NASCAR: Buschís style familiar
By Pete Iacobelli
DARLINGTON, S.C. ó Kyle Busch just might have a little iIntimidatorî in him.
And thatís from someone whoíd know best: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It was only a few days ago Busch and Earnhardt Jr. collided chasing victory at Richmond International Raceway. Dale Jr. admitted with a smile that Buschís racing style reminded him of his old manís earlier, hard-charging stock-car days.
iOn the racetrack, there may be some comparisons there,î Earnhardt Jr. said Thursday. iHeís fast. Heís running well. Heís quick. Heís aggressive.
iThatís the way dad raced, and Kyle has that same style. Very aggressive.î
Does Busch match his fatherís personality off the track?
Not a chance, Earnhardt Jr. said.
iPersonality-wise, they are polar opposites,î Earnhardt said. iGive me a break.î
Earnhardt was at Darlington Raceway on Thursday preparing for Saturday nightís Dodge Challenger 500.
Dale Jr. fans everywhere thought their heroís two-year winless drought ó Earnhardtís last victory came at Richmond in May 2006 ó was about to end as he fought Busch for the win less than two miles from the checkered flag.
The cars hit and Earnhardt spun into the wall. Busch, with little damage, recovered to take second behind Clint Bowyer.
Earnhardt wound up 15th ó a finish that unleashed the full wrath of iLittle Eî fans on Busch, the 23-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
Earnhardt couldíve stoked the flames more with a few incendiary words. Instead, he chose to put the crash and lost opportunity behind him this week at Darlington.
iIíve got more important things to worry about,î Earnhardt said. iIf I let that get under my skin, everything I do this week is going to be a pain in my butt, make for a long week.î
Earnhardt wants to concentrate on conquering Darlington, where his father is second all time with nine victories
Earnhardt has four top 10s his last five races here. His new team, Hendrick Motorsports, has won 10 times here since the 1995 Southern 500.
iThe teamís been great. The carís been good,î Earnhardt said. iIím very confident.î
All drivers will have to handle Darlingtonís repaved surface. The track used $10 million in capital improvement funds to give the track a new coat of blacktop for the first time since 1995.
Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman took part in a Goodyear tire test in March that saw speeds on the fastest part of the track hit 200 mph ó unheard of at Darlington since NASCAR took steps to slow their machines for safetyís sake.
The 10 fastest racers in Thursdayís first Sprint Cup practice session surpassed the 12-year-old track qualifying record set by Ward Burton in 1996. A later practice after the sun went down brought out even more speed with 31 cars bettering Burtonís speed of 173.797 mph.
Burtonís record lap came in the first race after the trackís last repaving.
Newman doesnít think the new surface will change the way drivers race on the quirky, 1.366-mile layout.
iWe never saw much side-by-side racing here,î he said. iI donít expect that will be different this weekend.î
Maybe thatíll mean no round two for Earnhardt-Busch.
Earnhardt put things behind him when he returned to work this week. He was impressed by Buschís response, although the two had not spoken since Richmond.
iThere ainít no big rush,î Earnhardt said.
Plus, Earnhardt couldnít deny how the high drama of a budding rivalry thrills race fans: Busch the rising star cast aside in the Hendrick garage to make room for Earnhardt, NASCARís most popular driver.
iIt was a big deal,î Earnhardt said. iIt was a bad deal for me, and I was pretty frustrated by it. But itís exciting for the sport and, whether I want to deny it or not, there a lot of people out there who enjoyed it.î