Notes: Junior sounds off on Daytona’s old pavement
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes Daytona International Speedway could use a facelift.
It will have to wait at least three years.
Earnhardt said Wednesday that NASCAR’s most storied track, which hasn’t been repaved since August 1978, is long overdue for a new surface.
“The track is old,” Earnhardt said. “It’s a terrible time to ask anyone to pave a race track, but if anyone needs it, it’s probably Daytona.”
DIS president Robin Braig said the track has a $20 million repaving project planned for 2012. Braig said it has not been decided exactly when the track would be resurfaced -- either after the season-opening Daytona 500 or after the July race -- and added that information from NASCAR and tire manufacturer Goodyear could alter the plan.
“There’s no issue with money, there’s no issue with technology,” Braig said, pointing out that DIS parent company, International Speedway Corp., repaved Talladega Superspeedway and its steeply banked turns in 2006. “NASCAR and Goodyear are saying tire wear is fine. It’s a $20 million project, but it’s not money we’re talking about. If we don’t need to do it, we’re not going to do it.”
Earnhardt says the 2.5-mile tri-oval is safe, even with its famed bumps in turns two and four, but figures a smoother surface would make for better side-by-side racing and maybe reduce wrecks.
“You just don’t put on a good show,” Earnhardt said. “I like the bumps. If you’re going to ask guys in here, they’re going to say, ’Aw, man, come on, the bumps are cool.’ They are cool, but they’ll be back. When you pave a track, the dirt underneath always settles. It’ll create new bumps.”
Earnhardt knew it had been a long time since the track was repaved, but was surprised to learn it has been three decades since the last facelift.
“Highways get paved more often than that, and they’re only going 55, 65 [mph] down them,” he said. “I’m sure if I own a race track, I’m going to pave that damn thing and get blasted because it cost a lot of money to pave it. I can understand why it doesn’t happen more often, paving a race track, but they did pave Talladega and that got great reviews, everybody was real happy about it, it’s real smooth, puts on good races. Maybe we’ll get this thing paved before I retire.”
Not everyone agreed.
Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards said making the tracks smoother takes away some of racing’s fun.
“The rougher the better,” Edwards said. “When you’re out there sliding around and moving, it makes it harder. If the track is like Talladega ... it wouldn’t be nearly as fun. I think repaving Darlington was the most frustrating thing they’ve done.”
’Just lay there and complain’
There seems to be a flu bug working its way around the NASCAR garage. Two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jamie McMurray are among the drivers feeling a little under the weather at Daytona, where low temperatures last week were around 27 degrees and highs this week reached 82.
“I got a sinus infection Sunday night, laid in bed all day Monday, Tuesday, which I was going to do anyway,” Earnhardt said. “I feel better getting in the race car. Getting sweaty helps you get better.”
How did Earnhardt pass the time in bed?
“Just lay there and complain and cuss out everybody that comes around you,” he said.
Evernham’s new gig
For the first time in almost 20 years, Ray Evernham has no real stake in the Daytona 500.
The former crew chief turned car owner is mostly retired after giving up his stake in Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Though he still owns a small portion of the company, which was folded into Richard Petty Motorsports last month, Evernham will work mostly as a consultant while doing some TV work for ESPN on the side.
That doesn’t mean Evernham, who guided Jeff Gordon to three Cup championships with Hendrick Motorsports before going into business for himself, has lost his need for speed.
During a meeting with reporters Wednesday, Evernham passed around a picture of a mock-up of a sleek prototype he hopes will one day set the land speed record for a piston-driven car.
Evernham is teaming with good friend and longtime drag racer Doug Herbert on the project. Evernham is handling the financing while Herbert is working on the car. They hope to get it to top 500 mph, well past the current record of 420 mph.
Fewer Dodge boys
The ranks of Dodge’s NASCAR entries have been pared down since the end of the 2008 season because of a pair of mergers.
Chip Ganassi Racing, which ran three Dodges last year, switched to General Motors when it merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc. in November. Petty Enterprises merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports, a partnership that resulted in the loss of two teams.
Robby Gordon has also switched makes, moving from Dodge to Toyota.
That leaves the struggling Detroit automaker with seven full-time Cup entries: four from Richard Petty Motorsports -- the result of the Petty-GEM merger -- and three from Penske Championship Racing.
“We’ve always been the underdog,” Dodge motorsports director Mike Accavitti said. “It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had to fight for respect. We’ve been knocked down, but we get up again. We’re a scrappy bunch.”
Considering the difficult economic climate, Accavatti said a leaner operation isn’t all bad.
“By trimming back the number of teams we support, we’re actually able to focus the remaining resources on fewer teams and we’ll deliver better service, better technology and better results,” he said.
Duel: on-track testing
Daytona’s unique qualifying format takes the spotlight Thursday in the twin, 150-mile races. For some drivers, the races are their last chance to make the field for NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500. For others, those 39 guys already locked into the field, it’s another chance to get some on-track testing.
Either way, no one knows exactly what to expect.
“Don’t tear my car, that’s probably the first thing,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won one of the 150s last year. “No banging around, hitting the walls, hitting people, spinning out. Other than that, just have some fun, make a cool pass for the lead a couple times. I’d like to finish around the top three if I can’t win it.”
Denny Hamlin said there was something on the line for those teams already in the 43-car field.
“We need to be in the three or four positions I feel like,” Hamlin said. “That’s where we usually end up in the Duel races and that usually gives you a pretty good pit selection, and there are about 10 good spots out there so you want to have one of those.”
• Lug nuts: Daytona officials said there were about 1,000 tickets remaining for the Daytona 500, with sales having picked up since the track sliced some ticket prices to attract fans in a tough economy. ... Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip was involved in an accident during practice Wednesday and will have to switch to a backup car for the 500. ... Nationwide Series driver Scott Wimmer got a sponsor Wednesday for the season-opening Camping World 300 on Saturday. Carfax will sponsor the No. 40 Chevrolet.
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