Dale Earnhardt Jr. ready to race again after wreck, will be in New Hampshire
Thursday, July 22nd 2004, 7:57 pm
By: News On 6
Less than a week after being burned in a wreck, he'll be back at New Hampshire International Speedway, where he will race to try to hold onto second place in the Nextel Cup standings. "Driving race cars is what I love doing," he says.
That dedication to racing nearly resulted in a serious injury to the son of the late Dale Earnhardt. He could have relaxed on a rare weekend off from NASCAR's top series, but instead he decided to drive in an American Le Mans event last Sunday in Sonoma, Calif.
He was initially dazed after crashing during the warmup and barely managed to escape the fireball that turned his Corvette into a scorched pile of junk.
Earnhardt sustained second-degree burns to his legs, face and neck. He spent Sunday night in a Sacramento hospital and was released Monday.
Officials at Dale Earnhardt Inc. said Little E never hesitated about climbing into his car this weekend. But how long he races Sunday in the Siemens 300 was unclear.
Martin Truex Jr., who drives for Earnhardt's Chance 2 Motorsports Busch series team, will be standing by in case his boss needs relief. Earnhardt has been quiet since the crash but planned a news conference here Friday.
Earnhardt spokesman Jade Gurss said the No. 8 Chevrolet will have an extra cool box and venting to try to keep the driver from becoming uncomfortably hot during the race. Earnhardt goes into the event 105 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Because of the circuit's new points system for its "Chase for the Championship" - which begins in September for the top-10 drivers - Earnhardt could sit out this weekend with little damage to his title hopes. But skipping a race is a rarity in NASCAR, and not something expected of an Earnhardt .
"You know, he's a tough guy, just like his dad was," Johnson said. "You know he's going to race."
The elder Earnhardt, killed in a wreck in the 2001 Daytona 500, started a race at Indianapolis in 1996, a week after he broke his sternum and collarbone in a crash. He drove six laps before giving up the wheel to a relief driver and showed rare emotion while saying how hard it was for him to get out of the car.
A week later, The Intimidator won the pole on the road course at Watkins Glen and finished sixth.
Getting out of the car after the start Sunday also would not hurt the younger Earnhardt, because the driver who starts the race earns the points.
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon will also receive plenty of attention Friday, when he goes for a record-tying fifth straight pole position.
"This streak is pretty amazing considering how competitive our sport is right now," Gordon said. "It will be tough because this track is such a challenging, flat track."
If Gordon is the fastest in qualifying on the 1.058-mile oval, he would tie the Cup record. Bobby Allison set the mark in 1972. Cale Yarborough matched it in 1980.