BUSCH: Pikes Peak Saturday Notes

Lycos.com 250 Saturday Notebook Dave Rodman FOUNTAIN, Colo. (June 13, 1998) Notes and quotes leading up to Sunday's Lycos.com 250 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division race at Pikes Peak International Raceway: Dale Earnhardt Jr. has...

Lycos.com 250 Saturday Notebook Dave Rodman

FOUNTAIN, Colo. (June 13, 1998) Notes and quotes leading up to Sunday's Lycos.com 250 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division race at Pikes Peak International Raceway:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been tearing up the one-mile race tracks of late on the NASCAR Busch Series. He won the Bud Pole Award for the First Union 200 at Nazareth Speedway in May, then won the MBNA Platinum 200 at the end of that month at Dover Downs International Speedway.

Saturday, Earnhardt led both practice sessions for Sunday's inaugural race, including the critical one-hour final practice, where his best lap of the 42 circuits he made was 27.074 seconds, an average speed of 132.969 mph. After practice crew chief Tony Eury said the ACDelco Chevrolet's tire wear had been consistent and he saw no problems looming for his team.

"I don't know for sure that we've got this tire situation figured out," Eury said. "The race track has got exceptionally good grip, so we made sure we scuffed all our tires.

"We made a few long runs, including one of about 27 laps. We haven't seen any tire wear problems, and the temperatures looked pretty good."

Eury said his biggest task might be reigning in his young pilot, who is prone to running hard from the drop of the green. Earnhardt Jr. will start the 250-lap race from the fifth spot in the 43-car field.

"We were just setting up in the front of the track talking about set-ups and things," Eury said. "Dale's a hard charger, but he's not going to be able to do that this time. We've got a good set-up right now but if it gets off in the race you might be in trouble.

"I believe he will run as good here as he did at Nazareth," Eury said of the race that Earnhardt dominated until he was collected in an accident that occurred in front of him. "This is a different style car than he had there, but even though it's a new car it's a style he's really confident and comfortable with."

Bobby Hillin Jr. took all the blame Saturday for a disappointing effort Friday in Bud Pole Qualifying that left him starting in 27th spot. But the No. 8 Clean Shower Chevrolet was dialed back in on Saturday afternoon as Hillin posted the second-best speed behind Earnhardt, 132.724 mph, after running 59 laps.

"Qualifying was all me -- I just drove it too hard down into the corner," Hillin said. "We made a few little changes and we're right where we need to be.

"Our biggest thing is going to be staying out of trouble and getting in synch with the leaders on our pit stops. We scuffed all our tires like everybody else did, so until we race about 70 or 80 laps we won't have much of an idea what tire wear's gonna be like."

Bud Pole winner Matt Kenseth also appeared to have his car dialed in on Saturday, as he was second to Earnhardt in the morning practice and third behind Earnhardt and Hillin in the final session, clocking a 132.597 mph lap.

"The car is working pretty good, but I think as far as the tires go everyone's in the same boat," Kenseth said. "Our car was real neutral in the long runs we tried today and that's a plus. I think if anyone's in good shape as far as tires go, we are.

"This afternoon the car handled well and stayed consistent. The more laps we run and the more rubber we lay down on the track will improve things for everybody."

There was no question Saturday morning that defending Indy Racing League champion Tony Stewart was going to be on a private jet chartered by the International Race of Champions to bring him and defending race winner Randy LaJoie to round three of the True Value Firebird IROC on Saturday afternoon at Michigan Speedway in Brooklyn. However, Stewart would've preferred to remain at Pikes Peak to run Saturday's final practice in his No. 44 Shell Oil Pontiac.

"I'm really not comfortable walking away from this thing and coming back to race tomorrow without getting any more practice," Stewart said. "The car is just too tight, we've been battling it since we've been here and if we'd known what to do to it we would've done it by now."

The No. 44 sat idle for the last hour of practice and will roll off the grid Sunday in the 11th spot.

LaJoie's car, on the other hand, was practiced for 12 laps by the two-time defending NASCAR Busch Series champion's teammate, Tim Fedewa. Fedewa, who ran 46 laps with his own No. 33 Kleenex Chevrolet, ran the fourth quickest lap in final practice, 132.592 mph.

"I'm looking forward to running this race," said Fedewa, who won earlier this year on the one-mile track at Nazareth. "We should race good here considering we usually have good luck on one-mile tracks. And the track is relatively flat which makes for a good combination for this team. It should make for a great race since no one team has a big advantage over the next, and we are all starting on equal ground.

"This is a big race for the Busch Series not only from the perspective of the fans who have been waiting for these divisions of NASCAR to head west, but it opens a whole new market for our sponsor, which is just as important to the series."

Tempus Resorts, a long-time associate sponsor on LaJoie's No. 74 FINA Chevrolet, Saturday announced a one-race primary sponsorship of the No. 57 Progressive Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Jason Keller. Keller, whose team has been unsponsored for most of this season, is sixth in the NASCAR Busch Series point standings and qualified 20th for Sunday's race.

"Jason is a real up and coming driver and we are pleased to help the team for this event," said Ken Lindley, director of motorsports marketing for Tempus Resorts. "With a little luck, we hope to see them in the winner's circle Sunday afternoon."

Buckshot Jones had an inauspicious start to his weekend on a track that it seems should favor him. Jones qualified 25th in his No. 00 Bayer/Alka-Seltzer Pontiac, but his two NASCAR Busch Series victories have come on flat, one-mile raceways similar to Pikes Peak: The Milwaukee Mile and New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon.

"The car was loose getting into the corner ever since we've been here, but we worked on it and then it was a little tight," Jones said. "That's not great, but it's better than being too loose. We've got some room to work on it, still."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Jason Keller , Buckshot Jones , Bobby Hillin Jr.