Mayfield sets early pace in Japan MOTEGI CITY, Japan (Nov. 20, 1998) Jeremy Mayfield posted the fastest speed, 156.237 mph, as the practice for Sunday's much-awaited '98 NASCAR Special Thunder Coca-Cola 500 got under way at Twin Ring Motegi in...
Mayfield sets early pace in Japan
MOTEGI CITY, Japan (Nov. 20, 1998) Jeremy Mayfield posted the fastest speed, 156.237 mph, as the practice for Sunday's much-awaited '98 NASCAR Special Thunder Coca-Cola 500 got under way at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. Mayfield's Friday speed, in the Penske-Kranefuss Mobil 1 Ford Taurus, was overshadowed, perhaps, by an equally special event: the first joint appearance in NASCAR by father-and-son Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The senior Earnhardt, a seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion, drove the first car onto the 1.549-mile superspeedway, a few seconds after 2 p.m. Japan time. He beat his son, the 1998 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division champion onto Twin Ring Motegi's smooth asphalt. But the younger Earnhardt held the edge in lap speeds when Friday's single practice session ended. Earnhardt Jr. was eighth fastest in the Coca-Cola Polar Bear Chevrolet Monte Carlo, with a speed of 154.625. His father was one spot back, in the Coca Cola Classic Chevrolet, at 153.717. "We didn't go as fast as he did," joked the senior Earnhardt. "I guess I let the kid beat the old man." Answered Earnhardt Jr.: "We were working on a qualifying set-up. We were learning the race track, not racing each other." Neither driver, however, really cared about who was fastest among the pair. They were overjoyed at being able to share the same race track, although the elder Earnhardt expressed a hope he'll have the car to beat in the $1.1 million event, which will be broadcast live to the United States on Saturday, Nov. 21, at 10:30 p.m. EDT by Superstation TBS, and that his son "will be one who tries to beat us." "It's a super race track," Earnhardt added. "It's hard to compare (turns) three and four with anywhere we race, although one and two are tight, like Phoenix (International Raceway.) It's a nice little track." Added Earnhardt Jr.: "It reminds me of St. Louis (Gateway International Raceway), but twice as wide. It's excellent. The asphalt's very smooth; the car gets a good grip." The elder Earnhardt, recalling that he and his son always have been competitive, even when they caught fish together on Lake Norman near Charlotte, N.C. He figures "Little E" will be all business when Sunday's 500-kilometer race begins. "He'll be competitive against me, maybe even more so than he was in the past," he told reporters. For the moment, the younger Earnhardt was content to savor the moment, which came just days after he clinched the NASCAR Busch Series title at the Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex in South Florida. "The feeling I got with being on the same track as my dad was a different feeling than when I won the championship," he explained. "I didn't grow up thinking I was going to win the NASCAR Busch Series championship (but) when I was a little kid, sitting in the grandstand watching my dad, I always told myself I wanted to have a chance to race against him. This is very important." The senior Earnhardt thanked Coca-Cola for providing the sponsorship vehicle that brought the pair together, accelerating the event by at least six months. "It's a unique opportunity for him to get a feel for what it's going to be like to race in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series," he concluded. Still, the Earnhardts weren't the only story as practice for Japan's first NASCAR superspeedway event began. Mayfield barely nosed out '97 NASCAR Thunder Special Suzuka winner Mike Skinner, who rebounded from an early brush with the Turn 2 wall to post the afternoon's second fastest speed, 155.691. Skinner blamed cold tires for the slide into the outside barrier which inflicted minor damage to the right side of his Lowe's Home Improvement Stores Chevrolet. He wasn't the only competitor who had problems during the one and one-half hour session, although crews were expected to repair Brendan Gaughan's NAPA/Orleans Hotel & Casino Chevrolet and the National Cold Storage/Red Line Oil Chevrolet of Rich Woodland Jr. in time for Saturday's pole qualifying runs. Jeff Burton, who held top speed for much of the session, settled for the third fastest lap, at 155.283. His Roush Racing Ford is carrying the colors of motion picture action star Bruce Lee for Sunday's Coca-Cola 500. Bobby Hamilton showed fourth fastest in the Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet, with a speed of 155.236. Sterling Marlin was fifth quick, at 154.852, in Sabco Racing's Coors Chevrolet. Recently crowned NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon had the sixth fastest time in the DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet, a lap of 154.852. He was followed by Darrell Waltrip, who's subbing for Dale Jarrett in Yates Racing's Ford Quality Care Ford, at 154.677. The Earnhardts and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series veteran Lance Norick completed Friday's fastest top-10 drivers.
Source: NASCAR Online