RACING ONE: Qualifying postponed, Earnhardt Jr. reviews DEI contract

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A severe thunderstorm wreaked havoc with Thursday¿s activities at Daytona International Speedway, postponing qualifying for Saturday¿s Pepsi 400 until Friday morning. Winston Cup practice started at 3 p.m. (ET) Thursday, but midway through the session, a large black cloud filtered over the track. About an hour later, thunder, lightning and heavy rain belted the track, and the rain didn¿t let up until the evening. NASCAR decided to postpone qualifying about 7:30 p.m., running an hour-long practice session from 7:45-8:45 p.m. The Busch Series Happy Hour was held at 8:50 p.m. Qualifying for the Pepsi 400 will be held Friday at 10 a.m., with two 45-minute practice sessions held later in the day. FX will broadcast qualifying live.

Earnhardt Jr. Mulling Over Contract

Defending Pepsi 400 champion . said Thursday he was reviewing a contract offer from Dale Earnhardt Inc. But he also said he has entertained the possibility of driving for another team. ¿I¿m reading over my contract right now that DEI proposed about two weeks ago,¿ Earnhardt Jr. said. I¿m just kind of going through and making a few changes that I¿d like to have. It should take me a couple more weeks. I¿m a little slow about it, but I just want to make sure that it¿s cool. ¿I¿ve thought about driving for other teams, just always wondered what that would be like. I always drove for my father or in a roundabout way drove for him. And I¿ve always kind of wondered what it would be like to drive for another race team or something like that. ¿But there¿s probably advantages to that that I don¿t have now, but there¿s also disadvantages and securities and comforts that I¿d probably be giving up to go do that, so it¿s kind of difficult sometimes to really see the vision that you need to see.¿ Still, it would be difficult for Junior to leave the team his dad created for him. ¿I know what I need to do is stay with DEI and try to become a bigger part of that company and try to be a part of the success that it will have in the future,¿ Earnhardt jr. said. ¿I¿m just trying to sell the rest of myself on that. It¿s kind of difficult at times. I want to put myself in a position, if I haven¿t already, to win championships and to win races and that¿s what really matters to me. I just want to make sure that I¿m with the right program.¿

Rudd Situation Still Unresolved

spent a week on vacation in Florida before coming to Daytona International Speedway, ¿trying to figure out what I¿m going to do when I grow up,¿ Rudd said with a smile Thursday. Rudd, of course, is all grown up. But he¿s in a tough spot these days, as his contract with Robert Yates Racing runs out at the end of the year, and Rudd doesn¿t know what he¿s going to be doing next season. Rudd has said retirement was an option, but Thursday, he seemed to rule that out. He wants to stay in the No. 28, but only wants a one-year contract. ¿I¿m coming up with some ideas,¿ Rudd said about what he wants to do in 2003. ¿I know what I want to do. We¿ll see of we can make it work. That¿s the trouble. If I stay put, and I said earlier that I wanted to do one-year contracts, that may present some problems to car owners. I don¿t know yet. ¿We¿re kind of waiting to see. I guess the retirement issue ¿ I wouldn¿t say it¿s totally on hold. It really depends on if we can work things out on the 28 team. I still don¿t know if that¿s 100 percent option yet.¿ Rudd said he has been ¿spoiled¿ by his recent run of success, including a victory at Infineon Raceway two weeks ago. He didn¿t sound like a man who wanted to quit driving ¿ especially if he was behind the wheel of the No. 28. ¿This is my No. 1 priority,¿ Rudd said. ¿If I could get Robert to agree top a one-year agreement, then the retirement would probably not happen this year. But one-year contracts, as simple as they sound, can create problems because into a new season you¿re already looking at ¿What are you going to do for a driver if this driver leaves?¿ ¿ Rudd and Yates talked Thursday, and Rudd said he better understands Yates¿ position. But nothing has been resolved. ¿I really don¿t have an answer to give you because I don¿t have an answer,¿ Rudd said. Rudd has set a deadline of July 15 to decide what he¿s going to do, and he can¿t wait much longer after that. ¿If not, then I¿ve got to move on,¿ Rudd said. ¿As badly as I want to stay, my other opportunities will be gone.¿ ¿To be honest with you, there are three or four offers on the table. It¿s not like you¿re playing one against the other. My No. 1 goal is to keep this team intact. It¿s an awfully good race team. It can win races, it can win championships. I don¿t want to lose this.¿ Of the offers, Rudd said, ¿There¿s a Dodge, there¿s a GM, there¿s a Ford.¿ He ruled out the possibility of driving for a third RYR team.

Burton Re-Signs with BDR

Daytona 500 winner has signed a two-year contract to stay at Bill Davis Racing, Burton announced Thursday. Sponsor Caterpillar has signed for five more years, and Burton said the company has increased its funding to the team. ¿I¿m done. I¿m ready to rock,¿ Burton said. ¿Caterpillar has signed for five years. A lot changes in the sport, and I wasn¿t willing to sign a five-year deal. We never even talked about it because I told CAT when we talked that five years is a long time. A lot can change in five years. Three years is a long time in this business. ¿Five years is just too far to look down the future. I don¿t even know for me physically to sign a five-year deal if I would even be up for it. I do want options, and I feel like they need to have options. I¿m going to give it 100 percent, and I¿m sure they will, too.¿ Burton is mired in a season-long slump that has taken him from winning the Daytona 500 to sliding to 25th in the points. ¿We¿ve got good people,¿ Burton said. ¿We¿ve got to build the race team and get some more support there. Hopefully with the new funding we¿re going to get from Caterpillar, it will help build. We¿ve got to get both (BDR teams) teams to work close together and reinforce each other. We¿ve never had that. If anything, the added extra team has been nothing but a distraction. They have the potential to help us. We¿ve just got to make all this stuff happen, but it¿s not going to happen overnight. I do have complete faith that myself and the 22 Caterpillar car can be successful and get back on track. ¿I just want to make things work. The part I¿m going to play in making it work is very much worthwhile the effort. We¿ve just got to make it work. I believed in it enough to sign away another two and a half years of my life. We¿ve got to make it work.

Junior to Start Busch Series Team

Earnhardt Jr. also revealed Thursday he was starting a Busch Series team, and IRL champion Sam Hornish could be the driver, at least part-time. ¿We are putting together a Busch team,¿ Earnhardt Jr. said. ¿Me and my stepmother Teresa are going to be partners in the project, and I personally wanted to do it, No. 1 because I wanted to run the July race in Daytona this year, but we couldn¿t get it put together quick enough. The other reason was I wanted to run the July race in Daytona next year and the 300 in February, and the Talladega race as well. I just like running those tracks so much. ¿It was something that I wanted to do actually solely on my own, and Teresa and (DEI vice president) Ty (Norris) thought that it would be better if me and her went into it on a partnership where we could tie it in with DEI a little more as far as employees and how the program developed and how it would complement our Cup teams in the future. ¿With that in mind I plan on running those races next year and bringing in possibly Sam and maybe someone else to run anywhere from six to 10 (races), maybe even more than that. It should be a lot of fun just doing that.¿

Fans Injured by Lightning

Seven fans and one Daytona track worker were hit by lightning during the thunderstorm Thursday, but none was severely injured. Five fans and one worker were treated at on-site care centers and released, while two fans, Brian and Tina Decoux of Pensacola, Fla., were taken to nearby Halifax Medical Center. They were both released Thursday.

Musgrave to Try Brickyard 400

Jim Smith¿s Ultra Motorsports team will field a car for in five races in 2002, beginning with the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month, with sponsorship from Sirius Satellite Radio and Kenwood USA. Ultra and Evernham Motorsports field a full-time effort for , with Sirius sponsoring the No. 7. Musgrave will carry the No. 07 on the Dodge, with Evernham Motorsports supplying the engines. ¿It¿ll be a real spinoff of the 7, 9 and 19,¿ Musgrave said of the three Winston Cup teams. ¿Between Casey, (Atwood crew chief) Tony Furr and myself and my crew we¿ll have assembled between the two truck teams, we¿ll have the best of the best, and Gene Nead will be my crew chief. He¿s the crew chief on the 1 truck. He¿ll crew chief this car with help from anybody over at the 7 bunch. ¿That¿s what it¿s all about. It¿s about combining the efforts to make both of them good. I think Casey qualified third last year at the Brickyard, so he must have some pretty good notes. The boy has done fairly decent there. I¿m hoping with the two combinations both of us will run up front.¿ Musgrave said he will also race at Darlington, Phoenix, Atlanta and Homestead, perhaps adding another race or two. His top priority is the Craftsman Truck Series, where he leads the points standings for Ultra Motorsports.

Compton¿s Qualifying Time Disallowed

¿s qualifying time posted Wednesday night for Friday¿s Busch Series race was disallowed because of an illegal rear spring, NASCAR officials announced Thursday. Compton qualified sixth, but in an inspection after the session, the car was found to have a right-rear shock that ¿violated the NASCAR rule that requires .030-inch diameter bleed holes for the shock absorber tube with an inside diameter of 1.770 inches or less,¿ the sanctioning body said. The shock also did not meet the standards of the NASCAR inspection pins, ¿which must be able to be inserted through the bleed holes from the origination of the bleed hole to the inner rebound port wall without any interference. The NASCAR pins also must contact the inner rebound port wall when exiting the bleed hole, which also did not occur during post-qualifying inspection,¿ NASCAR said. Compton will have to start 43rd in Friday night¿s race.

New Grand Prix Approved

NASCAR has approved the templates for the 2003 Pontiac Grand Prix, General Motors officials announced recently. The new Grand Prix will first race in the 2003 Daytona 500. The car first started development in Aug. 2001, and underwent wind-tunnel and track tests before NASCAR approved the model for competition. While it¿s not a ¿common-template¿ car, it will be more in line aerodynamically with the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the Dodge Intrepid and the Ford Taurus. ¿I think we¿ve got a nice car there,¿ said Jimmy Makar, crew chief for . ¿The character of the car is really neat. It looks a lot like a Pontiac and has all the right looks to it. It looks like it¿s going to be a good, little race car. We¿ve got the kind of downforce and drag numbers that are close to what we¿re looking for. Obviously, we¿ve got a lot of work to go to fine-tune it, but I think all the potential is there for it to be a really fine race car.¿ Pontiac teams are expected to receive templates from NASCAR soon and will start building 2003 cars soon after. ¿This was a new process for us to go through for car approval, and we didn¿t know what to expect,¿ said Doug Duchardt, NASCAR Group Manager, GM Racing. ¿In the end, we were impressed at how willing NASCAR was to work with us in making sure that the brand character was very evident in the car. The end result of all that is a race car that will clearly be recognized as a Pontiac Grand Prix when it is debuted. ¿NASCAR was with us every step of the way throughout the process, and we¿re very happy with the result.¿

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