Gas 'n Go: Eerie similarities to Earnhardt

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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.


Stepping out of shadow

Eric from Lowell, Mich.: Now that Shell/Pennzoil are the sponsors for the former No. 3 car, and Kevin Harvick has a Daytona 500 win, do you think he is finally out of Dale Earnhardt's shadow as a driver?

Jeff Hammond: I hope so because Kevin has worked very hard to develop his own identity. I'm happy for Richard Childress. The owner has to feel so good, building off the momentum of putting two drivers in the Chase for the Nextel Cup last year, completing a Busch-Cup sweep in the first weekend of this season and getting the No. 29 car with Harvick into a position where they can stand on their own. It's hard not to compare Harvick's personality to Earnhardt. So many little things about Kevin remind me of Dale, but Harvick is his own man. While he looks at things differently than Earnhardt did, Harvick's passion for winning and being successful are almost exactly like the same as The Intimidator's approach. When you couple his Daytona 500 win with a victory at Indianapolis, he joins a unique group of drivers, which includes Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson. The main difference between those five drivers and Harvick is each one has a Cup title, but that's the next goal on the reigning Busch champion's radar. The movie Dale had its Daytona premiere during Speedweeks, and Harvick was able to win the Great American Race on the same day that we lost Earnhardt six years ago. It's eerie how things sometimes play out in this sport. Harvick's last-lap charge in the yellow No. 29 was reminiscent of the black No. 3 coming through the pack at Talladega for the final points race win of his career in the fall of 2000. Each driver came out of nowhere and pulled off a whale of a win.

These concidences have taken place many times in our sport. There's no way to orchestrate them. I just chalk it up to the Twilight Zone that is the 2007 season. Richard Childress Racing was a factor all day, but only Jeff Burton seemed to have a shot to win. Harvick hadn't flexed his muscles all week. He ran well in his 150, but in the 500, he didn't look like he had the pop he needed to win. Then, all of the sudden, a guy you haven't heard a lot about became a factor. It really was eerily reminiscent of Earnhardt.

Finish makes up for race

Joanne from California: What happened to the Great American Race? What do you suppose caused it to be so boring? I frequent the California Speedway races twice a year and often hear fans say that it's a boring track, but at least you see plenty of passing, pit strategies that play out in the end and so forth. This race had NOTHING until the last few laps. That is quite the opposite of what RP racing usually brings to the fans. Jeff Hammond: There were a couple of boring stretches for viewers, but with about 50 laps to go, business started picking up, and we got what we anticipated — a hard-fought, exciting finish. When a veteran like Mark Martin, who has never won the 500, starts fresh with a new team, it's what NASCAR and stock-car racing is all about. It provides the opportunity to cheer for an underdog who was fighting as hard as he could for his sponsor, the U.S. Army, all the way to the end. Then, a younger driver with a new sponsor and a totally different look steals away the victory in the last 500 feet of a 500-mile race.

It was one of the most dramatic Daytona 500 finishes that I've ever seen. Some people will say the 1976 battle between Richard Petty and David Pearson, the 1979 fight on the backstretch and the 1988 1-2 finish by Bobby and Davey Allison were more spectacular. After Dale Earnhardt's 1998 victory and my win with Darrell Waltrip in 1989, Sunday's race was pretty intriguing and very unpredictable. The two fastest cars had to be Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart. Some people will say that Kyle Busch was pretty potent himself, but it looked like he needed help from another car to get up toward the front and stay there. When the No. 20 and the No. 2 crashed, the door had swung wide open, and it was hard to predict which driver would rise to the occasion. When the white flag dropped, I would be willing to bet a year's salary that nobody would have picked Harvick.

Caution can't please everyone

Devin from Palestine, Texas: Is the rule for yellows different on a green/white/checkered finish than during the race? I was very surprised a yellow DIDN'T come out... I agree with DW that it didn't interfere with Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin, but I thought the idea was SAFETY first after Dale Jarrett almost got run over a few years ago and the rule change was instituted for instant freezing of the field and faster yellows. What gives? I'm a No. 48 fan, but I'd like to know what the rule is....... Jeff Hammond: The caution is supposed to come out when somebody is in trouble. Period. I'm not going to say that NASCAR was too slow to throw the caution, or they didn't throw the caution. In this case, the majority of the field was involved in the wreck. Unlike the Jarrett incident, in which so many stragglers were coming around and still racing by the old rules, everybody was checking up based on feedback from their spotters. There's going to be a lot of deliberation over the way it went down, but NASCAR's policy hasn't changed one bit. If you're a Kevin Harvick fan, you feel like NASCAR got it right. If you're a Mark Martin fan, you feel like NASCAR got it wrong. And if you just like to argue and fuss about what NASCAR does or doesn't do, this finish fits you to a "t" also. No matter what NASCAR did or how they did it, somebody was going to debate letting those guys race back to the finish in the most prestigious race of the season. You're not going to win this argument because there's just no way that everybody is going to be 100 percent happy.

Speed Mail Jeff Hammond

Gordon got lucky

Jo from Rock Hill, S.C.: Welcome back, guys! I know that NASCAR issues the restrictor plates, rear shocks and springs to the teams at Daytona during the inspection process. Do the teams actually have to install them on the car while the car is in the "Room of Doom"? Plus, what is your take on NASCAR determining "intent" with Jeff Gordon's penalty? Jeff Hammond: NASCAR inspectors are with the teams when they put the parts on the car. They go underneath with you and watch you install them. As far as the word "intent," it was one of the first times that I've ever seen it used to make a decision that was clearly covered by a black-and-white rule of either being too low or too high. Jeff Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte should count their blessings that they were basically given a free pass.

FOX race analyst Jeff Hammond led Darrell Waltrip to two of DW's three Winston Cup championships as his crew chief. They also teamed to win the 1989 Daytona 500.

For autographed copies of Jeff Hammond's book "Real Men Work in the Pits" plus magnets, hats and more, check out www.dwstore.com.

For photos and appearances, visit Jeff's web site www.jeffhammond.com.

Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jarrett, Bill Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin

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