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Earnhardt Jr. Won’t Just Be Along For The ‘Ride’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 23 2012

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says hanging toward the back of the pack in Thursdays Gatorade Duels will not be his style. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With NASCAR’s rules guaranteeing starting spots in the Daytona 500 to the top 35 teams in last year’s car owner points standings, there’s really not much reason for drivers to run hard in Thursday’s 150-mile Gatorade Duel qualifying races.

In fact, the way restrictor plate races of late have played out, there’s often not much point in a driver running hard until the finish of any race. Many times it’d better to try to avoid the Big Wreck and save the car for a shot at the win.

But Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that laying low in the Duels – and in the race itself – just isn’t for him.

“I want to go up and win the race,” Earnhardt said. “I just don’t spend a lot of time thinking about riding in the back. I don’t waste a minute of the day doing that.”

He did acknowledge that the “riding” strategy could work and that he has tried it – unsuccessfully – in the past.

“If that is something you wanted to do I think it would work,” he said. “However I don’t plan on doing it. I never really plan on doing it. It may sound like we make that decision prior to the race; but you make it during the race when something happens, or you see something happen that you don’t like. You’re like ‘man, these guys are probably going to wreck; I don’t want to be right up behind it. I can’t get around them because the track is four- or three-wide or whatever.’ So you move back a couple of hundred yards.”

He described the planning in advance of a “riding” strategy as “poor judgment” because “you are not thinking about what you need to do to win the race. You are thinking about going backwards. That is not something I want to concentrate on.”

Of course the Duels are different, especially for those already locked into the 500. Therefore A.J. Allmendinger said he’ll likely take few chances in his Duel.

“Maybe I’ll try to get up there in the mix and maybe go for the lead,” he said. “If not, maybe just hang back again.

“Of course you’d like to win the Duel, but the thing coming out of the Duel is not having a wrecked race car. I look at it with 10, 5 to go, kind of that opening, try and take the lead and go for the win. If not, maybe make one run at it and if that doesn’t work, bail out and at that point it doesn’t matter.”

Where drivers are laying low is in their approach to practice, as Denny Hamlin explained.

“I don’t think we’re going to run a whole lot,” he said. “I just simply think that there is so much work that goes in if you do damage your car and have to go to a backup car — it’s just too much work that has to be done in a short amount of time.

“You’re going to minimize your risk as much as possible, especially here today.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 23 2012
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