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Lunchtime musical interlude: King Richard

NASCAR may be changing the name of its championship Cup Series from Nextel Cup to Sprint, the result of a big corporate telecommunications deal. Actually, it's one occasion when the switch would be an improvement. "Sprint" Cup at least evokes the image of speed. Nextel conjures images of ... nothing.

I confess that I'm not a NASCAR expert -- I've covered just one of those things, Bill Elliott won at Long Pond in a Mustang -- but I enjoy the personalties. And I liked the idea that they drove souped-up versions of what was in a showroom. I had three Monte Carlos in the 1970s and '80s, those front-end heavy tanks with eight cylinders and 351 horsepower, so I used to pull for the Chevy guys. Now, they'll be running the generic Car of Tomorrow and, hopefully, it'll be a safer machine for the drivers. But it takes away that rooting interest thing.

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Despite not being a racing aficionado, I do count a former driver among my favorite sports figures. Richard Petty is up there with the giants, in large part because of what he has meant to fans. Petty and his Plymouths are unforgettable Americana. So as NASCAR keeps moving along at its steady corporate clip, we look back at a driver who connected with the folks in the stands.

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