Sunday, March 25, 2001

Auto Racing Insider


Earnhardt Jr. expected at Kentucky Speedway

By Tom Groeschen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dale Earnhardt Jr. might test his NASCAR Winston Cup car at Kentucky Speedway next month, with fans invited to watch.

        One catch: The grandstands will not be open. But the public can watch from the speedway Fan Center above Turn 3, speedway general manager Mark Cassis said.

        Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick, both members of the DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) team, are scheduled to practice April 9-10 at Kentucky, Cassis said.

        “We believe it's Junior and Harvick, but they don't really tell us too far in advance,” Cassis said. “Junior was supposed to test here in January, but the weather was too bad.”

        Since Kentucky does not have a Winston Cup race, Cup teams can test at the facility year-round.

        Earnhardt Sr., killed Feb.18 at Daytona, never practiced at Kentucky.

        Should Earnhardt Jr. and Harvick test here, the teams would have the track between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. April 9-10, the Monday and Tuesday before Easter. NASCAR always takes Easter Sunday off.

        Should the DEI team be in town, fans would be advised to arrive early. Last week at Kentucky, Cassis said about 500 fans came to see Winston Cup drivers Ricky Craven and Andy Houston practice.

        Cassis said fans should call (859) 567-3400 to check practice schedules.

        FUN FACT: Race teams pay a one-day rental fee of $6,000 to test at Kentucky Speedway, with a limit of two teams per session. The fee includes ambulance, fire, safety and wrecker service.

        MORE EARNHARDT: Kentucky Speedway announced Friday that Kerry Earnhardt, older brother of Dale Jr., would drive in the track's inaugural NASCAR Busch race June 16.

        Kerry Earnhardt is 31 years old and Dale Jr. is 26, but Dale Jr. has become better known. Kerry has driven in several series over the years, including Busch and ARCA, and has had some flings at Winston Cup.

        Cassis said Kentucky Speedway invited Kerry Earnhardt to the Busch race. Earnhardt will drive Michael Waltrip's Busch car, the No.99 Aaron's Rent Chevrolet. Waltrip and the Winston Cup circuit will be at Pocono that weekend.

        “I know Michael pretty well, and he said he'd ask Kerry to drive the car here,” Cassis said. “Kerry agreed to do it, and we're thrilled. Since his father never drove here, we figure this is a chance for the fans to maybe pay their respects and meet Kerry.”

        Earnhardt will sign autographs at a special session before the Busch race, which starts at 8 p.m. June 16.

        BIG NIGHT: Kentucky Speedway has sold 45,000 seats (capacity is 67,000) for the Busch race, Cassis said. Prerace festivities will include a concert by country music star Brad Paisley, the Kerry Earnhardt autograph session, and the unveiling of a life-sized statue of Darrell Waltrip outside the speedway fan center.

        Waltrip has been a paid consultant to track chairman Jerry Carroll since 1998 and has been instrumental in the speedway's making inroads with NASCAR.

        LOCAL SCENE: Rite Track Racing, a Cincinnati-based team owned by Tim Hayden, will run a limited schedule of ARCA races this season. Former ARCA driver Jeep Pflum and AR CA rookie Mike Burg will share wheel time, and Winston Cup veteran Dave Marcis will assist the team in a test at Kentucky Speedway on April 3. The team plans to enter the May 12 ARCA race at Kentucky.

        • Indy driver Lyn St.James will receive the National Association of Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS) Guiding Woman in Sport Award on Friday during the NAGWS national convention at the downtown Hyatt Regency. St. James is to speak at 1 p.m. Friday.

        E-mail tgroeschen@enquirer.com.

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