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Monday, February 14, 2011

Speedweeks, once again, is heavily Earnhardt themed

Earnhardt and Daytona are two words that go hand I hand. For the past three decades, a trip to Daytona has meant that an Earnhardt would do something impressive on the track.

This year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is wasting no time continuing that tradition, as he claimed the pole for the 500 by edging out his Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon.

Amazingly, it is his first restrictor plate pole position in his decade-plus long career. (this is his 400th overall race start.).
Earnhardt also ran decent in the Bud Shootout, but did not have a car to compete with the RCR machines of Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick, or the eventual winner Kurt Busch.

If Dale Jr. can win the race and kick of 2011 in Victory Lane (no easy task at Daytona, where everyone has a legitimate shot to win), it would no doubt be the most popular victory in a long time, and possibly could be the springboard for Jr. returning to truly competing in the sport.

It would also be significant for other reasons -- namely the fact that the Earnhardt family is marking 10 years since the late, great Dale Earnhardt Sr. tragically died on the last turn of the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

Also, SPEED put together an intense and heartbreaking documentary about that event called “The Day”, and I recommend that all fans of the sport check it out if they can. You can still see the heartbreak in the eyes of key players in that day’s events -- including Ken Schrader, both Michael and Darrell Waltrip and Richard Childress, as they recall the terrible events of the day Earnhardt died. (most eerie moment: Childress recalls Big E telling him on the radio in mid-race, after a big Tony Stewart wreck that day which got him airborne, that the restrictor plate racing is going to get someone killed).

As someone who was at the track that day working, and had to stop writing a happy race story about Michael Waltrip winning his first race and start writing an obituary, the show brought back some very bad memories, but I am glad I watched it.

It was so powerful because it showed just how many people were affected by Earnhardt’s death, especially those closest to him. (I feel the worst for Schrader, who was the first to the scene and saw the gruesome scene up close; I hope he can wipe that image from his head, but I doubt it.).

In honor of the driver many claim is the greatest ever, the track is asking fans to observe a moment of silence on the third lap of this year’s Daytona 500 as a tribute, and you can bet they will oblige, and a few tears will be shed amid all that horsepower on Sunday.

Mustang to Cup in 2013
In a move I like, Ford wants to race the Mustang in Cup starting in 2013. This is a great move, which started with the Nationwide series, and means the car may actually look unique from the other cars. Imagine that.

“We have declared our interest to NASCAR that we would like to see the Mustang in Cup," Jamie Allison, director of Ford's North American Motorsports program said.

The approval process will be lengthy, but Ford wisely wants to get a car on the track that resembles one that can be purchased off a showroom floor.

"We are driving to make sure that the car we race is more consistent and more in context with the cars we sell," Allison said. "They have to look like the cars we sell."

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