Fitting In: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Happy To Be "Doing Work" At Las Vegas * Preparing For His Rookie Season, Sam Hornish Jr. Anticipates Another Family Debut * Denny Hamlin Fastest In Monday Morning's Test Session DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 28,...
Fitting In: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Happy To Be "Doing Work" At Las Vegas
* Preparing For His Rookie Season, Sam Hornish Jr. Anticipates Another
* Denny Hamlin Fastest In Monday Morning's Test Session
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 28, 2008) -- On a day when gale-force winds scoured southern Utah and surrounding mountains, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard Chevrolet) was happy to be sitting in his race car, getting rocked by the gusts buffeting Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"I'm having fun testing, doing work," Earnhardt said during a lunch-break visit to the track's infield media center. "I just want to be working, doing something. The guys have been preparing for the season, getting the shop and the cars ready. It's good to be here testing. It feels good to be working, driving the car, talking, giving input, being an asset. You know, that's really good enough for me."
In his first weeks of a much-heralded transition to Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt and 48 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series peers spent Monday -- the first of two test days at Las Vegas -- battling wind nearly as much as handling, set-up and other research.
And Earnhardt admits he's still science-ing out his new role in Hendrick's star-studded stable -- a lineup that includes two-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Casey Mears (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet).
"I'm just taking it in, man," Earnhardt said. "I mean, I'm just listening to what they're saying and trying to find out what kind of drivers they are and how serious about their work they are. Listening to the crew chiefs.
"I'm just trying to figure out how serious they are about their jobs, what the temperature is, you know. Sort of how to be or how to act around them, what they want from me, what they'd like to know from me."
This week's work -- part of the West Coast swing of NASCAR Preseason Thunder, NASCAR's annual preseason tests -- is particularly important because the 2008 season marks the first fulltime campaign for NASCAR's new car. Data mined Monday and Tuesday at Las Vegas, and on Thursday and Friday at California Speedway, will carry NASCAR Sprint Cup teams a long way into the season's opening months.
And for Earnhardt, it's a few more laps of assimilation into his new role.
"I definitely never really was the kind of guy that's a stand-up leader," he said Monday. "If I end up leading, that's fine. But I never really try to take those types of situations under my own control. I mean, I think every other week there's going to be a different guy that's sort of helping run that deal, being at the top of it, as far as drivers go. Hopefully we're all sort of enjoying some of that."
Hamlin, Hornish Finding Their Vegas Footing ... Three other drivers dropped by the Las Vegas infield media center Monday to chat with media. All noted the fierce winds, which were forecast to subside by nightfall. Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) noted the wind lashing his car and its effect on certain mechanical parts.
Monday's morning session also was shortened approximately 30 minutes by intermittent rain showers. Teams were scheduled to run until 5:30 p.m. PT, which extended the afternoon session by 30 minutes.
Despite showers and wind, work continued.
"The wind this morning didn't make anything particularly easy," said Sam Hornish (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge), the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion from Penske Racing, who will compete for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors in 2008. "But just trying to get as much knowledge as we can in the short amount of time that we have."
Hornish, who later drove away from a brush with the Turn 3 wall, knows more laps are never enough. "I still feel like there's so much we have to learn," he said. "I definitely feel this was a good year to be able to come in and do it, because there are other people learning the new car. There's a lot of things that people are going to be confronted with for the first time because of this car."
Change is afoot on the home front, too. Hornish's wife, Crystal, is due to deliver the couple's first child, a daughter, in two weeks, a deadline that coincides with Daytona 500 qualifying.
"I think she's gotten uncomfortable enough. She's like, 'You know what? I want you to be there, but it really doesn't matter anymore,' " Hornish admitted Monday with a smile. " 'I just want to be able to have the baby and be done.' I know she's not going to try to wait on me at all."
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota), who followed Hornish to the media center, was the fastest in Monday's morning session with a time of 178.265 mph (30.292 seconds).
"Our Toyota was really good," Hamlin said during his visit. "It just took a little while to kind of get going there. So far, I've been pretty impressed with both everything from our side and really NASCAR's side, putting these cars on this racetrack. Seems to be going pretty well. Seems like every time we go to a big track with these things, I'm definitely more impressed with how they drive."
Pit Stops .... Following Hamlin on Monday morning's speed chart was Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet), who was second at 178.259 mph (30.292 seconds). Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) was third at 178.153 mph (30.311 seconds). Jeff Gordon was fourth at 178.053 mph (30.328 seconds) and Hamlin's new Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) was fifth at 178.042 mph (30.330 seconds).
Session I: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams at Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- Monday, Jan. 28 through Tuesday, Jan. 29
Session II: NASCAR Nationwide Series teams at Las Vegas -- Wednesday, Jan. 30 through Thursday, Jan. 31
Session III: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams at California Speedway -- Thursday, Jan. 31 through Friday, Feb. 1
What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing
Track Layouts: Las Vegas (1.5-mile tri-oval); California (2-mile oval).
Times: Session I and II -- 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Session III -- 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Jan. 31; 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Feb. 1
Who: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers at Las Vegas and California; NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers at Las Vegas.