News 97-12-08

NASCARFans E-Mail List Jayski heard from a few of his web page readers that on ESPN`s "Craftsman Truck Series Rear View Mirror" show Tony Raines' crew chief announced that their Pennzoil Dodge will be a Pennzoil Ford next year because Pennzoil...

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Jayski heard from a few of his web page readers that on ESPN`s "Craftsman Truck Series Rear View Mirror" show Tony Raines' crew chief announced that their Pennzoil Dodge will be a Pennzoil Ford next year because Pennzoil has traditionally been with Pontiac, Chevy, and Gm vehichles so they (Pennzoil) asked the team to change to Ford to mix it up a little. He also made it official that Pennzoil liked Tony`s progression and they are going to sponser him in 5 cup races next season with one of Pennzoil`s smaller companies like Jiffy Lube, they did not announce which cup races they will run because they have to see which WC races don`t conflict truck races.(ESPN). ===== A season's worth of emotions let loose Friday night as Jeff Gordon accepted the champion's awards at the 1997 Winston Cup awards banquet.

Gordon's fight to keep his composure was a losing battle.

``I know, Earnhardt. I'm a cry baby, I know,'' Gordon said to Dale Earnhardt, who was in the audience at the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.

No matter how hard he tried, though, Gordon could not shut off the water works. A year's worth of pressure, intensified by a promise he desperately wanted to keep, was finally gone.

``Rick, buddy, this one's for you,'' Gordon said to his car owner Rick Hendrick as he accepted a gold replica of his No. 24 Chevrolet. Gordon got a gold car when he won the 1995 title, and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Terry Labonte, got one as last year's champion.

Hendrick wanted a gold car, and Gordon promised him one.

One year ago, Hendrick was on top of the world.

But the week before last year's banquet, Hendrick was indicted on criminal charges relating to his car dealerships. And although he didn't confirm it until later, it was about that time doctors told Hendrick he had a rare, life-threatening form of leukemia. Hendrick, weakened by his treatment, was unable to attend a race during Gordon's second championship season. Friday night, he was home in Charlotte watching on ESPN as his wife, Linda, and father, Papa Joe, represented the family in New York. ``This has been the most difficult year of our lives,'' Linda Hendrick said. ``But you have continued to be an incredible example for all of us to follow.

``You have lived a season of joy and pain, of triumph and adversity . . . Tonight we congratulate you, not only as a great car owner, but as a greater person.''

After that, what chance did Gordon have?

Gordon barely made it through thanking his wife, Brooke -- ``I couldn't live without you,'' he said -- and tried to gather himself for the final, most difficult portion of his evening.

``We all wish Rick could be here tonight,'' Gordon said. ``That's why I would like to dedicate this championship and this night to him.''

When it was over, Gordon and a few hundred well-wishers packed into a smaller ballroom for a party.

Donna Summer -- yes, that Donna Summer -- provided the music. A season's worth of accomplishment provided the reason to be there.

Speaking of Earnhardt, he's never exactly thrilled to be at an awards banquet when he's not sitting at the champion's head table. This year was no exception.

``We didn't win the championship,'' he said. ``Big deal. It's over with, I can't do anything about it but lick my wounds. I can lay around and heal up, focus on getting better and stronger for next year, and that's what we're going to do.''

Asked if he'd relish a shot at battling Gordon to win a title, which would be a record eighth in his career, Earnhardt took a shot at Gordon instead.

``Not really,'' Earnhardt said. ``He's too prissy for me.''

It was a joke. Earnhardt respects the 26-year-old who sits atop a sport Earnhardt once ruled.

``He's a hell of a racer,'' Earnhardt said. ``That's what I see as the same that I had, the determination when he gets in that race car. He's a very focused driver, very determined, and he goes out and gets the job done.''

The top-10 finishers in points took home checks for about twice the announced minimums expected. Ken Schrader was guaranteed $75,000 for 10th, but his check was for $164.500.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. President Bruton Smith won the NASCAR Award of Excellence for his work in establishing Speedway Children's Charities. Even while accepting the honor from NASCAR President Bill France Jr., however, Smith couldn't resist getting in a dig.

Hinting at his desire to have a second date at his Texas Motor Speedway, and at France's bout with a heart condition on last weekend's trip to Japan, Smith hoisted his trophy and said, ``Bill, let's don't go back to Japan.''

Teams are already working on 1998. That's especially true in the Ford camp, where teams must prepare the Taurus for next season. Their off-season task? ``We just have to make sure we are in a tunnel, not a cave,'' one Ford official said. (David Poole, Charlotte Observer)

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