Trackside Reports Live from Phoenix International Raceway · Becca Gladden · Friday April 20, 2007
It’s been the hottest story in NASCAR circles all week, maybe all season: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. taking the wheel of Kyle Busch’s No. 5 car last weekend in the closing laps of the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Junior’s No. 8 car had been wrecked when he slowed to avoid a spin by Tony Stewart and was hit from behind by Kyle Busch. Though the Bud car was beyond repair, Busch’s team effected repairs to the No. 5 Chevy to try and get as many points as possible. But when it came time to return to the track…Busch was nowhere to be found.
According to crew chief Alan Gustafson, a miscommunication left Busch with the impression that the car wasn’t going to return to the race. Through a subsequent series of events, Junior was asked by members of the 5 team if he would finish out the day in Busch’s car.
“It happened on the spur of the moment,” Junior remarked Thursday after his qualifying lap at PIR. “I went looking for (DEI Vice President of Competition) Richie Gilmore and I couldn’t find him, and I asked Tony, Jr. and he said he didn’t have a problem with me doing that.”
With just 20 laps left in the race, Junior said there wasn’t time to glean too much from the experience, but added, “I was curious to get in there and just see what the other half lives like. Not that I could look in there and see what springs and shocks they’ve got, but I definitely could tell about the attitude of the car and the grip the car had, and take that information and try to work with it.”
Junior expressed dismay at all the attention the incident had received and reiterated that he would do the same thing again if asked, particularly near the end of a race. “If it was Sterling (Marlin) or one of the older guys, I think everyone would have seen it for what it truly is. It’s just the fact that we’re so corporate and so sponsor and money-driven that people have forgotten some of the real core values of what it’s like to be in that garage, and what it’s like to know all those guys from all those other teams and be friends with them.”
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