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Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - While television viewership for NASCAR's Nextel Cup series dipped again in 2007, the Craftsman Truck Series was seen by more total viewers this year than in any other season since moving to Speed TV in 2003, according to Nielsen Media Research.

With an average total viewer count of 686,000, the truck series also saw impressive growth in younger demographics, posting its best numbers in males 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.

Nielsen numbers show that the viewership has risen steadily from an average of 483,000 in 2003. Last year's average was 659,000.

'Stewie Awards' handed out

Two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and radio sidekick Matt Yocum decided earlier this year that the stock car sport needed some awards to rival Hollywood's Oscars and Emmies.

Thus were the Stewie Awards born. Stewart and Yocum, who co-host a weekly show on Sirius Satellite Radio, asked listeners to vote online in 12 categories. They handed out the inaugural Stewies this week in New York as part of NASCAR's Champion's Week celebration.

Among the winners:

<LI>Lifetime achievement awards to former NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. and Hall of Fame driver/broadcaster Benny Parsons, both of whom died in 2007.

<LI>Legend from the golden era of racing to longtime star A.J. Foyt Jr.

<LI>Best duet (for outstanding teamwork by driver and crew chief) to Clint Bowyer and Gil Martin after Martin kept his driver calm and the team made only one adjustment on the car in their first Cup Nextel Cup victory Sept. 16 at New Hampshire.

<LI>Best original drama to Kevin Harvick for his scintillating victory over Mark Martin in the Daytona 500 last February.

<LI>New kid on the track award to rookie of the year Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the road race at Sonoma in June.

<LI>Best stunt sequence (Hal Needham Award for year's most spectacular crash) to Bowyer for crossing the finish line on his roof in the Daytona 500.

<LI>Best original comedy (for year's most entertaining on track incident or occurrence) to Robby Gordon for his victory burnout after the inaugural Busch Series road race in Montreal, despite losing the race.

<LI>Best engineering and special effects (Smokey Yunick Award for year's most creative, and ultimately illegal, modifications) to a race car to crew chief David Hyder & Michael Waltrip Racing vice president of competition Bobby Kennedy after illegal fuel was found in Waltrip's No. 55 car at the Daytona 500.

<LI>Dazed and confused award (for year's most baffling move) to Teresa Earnhardt and her Dale Earnhardt Inc. team for allowing Dale Earnhardt Jr. to leave for Hendrick Motorsports.

<LI>I got dumped award (for year's most memorable on-track bumping) to Kyle Busch, wrecked by brother Kurt in the All-Star Challenge in May at Charlotte.

Junior's take

Now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leaving the family team for the powerhouse Hendrick operation, he's reassessing a few things in his life.

"I'm sure there's lots of things I'd love to do better," he said during one of the many interviews this week in New York. "I'm getting older and losing patience and starting to get snappy with my employees and stuff like that.

"My sister, I don't have as much patience for things me and her discuss. ... But I'm fortunate for the people I have working with me and helping me. I cannot do this without them, and it's important that I treat them the way they need to be treated. So, that's one of the things I'm going to focus on next year."

Asked if he was to become more corporate to fit in better with people like Johnson and Gordon at Rick Hendrick's team, Junior laughed.

"Nah, I ain't trying that hard," he said. "I like to have fun and I love to race cars. Rick's a lot like me. He's been from the bottom to the top. He can appreciate the type of person I am, just like he can appreciate the person Jeff and Jimmie are, as well as Casey (Mears). I don't think he's going to ask me to do anything like that, and I don't think I'm going to need to do anything like that. I hopefully will get better at handling myself in front of the media."

Champions all

Jimmie Johnson is only one of the racing champions being honored by NASCAR this week in New York. Also taking part in a variety of ceremonies and photo shoots were the champions of NASCAR's national series, developmental series and weekly series.

They include Busch Series champion and Cup star Carl Edwards, truck series champion Ron Hornaday Jr., Whelen All American Series champion Steve Carlson, Grand National Division, West Series champion Mike David, Whelen Modified Series champion Donnie Lia, Whelen Southern Modified Series champion L.W. Miller, Canadian Tire Series champion Andrew Ranger and Grand National Division, Busch East Series champion Joey Logano.

"NASCAR has given us a huge opportunity to come here and meet a lot of people," said Ranger, a former open-wheel driver from Quebec. "Normally, you win a championship, get a trophy and go home. To be here in the same room with Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya makes my first NASCAR championship even more special."

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