Jr. will drive to win

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006

Today would have been Dale Earnhardt’s 55th birthday and it is only fitting that last night he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame along with Harry Gant, Humpy Wheeler, Janet Guthrie, and Jack Roush.

More fitting is that the Hall of Fame is located in Talladega, site of this week’s race, and the three Dale Earnhardt Inc. drivers will honor Earnhardt by driving black cars for the Busch and Cup races this weekend.

Since Earnhardt’s death at Daytona in 2001, some will argue that he has impacted NASCAR more than when he was alive.

Tremendous advances in driver safety came as a direct result of his death. The mandatory use of a head and neck restraint device for every driver, the implementation of SAFER barriers at the tracks, and the development of the Car of Tomorrow all were put in motion as a result of Earnhardt’s on-track death.

Earnhardt was a master of restrictor plate racing and specifically at Talladega, winning 10 times in 44 races. Some of the most memorable moments in NASCAR history occurred at Talladega and involved Earnhardt.

My favorite Earnhardt move at Talladega came in 2000 when he restarted in 18th position after a caution, and with five laps to go, passed 17 cars to end up in victory lane. It would be the last time that we would see the Intimidator in take the checkered flag.

More than any other track, Talladega is an Earnhardt hotbed and what I would give to see the fan reaction when Junior takes the track in the black no. 8 car. I can just imagine the reaction and can just imagine what Junior will be feeling while driving that car.

While I was trying to decide earlier in the week who I thought would win this race, my decision was easy when the announcement was made about the new paint schemes. Not that the color of a car makes a difference in a car’s performance, but this will be a magical moment, much like the summer race at Daytona in 2001. Junior won that race, just like he will win this race.

The new NASCAR mandated softer front bumper will make its debut this weekend. The new bumper is intended to eliminate the bump drafting that became such a story during Speedweeks at Daytona last February.

We’ll see what the outcome is, but I believe that we will still see much of the same driving styles as we always see at the super speedways. It is the only way to pass on these tracks with a restrictor plate.

Several drivers will be on pins and needles during qualifying, having to make the race on speed. Out of the top 35 in owner’s points are Michael Waltrip, David Stremme, Travis Kvapil and Brent Sherman.

All must race into the show or go home. Waltrip is 35th in driver’s points, but 36th in owner’s points, so it might be tough on good ole Mikey.

This week’s race coverage on FOX starts at 1:30 p.m. with the green flag dropping around 2:10.

Enjoy the race.