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Racin’ News: Daytona 500 Pole-Sitter Earnhardt Jr. Crashes

| , RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 16 2011

Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin went nose to tail at well over 200 mph last week in Daytona. NASCAR took steps to reduce speeds on Thursday. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

In racin’ news today, Wednesday, Feb. 16th: Pole-sitter Earnhardt Jr. crashes in practice; New plates mandated; Bill Elliott’s son signs with Hendrick.

A big wreck occurred involving Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. during Sprint Cup practice at Daytona International Speedway.

Both cars were damaged beyond repair. Earnhardt’s car was the one which qualified for the Daytona 500 pole last Sunday.

“I just really don’t know what was going on there,” Earnhardt said of the wreck. “The guys on the inside looked like they were going to stay low and then they started kind of creeping up and giving Jimmie (Johnson), and they gave me the impression they were going to be closing the hole on the outside. So Jimmie lifted. And he about wrecked and I got off the gas and there were a couple of guys coming behind me (Martin) Truex, and a couple other guys and just didn’t have a chance.

“You got to pay attention out there, man. I mean if you’re going to come out here and race, you need to pay attention.”

In going to a backup car, Earnhardt will be bumped to the rear of the starting field for the 500.

According Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports team: ” The No. 88 team just unloaded Chassis 88-576. Jeff Gordon last raced this chassis at Talladega in October to an eighth-place finish. The Budweiser Shootout car will now be the backup. Previously a band-new chassis, it’s currently back at Hendrick Motorsports in the paint booth about to make its way back to Daytona. Chassis 88-576 has been refurbished to meet the nose and other 2011 requirements but hadn’t been tested this season.”

Truex Jr. will not be sent to the rear of the field for the 500, but will start his Gatorade qualifying race from the rear on Thursday.

The difference is because Earnhardt  – along with Jeff Gordon – had already secured his starting spot in the 50o but Truex had not.

After the wreck, Earnhardt Jr. and Truex Jr. were seen talking to each other.

Truex Jr. said, “That he was sorry for running into the back of me,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “And he didn’t have anywhere to go; and I’m sure he didn’t. We were all off the gas pretty hard right there for those guys to pull up the race track there. I don’t even know if we would have room. We might have had room on the outside to get through, but it was real tight. They moved up off the bottom into the middle of the race track at least, from what I could tell and what I can remember, and just give us the impression we were going to need to check-up.

“They keep slowing the cars down and it makes a car drafting normally much slower, and now the closing rate on the two-car pack is even faster; and I mean it’s just hard. It’s just real hard. Hopefully there’s no more accidents this rest of the week. We can all; we’re all kind of getting the hang of it, but the guys that aren’t, in a two-car pack, need to be aware that those guys are going to come flying up on them faster than they think. And you’ve just got to keep that in mind and hold your line.”

NASCAR announced that it has mandated use of restrictor plates with smaller holes for this year’s Daytona 500 at Daytona Internatonal Speedway.

The size of the holes, through which the air-fuel mixture travels from the carburetors to the intake manifold, will be reduced 1/64th of an inch. The new plates will have holes 57/64s inches across.

The change was made necessary by speeds which approached 207 miles per hour in Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout non-points race.

It is estimated by NASCAR that the smaller holes result in 10 to 15 fewer horsepower and that that will mean speeds of 2 to 3 mph slower in the draft.

“Obviously NASCAR feels like they needed to make the rule change,” said Derrick Finley, competition director for Front Row Motorsports.  “I don’t know if it’s really going to make that much of a difference.  I’m glad I’m not the one who has to make the rule because I don’t know what the solution is, but I know they’re just trying  to makes things better.  It’s kind of uncharted territory with the new track surface.  We’ll see.”

Denny Hamlin, who finished second in points in 2010, was also asked about the smaller plates on Wednesday.

The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 car said, “The bias in me hates it because the smaller hurts the Toyotas even more. Our horsepower range is a little bit lower. It just makes the two-car tandem, in my opinion, more important with the smaller the plate that you go. Being that the delta between being by yourself and being together will be even larger. For me, the two-car tandems will be even more important. The slower that the cars run by themselves, when you get them hooked up they are going to run close to the same speed or pretty close to the same speed. It just makes that delta bigger and that’s when you’re going to have big, big runs and everything.

“I thought that going bigger would be better simply because the faster we go, ultimately the handling will come into play eventually if we’re going a certain speed that the cars really can’t handle the corners being pushed. Ithought being bigger would be an advantage for getting the pack back together. The pack would be able to catch the two-car tandems very, very quickly if the plate was bigger. Obviously they felt that they didn’t want the cars running 206 (mph). There’s a big safety concern when the cars are running 206. Not necessarily for us, but the flag man especially.”

Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that it has signed 15-year-old Chase Elliott to a multi-year contract.

Elliott, the son of 1988 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, will continue to compete for his family-owned team until meeting age requirements for entering NASCAR national series events. Bill Elliott Racing, based in Dawsonville, Ga., will field Chevrolets with support from Hendrick Motorsports.

“The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree with Chase,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “I’ve always admired Bill’s ability in a race car and how he handled himself with the fans. I see those same traits in Chase, with his natural driving talent and an awareness of what he needs to do away from the track to be successful. He comes from a great racing family, and it shows.

“We think it’s a terrific situation. Chase already has a strong support system in place (in Dawsonville) that will allow him to focus on his education and grow as a driver, and Hendrick Motorsports will provide whatever kind of assistance the Elliotts need in any area.”

A freshman in high school, Elliott already has competed against some of the best short-track racers in the United States. In 40 late model starts last season, he posted 13 victories, 27 top-five finishes and 37 top-10s.

“I’ve always been taught that teamwork and people are important, and that’s something Mr. Hendrick really believes in,” Elliott said. “Everyone at Hendrick Motorsports has high standards and takes a lot of pride in what they do. Racing with all of their support, and the support of my family, is going to be incredible. I’m going to work really hard to make them proud and make the most of this opportunity.”

In 2010, Elliott became the youngest driver to win the Blizzard Series at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., the Miller Lite Series at Mobile (Ala.) International Speedway and the overall Sunoco Gulf Coast championship. The Dawsonville native also posted victories in the prestigious Winchester 400 and at the re-opening of historic North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway.

Elliott already is two-for-two in 2011 after sweeping the Speedfest late-model features last month at Lanier National Speedway in Braselton, Ga. This season, he plans to enter a combination of super late model, pro late model and NASCAR regional touring series events.

(More news will be added as it breaks)

| , RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 16 2011
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