Trading Paint: Still excited over Earnhardt

Jerry Bonkowski
Yahoo! Sports

I feel vindicated.

The Yahoo! Sports nation really came to my rescue in the past week, with numerous readers emailing their support after so many people accused me of either being a Dale Earnhardt Jr. hater or lover.

For the record, I'm neither. I simply put the facts out there and let the readers decide how they'll interpret it.

So, where do we start this week's Trading Paint? Trust me, it's strictly a coincidence, but let's start again with Junior and his future (or possible lack thereof) at DEI.

Here comes the green flag. As always, my answers are in italics:

ALL ABOUT EARNHARDT ("Trading Paint" Jan. 14, 2005)

Why isn't Kerry Earnhardt working with DEI? Does Teresa just not like him? It seems every team now has a car for experimentation – would he not be a good fit for the No. 1? Do you see him, Junior and their sister forming their own team soon?

Tim Lilly
Little Rock, Ark.

Why Kerry isn't in the DEI fold is one of the most confounding questions in NASCAR today. To me, it's a no-brainer. But DEI's loss is Richard Childress' gain, as he not only is backing Kerry's Busch Series effort but also is using Kerry as a driver for both Nextel Cup and Busch test sessions this year. As for Dale Jr. and sister Kelly – and potentially half-brother Kerry – forming their own team, it would not surprise me. Once Junior wins a Nextel Cup championship or two, he'll have much more leverage to do just that or potentially buy out Teresa's controlling interest.

I read your article on Junior and never had the impression you were against him. I am and always will be a huge fan of his dad, and I follow Junior with equal passion. I compare neither to the other, I wait for Junior to do his thing! True fans won't compare, for each driver is so unique in his skills. Keep up your work, sir, I enjoy it.
David Cunningham
San Antonio

It seems that you can't win. Last season I can remember reading so many messages that were sent to you criticizing you for being too "for" Junior. Now you're anti-Junior? So, what happened between you and Junior during the offseason anyhow? Sorry, had to tease you a bit!

Sandra Guerrio

For all Dale Jr.'s protests that he is "not his father" (he isn't) and he is "not trying to be his father" (he isn't?), I have to sit back and say "hmm." He seems dead-set on tying up the Daytona and 'Dega win records. He has indicated he wants to be the "go-to guy" as liaison between NASCAR and the other guys in the garage. Rumors abound about his joining forces with Richard Childress. Seems to me as if he is galloping headlong into Dale's shadow.

Pat Stutzman
Paris, Tenn.

In response to an email question about Michael Waltrip's quality as a teammate at Dale Earnhardt Inc., you stated that he could very easily return to prominence in 2005. In order to return to prominence don't you have to have been prominent at some point? Michael Waltrip is nothing more than a field filler except for four weekends a year, and he will continue to be nothing more than that. The only difference will be in 2006 he will be a field filler on a different team and in a different car.

Paul Carter
Bardstown, Ky.

A wee bit harsh on Waltrip, aren't we, Paul? While I think Michael is a bit more than just a simple field filler, 2005 is definitely a make-or-break season for him. There's no question that his performance must improve markedly, or he likely indeed will be with a different team and in a different car come 2006.

The question I have is about Michael Waltrip. Has he been ill or just lost weight? The last year he looked a little on the peaked side.

Cel Littlepage
Gerradstown, W.Va.

Michael is one of the biggest fitness buffs on the circuit, Cel. He likes to keep a lean-and-mean physique. In fact, he'll run another marathon – which he's sponsor of – on Jan. 30 in Las Vegas. Of course, given his tenuous and precarious position with DEI, if he dropped a few pounds over the last year, it could have been due to stress and agonizing over his future.

DODGE DAYS ("Charging through the memories" Jan. 12, 2005)

With the introduction of the new Charger to NASCAR, I was wondering if there were any plans to introduce a race version of the Hemi (engine).

Bob Ashley

Word I hear is the Hemi conceivably could be in the mix for the 2007 season, Bob. I think Dodge wants to see how the new Charger does against its Ford and Chevy counterparts for the next couple of seasons before it brings out the Hemi.

Jerry: Great little article [on the Charger]. You hit it on the head. I am closer to 50 than 40, and get the same feeling when I see a '60s vintage muscle car roll down the street. I owned two Chargers (both 1969 models) when I first got my license. Bought them used (very used) but still loved every minute behind the wheel. Like anyone who has owned one, I wish I still had them.

Thanks for a great little article that brought back some fond memories and that also made me excited for the new NASCAR season.

Dennis Martin
Mukwonago, Wis.

Jerry, it depends on how you look at the word recent. I would consider Ford being recently dominant considering the fact that they have captured the last two crowns. I also noticed though, that you didn't include a Mustang or the fastest production muscle car ever built (Thunderbolt Fairlane) in your list of old cars you would want in your garage.

Guy Sisson
Delevan, N.Y.

You're right, Guy, the Mustang was missing from my list. My favorite is the high-performance 1969 Boss Hoss 302. As an aside, I was fortunate enough to get a brand new 2005 Mustang when I rented a car in Miami for last season's final race. It definitely brought back memories, but it seemed a bit sluggish compared to its grandfather, the original Mustang of the 1960s. The best part of that trip was when I got thumbs-up from a guy in a Ferrari as well as a Florida Highway Patrol trooper in an unmarked Mustang.

DRIVER TALK (Offseason driver capsules)

I thought Kenny Wallace was signed, sealed, and delivered to drive for PPC Racing in the Busch Series?

Dennis Michelsen
Chicago

That is correct, Dennis. Kenny will be Busch teammates with former open-wheel ace Michel Jourdain while John Andretti handles duties on the Cup side for PPC. Although he only had five starts in Cup competition last season, Wallace had an admirable year in the Busch Series, finishing ninth. Kenny is also slated to compete in at least four Nextel Cup races (Daytona and Talladega) for Michael Waltrip Racing. Off the track, he'll also have an expanded role on SpeedTV.

As a Sterling Martin fan, I strongly disagree with your assessment. First, Sterling has continued to improve his annual earnings, ranking 15th this past season, earning over $4 million dollars annually. His earnings have continued to improve with his Dodge team. Secondly, one of the biggest problems with the team is the pit crew and the time lost pitting and making adjustments. Typically, Sterling loses time and positions as a result of pit stops. I hope that the team takes a hard look at his support staff before considering driver changes.

Bill Taber

Let me say this with my head shaking in sadness: Bill, Bill, Bill. Let me guess, you're a spin doctor by trade, right? I don't care how much money Sterling made last season, the facts are still the facts as to where he finished – it was a mediocre season. Besides, prize money in NASCAR historically goes up from one year to the next. And the measure of a driver's success isn't how much cash he takes home, it's how many victories and Cup championships he earns. Sterling didn't have any of the former last season and he never has had even one of the latter.

Secondly, team owner Chip Ganassi is one of the most competitive men I know. There's no way he's going to let a pit crew stumble and bumble race after race without making some wholesale changes.

Do you know who is going to be driving the car sponsored by Jack Daniel's?

Paul Christensen
Glendora, Calif.

Dave Blaney will drive the Jack Daniel's-sponsored No. 07 Chevrolet (not to be confused with Robby Gordon driving the No. 7 Fruit of the Loom Chevy).

Saw your comment about Jimmy Spencer going to the Craftsman Truck Series and the following: "He'll be teamed with Ted Musgrave, and together the pair has the potential to dominate the series."

Won't those two first have to spend a little time patching up old differences? I seem to recall a little incident at Dover a few years back as the crowning glory to a season-long squabble between the two.

Carter Chamberlin
Keene, N.H.

Jimmy and Ted have traded paint and other things over the years, but both are veteran professionals and realize it's better to be good teammates than to hold grudges ... unless you were Kevin Harvick and Robby Gordon over the last few years, but that's a whole other story.

MISC. MAIL
Do those drivers shower before they get on the plane to go home? I don't think they do. Almost all the time they get out of the car, they go to the hauler, change out [of their uniforms] and go home. That's a little nasty.

John B. Randolph
Mulberry, Ark.

Let's just say your question is one of the more, uh, interesting ones I've come across recently, John. But I'll play it straight: Yes, drivers do shower after races. Most haulers have them, as do their motor coaches, which usually are parked next to the Cup garages. So, fret not, John.

Jerry, I was reading an article on the new qualifying system NASCAR is using this year, and included a line here for you. "The next seven spots will go to the drivers with the fastest qualifying speeds that are not already in the top 35 and the 43rd spot in the field will be reserved for a current or past champion."

What this seems to say to me is that if someone outside of the top 35 after six races has the fastest qualifying speed in the next race, he would start 36th?

David Delph
Wichita Falls, Texas

The new system guarantees spots for the top 35 in points, but not necessarily the first 35 spots on the starting grid. If someone outside the top 35 has the best speed, that driver would start from the pole. Provisionals are essentially eliminated, which could hurt some of the smaller teams. But at the same time, if a top-35 driver fails to qualify on speed and time, he'll still have a spot on the starting grid assured on race day.

Hey Jerry, I'm a pretty new NASCAR fan and a Rusty Wallace fan. Since this is Rusty's last year, I'd like to attend my first live NASCAR race and see Rusty before he retires. I'm wondering if you have any suggestions on which race to attend. I live closest to K.C., but have friends and family in Charlotte and Richmond. I'm most interested in the race experience and not location. Thanks for any ideas. Scott Griswold
Lincoln, Neb.

Trust me, Scott, you are in for the weekend of your life when you go to your first Cup event. Given that Rusty is your man and you really want to enjoy the race experience to the fullest, I'd pick Bristol (Tenn.) as the place to be – particularly the late-summer event under the lights, which will be Rusty's last time there. You haven't been to a Cup race until you've been to Bristol. But there's one downside: Even with 160,000 seats, tickets are also extremely hard to come by.

You might have a better chance at getting tickets for Charlotte – I would pick the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend as a good alternative to Bristol because it starts in daylight and finishes under the lights. It's also the longest race of the season. Daytona and Homestead are two other places to check out – Daytona for its heritage and Homestead because it's where the championship likely will be decided. Kansas would be a good place, too, but you won't get as true a NASCAR experience as you would at some of the others I've mentioned.

Good luck and write me after you've made your maiden voyage. I'm curious to hear how it went for you.

Who were the only women to race in the Cup series? When and what teams? Please answer this highly disputed question over here.

SSG. James Schwarz, U.S. Army
Afghanistan

In the modern era of NASCAR (from 1972 to the present, covering both Winston Cup and Nextel Cup), only six women have competed in a Cup race: Janet Guthrie (33 races from 1976-1980), Christine Beckers and Lella Lombardi (one race each in 1977), Robin McCall (two races in 1982), Patty Moise (five starts from 1987-89) and most recently, Shawna Robinson (eight races in 2001-02).

Jerry, as an avid NASCAR fan I was a bit embarrassed when a friend asked about the car body templates used in NASCAR and I couldn't answer. Is one template used for all the cars (his theory) or a template for each manufacturer used (mine)? Love your column, keep up the awesome work!

Rock Trujillo
Richmond, Calif.

Well, you're both kind of right, Rock. NASCAR utilizes 32 templates during inspections: 14 are model-specific for Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge, while the other 18 are common templates that all car models must adhere to, primarily from an aerodynamic standpoint.

A buddy and I have a friendly $20 wager each week in Nextel and Busch races. He picks a guy for the season and so do I. He has picked Ryan Newman and Jason Keller. Besides Jeff Gordon (whom I despise), which drivers would you pick to go head-to-head with those guys?

Brett Crafton
Nashville, Tenn.

I'd definitely go with Martin Truex Jr. on the Busch side. As for Cup, I'd lean toward Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr. But if you despise Gordon, there's always Kurt Busch, too.

I was reading one of the headline stories about Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch doing testing at Daytona. In the body of the article it said that last year's points race was the closest in championship history. Perhaps I am misinterpreting what was meant by that statement in the article, but I thought that when Alan Kulwicki beat Bill Elliott by five points, that was the closest.

Pat Cochran
Bridgewater, N.J.

Last season was indeed the closest finish in Cup history, with Kurt Busch defeating Jimmie Johnson by eight points. Kulwicki defeated Elliott for the 1992 Winston Cup title by the previous record of 10 points.