Junior returns to Victory Lane

From the Crossville Chronicle – Crossville, Tn. Wednesday February 13, 2008

By Joe Dunn / joe@onpitroad.com
In his first appearance in the 88 National Guard Hendrick Motor Sports Impala, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made all the right moves in Saturday‘s Bud Shootout. By way of a draw for the line up, Jr. started seventh, but it only took him 5 laps to get to the front and take the lead.
The racing was fast and intense with only four cautions, the first of which came out on lap 17 when Bill Elliott cut down a tire and came to a stop along the outside wall. Earnhardt’s lead on lap 5 was short lived as Carl Edwards took over until lap 23. Junior would take the lead seven times for 47 laps, but the most important was with 2 laps to go. Tony Stewart was leading the race with Junior chasing on the outside, thanks to a bump from teammate Jimmie Johnson Earnhardt was able to slip by for the lead where he stayed to collect the checkers.
The welcome of Earnhardt to the HMS organization was evident as the Hendrick crew chiefs lined up on pit road to congratulate Junior on his first HMS win. The win was a welcome sign for Junior, his team and ‘Junior Nation’ (his fans) who went through the entire 2007 season without a visit to Victory lane. Crew Chief Tony Eury Jr. dedicated the win to one of the team car set up specialist, Joey Arnold. Joey’s 5 year old son, Cayden passed away last month after suffering from a lung condition. A few days after Cayden’s death, Joey returned to work much to the surprise of Eury and others. Joey told Eury that this was his best chance to be part of a Daytona 500 winning team and he wanted to share that. They have not won the 500 yet, but this could be the first step to getting there.
Before the celebrating ended Saturday the teams were hard at work getting ready for Sunday’s qualifying for the 50th running of the Daytona 500. Fifty-three teams took to the 2.5 mile, high banked, historical track in the first stage to make the Big race. At the end of the day, only two cars would be locked into starting positions, Jimmie Johnson on the Pole and Michael Waltrip to start along side him. Of the top five qualifiers, three were in Toyotas, a big change from 2007. Although only the front row is locked into position, three of the go or go home cars are now locked into the race. Waltrip by being on the front row along with Joe Nemecheck and David Reutimann, the third and fourth fastest qualifiers.
Next up will be the Gatorade Duels on Thursday, two 150 lap races will take place Thursday and broadcast on SpeedTV. The first Duel starts at 1PM (cst) with the second following at 3:30PM (cst). Starting positions 3-36 will be determined by these races, filled by the taking the top 35 teams in 2007 owners points plus the two top finishers in each Duel not in the top 35. Next will be the 3 fastest qualifying go or go home cars from Sunday, plus an eligible past champion. In the case where no past champion is in line, the next fastest non top 35 car makes it in.
There are three eligible past champions in the line up, Dale Jarrett, who used 6 past champion starts last year and will retire after the March Bristol race, Bill Elliott and Kurt Bush. Bush finished seventh in owners points in 2007, however with Nascar’s permission, Penske racing transferred those points to the 77 team and driver Sam Hornish Jr. That makes Bush the most recent ‘Past Champion’ not in the top 35. Unlike Jarrett or Elliott it is unlikely Bush will need to use many if any of those provisional starts.
After Thursday, there is no time to relax, as Friday night at 6:30Pm (cst) SpeedTV will broadcast the Nascar Craftsman Truck Series, Chevy Silverado 250. On Saturday ESPN2 will broadcast the Nascar Nationwide Series, season opener, The
Camping World 300 at 11:00AM (cst). The culmination of Speed Week 2008 comes Sunday as the 50th running of the Daytona 500 will air in FOX TV starting at 2:30PM (cst).