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Pedley: Lots To Talk About After Day 1 Of Testing

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 13 2012

Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't know that one of his favorite drivers was testing with him at Daytona on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Quotes and comments from and about Thursday’s Day 1 of the two-day Sprint Cup test at Daytona International Speedway:

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Mark Martin’s sunny side is permanently set on “up”, you know? Dude makes Pollyana look like a pit bull with an oozing rash.

Martin was touting silver linings again Thursday at Daytona. Cut loose from Hendrick Motorsports’ top-tier team and now headed for part time duty with an interesting but questionable Michael Waltrip Racing organization, Martin continued to spread good cheer.

Asked about running a partial schedule, and being, de facto, a driver without a chance to win that first Cup championship, Martin glowed.

“Do you see this big old smile on my face? Yeah,” the man who has finished second in final standings five times said, “buddy, I’m tell you, I’m thrilled. I’m back to the schedule that I ran in ’07 and ’08, and I’m really, really – I’ve had a great off-season, had the time of my life with Hendrick Motorsports and made friends for life there. But this is a new challenge from an organization standpoint, a lot of new faces, and then a lot of guys I’ve worked with before. I couldn’t believe it when I walked through the shop the first time. You can’t believe how many people I’ve worked with before that are at MWR now.

“And obviously I was in a position where I got to choose the races and how many. So it’s just exactly

Mark Martin's still a happy racer. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

where I want to be in life right now. I’m really excited, thrilled to have a company like Aaron’s behind us, huge supporter of NASCAR racing, and I think it’s going to be fun, the things that we’re going to do, Michael and I are going to do. I’m expecting to do a lot of smiling this year.”

Considering the way his career has gone, you always have to wonder if Martin is smiling just to keep from bumming out.

He may, in fact, be extremely happy to not be running for a championship this year. But there are a whole lot of us out here who wish he would be on the tracks 36 times this coming season.

Talk about powers of concentration: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was so focused on the job at hand Thursday that he didn’t notice that the person who just may deprive him of this year’s most popular driver award was out on the track with him.

That’s right, Junior didn’t know Danica Patrick was at DIS this week.

“I didn’t even remember that she was supposed to be here,” Earnhardt, who is also Patrick’s Nationwide Series boss, said. “I didn’t know who was in the 10 car until Steve (Letarte, his crew chief) told me because I saw 10 on the board, and I’m thinking, There’s no 10; who’s in the 10?

“But she’s been relatively quiet, and that’s probably good for her to be able to come in here and work and get everything done she wants to get done and concentrate on her driving and concentrate on her new team and everybody. She’s learning a whole new group of guys, and the nuances of the Cup car versus the Nationwide car. As far as I can tell it’s been a pretty quiet day, considering.”

Junior needs to watch more TV.

Matt Kenseth a dead beat? Kind of sounded like it on Thursday.

Matt Kenseth is sans beard and, possibly, $2,500. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Erik J. Perel)

Apparently Kenseth made a bet with Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the latter’s ’70s-themed New Year’s Eve party. Earnhardt bet the Roush Fenway Ford driver $2,500 that Kenseth would shave the beard he was growing by Daytona.

From the sound of it, Kenseth was trying to wriggle out of paying up.

“It looked really stupid,” Kenseth said of the beard. “But I hate losing any money and he kept upping the money and upping the money, so finally I said, OK, but I checked first to make sure I didn’t have any photos or anything. And then I got a call. ‘Oh, yeah, Monday, by the way, you’ve got to do a photo here and you’ve got to do this interview and do a photo shoot there.’ So anyway, so I guess I lost. Although this (stubble on his face) technically should count. It’s three days old, two days.”

Kenseth also learned a lesson on alcohol and its affects on the human memory.

“Back when he was younger he could have had enough beers in him where he wouldn’t have remembered that, but I guess he remembered it,” Kenseth said.

NASCAR officials announced after Thursday’s test sessions that they were not satisfied with rule changes made prior to the test – changes designed to bust up tandem racing. They said that on Day 2, they would mandate restrictor plates with bigger holes. Yep, bigger holes.

That would add power to engines that were already pushing the cars past the 200 mph mark on Thursday.

Driver Carl Edwards was asked about that decision.

“So they want the cars to be … they want them to be faster?” Edwards said. “Hmm. So they close the grill up, they lower the pressure five pounds, and they gave us a bigger plate? This is going to be wild.

“At the end of the day, NASCAR walks a fine line of … I believe they do, of making the cars hard enough to drive that they’re not in a giant dangerous pack and that people aren’t super aggressive with them. So they’ve got to make them hard enough to drive that we drive down the corner and we aren’t quite sure what’s going to happen with the car. You know, it slides, and then they don’t want to make it so hard that the race is – one guy runs away from the field and it’s not exciting for the fans, because let’s face it, the fans come to Daytona to see an exciting, crazy race, a pack of cars or two cars teamed up, and that’s what fans – it seems like to me that’s what fans come to see.

“In my opinion, one of the neatest races I’ve ever been in as a driver here was one where I guess everybody thought Goodyear got the tire wrong. I thought they got it just right because it was so slippery, you’d drive in the corner and have to lift and slide the car, and it was like driving a big two-and-a-half-mile dirt track. It was a blast. But I guess it was really boring to watch.

“I’m all for higher speeds, less grip, make the cars harder to drive. That’s fine with me.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 13 2012
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