NASCAR team owner Richard Childress announced today that Johnny Sauter will drive the #30 AOL Chevrolet for the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season and will compete for the 2004 Rookie of the Year Award.

Sauter, 25, helped Childress claim the 2003 Busch Series Owner's Championship as part of a two-driver effort in the #21 PayDay Chevrolet with fellow Richard Childress Racing [RCR] driver Kevin Harvick. He also finished eighth in the 2003 Busch Series driver's points.

Sauter first competed in the NASCAR Busch Series with RCR in 2001 on a limited basis while also claiming the American Speed Association championship and rookie of the year award with a series record 10 wins. He moved into the #2 ACDelco Chevrolet in 2002 where he claimed his first Busch Series victory and finished 15th in the point standings.

"Johnny Sauter has been a big part of RCR's success the last few seasons," said Childress. "The move to the Nextel Cup is the next step in his promising career, so I wanted to make sure that step was taken with us. Johnny is the type of driver that fits the RCR mold so I know he'll do a great job in the AOL Chevrolet."

"Driving for RCR and AOL in the Nextel Cup Series is just an unbelievable opportunity for me, really a dream come true," commented Sauter. "RCR has been my home since Richard took the chance a few years back and put me in that Busch car. There isn't another team I would want to race for in my rookie year."

Childress also announced Kevin Hamlin will become Sauter's crew chief, moving to the #30 AOL team from the #31 Cingular Wireless team. Hamlin led Robby Gordon to a 16th-place finish in the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, claiming both road course wins. Since joining RCR in 1997, Hamlin has nine Winston Cup victories, claiming wins with every driver with which he has worked.

"Kevin Hamlin has the experience of working with almost every driver we've ever had here at RCR, taking each one of them to victory lane," added Childress. "He led both Mike Skinner and Kevin Harvick to the Winston Cup Rookie of the Year Awards, so I know he has the capability to help Johnny become successful. I am confident he can lead Johnny and the AOL team to a very successful 2004 season in the Nextel Cup series."

Hamlin will bring his entire 2003 #31 crew in making the move to join Sauter on the 2004 #30 AOL team.

"I am looking forward to working with Johnny and claiming another Rookie of the Year award for RCR," noted Hamlin. "I see him following the trend of having a strong rookie season and competing for wins. We'll have a strong, experienced crew coupled with a hard charging rookie, so I am excited about the 2004 season."

"We're delighted that a promising young driver like Johnny Sauter will be in the seat of the #30 AOL Chevrolet. Pairing Johnny with an experienced crew chief like Kevin Hamlin will allow the AOL team to win races and aggressively compete for the Rookie of the Year Award in 2004," concluded Richard Taylor, Senior vice president of Brand Marketing for America Online. "Our partnership with NASCAR is a great fit with our AOL for Broadband high-speed offerings, and we look forward to continuing that partnership with this new team next season."