By admin | February 19, 2008
Bud Shootout pays immediate dividends for new partnership
By Richard Allen
The Bud Shootout offered up crashes, pit road side swiping and possibly even a punch in the dreaded NASCAR trailer. And that was just during the practice for the event.
Drivers proved not to be timid despite the practice crashes. Two and three wide racing became commonplace in the eventâ€™s early laps.
On lap 7 the crowd got its first opportunity to rise to its feet in support of new Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as he took the lead away from Michael Waltrip. At that point the drivers settled into a pattern of single file racing until the first caution flew on lap 15 for Bill Elliottâ€™s one car accident. Elliott appeared to have suffered a cut tire on his Wood Brothers Ford.
During the raceâ€™s 10 minute intermission driver Denny Hamlin proved to be prophetic. He told reporters he expected the excitement to pick up as drivers would scramble for track position for the first 15 laps or so after the caution. Shortly after the green flag dropped Hamlinâ€™s car became tangled with Jamie McMurray. McMurray was knocked out of the race and Hamlin was forced to pit road for repairs.
Earnhardt, along with the rest of the HMS organization and familiar restrictor plate drafting partner Tony Stewart showed considerable strength during the raceâ€™s middle stages.
With 23 laps to go right front tire issues again reared an ugly head as David Gilliland experienced problems. Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex found themselves playing the role of victim as they were unable to avoid Gillilandâ€™s damaged car.
Hendrick cars showed they will be a major force throughout SpeedWeeks as they lined up on the outside lane and roared to the front with Earnhardt leading the parade. Then, after a Kurt Busch spin and miraculous recovery between turns 3 and 4 with 7 laps to go the stage was set for an exciting finish.
Drivers took the green flag with 3 laps remaining. Junior quickly forged his way to the front and never looked back, leaving the others to race for second. The #88 car finished a car length ahead of the side by side battle for second between Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. Those two were followed to the line by Jeff Gordon and Reed Sorenson respectively.
Rick Hendrick was the first to greet his newest employee in victory lane as he and his team bask in the glory of what seems to have been a great investment.
â€œThat was fun,â€ Earnhardt said after climbing from his car. â€œI had a blast. I got help from my teammates. I couldnâ€™t have won without Jimmie Johnson pushing me.â€
Second place finisher Stewart also claimed to have fun and was quick to praise Earnhardt. â€œItâ€™s hard to beat Dale Jr.,â€ he admitted. â€œHeâ€™s one of the best restrictor plate racers ever. Iâ€™m not so sure he isnâ€™t better than his dad.â€
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association.
His weekly column runs in The Mountain Press on every Wednesday.
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