte?s first opportunity to witn

ess the mission capabilities of the Coast Guard since the service announced its partnership with the team for a 15-race schedule in mid-December. Labonte, the son of two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte, will tour the Coast Guard cutter Anvil, and take rides aboard the 87-foot cutter Tarpon, a 47-foot motor lifeboat and a 25-foot Defender-class Homeland Security boat. Labonte will also be treated to a search and rescue demonstration between a HH-65 Dolphin helicopter and the Defender-class boat. The next day, he will tour the cutters Dallas and Gallatin.

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