The Air Dam Battle
LONG POND, PA. (July 29)- - In an attempt to improve the competitiveness of the Dodge cars, NASCAR announced modifications to the front air dam, the area below the bumper, for the Dodge Intrepid will go into effect starting with the Brickyard 400. The modification will allow the Dodge teams to extend their front air dam two inches forward below the bumper from the current measurement, which is one-half inch. "Itís good that NASCAR looked and realized that we need something," said Ray Evernham, owner of two Dodge teams. "I donít know how itís going to work. Until you test it in traffic, you really donít know." Robbie Loomis, crew chief on Jeff Gordon's #24 DuPont Chevrolet, chalked the rules change up to NASCAR trying to level the playing field. "It's always been a fact that NASCAR likes to keep the competition close," Loomis said. "In this particular situation at Daytona in February, Dodge sat on the pole and I think the quote from the teams was something like, 'We took the same templates as the Ford, but we just worked harder on our cars.' Nothing's changed except for chemistry in the teams. Templates are the same. So I think they need to work on their teams a little bit. Another time, I think it was Darlington, somebody from Dodge said that they should have won the first four races. Obviously NASCAR saw it differently and gave them a rule change-- right before the biggest race of the year at the Brickyard. And that's a flat track, where downforce is everything. But we'll let NASCAR worry about that that we'll try to go there and be the best Chevrolet."
His Father's Son
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (July 7)- - In recent weeks, Dale Earnhardt Jr. mentioned the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway as the one race he wanted to win more than any other. At the track in February, Earnhardt Jr. finished second but the season-opening Daytona 500 was marred by the tragic death of his father Dale Earnhardt Sr. in a crash on the final lap. In Saturday night's race, Earnhardt Jr. put forth his most determined effort in a Winston Cup race leading 116 of the 160 laps. However, it would take a dramatic charge from sixth position on the final restart with seven laps remaining to seal his third career victory. A charge that evoked memories of his father storming through the field in the late stages of past restrictor plate events. Earnhardt Jr. passed Johnny Benson for the lead with five laps to go and crossed the finish line ahead of his Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Michael Waltrip, a reversal of the Daytona 500 finish. Following the event, he spun donuts on the infield grass reminiscent of his father's victory celebration following the 1998 Daytona 500. Waltrip pulled alongside and the pair celebrated together atop Waltrip's car on the infield grass.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. won more races at Daytona International Speedway than anyone. His son's first victory at the track was as emotional as any of The Intimidator's wins at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. Perhaps slightly moreso. It was a joyous moment for Earnhardt Jr at the track that caused so much grief just five months earlier. The second 1-2 finish at Daytona this year was a proud moment for the company his father started. He dedicated the victory to his father. Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his father proud-- always.
One Year Ago
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (July 7)- - Who knows what might have been had things gone differently during a practice session at New Hampshire International Speedway on July 7, 2000. In the first practice session of that race weekend, Kenny Irwin was killed after his car slammed into the turn three wall at the Loudon, New Hampshire track. Up to that point, the former USAC star had struggled in his brief Winston Cup career. He won the 1998 rookie of the year award, but hadn't yet realized the level of greatness in Winston Cup that many had forseen for him. Would Kenny have won a race by now? Would Kenny and Sterling Marlin be the 1-2 punch for Dodge this season? Would he be challenging for a Winston Cup title down the road? Unanswered questions in a life interrupted.
GULF STREAM, FLA. (July 7)- - More than a few NASCAR drivers own airplanes. They're more of an occupational necessity than a luxury item. While basic Lear jets were favored by NASCAR drivers in the 1990's, the turn of the century has seen a proliferation of "corporate jets" among racing's elite. In recent years, Jeff Gordon ditched his Lear 35 for a Dassault-Breguet Mystere Falcon 200. The 13-seat turbojet transports Gordon to sponsor appearances and racetracks, among other ports of call.
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