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Oct 26, 2012 - 07:53 PM
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. happy to be back in action at Martinsville
Posted by: ASkyler on Oct 26, 2012 - 07:51 PM
Feature Articles
Dale Earnhardt Jr. happy to be back in action at Martinsville


By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

MARTINSVILLE, Va. --Don't read anything into the new helmet Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be wearing at Martinsville Speedway this weekend.

He was considering a change before suffering the concussions that sidelined him for two races. The bottom line is that Earnhardt is just happy to be back, after going stir crazy during his enforced absence from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition.

"It's been just a lot of time off -- a lot of time on my hands," Earnhardt said Friday before the opening Cup practice at Martinsville.

After running approximately 125 laps at Gresham Motorsports Park on Monday and meeting with neurologist Dr. Jerry Petty on Tuesday, Earnhardt was cleared to race, none too soon, as far as NASCAR's most popular driver was concerned.

Asked whether he considered sitting out the rest of the season, Earnhardt demurred.

"I felt like I could have raced (last Sunday) at Kansas, for sure, and probably ran at Charlotte (Oct. 13) with no problem. I feel foolish. You know, I feel kind of foolish sitting at home feeling OK and not being in the car.

"It feels really unnatural. I feel good, and the doctors say it's OK -- I want to race."

As far as the helmet goes, Earnhardt is shelving his customary Impact helmet for a Stilo brand this week.

"I don't want anybody to put two and two together, thinking that I'm changing away from my Impact helmets because of the concussions," Earnhardt said. "That's not the case at all. I've just wanted to try the Stilo helmet since they made some modifications to it.

 

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"It's definitely not a final decision. I'm just checking it out, because I liked it before. I've enjoyed working with Impact, and I do like their helmets, and I just don't want anybody to get the wrong idea there."

TWO VICTORIES SHORT

Jimmie Johnson wouldn't want to see a repeat of 2011 -- a Cup championship decided by a tiebreaker -- unless he can win at least two of the final four races.

The math is working against Johnson right now. If two drivers are tied in points after the 10 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races, the one with more wins is champion by virtue of the tiebreaker. That's how Tony Stewart edged Carl Edwards for the title last year.

Johnson, currently second in the standings, has three victories this season, but first-place Brad Keselowski and third-place Denny Hamlin have five each, putting them in control of the tiebreaker for the time being.

That's one reason why Johnson is so focused on getting to Victory Lane.

"I feel like we've been close, and I hate that a few (wins) have slipped away this year, especially in the Chase," Johnson said Friday at Martinsville. "But that stuff is behind me. I'm looking forward. We're at a great track.

"I feel like at all four tracks remaining, we're one of the favorites to win. I feel like you have to win, and you have to win during the Chase to be the champion. It certainly can be won without, but my mind-set right now is win, win, win."

RIDE SHARING

In 2013, for the second straight year, Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and team owner Michael Waltrip will share driving duties in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, the team announced Friday.

Martin will compete in 24 Cup points races plus the Daytona Shootout, Vickers in nine races and Waltrip in the Daytona 500 and the two events at Talladega Superspeedway.

Vickers will drive the car twice each at Martinsville, Bristol and New Hampshire, as well as at the Sonoma and Watkins Glen road courses and at 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway. Waltrip ran the Kentucky race this year.

Whether the part-time ride will lead to a full-time ride for Vickers remains to be seen. Martin will turn 54 Jan. 9, but he shows no signs of slowing down. With three cars on its roster, MWR could add a fourth, if sponsorship is available.

"There's no contractual obligation (for) 2014, but that's my goal, and that's their goal," Vickers said. "That's what we're working toward. Right now we've got a couple things on our task list -- run good. We've got nine races next year. Three are with Aaron's (sponsorship), and six are unsold.

"We have to sell those six races, and part of that is going to be performing. Then, in 2014, we have to sell all of them. That's what we need to do to make that happen."

Vickers has posted four top-10 finishes in seven starts so far this season. He was fastest in Friday's opening Cup practice session at Martinsville with a lap at 97.679 mph before qualifying second for Sunday's race.


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