Sunday, June 04, 2000

Auto racing insider


Father still knows best

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        The only guy hotter than rookie Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the NASCAR scene might be Dale Earnhardt Sr.

        Junior has won more races (2-1) than The Man this season, adding style points by winning The Winston all-star race and then the Coca-Cola 600 pole at Charlotte. But Earnhardt Sr. has rather quietly jumped to No. 4 where it counts — the Winston Cup season standings.

        Earnhardt Sr. has not finished above No. 5 in the points race since 1996, when he was fourth. His last of seven Winston titles was 1994, and this could be his last real shot for a record eighth championship. Richard Petty also won seven.

        Earnhardt Sr. is 49 years old, an age when many drivers are past their prime. But he has nine top-10 finishes this year — tops on the circuit.

        Junior has qualified in the top 10 nine times this year, giving him a league-leading starting average of 8.3. He appeared set to win the Coca-Cola 600 after leading 175 laps, but an ill-handling car in the final 39 laps dropped him to fourth place.

        “I drove as hard as I could,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We can't be too disappointed ... we finished fourth in the 600. I couldn't have pushed it harder without wrecking.” KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY: Kentucky Speedway opens the weekend of June 16-17, and the buzz is starting to pick up. Word is that either NASCAR CEO Mike Helton or his operations director, Kevin Triplett, will attend the grand opening.

        About 43,000 tickets have been sold for the featured NASCAR Craftsman Truck race June 17, Speedway officials say. The track expects about 60,000 people that night (capacity is 66,000), and hopes to impress NASCAR in a bid to someday land a Winston Cup race. Speedway chairman Jerry Carroll says the track's recent repaving should cure any concerns about the driving surface.

        Wednesday, the speedway will host a media day that includes visits from several top-name Truck drivers, including two-time series champion Jack Sprague.

        "SHUR' HAPPY: WLW-AM reporter Bill “Seg” Dennison said his Shur-Good Racing Report, which runs Sundays on WLW-AM, will have an addition al hour (now 7-9 p.m.) through the summer.

        “It's due to the popularity of the show, with the overwhelming response from our fans and sponsors,” Dennison said.

        The two-hour show will last through the height of racing season, probably cutting back to one hour when college football begins.

        Dennison started with the show four years ago on HOMER (1360 AM), and it has moved from Tuesdays to Sundays on high-powered WLW. He credits his former and current program directors, Bill Cunningham and Darryl Parks, for supporting the show.

        Now, with Kentucky Speedway set to open June 16, Dennison will have even more to talk about.

        Dennison's racing connections and the show's growing reputation have landed several heavyweight guests through the years, including Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Richard Petty, Rick Mears, Arie Luyendyk, Tony Stewart, and Kenny Bernstein.

        LAST WORD: Many wondered what Tony George, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway president, thought of a rival CART driver (Juan Montoya) winning George's Indianapolis 500. In case you missed it:

        “He's the best of the best,” George said of Montoya. “The best team won, with the best driver.” Any chance of a reunification with CART? George says no, but someone asked him if he thought other CART drivers would now be encouraged to run Indy.

        “I'd like to see whoever wants to run,” George said.

        Tom Groeschen welcomes your e-mail at tgroeschen@enquirer.com

       



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