Kerry Earnhardt, T. Labonte Michigan preview

KERRY EARNHARDT (No. 71 Realtree Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Earnhardt, a 30-year-old driver from Mooresville, N.C., will attempt to make his first NASCAR Winston Cup start on Sunday at Michigan. “He (father Dale Earnhardt) feels...

KERRY EARNHARDT (No. 71 Realtree Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Earnhardt, a 30-year-old driver from Mooresville, N.C., will attempt to make his first NASCAR Winston Cup start on Sunday at Michigan. “He (father Dale Earnhardt) feels confident in me and my crew. The connection between him and Dave Marcis and Team Realtree, they all talked a couple of times about it and talked about giving me the opportunity to run the Winston Cup race at Michigan. After the Pocono (ARCA) win, they really made the decision there. Dad came up to us and told us we were going to do this. We went and tested there and had a real successful test. We were real confident after that test about going to Michigan and running this race. “It was unfortunate we had some deals we had with Busch last year. As a young team growing up and learning in racing with an inexperienced driver as I was coming into a very competitive series, we had a sponsor that was real impatient. They kept pushing for the best results. Of course, every sponsor is out there to get their names seen. We just wasn’t ready for all that at the time, and things just didn’t work out the way the sponsors wanted them to. We only lasted about four races. “We came into the ARCA series with some great equipment and some great people behind me. I’ve got my crew chief, Tim Weiss, and my car chief, Vic Radisi, and myself preparing the cars every week. We’ve got people from Dale Earnhardt Inc. supporting us 100 percent. There’s been a tremendous difference. No one has really pushed me to have a top five finish or a win or anything. They just want me to go out there and concentrate on racing and not worry about going out there to win the race and pushing the car too hard. That’s what’s helped me 100 percent this year, being able to focus on driving and focusing on what I’m doing in that car on the track and not really pushing the car over the limit trying to win the race. “This has been kind of a learning curve for me this year. I’m able to go in and be relaxed and calm and not have all the pressure on me that I had with the Busch Series last year. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to race against my brother in Winston Cup racing. It’s a great opportunity that Bill Jordan and Dave Marcis have given me and supported me 100 percent. I think it was at Nashville Motor Speedway when Dale Jr. and I last ran together in late models. It was an exciting. Me and Dale Jr. and Kelly all three ended up racing in that race. We all ended up getting in the same wreck on lap two. We were all able to come in and fix our cars and get back out there and race a little bit. We had a little bit of fun because we really weren’t competitive after we wiped the fenders out on it. “The last name, everybody thinks you’re going to be able to go out there and drive just like Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. I think we’ve seen a little bit of difference in driving styles between dad and Dale Jr. I know there’s a lot of different in my driving style to what dad’s and Dale Jr.’s is. There’s a lot of expectations out there, and there’s some that don’t think we’ve got what it takes, but that’s just from what they’ve seen in the past. Now that we’re running like we are, I think everybody is looking at us a little different than what they used to. My lifelong dream was Winston Cup racing and it’s like an added bonus to have dad and Dale Jr. in the same race that I’ll be racing in. “In the ARCA series, I’ve had dad on the radio spotting for me. Like on the radio at Michigan, he was trying to get me to run the high line to save the tires. I found it hard to run that line like he does. I always went in a little behind and came off the corner low and pinched the corner off coming off. That would end up wearing my tires out and that’s what he was trying to preach to me. That’s just the way I’m comfortable, pinching the corners coming off all corners.”

GARY DEHART (Crew chief No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Two-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte drove a few laps Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway and parked his car. Crew chief Gary DeHart said Labonte didn’t feel well and was scheduled for some medical tests on Tuesday at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. Labonte’s record streak of 655 consecutive starts ended on Aug. 5 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Todd Bodine drove the No. 5 Kellogg’s Monte Carlo to a 15th-place finish in the Brickyard 400. Ron Hornaday finished 15th last Sunday at Watkins Glen in the No. 5 Kellogg’s Monte Carlo. Bodine came to Hendrick Motorsports on Tuesday to work with the crew and may drive the car again on Sunday at Michigan. “Nothing is definite in this business, but the plan right now is for Todd Bodine to drive the car Sunday at Michigan,” DeHart said. “We’ll wait and see what Terry’s (medical) tests show. They may show something that can be treated. We hope they do. There are still some questions about inner ear problems, but we’re just waiting to see. “Todd came in this morning, and that’s going to work out good for us because he’s about the same size as Terry. The last three races have been just about like starting a new team. (Rich Bickle finished the race for Labonte at Pocono on July 23 and finished 11th, followed by Bodine at Indy and Hornaday at Watkins Glen). We’ve got a decent team, but we’ve got to learn about these new drivers and learn what they want in the car. “Terry could take a few laps in the car and we would know from the expression on his face if the car was good. If it wasn’t, we’d know what to do to fix it from what he’d tell us about it and then we’d just do it. You have to build communication with new drivers, and that’s a good thing about Todd because he talks a lot. He’ll chime in and tell you what’s wrong with the car. “All drivers want a little something different in the car, and in a way, that’s good for our team. It helps open our eyes about what’s out there and what some other teams might be running. But you want your driver. An alternate driver just presents another learning curve. It kind of tears up the crew chief’s stomach. We had to move the seat for Rich Bickle and Ron Hornaday, and that’s hard on the team. It’s aged us all a little bit, but we were fortunate to have Bickle and Todd and Hornaday. Hornaday did a hell of a job at Watkins Glen. There wasn’t a scratch on the car after the race, and that’s really saying something there. “We’re taking a car back Sunday that we’ve tested at Michigan, and it was a little loose during the test. We’ve worked on it a lot, so maybe with Todd it’ll be perfect. “It was great to see Steve Park win at Watkins Glen. I don’t like to see the same people win each week. It keeps me motivated. You keep seeing different people win, and you know it’s going to be our time soon. We might be going to the track with a different driver this weekend, but we’re going with the intention of winning. We don’t go to any race with the intent of just running around. You can’t have a good day if you’re just out there riding around. We go to race and win. If something’s off, then something’s off and you run as good as you can, but this is a good team and we’re taking a good driver. If we don’t have problems with our pit stops and everything is working good, then we’ve got a chance to win the race. “Having Terry with you in the pits doesn’t hurt, either. He’s helped us a lot being with us in the pits. If there’s a problem, Terry and I will talk about it during the race, and he can really help us. I think sitting on the sidelines for a couple of races has given Terry a little different insight about the races. I guess the closest he’s ever been to a situation like that has been in the Busch Series. That’s a good show, but watching a Winston Cup race is a little different, and I think Terry has learned that the last couple of weeks. I think maybe Terry didn’t realize how fast things happen on and off the track. I know he’d rather be in the car, but I think he’s been enlightened a little bit watching from the pits.”

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Rich Bickle , Terry Labonte , Steve Park , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Dave Marcis , Kerry Earnhardt , Bill Jordan
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , HART