Was it a Sonic Boom? No, it was just all of the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans screaming in unison when he sped across the finish line at the Crown Royal 400 from Richmond, gaining his first win in 27 races. A well deserved win for Jr., as his team has been looking more and more like the team of two seasons ago. This win should help bring his confidence level back, because it seemed that there were times that Earnhardt, Jr. had begun to doubt his abilities and he carried those doubts out onto the track. Now with a fresh win under his belt, we’ll probably see much more of the old Jr. that we all are used to seeing.
Challenging Earnhardt, Jr. to the end was rookie Denny Hamlin. Even the 19 stitches in his hand resulting from some rough horsing around with his crew didn’t keep him from driving like a champ for his hometown crowd. "This is by far the biggest race of my career,'' he said. "It's awesome, I can't tell you how I feel. I'm going to ride this wave for months.'' Hamlin is reminding me much of Kasey Kahne in his rookie year, and I don’t think it will be much longer before we see him in Victory Lane.
It looked like it would be another weekend sweep for Kevin Harvick, who led 272 laps. But, when he stayed out on the track after a caution on lap 288, it quickly became apparent that it was not the move to make. Harvick’s crew chief Todd Berrier didn’t want to lose track position, but when all the other drivers near the front took fresh tires, it proved to be too much. "We had a good car, but at the end of the day we didn't win the race," Berrier said. "It hurts." Harvick wound up finishing third, with ten bonus points, and moved up 2 places in the standings. Even though it wasn’t the day he was counting on, he still had a great day.
There was good news and bad news for Tony “Smoke” Stewart. His sixth place finish moved him up to second place, just 51 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, but his streak of leading at least one lap in every race this season is over. No doubt about it though, Stewart and his team are looking even better than they did last year.
Quite possibly the hottest debate in the NASCAR world is the anticipation of Toyota coming in next year. There are some die-hard NASCAR fans that feel that Toyota has no business in NASCAR. After all, NASCAR is supposed to be American cars. Toyota is waving huge paychecks at the drivers to lure them over. Will that put some of the other teams at a disadvantage? Will it end up causing another manufacturer to leave? Only time will tell. Harvick was one of the drivers that had been approached by Toyota, but he has announced that he will be staying with Richard Childress Racing for at least three more years.
Will he or won’t he has been the question on the minds of many of us NASCAR fans, wondering if veteran Dale Jarrett would leave Robert Yates Racing at the end of the season to join one of the new Toyota teams in 2007. We should receive the answer soon. Rumors are pretty strong that he will be heading over there, though. Which of course, brings about the questions as to whether or not UPS will stay with him or with Yates, and who would replace Jarrett if he leaves? Only one sure answer, Silly Season has started really early, and quite honestly, I would at least like to get halfway through the current season before it starts.
Racing at Darlington is a track that I hope NASCAR doesn’t ever abandon. This week we are heading to the “Lady in Black” for the Dodge Charger 500. Although we still miss having the traditional Labor Day race there, Mother’s Day weekend is a good second. This egg-shaped track always gives the driver’s and fans alike a good show. We’ll see who has what it takes to win at the track ‘Too Tough to Tame’ on Saturday night.
Your e-mails this week have been focused mostly on the subject of Toyota. Please keep letting me know how you feel!
Til next week.....