February 20, 2014

Daytona drought hasn’t dampened Earnhardt’s confidence

Daytona notes

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a strong restrictor-plate racer, but he hasn’t won on a super speedway since 2004, when he won at Daytona and Talladega.

That’s a long drought, but he said he doesn’t think about it.

“I don’t have time to do that, honestly. And I have run second in three of the last four Daytona 500s,” he said. “None of them were a win, but that is nothing to be ashamed of. I still feel like we run well enough at these tracks for me to continue to come into them with confidence, and just in myself, regardless of the car.”

Earnhardt also won at Atlanta, Richmond, Bristol and Phoenix in 2004, at Chicago in 2005 and at Michigan in 2006 and 2012. None of those are super speedways, where NASCAR dampens the speeds.

“I still feel like I do restrictor-plate races well, understand how the draft works rather well, and enjoy racing at them,” he said. “You know, I hope that is always the case. It’s a different challenge every time you come back, and that makes it enjoyable.”

Toyota drought

Toyota has yet to win a Daytona 500, and Matt Kenseth wants to end the drought. But not any more this year than any other year.

“I’m sure people from Toyota could probably answer that question better than me, but I would assume it’s important to win the Daytona 500, and important to win a championship — those are two things they haven’t done yet since they’ve been in the sport,” he said. “Obviously, that’s always our focus. I don’t think we’ve put any more or less effort into the Daytona 500 than we did last year.”

Toyota has won in Sprint Cup at Daytona, but it was in the July race in 2008 by Kyle Busch.

Johnson’s final four

Jimmie Johnson was asked to predict the final four in Homestead, and he obliged.

“Certainly have got to put the No. 48 car in there,” he said. “I think the No. 20, the No. 18 and the No. 24 would be my four.”

Those are himself, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon. He and Gordon are Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Kenseth and Busch are Joe Gibbs Racing drivers.

“I’m going off of how we all run at those three tracks leading in,” Johnson said. “Those are the first three faces that came to mind from Martinsville, Texas and what is the other one? Talladega? I guess Talladega, it could be anybody. But Martinsville and Texas, those are the faces I saw fighting off for the win.”

Wallace hopes

Darrell Wallace Jr., who last season became NASCAR’s first African-American winner in 50 years when he won a truck race at Martinsville, said he can be a championship contender.

“For sure. After what we learned last year, I think we’re really going to be a force to reckon with,” he said.

Wallace said team owner Kyle Busch makes a difference.

“Having Kyle more involved and talking with him more has really helped me, and I think it’s really getting our program back up to the top,” Wallace said. “He’s the best in the business when it comes to truck racing and Nationwide racing and can get there in Cup. Taking after him is something I’m proud of.”

Soft ride

Parker Kligerman, flipped upside down in a Wednesday crash in practice, said his first time to have a car end up on its roof wasn’t that bad.

“I assumed that it would be rougher, but it was actually really soft,” he said. “I’m up in the fence kind of floating along, and thankfully none of the fans got injured. That’s obviously a scary situation when a car gets that close to the fence. Then it just flipped over softly.”

“I guess the strongest thing going through me was anger at that time — that we were wrecked. Most importantly, that the fans are OK, and I’m OK, and everyone is OK.”

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