NASCAR Notes - Earnhardt Jr.'s fiery crash is drivers' worst nightmare

Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Video of flames engulfing Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s head and torso following a practice-lap crash last weekend at Infineon Raceway showed every race-car driver's biggest fear.

The mishap occurred during preparation for an American LeMans Series race at the Sonoma, Calif., road course. An in-car camera captured Earnhardt sitting in the cockpit as it burst into flames.

"That fire was unbelievable," fellow driver Jimmie Johnson said. "We've made a lot of great gains in other safety areas. But with everything running hot around the race track and knowing that safety crews can't respond instantly, fire is the biggest fear."

Earnhardt is expected to race in Sunday's Nextel Cup Race in New Hampshire, although Martin Truex Jr., who races for Earnhardt's team on the Busch Series, will be available as a stand-by driver. Earnhardt will have his burns checked by a specialist Thursday, team spokesman Jade Gurss said.

Earnhardt enters the Siemens 300 in second place in the series' point standings, 105 points behind Johnson, the leader.

WALLACE FASTEST AT BRICKYARD: Kenny Wallace posted the fastest speed in two weeks of testing sessions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, part of preparations for the Brickyard 400 on Aug. 8.

Wallace's speed of 179.104 mph Monday was more than two seconds faster than the other 12 drivers who tested this week. Another 13 drivers tested at the track last week.

Wallace drove a Chevrolet owned by Michael Waltrip in the testing session. Waltrip, who's owned a Busch Series team since 1996, is making his foray into Nextel Cup racing in collaboration with Dale Earnhardt Inc.

"We have good equipment," Wallace said. "We've got a real competitive car, and we just keep tuning on it."

PIT STOPS: Joe Balash took over as the director of the NASCAR Busch Series this week, taking over for Brian DeHart, who resigned. Balash, 41, joined NASCAR earlier this year as technical director for the organization's touring division. ... Joe Nemechek will continue to drive for MB2 Motorsports. The team extended Nemechek's contract on Tuesday through the end of the 2005 season. The veteran driver is 25th in the Nextel Cup points standings, 957 points out of first but has finished in the top 10 in the last two races.

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