Park Back On The Track

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Steve Park crawled into Dale Earnhardt Inc.’s No. 1 Chevy during a test session Monday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, turning a best lap 1.5 seconds slower than Kenny Wallace.

Park is recovering from injuries sustained in a crash at Darlington Raceway last September. A moderate concussion has forced Park to the sidelines since then, but he’s trying to mount a comeback. In his absence, Wallace has been driving the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevy.

Park drove a few laps at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last week, and he did so well that Wallace – Park’s temporary replacement – wondered if Park should have driven at Rockingham, N.C. last weekend.

Park drove a few laps Monday at the ultra-fast 1.54-mile track south of Atlanta, getting up to 176.560 mph. That was 1.5 seconds slower than Wallace and Shawna Robinson’s fast laps of 185.418 mph.

“It was great to get back in the race car,” Park said. “We were wide open, and our lap times showed we weren’t holding anything back. I know I can race now. I just want to make sure when I come back I can be in a position to win.”

Park’s speech still isn’t back to 100 percent, and he can get frustrated with not being able to communicate as well as he used to.

“It’s easier when you break your arm or leg,” Park said. “With a brain injury, it might take the same amount of time to heal, but it’s not obvious when it’s better.

“I can’t talk right – that’s just part of the injury. But you don’t talk much behind the wheel of a race car, and I can drive the heck out of a race car.”

When that will be during a Winston Cup race, Park doesn’t know. Wallace said last weekend at Rockingham that his time in the No. 1 car was numbered, hinting that Park would be back for the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 on March 17 – at Darlington.

Monday at Atlanta, Park was asked if the MBNA America 500 at Atlanta on March 10 would be his comeback race.

“Never know,” he said with a grin.

Park, though, simply wants to get back in a racecar.

“I’m a little hungry,” Park said. “Seems like that’s all people ask anymore, and I just don’t know how to answer.”

Park could drive the car again Tuesday during DEI’s test at Atlanta, and Park could be at Darlington next week for a full-fledged test. Doctors still haven’t given the go-ahead for Park to return, so there are still lingering questions.

But Park said he has done all he can to stay in shape, to get his coordination back to 100 percent.

“Before the accident I went 200 mph behind the wheel of a race car,” Park said. “Now I’ve been going 200 mph with rehab and everything else to get back there.”

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