Stewart, Gordon, Earnhardt revving upWritten by Dave Woolford | | email@example.com
Tony Stewart has turned the corner in more ways than one. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. want more than just going around in circles, Kurt Busch needs to keep to the straight and narrow and, in case you missed Mark Martin’s ”Salute to the Fans” retirement tour last year, ”Salute to the Fans, The Sequel” is coming to a NASCAR Nextel Cup race track near you.
As NASCAR’s world turns (mostly left), there’s always plenty of fuel for automobiles and anticipation this time of year, but even more so this time around.
Stewart tempered his temper, told Dr. Phil he can vacate the pits and became the second active driver to win multiple titles with his second NASCAR championship last year. Jeff Gordon is the other, with four.
”Our number one goal this year is to win the Daytona 500,” Stewart said. ”But once we get through Daytona, whether we win, lose, whatever happens there, you never stop wanting to win races. Even though we had a great year last year, you always want to win more races, win more poles, set new records and continue hot streaks.”
Speaking of ”hot,” Stewart almost got a medical red flag when he rolled his mount in the recent Chili Bowl Midget Race in Tulsa, Okla. Nothing was broken except a few car parts and a little pride.
Last year’s Chase for the Cup 10-race finale among the top 10 drivers in the point standings could have been a pursuit without much purpose considering Earnhardt, the circuit’s most popular driver, and Gordon, its winningest active driver, both parked outside the final festivities.
Gordon was 11th in the point standings while Junior was 19th.
”Only time will tell as to what we’re really going to be capable of this year,” Gordon said. ”But right now I feel like we’re as good as anybody out there.”
Recent testing at Daytona International Speedway in preparation of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 19 would support Gordon. He’s been among the fastest, along with teammate Jimmie Johnson.
Earnhardt, whose relationships with crew chiefs has been flat out tenuous at times, has transitioned back to cousin Tony Eury, Jr. after the two parted company two years ago.
”It feels good to be back with Tony and I’m looking forward to getting some races under our belts, getting into victory lane as fast as we can,’’ Earnhardt said.
While it appeared Martin would join Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd in retirement after last season, he opted to stay with loyal friend and ultra-successful team owner Jack Roush for one more year.
Kurt Busch, one of Roush’s flourishing pedal-pushers, was also one of a number of big-names who drove off to other teams.
Another former series champion, Bobby Labonte, has joined the Richard Petty Team and will attempt to bring dignity back to the No. 43 King Richard built his throne around with a record 200 NASCAR victories. Other drivers who did the seat shuffle include Jamie McMurray, Sterling Marlin, Michael Waltrip, Ken Schrader and Scott Riggs, just to name a few.
Busch will replace Wallace and drive the No. 2 Miller Lite Chevy for Penske Racing South in what should be a season-long soap opera. Team owner Roger Penske is faced with the daunting task of changing the young charger’s image from sometimes frightful to less seldom delightful. Busch does not fit the Penske driver prototype in regard to personality. Kurt can be curt, but he seems to be quickly warming to his new boss, as if he had a choice.
The Chase, in existence for two years, has created a lot of extra anxiety which has led to additional hostility between the competitors, as was witnessed last year.
Greg Biffle, who, along with teammate Carl Edwards, finished second to Stewart in the title chase by only 35 points and won a season-high six races, said he wishes the Chase for the Cup could start today.
”The first thing is to make the Chase,” Biffle said. ”That’s going to be our main focus. We want to lock ourselves into the Chase and then worry about the last 10 races. I prefer to start the last 10 right now. I don’t want to run the first 26 races. I want to do the last 10 now. It’s nerve-racking.”
Could that be the prelude to swerve-wrecking?