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For Cup Teams, Two Is Just Right

| , RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 21 2009

Teams and drivers love Phoenix in the spring for more than just cactus and sand. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR

Teams and drivers love Phoenix in the spring for more than just cactus and sand. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR

By Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent

Dale Earnhardt Jr. loves Talladega Superspeedway, site of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Loves the fans. Loves the layout. Loves how he’s won five races at the circuit’s largest racetrack.

What Earnhardt doesn’t love is the schedule. At least, he doesn’t love it as much as he loved the shortened two-day schedule last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, which consisted of two practice sessions and qualifying on Friday followed by the Saturday race.

If Earnhardt was NASCAR’s schedule-maker for a day, one of his first acts would be to slice a day from the mostly three-day shows (Talladega included) comprising the Sprint Cup calendar.

“I really love it (two-day shows), man,” Earnhardt said last Friday between Subway Fresh Fit 500 practice sessions at PIR, a race later won by Mark Martin. “It reminds me a lot of racing back in 1998 and 1999 with the Busch Series. You come in and couldn’t believe you were working this job for a living, and you worked for two days and you would be home on Sunday and be able to do stuff with your family.”

Although Talladega feels like home to Earnhardt, it’s not the home he was referring to at Phoenix.

“We’re always sitting around here and hearing all the cool stuff that our families are doing on Sunday and so I get to go home,” he said. “If I can get tough, I can stay up with them all day on Sunday and make something out of it.

“I guess I’m more (happier) about it being (last) weekend because I don’t like coming to the west coast all that much. It’s just so far from home. I don’t have any problem with the area. I just don’t like traveling that far and being that far away from my home…

“I love racing on Saturdays. We always start (those) Sunday races so late and I really, really hate that. Being around the race track at seven o’clock on Sundays – I don’t feel like that’s the way it should be. If they’re going to start these races late on Saturdays, that’s OK. Racing on Saturday night is fun.”

Although Tony Stewart didn’t dare express his true thoughts on the two-day schedule topic, it appeared he might side with Earnhardt.

“Don’t get me in the political battle,” Stewart said.

When pressed, Stewart still refused to elaborate.

“This area (Phoenix) is fun no matter what time of day you run,” said Stewart, when asked about the first Saturday race of the season. “I’m not biting on (the question).”

Carl Edwards, however, didn’t hesitate when asked about the PIR two-day schedule.

“I wish every weekend was like this,” he said. “This is great. A two-day race weekend is perfect.

“It’s less expensive for everyone and it’s less time consuming. I’d rather be hectic like this for two days than be twiddling our thumbs for four.” 


Daytona vs. Talladega

Aside from their mammoth sizes and the restrictor plate rules mandated at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway, the two racetracks share little else in common.

The biggest difference?

“Daytona is a handling track and Talladega is a speed track,” Tony Stewart said. “Nobody has a bad-handling car at Talladega. They all drive good.

“Whereas at Daytona, 90 percent of the battle is getting a car that handles good there. Everybody’s car drives good at Talladega. So it’s more of a chess match at Talladega where at Daytona, it’s still a race and you’ve still got to make your car handle.”

Jeff Burton agrees.

“Daytona has no grip in comparison to Talladega,” Burton said. “Talladega has a lot of grip and everybody’s car handles well. Everybody’s car will be able to run wide open every single lap, every single corner. The only reason you won’t run wide open is if you’re going to run into somebody.

“At Daytona, very few people can run wide open through the corners. There’s a lot of throttle input and the car just doesn’t make any grip.

“They are completely different and it’s night and day. It’s as different as Martinsville and Bristol.”

So different that Stewart insists nearly anyone could do well at Talladega.

“I can throw you in the car at Talladega and you can do just as good a job as I can,” he said.

Restrictor plates, which cut horsepower by restricting the flow of air into the carburetor, are mandated at Talladega (2.66 mile oval) and Daytona (2.5 miles) in an attempt to reduce speeds and increase safety at two of NASCAR’s fastest racetracks.

| , RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 21 2009