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Dale Jr. in position to have impact in Chase race
Is Dale Earnhardt Jr. fixing to be a spoiler this weekend?
During Happy Hour for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500, Dale Jr.’s lap times more closely resembled his days in the No. 8 Chevrolet, when he won consecutive races at Phoenix International Raceway in 2003 and '04. His victories were part of a four-race stretch in which Junior didn’t finish worse than fifth.
He has had two top 10’s at Phoenix since moving to Hendrick Motorsports, but his best finish in his past three starts on the one-mile track was 12th in the spring.
In final practice on Saturday, Earnhardt was second only to polesitter Carl Edwards on the speed sheet with a lap of 131.733 mph. He also posted the second-highest 10 consecutive lap average (129.442 mph), which is more telling of what his pace will be like in race conditions. And although he qualified 31st on Friday, Earnhardt is optimistic about the race.
“It was great,” Earnhardt said. “I was really pleased with how (the car) was compared to yesterday. We made a lot of changes that are actually going to work. We improved the car from where we started, so it was a good day.”
Given the confidence that Earnhardt feels at Phoenix, he could very well play the spoiler Sunday. However, Earnhardt has insisted since the title-deciding Chase for the Sprint Cup began that he would do whatever he could to help his Hendrick teammates — Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon — win the championship. With Gordon out of contention, Earnhardt could certainly assist Johnson — who trails Denny Hamlin by 33 points in the standings — particularly since he is situated in the pit stall ahead of the No. 11 team for Sunday.
Following last week’s fun and games between Earnhardt’s teammates on the No. 48 team and Hamlin’s crew on pit road at Texas Motor Speedway, it’s curious that the No. 88 squad chose the pit stall ahead of the No. 11’s for Sunday.
When asked if there was more than strategy to his team’s pit selection, Earnhardt just laughed.
“I’ll go ask Lance (McGrew, crew chief) if there’s anything to that, but I don't think Denny has anything to worry about,” Earnhardt said. “We’ll be coming in behind him, but we'll try to get in as clean as we can.”
Earnhardt’s former Dale Earnhardt Inc., teammate Martin Truex Jr. will pit in stall 16 ahead of the No. 88.
After practice, McGrew insisted that he chose Pit Stall 17 because it’s his “favorite number”.
“It is,” McGrew insisted coyly. “It’s my Dirty Mo Basketball League number.”
Dirty Mo (short for Mooresville) is the recreational basketball league that Earnhardt has for buddies on his farm.
When will rubber meet the road?
Goodyear has scrapped its original plans for a Daytona tire test Dec. 7-8 and is considering moving the session to the 13th and 14th instead.
Goodyear product manager Rick Heinrich said the track hasn’t “progressed to the point that it’s ready for the first date we required.”
Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood has scheduled a meeting with Goodyear officials next week in Miami. Chitwood said when the original test dates were announced by Goodyear, he reiterated “quite clearly that there was no way to forecast” an actual date of completion.
According to Chitwood, the pit lane isn’t paved completely and the SAFER barrier and fencing must be installed before the cars are cleared to run.
“I will meet with my engineers," Chitwood said, "and at that point I will know how early I can get cars on the track. There’s still stuff to do. Once we give a date, then we’ll have to live up to it.”
Heinrich doesn’t anticipate the later dates will be a problem even though NASCAR has mandated that no test drivers can be used for the tire test.
“The feedback that we’ve gotten from the teams is there’s still a lot of interest in the test,” Heinrich said.
- Clint Bowyer’s win in the truck race on Friday at Phoenix gave Earnhardt Childress Racing engines its 50th win of the season.
- Edwards, Sunday's polesitter, led both practice sessions on Saturday, posted the best 10 consecutive lap average speed of 129.745 mph and won the Nationwide race. Could Sunday be the day he ends his 70-race winless streak in the Sprint Cup Series?
When Gil Martin — named WypAll Wipers crew chief of the year — gave the command to start the Nationwide Series race he said:
“Ladies, gentlemen … and Harvick, start your engines.”
Martin is Kevin Harvick’s crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series.
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