Earnhardt still being quizzed about family race team
If he thought he was finished answering questions about the family business, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has quickly found out he was wrong.
At least now, he's the family member who started the business, and his weekend job is a lot more fun than it was last year.
Earnhardt, who wobbled to a 16th-place finish in NASCAR's top series in 2007 - his last year with Dale Earnhardt Inc., which his late, legendary father founded, and step-mom runs to this day - enters Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 third in the Sprint Cup standings.
He and new Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are all on pace to qualify for the 10-race, season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins with the Sept. 14 Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
After practicing Friday for Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at NHMS, though, Earnhardt was pestered about his "personal" team, which he founded in 2002 with a Street Stock program that raced at Concord (N.C.) Motorsports Park. Today, JR Motorsports, with support from Hendrick, happens to field the No. 2 team in the Nationwide Series. Earnhardt - to his regret - has discussed moving that team to the Cup series.
"I shouldn't have said that," Earnhardt said. "I should have just kept that to myself, because I really don't want to talk about it in the press. That's personal to me, what I do with my business, and I damn sure ain't going to air my timeline out to the media. If we feel like we want to do it, we'll do it."
If (when?) Earnhardt makes that call, he'll follow in his dad's footsteps. Although his father founded Dale Earnhardt Inc. (and ultimately hired his son), the elder Earnhardt continued to drive for Richard Childress Racing until his death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Earnhardt Jr., who ultimately left DEI for Hendrick after last season, seemed to hint that he'd keep driver Brad Keselowski and his Nationwide team where it is.
Keselowski, 24, enters Saturday's Camping World RV Sales 200 on a hot streak: He has finished eighth or better in five straight races, including his first win (Nashhville) and first pole (last Saturday, at Milwaukee), to move from seventh in points to second.
"My (Nationwide) team is doing great," Earnhardt said. "I'd be foolish to make too many changes right now. It would be smart to keep things how they are while they're working."
Things worked pretty well for Earnhardt on Friday. While his practice was fair -- 12th-fastest, at 127.594 miles per hour -- he picked up his pace in qualifying. After waiting out a two-hour rain delay (a thunderstorm soaked the track after half the field had set times), he turned a lap of 128.885 that puts him fifth on Sunday's grid.
New Hampshire has been a decent track for Earnhardt. He had five finishes between third and ninth place over a six-race period from 2003-05, and led both races here last season. He finished fourth in last July's race, which he led for 64 laps.
Earnhardt doesn't have a Cup win at NHMS, but he is winning again: With only fumes left in his fuel tank, he won June 15 at Michigan - his first victory since May 6, 2006 at Richmond.
"I was pretty happy with our car," Earnhardt said. "We tested real good for this race, and this car seems to be pretty close."
Patrick Carpentier, who formerly starred in the IRL, Champ Car and CART series, was the surprise pole winner, smoking the field with a lap of 129.776 nearly seven-tenths of a second better than that of Bobby Labonte's 129.059. Carpentier, who didn't qualify for three of the season's first five races, sits 37th in points in his first full season.
"It's amazing," said Carpentier, who has made only 17 Cup starts and hasn't finished better than 23rd this year. "I was hoping it was going to rain so that we could make the race (based on points), but it didn't, and we're on the pole."
Points leader Kyle Busch will start 27th. Three spots ahead of Busch is Casey Mears, Earnhardt's soon-to-be-former teammate. Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday that Mears won't return to the team for 2009.