TORONTO - Lost in the hoopla of 20-year-old Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 win and Jeff Gordon’s back-from-the-dead win Sunday at Phoenix International Speedway has been a very steady performance so far this NASCAR Sprint Cup season by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
And everyone from Brian France down to the track sweepers in NASCAR knows, a single win or a string of strong finishes by the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet would have the effect of 10 Trevor Bayne-like victories.
Even though he hasn’t won since Michigan in 2008, Earnhardt continues to be the hands-down most popular driver on the circuit.
He won the Daytona pole and except for a flat tire with two laps to go, Earnhardt was on course to win the Great American Race.
His 10th place finish at Phoenix further proved that Rick Hendrick’s decision to pair Earnhardt with new crew chief Steve Letarte is working.
“Dale needed Steve because he’s a real rah-rah guy that stays with him all during the race,” Hendrick said.
Hendrick also said Junior has not lost focus, a charge that is heard often in the NASCAR garage of the No. 88 driver.
“Dale Junior has done everything,” Hendrick said. “He was in position in Daytona to really compete and win that race and had a flat tire with two to go.
“He did not qualify good (at Phoenix), but he drove a great race and he never gave up, and when he had to pit with a loose wheel, Stevie made some good calls and came back with a Top 10 finish.
“So to pit on the green here with less than a hundred laps to go and come back with a 10th place finish, you’ve had a good day.”
And with more finishes like that for Earnhardt NASCAR numbers will have a good day as well.
MARCELLI BACK IN ALMS
Good news from the camp of 20-year-old Kyle Marcelli of Barrie, who has inked a new contract with Intersport Racing for a second season in the American Le Mans Series driving the No. 89 LMPC.
“I’m very excited to be back for another season in ALMS,” Marcelli said in a team release. “After watching the series for many years as they came to Mosport International Raceway, it’s a dream come true to finally be at the pinnacle level and competing against many of the names I watched.
“For 2011 the goal is simply to win the LMPC driver and team championship.”
FEUDS OF THE WEEK
Out of the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday came about 20 banged up cars and an equal number of bruised egos.
Most notably Brian Vickers who claims Matt Kenseth “just wrecked us.”
Vickers went on to say he plans some revenge down the road.
“He door-slammed us coming out of the corner of Turn 2, 67 laps into a very, very long race,” Vickers said of Kenseth. “Felt like it was unnecessary and sure it will come back to haunt him.”
Also unhappy after the race was Carl Edwards over Kyle Busch side swiping his No. 99 Ford.
Edwards has a long history of getting even in such incidents. “I’ll talk to him about it,” he said of Busch.
After running the first two Sprint Cup races with a new paint scheme courtesy of his new sponsor AARP’s Drive to End Hunger, Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet will be back in the more familiar DuPONT colours this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Kobalt Tools 400. Gordon is counting on the momentum he takes from Phoenix to get him back to victory lane in Sin City. “We had a really fast car last weekend and were able to get the win. And while we get to enjoy it for less than a week, we’re going into this weekend’s race wanting to win just as much.” ... Robertson Racing has added Ford factory driver Colin Braun to their line-up for this season’s ALMS endurance events in place of Rob Bell. The 22-year-old American will race alongside David Murry and Anthony Lazzaro in the team’s No. 4 Ford GT at the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on March 19 and at the 10 hour/1,000 mile Petit Le Mans championship finale at Road Atlanta on Oct. 1. ... Also at Sebring The Racing Group will have its traditional No. 66 entry for drivers’ Duncan Ende, Alain Li, and Spencer Pumpelly. ... Formula One’s Red Bull Racing has added the “Infiniti” nameplate this season to its list of sponsors. Nissan’s premium brand will be on clothing and on the Renault-powered chassis used by Red Bull. The French car manufacturer, however, will remain as the team’s official engine supplier. ... Author, author. Zach Veach, winner of the USF2000 Cooper Tires Winterfest championship, is also a best-selling author. The 16-year-old racer is signed to Andretti Autosport this season and his book 99 Things Teens Wish They Knew Before Turning 16, has received a lot of attention. ... According to Landmark Newspapers reporter Dustin Long, Robby Gordon has only enough funding to race in Sprint Cup races through April, meaning Darlington would be the first race he would miss if funding isn’t found.