NASCAR notes: 10 years after first win, Junior’s back in Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas — Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to be reminded what was significant about the day.

“It has been 10 years. Wow!” Earnhardt said Friday on the 10th anniversary of his first NASCAR victory, a Nationwide race in Texas. “Any time you think about things like that, you are reminded how much time has passed.”

Earnhardt got his first victory in his 16th Nationwide start. That was the first of seven races he won in 1998, when he won the first of back-to-back season titles.

“It was a long time ago. I’m doing all right,” he said. “It makes me proud that I’ve been in this sport that long and I’ve added what I’ve added to it, whatever that is.”

In 2000, Earnhardt also got his first Sprint Cup victory at the high-banked 1½-mile track. One of the most notable highlights at the track is a photo of Dale Jr. being embraced by his father in Victory Lane.

Earnhardt, who has won 17 Cup races, is doing double duty at Texas this weekend. He will make his first Nationwide start at Texas since 1999 on Saturday, then run the Sprint Cup Samsung 500 on Sunday.

“I enjoy coming to Texas and the track’s been good to us, good to me, good to my family,” Earnhardt said. “If I really need to run six (Nationwide) races this year, this is definitely one of the tracks. It’s been on the list, and I made it work.”

TEXAS TIRES: After numerous complaints about the Goodyear tires used last month at Atlanta, a similar 1½-mile track also owned by Bruton Smith, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage lobbied NASCAR for additional testing or more practice time at his track.

Gossage didn’t get his wish, but there didn’t seem to be any overbearing issues Friday with the new car and tire combination at Texas. It is the first time the former Car of Tomorrow has been used at Texas.

“So far, so good,” said Tony Stewart, the most outspoken about the tires at Atlanta.

“The tires seem to be really well,” Denny Hamlin said. “I’m glad they didn’t change much from last year, which is good. … They’re definitely starting to come around in the right direction.”

Goodyear, which did a two-day test at Texas with Clint Bowyer and Juan Pablo Montoya in January, brought a left-side tire that incorporates the same tread compound used in Texas last year but also with a revised tire construction used this year at Atlanta and Bristol. The right-side tire uses the same construction raced in 2007, with a slightly reformulated tread compound.

DREAM RACE FOR KIDS: Tony Stewart doesn’t have enough spots to accommodate all the drivers who want to participate in his annual charity dirt race. And his goal is to raise $1 million in one night for the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

“It’s funny, you throw an event out there and you go through a stretch where you’re not really sure if it will take off or die on the vine,” said Kyle Petty, who founded the camp with his wife, Pattie. “This thing was instantly a success.”

The Prelude To The Dream race at Stewart’s Eldora Speedway dirt track in Ohio, where NASCAR drivers and other racing icons race in late model stock cars, is June 4. The race will again be available on pay-per-view television.

Stewart said last year’s event has already raised $800,000 and that money is still coming in. Stewart said $600,000 of that went to the camp and the rest to other charitable organizations.

“It’s gratifying,” Stewart said. “It is very, very similar with how happy you are when you win a race, but in a much different way.”

Proceeds this year will support construction of a second Victory Junction Gang Camp in Kansas City. The first camp, in North Carolina, serves children ages 7 to 15 with life-threatening health issues and was founded by the Pettys to honor the life of their late son, Adam.

Among the 25 drivers racing at Eldora will be Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Bush and Kevin Harvick.

“The event’s a lot of fun to be a part of,” Kahne said. “I’m excited to race and try to raise a lot of money.”

Stewart said he started getting calls in February for drivers who wanted to take part.

“It has been so overwhelming from last year to this year,” Stewart said.

SPARKPLUGS: Elliott Sadler made it through last week’s race despite an aching back. “I’ve never been through that kind of pain,” Sadler said. While still sore, Sadler said he is feeling a lot better. As he did at Martinsville, Sadler is using an air-filled cushion in his seat this week, an idea he got from teammate Kasey Kahne. “It’s a life saver,” Sadler said. … Dickies is looking for the American worker of the year, and will give that person a VIP trip to the Texas race in November with a chance to win $1 million. Entries will be submitted from June 1 through Aug. 15. There will be six finalists. Among the prizes for the winner will be a trip to Texas and a chance to win $1 million should the winner’s chosen driver win the Dickies 500.

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