NASCAR Notebook: Dale Earnhardt Jr. predicts little change to Bristol racingPatrick getting ready for Darlington
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
RICHMOND, Va. -- If track owner Bruton Smith thinks the changes to Bristol Motor Speedway announced Wednesday will alter dramatically the nature of racing at Thunder Valley, he may be disappointed, to hear Dale Earnhardt Jr. tell it.
"As far as Bristol goes, I think the racing will be the same," Earnhardt said Friday before NASCAR Sprint Cup practice at Bristol Motor Speedway. "I think the track is going to be the same."
That opinion doubtless would be disconcerting to Smith, who announced a track-grinding project designed to inject a higher level of excitement back into racing at the .533-mile short track. Flagging attendance at the 160,000-seat facility prompted the move.
According to Smith, grinding and lowering the degree of banking in the outside groove is designed to lessen a perceived advantage to the outside lane and promote closer racing with more contact between cars.
Earnhardt doesn't believe the grinding will have the desired effect.
"Just grinding that groove is going to take a little grip away from it," Earnhardt said. "Once we lay the rubber back down, which we will, it will be just like the track is now -- which I think is fine. I don't think everybody needs to get too stirred up about it."
Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, says no one will know what effect the grinding will have until cars are competing on the track.
"In one respect, I applaud Bruton for trying to make a change and for trying to so something, but we won't know what the race will be like until we're there," Johnson said. "Really, even in a practice, it will be tough to tell.
"I think we'll have to get into the race and really see tire fall-off, tire wear and what tire Goodyear brings -- all that kind of stuff -- to figure it out."
Earnhardt believes factors other than the nature of the racing are major contributors to the attendance issues at Bristol.
"I think the reason that attendance is down is that they spiked the hotel rates so bad there in that town, as they do most of the towns," Earnhardt said. "Gas is expensive. To stay in Knoxville or somewhere like that doesn't make a lot of sense because of how expensive gas is.
"It's just not as affordable to go to events as it used to be."
PATRICK GETTING READY FOR DARLINGTON
Two weeks away from her second Sprint Cup race -- at Darlington, no less -- Danica Patrick has more of an idea about how a Cup car really feels.
Patrick made her Cup debut in the Daytona 500 but was the victim of a wreck as she started the second lap, and her car was never up to speed thereafter.
"I tested the Cup car actually this week," Patrick told the NASCAR Wire Service on Friday after Nationwide Series practice at Richmond. "I would say it's my first 'real' time in a Cup car. I kind of don't think Daytona completely counts -- you're not really doing much but holding it wide open.
"It was good. I had a lot of fun. I felt really comfortable right off the get-go. I could definitely feel the acceleration of the car. You've got to get comfortable on the brakes and get comfortable with the car getting in the corners on the brakes, and I think that's something I have to get used to."
Darlington, billed as the Track too Tough to Tame, presents a unique set of challenges. Patrick plans to get a close look at NASCAR's oldest superspeedway before she races there.
"I've got to do a few laps in anything around Darlington, I've heard, before I get out there in a car," Patrick said. "I'll make sure I get there the day before . . . get a rental out there and just kind of run around.
"The point of this process and the point of choosing Darlington was to go to the toughest tracks and get the toughest ones out of the way, the ones that take a lot of tries before you really get comfortable there and just get the process going.
"I know it's going to be hard. I know there's going to be some frustrating moments and some moments that I'm probably going to feel a little embarrassed, but I'm there to get my Darlington stripes and move along."
MENARD TO BACKUP CAR
Early in Friday's opening Cup practice session at Richmond, Paul Menard posted the third-fastest time. His lap at 126.139 mph held that position for the entire session.
By the time the two-hour practice session ended, however, Menard's primary car was long gone. As Menard put the power down in Turn 4 shortly after running his best lap, the throttle stuck, propelling the No. 27 Chevrolet into the outside wall just short of the start/finish line.
After Menard hit the wall, he mashed the brake, and the engine shut off by design with the electronic fuel injection system, new to the series this year.
"The throttle broke," Menard said as his team readied a backup car. "It hung as I was coming out onto the straightaway, so my foot wasn't on the brake and I tried kicking it back even after I hit the wall, and it was still hung, so I just laid on the brake and it shut off like it was supposed to."
Menard's throttle problems weren't over. Shortly after he took to the track in the backup car, his throttle hung again as he exited Turn 2. Fortunately, Menard kept the car off the wall and brought it to the garage, where his crew adjusted the throttle stop, hoping to put the issue to an end.