A No Lose Situation

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Most Winston Cup folks in central Florida are worried about getting one car to go fast on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., though, has the luxury of having two fast race cars. So does he go with a race-proven car or a new car? Tough choice, especially when both cars are running nearly identical speeds.

His first car, No. 8, was second fastest during Tuesday’s test day, while his second car, No. 8A, was third-fastest. When Junior sauntered into the media center, he jokingly asked if the media wanted to talk to the second-place driver or the third-place driver.

Earnhardt Jr., of course, wants to be the first-place driver when the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit returns for Speedweeks in February. A victory in the Daytona 500 would be a stirring triumph, coming in the same race that claimed his father’s life a year earlier.

But now, in January, emotions aren’t as high. Junior is loose, walking around in his red uniform and black toboggan – with the No. 8 emblazoned on it, of course.

And he should be loose, because he has two good cars here. The first is the famous car that won the Pepsi 400 here last July and then followed up with a victory at Talladega.

“We just can’t seem to do anything wrong with that car,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I might have just jinxed it by saying that. But it’s a good car. It goes through the corner so much better. I told the guys I believe it would roll uphill if you gave it a shove. It just rolls real good.”

The two cars were quick again Wednesday morning, with the older car turning a fast lap of 183.711 mph and the older car a lap of 183.217. Those were the seventh and 11th fastest times of the morning session, respectively.

Ward Burton posted the fastest lap of the three-day session Wednesday afternoon, going 184.961 mph with a draft from a pack of cars. Other fast cars in the draft were: Kenny Wallace (184.502), Wallace's backup (183.974), Kurt Busch (183.948) and Dale Jarrett (183.902).

Rookie Jimmie Johnson was fastest for the third straight day in non-drafting trim, posting a lap of 183.415 mph in his Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevy. Bobby Hamilton was second at 183.319, with Mike Skinner third at 182.975.

Johnson finished with the best non-drafting lap of the week 1. at 183.816. Burton was next at 183.748, followed by Wallace (183.486), Earnhardt Jr. (183.475) and Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet (183.262)

The engines in Earnhardt Jr.'s two cars are identical, he said. But the second car, the new one, might be faster. At least that’s what his crew tells him.

“They’re expecting the second car to actually be better,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s a brand new car. They really had high hopes for it. I had a hard time believing they were going to build anything better than we already had.”

He might be right. The car led the most laps at the last Daytona and Talladega races, running up front for 184 of the last 348 restrictor-plate laps.

“I believe we’re going to be running that car that we ran here in the summer again – for the 500,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s just a good car. Sometimes you build cars that seem to roll better than other cars. During a test, when I shut down at the flagstand, by the time I get back to the pits, I’m going 80 mph in the good car. I’m going 50 mph in the other car.

“There’s just something in the drivetrain that is not quite as free in one car compared to the other. Maybe the bearings don’t match up as well.”

It’s not that Junior dislikes the new car. He just wants to go fast. Heck, there’s a third plate car back at the Dale Earnhardt Inc. shops in Mooresville, N.C. that he wouldn’t mind driving, too.

“Even if the brand new car matched the numbers in time and speed of the other car, with what we did with it the last half of the year, it’d be hard not to bring it back,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We ran a different car in the (Daytona) 500 and the first Talladega race, and it’s at home, cut up in a bunch of pieces. I was kind of disappointed they didn’t try to bring it up here. It’s even better than the new car.”

The No. 8 car handles better than the No. 8A, Earnhardt Jr. said. During a good lap, Earnhardt Jr. said he watches the on-board telemetry on his older car, and it goes 188 mph at the end of the frontstretch and 187 and the end of the back. Off Turn 4, it’s going 185. The new car, though, runs 183 off Turn 4.

But there’s work to be done.

“We still have a lot of things to do to it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We learned several things that picked us up on one car that we adapt to the brand new car. We’ll definitely run two different cars here in February.”

He’ll be fast in either one. That’s bad news for his fellow competitors.

Burton Had Help on Fast Lap
Many of the drivers on hand Wednesday worked on drafting practice after 2 p.m., and Ward Burton clocked the fastest lap of testing at 184.961 mph (48.659 seconds) with a little assistance.

“It was pretty clean,” Burton said. “It wasn’t perfect. I didn’t have anybody right in front of me, but when I exited Turn 2, there was a small pack going into Turn 3. It could have been a little bit of help, but we had run some 48.80s before then.

“I’m real proud of this team. I think we gained on it.”

Park Could Be Back for Daytona 500
Crew chief Paul Andrews said there’s a chance Steve Park could return in time to run the Daytona 500 next month if his injuries continue to heal.

“Obviously, the biggest question is, ‘Will he be in the Daytona 500?’ ” Andrews said. “We’re not going to say no or yes until the time comes. Not necessarily the day of the race, but that week. It’s very possible (he’ll race). It’s also very possible he won’t quite make it.”

Andrews said Park’s biggest problem now is his vision. Park suffered a moderate concussion in a Busch Series crash at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway last September that forced him to the sidelines.

“Probably the vision is the biggest holdup still,” Andrews said. “It’s not doubled anymore. It hasn’t been like that for along time. He was in the shop last week and put my glasses on, and it corrected his vision.”

But doctors have told Park all along they could correct his vision with glasses, contacts or surgery, but his eyes still haven’t healed 100 percent, so correcting them now is not a good alternative.

Park is “getting antsy,” Andrews said, about returning to a race car. Park saw neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty on Monday, and will go to Duke University Hospital for an eye checkup Thursday. Asked if his vision was as close to 100 percent as possible would Park be able to race, Andrews said yes.

“We would definitely have to test him somewhere, whether it’s a short track or a larger track, just for speed before we turn him loose at Daytona,” Andrews said. “That’s our feeling, and that’s his feeling and that’s the doctor’s feeling. Until he makes laps, it’s a little hard to say that’s what’s going to happen, but that’s our feeling right now.”

Rudd Will Skip Testing
Ricky Rudd will sit out next week’s three-day test session to rest his back, with Andy Hillenburg driving the No. 28 Ford in Rudd’s place.

“There’s no sense in pounding on his back right now,” team owner Robert Yates said. “He’s in good shape. He’s good to go. Every day, he heals a little more. It’s good that we have a little bit of an off-season.

Rudd had arthroscopic surgery to clear some cartilage damage in his back in early December.

“If we were racing, he’d be racing,” Yates said. “Here, we have the computers giving us feedback. When you start racing, you’ve got to depend on the driver. We just want him good to go. We feel good about it. It was good he had it done. They didn’t find it as bad a shape as it could have been.”

Meanwhile, crewman Bobby Burrell continues to improve from a head injury suffered during a pit-road crash at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November. Burrell, Yates said, plans to be on pit road for the Daytona 500.

“He’s doing good,” Yates said. “The doctor released him. He’s back at work. He’s been doing some pit practice. His head seems to be screwed right back on just as good as ever. That’s a big positive from last year to now.”

Earnhardt Jr. to Unveil New Book
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he’s scheduled to appear on the Today Show, at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Fifth Avenue in New York City and other appearances on Jan. 17 as part of a promotional tour for the new book, “Driver #8.”

Earnhardt Jr. and his publicist, Jade Gurss, recently completed the book about the 2001 season. The book comes out Jan. 15.

Brett Bodine Isn’t Holding Back
If some Ford drivers are holding back during testing this week, Brett Bodine isn’t one of them. In Wednesday’s morning session, he ran a lap of 182.630 mph that was the eighth fastest of the day.

“The fastest teams are always going to say the other group is sandbagging, and the slower group is going to say they need some help,” Bodine said. “I just know what my car is doing, and that’s all we’ve got. I don’t know if that’s all they’ve got, but they’re still faster than I am.”

Bodine was speaking of the Chevys, which swept the Top 3 spots Wednesday morning. Bodine, though, can’t hold back because he needs sponsorship dollars.

“I don’t have anything to gain by it,” Bodine said. “I still need sponsorship. I’ve got to do the best I can to try and make our package for our sponsors look the best. That’s what I’m up against as an owner.”

Ford Aero Chief: We Don’t Need to Complain
Some Ford drivers have hinted their Taurus is at an aerodynamic disadvantage, but they got a shut-up-and-race message from an interesting source: Ford’s new head of aerodynamics for Winston Cup, Bernie Marcus.

“The new rules change where we have the one-and-a-half inch kickout on the nose is going to be a big help, but beyond that, there are other things we need to do,” Marcus said. “We can’t keep running back to the NASCAR trailer and requesting rules changes.

“We need to concentrate on the car itself. I have identified a couple of areas that I want to work on, and those will give us some gains, but some of them are small. It’s a question of chipping away at the details and making it work.”

Marcus, a native of Germany who has worked in many different series across the world, said the gains will be a few pounds of downforce at a time, but those could add up.

“If you can find five areas where you gain 20 pounds, that might make a big difference on the track.”

France Makes Top 5 Most Powerful List
NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. was recently named to “The Sporting News 100, the Most Powerful People in Sports” list compiled by the magazine. France was ranked No. 5, the highest anyone in the NASCAR industry has been ranked. France was No. 8 in 1999.

Others in NASCAR on the Top 100 were NASCAR president Mike Helton (No. 45), NASCAR vice president of corporate communications (No. 52), senior vice president George Pyne (No. 66), Jeff Gordon (No. 68) and Teresa Earnhardt (No. 95).

Brack to Test a Ganassi Stock Car
CART driver Kenny Brack will test a Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge at Daytona next week in preparation for an attempt at a Winston Cup race if sponsorship for a third team can be found.

“He’ll be here next week,” Ganassi said.

Brack was the 1998 Indy Racing League champion, won the ‘99 Indy 500 and was CART Rookie of the Year in 2000. He finished second to Gil de Ferran in the CART points standings last year, scoring four victories on oval tracks.

Spencer, Marlin Make Ganassi Smile
Ganassi likes the driver pairing of Sterling Marlin and Jimmy Spencer he has lined up for the 2002 season.

“I couldn’t be happier with Spencer and Sterling,” Ganassi said. “I wouldn’t exactly call them two peas in a pod. It’s more like I feel like the fifth-grade math teacher trying to keep them under control. Say what you want off track, but I think on track they speak the same language.

“There’s a lot of speed in the fact they talk the same language and pretty much drive the same kind of car. I’ve had teammates before that get along pretty much like these two appear to be getting along. There’s some speed in that.”

Last year, though, Marlin wasn’t helped by rookie Jason Leffler. Leffler’s struggles seemed to indicate that Marlin had more resources than Leffler, but Ganassi said that had better not be the case.

“We don’t have two different teams,” Ganassi said. “We have one team. Last year, both guys were going in opposite directions as the season went on. That’s not the individuals’ fault or anything like that. It’s fast and furious up front and at the back it’s a slippery slope.

“I don’t want (Marlin and Spencer) to push each other. I want them to get the most out of each other.”

That’s THREE Days, Kurt
Kurt Busch was surprised to learn Tuesday that he’d have to spend another day in Daytona.

“I didn’t know we had three days here, so I was kind of caught by surprise with that,” Busch said.

Busch, who finished second to Kevin Harvick in the rookie battle last year, is working with crew chief Jimmy Fennig for the first time and likes what he sees so far.

“I can’t quite find the right words just yet,” Busch said. “It’s just the camaraderie on the crew. Nobody is stepping on each others’ toes and everybody is working on the same page. It just seems a bit more clear on what the program is. I can see their work ethic on the way things are going to progress through this test and the next test and, also, the 500.”

Busch was the fourth-fastest Ford in non-drafting practice but only 20th fastest overall.

“It seems as if the Fords are struggling a little bit being at the bottom of the time sheet, but it’s not much of a concern for us,” Busch said. “We’re just going to keep working on our Ford and we’re confident that if we get a rule change it will surely help. Either way, I think we’re going to be OK.”

Wednesday Test Speeds (best laps)

Dave Blaney 181.686
Brett Bodine 183.146
Geoffrey Bodine 183.109
Todd Bodine 182.238
Ward Burton 184.961
Kurt Busch 183.948
Stacy Compton 181.660
Ricky Craven 183.948
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 183.711
Jeff Gordon 183.262
Robby Gordon 182.931
Bobby Hamilton 183.139
Dale Jarrett 183.902
Jimmie Johnson 183.505
Buckshot Jones 182.164
Terry Labonte 182.864
Dave Marcis 181.605
Sterling Marlin 183.031
Mark Martin 183.793
Joe Nemechek 179.939
Ken Schrader 180.578
Mike Skinner 183.419
Kenny Wallace 184.502

Next MRN Broadcast

On Air Now
Jan. 23, 2018 7:00 PM ET

Upcoming Cup Broadcasts

© 2018 MRN. All Rights Reserved

FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousLinkedInGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksLive (MSN)

ISC Track Sites