2011-02-03 / Sports

No Memorial For Father By Dale Jr.

By Gerald Hodges
THE RACING REPORTER


Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr. apparently has a lot of unhealed emotions regarding the death of his father during the 2002 Daytona 500.

During last week’s Charlotte Media Tour, Dale Jr. told reporters he would not be taking part in any memorial services for his dad.

“Everyone wants to reflect and honor my father at this time,” he said. “What I enjoy is hearing other people talk about him, not me.”

“I’ll be happy to observe everything that goes on. If it’s something big, if it’s something small, whatever it is ... But if you don’t mind I’d just rather watch it; stand on the sidelines ... I know how I feel in my heart and I don’t feel the need to discuss it a lot.”

There will be many events honoring Dale Earnhardt in the coming weeks leading up to the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20.

Earnhardt Jr. finished second that day, while his teammate Michael Waltrip won the race.

NASCAR will start off the 2011 season with a lot of changes.

After a disappointing year in the ratings and race attendance, NASCAR had to shake things up to try and get more fans back watching on TV and coming to the tracks.

In case you missed anything, here’s the rundown.

Drivers now get 3 points for winning a race, 1 point for leading the most laps, and 1 point for leading a lap. This means the most points any driver could achieve in a race would be 48 points.

The old points system has been scrapped in favor of this new one.

The Chase will be assembled different. The top 10 in points after Richmond in September will automatically be seeded in the Chase with each driver getting 2,000 points and 3 points for each win during the regular season, but there’s more. The final two positions, will be called “wild cards.” Drivers from position 11-20 in points with the most wins will be rewarded with a place in the Chase.

NASCAR will move from last year’s standardized start times in an effort to boost sagging television ratings. Specifically NASCAR races in the last third of the season will slide back to a later green flag to avoid going head-tohead with NFL kickoffs.

While the majority of the races televised in the first half of the year as part of the FOX television package will remain in the 1 p.m. ET start range, green flags will slide back later in the year. A 2 p.m. ET beginning is the plan for most of the races in September through November with West Coast venues including Texas, Phoenix and Homestead near the tail end of the schedule, going to a 3 p.m. ET start.

“Moving the prerace show from ESPN2 to ESPN, which will then carry the subsequent broadcast in the Chase season, is just a better long-term strategy for us and the sport,” ISC President John Saunders said.

“NASCAR was down all season on all networks, not just on ESPN. We continue to believe in the long- term strategy of airing the races on ESPN. We support NASCAR and it remains a very strong property.”

Qualifying order will now be based on practice speeds, with the slowest cars going first. I suppose this is meant to create excitement in qualifying, but you and I know that the result will be the same. However, if qualifying is rained out, as happens so often, the starting field will be set based on those practice speeds. The go-home teams will qualify separate from those in the top-35. If all practice is rained out, the field will be set on points as it has in the past.

Drivers can no longer run for a title in more than one series, which is a long overdue move that makes the Nationwide finally have its own identity again. Gone are the days of Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch winning a Nationwide title while racing in the Cup series full time. We will actually see the young NASCAR talent battle for the titles in the Nationwide and Truck series, while the Cup guys can still dabble and go for wins and money.

However, no matter how many things NASCAR changes, in hopes of improving the racing, one thing remains the same and that is Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson isn’t worried about changes to the points or Chase.

“I don’t care what races are in the Chase, the format to win the championship, I could care less,” Johnson was quoted as saying in an AP article on espn.com, “because I feel confident that my team will be able to win championships under any set of circumstances.”

And unless someone steps up and beats Johnson, it will be the same old NASCAR – 43 drivers wide open and going for it.

And don’t believe that Johnson’s team isn’t all geared up for another winning season.

Last year some of Johnson’s 48 pit road team became slack, and Rick Hendrick made a complete crew change swap with Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 crew.

This year the 48 team, will now have three total crews (18 crew members) brought to each track, to be used for the 48 car of Johnson, and the 88 car of Dale Earnhardt Jr. If one person isn’t up to par, a backup will step in.

The No. 24 of Jeff Gordon and No. 5 of Mark Martin will work similarly, with crew members available to the two cars.

Talk about being prepared. It seems more like an NFL football team. I have a feeling pit performance will improve for all Hendrick teams.

If it works, expect other teams that can afford it to follow suit.

No wonder that NASCAR racing is so expensive.

David Pearson, the threetime NASCAR champion believes that the high cost of attending races is why there are empty seats in the stands.

“I guess that they outpriced themselves, or something,” said Pearson, whose three championships came with Cotton Owens (in 1966) and Holman-Moody (in 1968 and ’69). “A poor man can’t hardly take his family to a race now, it costs too much. And they’re the ones who got it started. I do know that they have lowered the price at times. I’m sure that’s the only thing that’s going to help get the crowd back.”

Racing kicks off Saturday, Feb. 12, with the Budweiser Shootout. There will be two Gatorade Shootout qualifying races on Thursday, Feb. 17, and then the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 20.

Racing trivia question: How many Daytona 500’s did Dale Earnhardt Sr. win?

Last week’s question: What year did the televised fight between Cale Yarborough and Bobby and Donnie Allison occur at Daytona? Answer. 1979. It was the first time a 500-mile race had been broadcast live from start to finish.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodges@race500.com.

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