NASCAR is hinting broadly that it will reduce the horsepower in the cars next year, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. said you might as well believe it.
“I think it’s coming whether you like it or not,” he said. “I choose as an individual to get on the side of being productive in that discussion instead of saying we don’t need to do it and trying to fight it.”
Earnhardt’s contribution to the discussion is the idea of smaller engines, not necessarily bigger engines that have their power reduced, either through a rules package or a restrictor plate.
“When you go to a smaller engine, you preserve some throttle response,” he said. “You preserve some reaction in the gas pedal and give the driver a few more tools to be able to use out on the racetrack when he is driving his race car. When you put a plate on those cars, you take tons of throttle response out of the car. Setting up a pass, particularly on a track that is worn out like this, is a little more challenging with a plate rather than an open engine that is smaller.”
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NASCAR ostensibly wants to lower costs for the teams and improve competition by going to less horsepower.
“I don’t think they’re trying to make it more competitive,” Earnhardt said. “I think the racing is competitive any way you slice it. I can enjoy a race where a guy laps the field as much as I can enjoy one where they are side by side across the finish line. There is something to be appreciated about both ways of winning and how a race plays out.”
Busch ‘will be fine’
Kurt Busch is going to be fine in his debut in the Indianapolis 500, said former IndyCar Series driver A.J. Allmendinger.
The big thing will be getting used to driving the open-wheel car in traffic on the famed 2.5-mile oval.
“Just the way those cars race at Indy compared to driving by yourself, it’s a lot different,” Allmendinger said. “And I spent a lot of time during the month of May last year trying to learn how to be in traffic. And heck, I even went into the race still wishing I had more practice. So that’s a big challenge. But I think he’ll be fine. He can wheel a race car, for sure.”
Busch will get about a week of practice time for the Indy 500, which he is running before the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25.
Johnson: Win ‘is coming’
Jimmie Johnson said he didn’t feel like he had a legitimate shot at victory until the last two races.
“To go back-to-back weeks with an honest look at a victory is very cool,” he said. “We’re at another great racetrack for the No. 48 team. Dover is out there before long. We’ve had success at Darlington. So I feel like we have some good opportunities ahead.”
Johnson said he realizes his winless status will become more of a topic as the season goes along.
“Maybe I’m naive or stupid or something else, but the season takes on so many different changes,” he said. “I feel like we’ve had a few looks here recently at a victory, and I feel like it’s coming and hope that it’s coming soon so that I don’t have to answer the question.”
Tony Stewart won the pole for the Duck Commander 500, becoming the seventh top qualifier in seven races this season. That hasn’t happened in Sprint Cup since 1983.
The series has also had six winners in its first six races, a first since 2003.
It was a fast qualifying session. Earnhardt, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick each topped the previous fast lap, by Kyle Busch last year. The mark is now 198.282 mph, or 27.234 seconds around the mile and a half.
Ford qualified six of the top 10 drivers, led by 2012 Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski on the outside of the front row.
Rain is likely to get in the way of the Duck Commander 500, with a 70 percent chance forecast.
However, it is not expected to be a day-long rain, and the track has NASCAR’s “Air Titan” drying system. So even if the race has to run at night, TMS has lights that will allow the race to start and/or finish at night.
“For me personally, I try to relax and try to get my mind away from racing because I think sitting there and just mulling over the race for five hours and then actually racing for 3 1/2 hours — you just wear yourself out,” driver Brian Vickers said. “Sometimes you watch a movie, sometimes a show. More times than not, I’ll just work on a book I’m reading and just chill and relax.”