Drivers debate extra-curricular racing in wake of Earnhardt Jr.'s fiery crash

Posted: Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Jamie McMurray had two immediate concerns when he heard about Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s fiery crash July 18th in Sonoma, Calif.

The first concern was for Earnhardt, who suffered burns to his legs, chin and neck while practicing for an American LeMans Series event. McMurray's second concern was about how Earnhardt's wreck might affect him.

"Initially, when that happened, I hoped Dale Jr. was OK, but secondly I thought 'I hope Chip (Ganassi, McMurray's team owner) still lets me run the 24 Hours of Daytona.' "

McMurray wasn't the only driver who wondered what bearing Earnhardt's crash might have on their future attempts to compete in events outside the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.

And while it remains to be seen if owners or sponsors will tighten the reins, most drivers agreed they will continue to step outside Nextel Cup.

"Dale Jr. is a racer, along with like Tony Stewart and everybody else out here," McMurray said. "We want to race."

Veteran Ken Schrader is arguably the king of running multiple series. He said most driver's contracts deal with participation outside Nextel Cup.

"It's in almost everybody's contract, however they get it wrote in there," Schrader said. "I've always had it in mine. I've had ones that said whenever, whatever, I could do it. Other ones said they wanted notice."

Earnhardt's injuries forced him to share driving duties with Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday in Loudon, N.H. and may affect his participation in this weekend's event at Pocono, Pa. Still, Schrader said he doesn't worry about getting hurt in outside competition.

"I'm just picking a number, but I figure if I'm going to race 15,000 miles a year and 13 of them are going to be in the Nextel Cup car, there's a damn good chance, just playing odds, that's where I'm going to get hurt," Schrader said.

Schrader, who saw footage of Earnhardt's crash, said the wreck wasn't that serious until the Corvette burst into flames. The fact that the crash was caught on film and subsequently broadcast nationwide turned the crash into a major incident.

"It was a wussy wreck; it just got exciting," Schrader said.

Schrader said that how much a driver competes outside of Nextel Cup should be left up to him and his team, but that he doesn't feel that dabbling in other series has ever hurt his performance in Cup.

"The best year I've ever had in Cup points was the year I also ran the most races I'd ever run," he said.

Current Nextel Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson gave up his favorite hobby, motocross racing, when he joined the Nextel Cup. To Johnson, the risks were too great.

"When you crash on a bike, there's no question you're going to be injured and have broken bones," he said. "I have completely removed myself from that. I truly enjoy it and love it, but I know if I go down, it's all over."

Earnhardt doesn't plan on backing off.

"If the opportunity presented itself tomorrow and if they parked that C5-R (Corvette) out the door right there, I'd get right back in it," Earnhardt said. "It's one of the most fun cars to drive.

"It's what I love to do. I love to drive. I love to race. I take the risk every time I get in the car, no matter what car it is."

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