For some teams and drivers competing in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, the 2004 season starts this weekend at the Atlanta Motor Speedway with four major driver changes highlighting a large 50-car entry list.

Sunday's MBNA Bass Pro Shops 500 will see Joe Nemechek and Ward Burton make their debuts for the teams they will drive for in 2004 while potential 2004 Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates Brian Vickers and Scott Wimmer begin their build-up for next year in the seats vacated by Nemechek and Burton respectively.

Nemechek will don the black and gold U.S. Army colours at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend as he will make his debut in the 01 Pontiac, owned by MB2 Motorsports.

As was recently announced, Nemechek, 40, will drive the U.S. Army car in 2004 and also in the final four races of 2003.

"I am honoured to be in a car representing the U.S. Army and I look forward to this opportunity with great anticipation," said Nemechek. "The team has a lot of potential.

"I haven't worked with Ryan (crew chief Ryan Pemberton) but we know each other well. Over the years we have talked to each other plenty and I feel we have a good understanding of what it's going to take to get the Army Pontiac in victory lane."

Nemechek, who is coming out of the No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports ride, feels that driving the 01 Army Pontiac in the last four races will be a huge benefit heading into the 2004 season.

"It's great that MB2 and Hendrick Motorsports agreed to do this because it will give us a big jump for next year," said Nemechek. "This will be an excellent opportunity for the team to learn about me and for me to learn about them. They're going to see what I am like and what I like in a racecar. It would have been very hard to do all of this in Daytona next year."

Nemechek, who has been racing full time on the Cup circuit since 1994, enters the Atlanta race 25th in the driver point standings. His 2003 record includes one win (Richmond in May) and eight top 10s.

Burton's place in the #25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet will be taken by current Busch Series points leader Brian Vickers, who had originally been tabbed by the #01 U.S. Army team for the final four races of this season. Vickers will drive the #25 with GMAC sponsorship in 2004.

Over at the Haas CNC Racing garage Jason Leffler has stepped aside for the final four races of 2003 prior to his full time Busch Series assault with Gene Haas' team next year. Ward Burton will drive the #0 NetZero Pontiac in 2004 and after a turbulent year with Bill Davis Racing, the 2002 Daytona 500 winner will also try and get a jump start on the competition for next year.

"It's going to be good for me, working from where we started with this team," stated Burton, who is currently 21st in the points table with four top ten finishes so far this season. "It's going to be good going from the ground up, being a part of this team's success. I'm excited to be working with Haas CNC Racing and NetZero, and about the support they have from Rick Hendrick's organization. I feel like, together with the concentrated effort and teamwork, we're going to work really hard and make this a successful program.

"This team has a lot of good people involved with it," continued the South Boston, Virginia native. "Tony Furr is a proven, successful crew chief and Bill Ingle is back at the shop running things there, so together with owner Gene Haas and the folks at NetZero HiSpeed, I think we can turn this into something that we can all be excited about and proud of, and put this team where it's supposed to be."

Over at Burton's former home, Bill Davis Racing's current Busch Series pilot Scott Wimmer will make another of his occasional starts for the team, although Sunday's race will be his first behind the wheel of the #22 Caterpillar Dodge.

"We're all looking forward to going to Atlanta," said No. 22 crew chief, Frank Stoddard. "Scott and Chris (Rice, Wimmer's Busch crew chief) had a solid test there a couple weeks ago. We've had two tests with Scott and we've all been very pleased with how well the team and Scott has worked together. Scott has given these guys a new boost. Everyone's morale has been lifted and they're all excited about the end of the year and beyond.

"Scott made his debut in the Winston Cup series a few years ago in Atlanta (2000) and he was able lead quite a few laps and run very competitively. If we can go there and be competitive and give Scott a real solid car, then we will have been successful. The entire team is looking forward to this weekend."

Wimmer will become the full-time pilot of the #22 BDR entry in 2004.

 

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