By admin | April 5, 2008
Junior fans, do you remember one year ago?
By Richard Allen
As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series nears the start of the 2008 Samsung 500 fans of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. may remember the 2007 version of this event as the time when their favorite made his debut in a Hendrick Motorsports car.
A look back at the results of that race show Junior finished in 36th position driving the familiar red and white #8 car owned by Dale Earnhardt, Inc. However, it was near the finish of the race in which the real drama involving the sport’s most popular driver and the sport’s top team came about.
Late in the going, Tony Stewart spun by himself coming off the 4th turn of the Texas track. Earnhardt slowed to avoid Stewart. Kyle Busch did not slow as quickly and slammed into the back of the #8 car. Both cars were damaged. Junior was able to continue on until engine problems finally ended his day after 288 laps.
It was Busch, however, who allowed Junior to get behind the wheel of an HMS machine for the first time. After taking a quick look at the damage sustained in the wreck Busch came to the conclusion that his #5 machine could not be repaired and stormed away. However, his crew had not come to that same conclusion.
After working feverishly, Busch’s crew repaired their car in time to get it back on the track for a few laps in hopes of gaining a position or two and thus adding a few more points to their total. However, a search of the garage area turned up no Kyle Busch. Enter Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to the rescue. Junior climbed into the Chevrolet and toured the track for the remaining few laps of the race.
Immediately, speculation began. In a year in which Junior was thought to be considering other driving options for the next season, some wondered if perhaps Junior was taking a potential ride for a test drive.
As it turns out, whether calculated or not, that is exactly what happened. Junior did, of course, go on to sign with Hendrick Motorsports for the 2008 season. He did wind up permanently replacing the driver he temporarily replaced in the 2007 Samsung 500 although not with crew chief Alan Gustafson and the #5 team.
This weekend, Junior celebrated his anniversary of sorts by putting his HMS ride on the pole, perhaps he may even capture his first points paying win as part of the celebration.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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