ACDelco 200 Friday Notebook By Shawn A. Akers
ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Oct. 30, 1998) Some notes and quotes Friday surrounding Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division ACDelco 200 at North Carolina Speedway:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has shown his mastery of most of the race tracks in the NASCAR Busch Series this season. North Carolina Speedway, however, is one that he's still trying to figure out. "Rockingham is one of the most confusing tracks I have raced on," the current leader in the NASCAR Busch Series point race said. "I haven't had a good run here yet, but it's looking like that is going to change. It really has helped to build my confidence after testing here last week.
"I have a feeling this time when we race here we will have a good run. (Crew chief) Tony (Eury) and the guys have given me such great cars week in and week out. And knowing that, I can get in and drive the No. 3 AC/Delco Monte Carlo with no worries."
Earnhardt Jr., who is 102 points ahead of Matt Kenseth for the championship, finished 16th in the GM Goodwrench 200 at North Carolina Speedway back in February.
The spring NASCAR Busch Series event at North Carolina Speedway has a new sponsor. Alltel Communications will be the title sponsor of the 200-lap event to be held on February 20, 1998.
"We are very proud to be the official sponsor of the Alltel 200," said Dan Lohr, president of Alltel's North Carolina market area. "This move further strengthens our company's commitment to being a good corporate citizen and leader in this fast-paced telecommunications arena. We expect this agreement to be beneficial for all involved -- Alltel, Penske Motorsports and all the avid NASCAR fans who enjoy this exciting spectator event."
"We are very pleased to be partnering with Alltel," said Jo DeWitt Wilson, president and CEO of North Carolina Speedway. "Alltel's commitment to their customers and our desire to provide the best racing facility and services will make this a winning combination for our guests."
North Carolina Speedway is a place near and dear to Casey Atwood's heart, and with good reason. The 18-year-old youngster from the Nashville, Tenn., area made his NASCAR Busch Series debut at the 1.017-mile oval back in February, qualifying 15th and finishing 21st. This time, however, he's got some experience under his belt. He's run 10 races this year, with a best finish of second at his home track of Nashville Speedway U.S.A. back in March. "A lot has changed since the spring race," Atwood said. "I'm not so intimidated by the larger oval tracks or by my competition. My goal for this weekend is to improve my first qualifying attempt and my finish. I'd like to give this team its first top-10 finish of the season. They deserve it."
North Carolina Speedway also holds special significance for Hermie Sadler. The race track is where Sadler began his streak of 168 consecutive starts inn the NASCAR Busch Series, on Oct. 24, 1992. Sadler made the field for Saturday's AC/Delco 200, making it 169 consecutive starts. The streak is a NASCAR Busch Series record.
Mike McLaughlin has a bit of a streak going of his own at North Carolina Speedway. The driver of the No. 34 Goulds Pump Chevrolet has five consecutive top-10 finishes at Rockingham, dating back to 1996.
McLaughlin finished fifth in the GM Goodwrench 200 back in February. His best finish at Rockingham is second, in the spring race in 1996.
"Our race team has had a lot of success over the last few years in Rockingham, and hopefully we can add to our history with a win this weekend," McLaughlin said. "I really enjoy racing there, with a smooth handling race car and a little racing luck, we can grab our third win of the season on Saturday."
A NASCAR Busch Series regular has not won the AC/Delco 200 at North Carolina Speedway in quite some time. Steve Grissom was the last NASCAR Busch Series regular to do so, in 1990. Since then, Mark Martin has won the fall race at Rockingham five times, Bobby Labonte once and Ernie Irvan once. Irvan was the last driver to win the fall race at Rockingham from the pole.
And the plot thickens. Matt Kenseth, 102 points behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the NASCAR Busch Series points race coming into Saturday's AC/Delco 200, will be forced to go to a backup car and start at the rear of the field on Saturday as a result of a crash in the final NASCAR Busch Series practice on Friday afternoon. Kenseth, who qualified his No. 17 LYCOS.com Chevrolet in the second position on Friday behind pole sitter Tony Stewart, got together with Randy LaJoie between turns 1 and 2 during the final practice and destroyed his car. LaJoie will not have to go to a backup car. Earnhardt Jr. qualified eighth on Friday, making his prospects brighter for winning the NASCAR Busch Series championship with three races remaining.
Bobby Hamilton Jr., the son of Bobby Hamilton, driver of the No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, will make his first NASCAR Busch Series start on Saturday at "The Rock." The younger Hamilton qualified 27th on Friday with a lap of 150.283 mph in his No. 95 Shoney's Inn Pontiac. Hamilton Jr. has three top-five finishes in four career starts in the ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series. In 1999, he will drive a full schedule for Sadler Racing in the NASCAR Busch Series.
Source: NASCAR Online