Holiday celebrations aren't the only activities most NASCAR folks are anticipating this time of year as, even more appealing than get-togethers, is the promise of time.

The rigorous travel commitments of NASCAR's Nextel Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck series gives the term 'holiday season' a special meaning to many in the world of stock-car racing, and what most drivers want for Christmas is quiet time.

Out-going champion Tony Stewart plans a very low-profile off-season, perhaps spending some time back home in Indiana. Kevin Harvick and his wife DeLana are doing the low-key thing, too. They'll stay close to home, tying up loose business ends before the holidays.

Raybestos Rookie of the Year Jamie McMurray is one of the few drivers to test waters elsewhere - in tropical Aruba. He'd planned a quick getaway this week before
returning to North Carolina for a photoshoot for primary sponsor, Havoline, and afterwards, will spend the holidays with family in his hometown.

Of course, some drivers aren't shying away from December travel. McMurray's two Chip Ganassi Racing team-mates, Sterling Marlin and Casey Mears, won't do a lot of porch-sitting during the holidays. Following Christmas, Marlin plans to head south to his home in St Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, while, after a busy Thanksgiving spent in Spain participating in the Michelin ROC Nations' Cup, Mears is opting for a Floridian Christmas, which will include some quality time with his uncle Rick.

"Spain was fun and I did get a chance to spend time with friends," Mears says, "but I was racing too, so it was not exactly a vacation. This time, I am going to relax and hang out with my family and friends. I am going to go to Florida and spend Christmas with my uncle. After that, my friends are going to come down for New Year, so I will get a chance to hang out with them."

But, as December's traditional bustle looms, expect quite a few members of the NASCAR family to kick off their shoes, plop down, and enjoy their own living rooms.

"My goal going into the off season was to do nothing and to commit myself to nothing," says reigning Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip, "and, so far, I am on track to accomplishing my goal."

Aside from time off, Santa Claus undoubtedly received some varied requests from NASCAR personalities.

Ricky Hendrick, car owner for NASCAR Busch Series champion Brian Vickers, has already got a nice, big silvery ornament - in the form of the championship trophy --
for his Hendrick Motorsports office, so now he's embarking on a different quest.

Hendrick's early-December plans include a hunting trip to South Carolina. When he returns from the woods, he'll join the rest of the family, which includes father and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, for Christmas in Key West.

What does Ricky Hendrick's championship driver want for Christmas? Try dental work.

At the age of 20, Vickers is the youngest champion in the history of NASCAR's three major national series. Unfortunately, problems with wisdom teeth caused him to soldier through his NASCAR Busch Series title celebration week in mid-November. The discomfort eventually subsided, enabling Vickers to participate in NASCAR's annual Champion's Week celebration in New York two weeks ago.

Last Wednesday, Vickers was scheduled to visit the site of Thursday's GMAC Bowl game between the University of Louisville and Miami (Ohio). As the newly-crowned
NASCAR Busch Series champion, Vickers was expected to attend a press conference, the mayor's luncheon and an evening Mardi Gras parade. One hopes he enjoyed the night's activities because he was due to spend part of Friday losing the source of all his recent dental discomfort.

It's safe to say that Elliott Sadler will not be asking Santa for socks - unless they're the kind that insulate hunting boots.

"Honestly, I will be deer hunting again with my dad and buddies," Sadler says, "The best part of my Christmas, though, will be to watch my four little nieces enjoy their gifts. There isn't anything like watching little kids at Christmas. I know that sounds about the same as Thanksgiving, but my off-season is pretty much hunting and resting."

And, avoiding the sock curse. Sadler still has vivid - and amusing - memories of childhood gift-opening marathons with brother Hermie and sister Missi.

"One of the best memories I have of each Christmas morning in the Sadler family was when my dad would open his third or fourth pair of black socks," Sadler says, "Hermie, Missi and I would be tearing apart toys and gifts and he'd be sitting there trying to be happy about his socks. It was really funny."

Thanksgiving may be past but, as Christmas approaches, the attitude of gratitude hasn't waned.

David and Diane Green, the NASCAR Busch Series championship runner-up and his wife, will spend the holidays at home in North Carolina surrounded by their three children, extended family and thankfulness.

"Nothing exciting," Diane promises, "Just a stay-at-home and hang-out kind of Christmas."

But a far more restful one than in 2002, when Diane's husband was unemployed. To recap: David Green's 2003 season was fairy-tale stuff - the 1994 NASCAR Busch
Series champion back in the title hunt after a year of uncertainty. Ride-less in 2002, he'd spent the season's first half working as a spotter and the final few months as a substitute driver for Hendrick Motorsports. Finally, he was announced late in 2002 as the driver of the #37 Timber Wolf Pontiac for Brewco Motorsports, and the 45-year-old finished just 14 points behind eventual champion Vickers, effectively reviving his career.

"Last year at this time, he didn't have a job," wife Diane continues, "And so, to be as fortunate as we were this season, it's going to be a real relaxing Christmas. Much less stress this year."

Although the holidays are nigh, the NASCAR world hasn't forgotten the thousands of US troops serving overseas, particularly those in the Middle East.

Driver Mike Wallace left on Sunday for a six-day tour as a part of a United Service Organisations (USO) programme, being joined on the trip by the New York Yankees' Jason Giambi, professional wrestler Kurt Angle, model Leeann Tweeden and comedian Robin Williams. Hosted by General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the group will visit Iraq, Afghanistan, Belgium and Saudi Arabia to entertain and interact with troops.

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Rick Crawford and Brendan Gaughan are also headed for the Middle East. They're a part of the ESGR/USO/NASCAR Military trip, which is scheduled for 29 December - 4 January. Like Wallace, Crawford and Gaughan are bound for the most volatile areas of the Middle East, and they'll spend the New Year's holiday with troops serving in those locales.

 

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