Teresa Earnhardt, widow of Dale Earnhardt, said in an interview on Speed Channel Tuesday night that she doesn't think her late husband's No. 3 should ever be raced at NASCAR's top level again. Not even by her stepson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. "Contrary to popular belief, everyone cannot be replaced," she said as part of NASCAR Five Years Later. "Legends live on forever. I don't think the No. 3 will ever be driven by anyone else."
Every number used in competition is owned by NASCAR and the "3" is leased yearly to Richard Childress Racing, where Earnhardt won six of his seven Nextel Cup championships. Both Childress and Earnhardt Jr. have spoken hopefully about having Junior in the car later in his career.
THE OTHER GUY: Elliott Sadler felt a lot like the weak link when his Robert Yates Racing team rolled into Daytona International Speedway. Teammate Dale Jarrett has won the Daytona 500 three times, the Bud Shootout, Pepsi 400, a 125-mile qualifying race and four poles.
Sadler's crew chief, Tommy Baldwin Jr., has a Daytona 500 win with Ward Burton in 2002.
"It's hard to put into words right now the feelings I've got," said Sadler, who finished 11th in the Daytona 500 last year. "I feel like I've got to come in and carry my load this week and do my job to get the car as close as I can."
Sadler may be a bit hard on himself after finishing second in the 2002 Daytona 500, and producing the fourth-best qualifying time on Sunday (Jarrett was third) suggests he might be ready.
EVERNHAM SWITCH: Jeremy Mayfield is one of six drivers to qualify for the Chase for the Championship in both seasons, but his subsequent flops - he finished 10th and ninth - led to speculation an offseason team shakeup was to allocate resources where they could be better used. Several members of Mayfield's crew were moved to work with Kasey Kahne, the 2004 rookie of the year who has never qualified for the Chase.
"It wasn't like, "Give Kasey all the cars I had,' which weren't all brand new cars," Mayfield said. "I've got all brand new race cars, the best Evernham Motorsports can build and they're all done and ready to go, so we're more prepared today as a race team than (Kahne) or (new teammate Scott Riggs)."
MY BAD: Terry Labonte's No. 96 Chevrolet also failed a post-qualifying inspection Sunday, but NASCAR deemed its illegal carburetor setup an obvious mistake made by Joe Gibbs Racing, which supplies engines to his Hall of Fame Racing team. The part, which enhances fuel economy, not performance, is legal on non-restrictor-plate tracks.
"Understanding," said Nextel Cup series director John Darby, "(that) qualifying is only two laps and it's not a time when you would try to save fuel - on two laps - you're trying to get speed out of the car, that falls into the point where yes, the pieces in the car are incorrect, but as far as the intent to circumvent the rules, we don't really think that was the intent."
SPARK PLUGS: Track activity resumes today after a two-day break, with Nextel Cup, Busch and Truck series drivers practicing. Cup drivers Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth did not participate in IROC practice Tuesday. NASCAR is considering softening the front bumper on Nextel Cup cars to discourage "slam-drafting," but has no hard timetable and must find a solution that does not compromise driver safety. Former series champion Bill Elliott, who is driving the No. 36 Chevrolet for MB2 Motorsports in the Daytona 500, plans to drive as many as 12 races this season for that team and Evernham Motorsports.
- BRANT JAMES, Times staff writer