Sunday, January 19, 2003

Earnhardt Jr. hesitant about lifetime contract

NASCAR notebook

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn't signed a contract to remain with his late father's team, although a five-year offer is on the table.

Earnhardt Jr. had a handshake agreement with his father to drive cars for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 1998. Dale Earnhardt was killed in a wreck in 2001, and Earnhardt Jr. has continued to drive for the three-car team.

DEI officials last year offered him a lifetime contract that he rejected. He said he and his sister, Kelly, submitted a five-year proposal to Teresa Earnhardt and DEI vice president Ty Norris three weeks ago. "They have yet to sign their end of it," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Once they sign their end, I'll sign my end."

One of Earnhardt Jr.'s sticking points is the number of off-track appearances he'll agree to. He's insisting on keeping the number around 40.

"I had to put a cap on it. There was no control, and nobody had hold of the reins," he said.

Earnhardt says he's hesitant to commit to a lifetime deal with DEI because of his emotions after winning the Busch race at Daytona last February in a car fielded by Richard Childress, his father's longtime car owner.

"I don't think there are many people that are in the situation that I'm in - driving for your dad," he said. "When I drove Richard's Busch car here, it was so cool. ... It was neat to see him get excited about it, and I felt like I was a real asset to the team."

SURPRISE FASTEST: The preseason Winston Cup testing at Daytona International Speedway is over, and the honors for the fastest lap go to a journeyman driver and a fun-loving race team.

Mike Wallace, driving the No. 09 Dodge owned by Florida businessman James Finch, topped the charts with a lap at 184.053 mph. Wallace's is the same car Geoffrey Bodine drove last year when he finished third in the Daytona 500 and qualified second for the Pepsi 400. The main change is that the old Ford Taurus sheet metal was replaced by that of a new Dodge Intrepid.

Wallace, who is set to run five races in the No. 09, said he believes the car will be a factor for next month's Daytona 500. He's not worried about the car being slowed down by the mandatory trips through NASCAR's "Room of Doom" inspection process.

"Our car is extremely legal," said Wallace, whose brothers Rusty and Kenny also drive in Winston Cup. "That is the positive thing about it."

Mike Wallace is winless in 128 career Winston Cup starts. He also plans to drive for Finch in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July, both Talladega races and the season finale at Homestead.

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