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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dale Jr. Lone Hendrick Horse In First Gatorade Duel

Of and on, during the Budweiser Shootout Saturday night and during Daytona 500 qualifying, you could hear announcers and commentators talk about how the racing for this years 500 will be different: a combination of pack and tandem racing.  Many have suggested that the change could benefit some of the more traditional restrictor plate racers, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. who had much early career success at restrictor plate tracks.

Junior may be glad to see the change for Sunday's race, but he is likely to be relieved with the change going into Thursday's duel qualifying.  Out of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars preparing for the Daytona 500, Earnhardt Jr. is the only one that will be in the early qualifying race.  As the duel lineups are set by qualifying, odds in the early race and evens in the late race, Earnhardt entered the early lineup with a 3rd place qualifying effort.  The other Hendrick cars, Gordon 6th, Johnson 12th, and Hendrick newcomer Kahne 24th, will all be in the later duel.

One other plus this year is that Junior qualified so well.  Although Earnhardt Jr has qualified well for the Daytona 500 before (he has one pole), the stout showing by the teams with Ford engines had most people feeling as though the Fords had the pole locked up.  Apparently, the changing winds that had been pushing the cars around all afternoon worked somewhat to Earnhardt's advantage, because coming through turn 3 and 4 he began to pick up steam and rose from 5th to almost 2nd on the speed tracker.  Also I am sure Earnhardts knowledge and experience at the track helped him find a little speed.

Whether Earnhardt Jr wins the Daytona 500 or another more traditional pack racer like Gordon, it is safe to say that after the showing on Saturday night that the product of NASCAR's changes will be a wild finish.  No doubt there will be pack racing, and like it or leave it there will be small bursts of tandem racing.  I guess its a little of each and a whole lot of speed.  If you don't love Daytona, you don't love racing.
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