Nascar Weekly News and Notes – 1/17/08

Nascar Weekly News and Notes
by Virginia Vroom of

It’s officially time to start counting down now!! There’s only 31 days
until the Daytona 500, and there are plenty of stories to follow,
drivers to pat on the back, and testing to complete.

One of the biggest stories that we are going to see this year is
undoubtedly Jr. Who can deny it? Dale Earnhardt Jr. left his team last
year after negotiations with Teresa Earnhardt failed. He proceeded to
move on to Hendrick to join the ranks of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
Let’s not forget Casey Mears, either, who has posted great test speeds
in all of the sessions. He seems to be more consistent with his driving
and more comfortable with his team.

Getting back to Jr, though, his interviews and driving have definitely
left some people scratching their heads. He is and always will be a
good ‘ole boy. That’s a good 75% of his appeal, but evidently, Jr. is
growing up. We see since his official start with his new team a more
professional atmosphere following him. There is also a large consensus
that Jr. is much more comfortable with his driving. Being on this new
team is letting Jr. focus on how to win rather than how to appease the
stepmother who never wanted Jr. to take control of his own father’s
company. With Jr. topping the cumulative speed charts for all testing
sessions in a single-car (not drafting speeds), there is little doubt
that he will be one to watch in a month on the track.

Jr. has commented that both himself and his crew chief, Tony Eury Jr.,
are able to focus on their team and that they have the necessary tools
to win races. The focus is more narrow. There is less room for
distraction with Jr. being on a team not associated so closely with his
father, in my opinion. He is able to concentrate on driving cars
instead of wondering why his team does not have what it needs to win.
Hendrick is making sure of it.

I think that with Hendrick’s history with both Sr. and Jr. that there is
definitely more of a family feeling instead of the tension that existed
in what was his own family’s team. Hendrick has a history with all of
his drivers and their families. He never seems to fail to provide what
is necessary for everyone. Few can deny that any underdogs exist on a
Hendrick owned team. Despite the lack of success that some drivers see,
like Casey Mears, they are still afforded with the same privilege and
access to everything that someone like Gordon is. The difference is
what a driver does to remain proactive within a team, albeit changing
crew members or just changing driving style. Supposedly, a team change
is what Jr. needed to gain all of the bonuses and perks that he could
not get elsewhere.

I am not a hardcore Jr. fan in the sense that I do not root for him
every week, but I certainly smile when he does well. It’s hard not to
be happy for anyone with the last name of Earnhardt considering all of
the contributions that they have made to the racing world. Switching to
Hendrick may be the best decision that Jr. ever made, and although I am
not a die-hard fan, I would love to see him win some races and live up
to the potential that he has and that we have seen in the past before
his father passed away.

With the success that Jr. is having in testing, there are also a few
other names worth mentioning. Kasey Kahne, despite his legal troubles,
is focused enough on the track to have the fastest cumulative drafting
speeds for all test sessions. Notably, four out of the top ten cars in
Tuesdays practice sessions are owned by Michael Waltrip. We are also
seeing a consistency with open-wheel driver Franchitti in both single
car and drafting speeds for both weeks of testing so far. There are
some good ‘old boys besides Jr. in the top ten too like Dale Jarret and
Dave Blaney.

I will go ahead and post the top ten cumulative single car and top ten
drafting speeds for the practice sessions thus far.

Single car cumulative speeds for all test sessions:

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2. Dave Blaney
3. Michael Waltrip
4. Brian Vickers
5. Dale Jarret
6. Tony Stewart
7. Jimmie Johnson
8. Dario Franchitti
9. Casey Mears
10. Denny Hamlin

Cumulative speeds for drafting cars for all test sessions:

1. Kasey Kahne
2. Kyle Busch
3. Denny Hamlin
4. Dario Franchitti
5. Regan Smith
6. Ryan Newman
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Sam Hornish Jr.
9. Bobby Labonte
10. Tony Stewart

Again, it will be difficult to know who actually has the consistency to
win the race, but it’s interesting to note that the drivers who have
previously dominated the top ten in the past are not showing such a
distance between themselves and other drivers who have been pushed the
wayside in past seasons. It’s gearing up to be a good one, y’all.
Let’s get ready! The Bud Shootout is less than a month away (February 9th).