CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - John Andretti and ppc Racing, one of the top teams in NASCAR's Busch Series, will get together on a Nextel Cup team that will begin racing Oct. 16 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Andretti will run five of the last six events of the season, excluding Martinsville, Va., and the entire 36-race schedule in 2005, the team announced Tuesday.

"A lot of people have been working hard to put this program together," said Andretti, a two-time winner in the Nextel Cup series. "It's pretty exciting to have everything set and ready to go, and to know we are going to be a very competitive race team."

The ppc team, owned by Greg Pollex, won the Busch Series championship in 2000 with Jeff Green and also has four runner-up finishes. The Nextel Cup team will be sponsored by Victory Brand LLC, Sunoco, APlus convenience stores and Ford.

Victory Brand is the second cigarette company to sponsor a car full time in NASCAR. The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Camel brand was the sponsor of a car entered in the 1990s by Travis Carter.

RJR pulled out as sponsor of the top NASCAR series less than a year ago and Victory Brand CEO Steve Swick said his company is well aware of the pressures of government regulation and financial setbacks that led to RJR's withdrawal.

"For years, stock car racing was pretty well closed to cigarette manufacturers, but we jumped when we saw this opportunity," Swick said.

NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo said Victory Brand is welcome to join the series.

"When RJR was the title sponsor of the series, other cigarette companies were prohibited as part of their entitlement," Zizzo said. "With RJR no longer involved in the sport in that capacity, the category is open."

Andretti, 41, lost his full-time ride with Petty Enterprises midway through last season and has driven sporadically for several other teams since. He has started just five races this year, finishing 16th at Chicagoland Speedway on July 11 in a DEI car in his latest start.

He is one of the few drivers to have won in Nextel Cup, Indy cars and endurance sports cars.
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Good for John. I always liked him. Seems like "good people" as we say back home.