Junior and Gordon make strange partners | NevadaAppeal.com

Junior and Gordon make strange partners

Roger Diez
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

Obviously the biggest news of the week was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement that he is joining the Hendrick Motorsports team with a five-year contract.

Some of the details (car number, sponsor, paint scheme, etc.) are yet to be worked out, but maybe now NASCAR fans can concentrate on the 2007 season and the current title chase. Of course, I’m sure a lot of Junior fans are not happy that their hero is teaming up with their version of the anti-Christ, Jeff Gordon.

Who will they throw their beer cans, chicken bones, and trash at now? I mean, they must feel like George W. Bush would feel if one of the twins was to announce that she was marrying into the Kennedy family. Well, get over it, people! It’s a done deal and you’re just going to have to make the best of it.

As of this writing, Kyle Busch’s eventual destination has not been decided. Both DEI and Ginn Racing have been bandied about as possibly interested, but remember how many potential destinations Junior was supposedly headed for before last Wednesday’s announcement.

Of course, there are some who are already questioning Rick Hendrick’s judgment for dumping a 22 year old phenom like Busch. But Hendrick already had the maximum of four teams, so if he was to add Junior to his stable, somebody had to go.

And Junior will certainly be a big fan and sponsor draw for the organization. Trust me, Rick Hendrick doesn’t make decisions lightly, and he has made no demonstrably bad ones that I can recall. No one is questioning Junior’s decision, however. I had thought that he might start his own team, but this is a much better way for him to go.

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Single car operations are at such a terrible disadvantage with NASCAR’s current testing rules, and of all the organizations in NASCAR Hendrick is probably the one currently at the top of the game. It has proven it knows how to win championships, and at this point in time it has the best handle of anyone on the Car of Tomorrow. If Junior wants to win a Nextel Cup title (and that’s a given), he couldn’t have made a better team selection.

Moving over to the open-wheel world, congratulations to young Lewis Hamilton on his first Formula 1 victory at last Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix. Hamilton’s McLaren Mercedes has yet to finish out of the top three, and he is setting all kinds of rookie records.

With the finish in Canada, he’s well and truly out front in the points, and he will start from the pole for the second time in a row in today’s U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis. In my opinion, he is going to be one of the greats in the sport, his name right up there with the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Sterling Moss, Jimmy Clark, Ayrton Senna, and Michael Schumacher. Formula 1 fans have been wondering what the sport would look like post-Schumacher, and I think we already have the answer.

Another F1 rookie to watch is BMW driver Sebastian Vettel, who will be making his first F1 start today at Indy. Vettel will replace Robert Kubica, who survived a frightening crash in Canada but was judged unfit to drive by the F1 doctor on Thursday.

If you saw video of the crash, you know that it is amazing that Kubica wasn’t killed, but a sprained ankle and a concussion were his only injuries. The doctor’s down check was for aftereffects of the concussion. Vettel had an impressive debut in qualifying yesterday, advancing to the final qualifying round and capturing seventh starting position.

Finally, NASCAR’s inconsistency in rules enforcement raised its ugly head again last Sunday. After a brouhaha earlier in the season concerning alleged “phantom debris” and caution flags for same, here was Jimmy Johnson’s car obviously shedding large hunks of debris in what turned out to be the closing laps of the Pocono race.

So where was the caution? After NASCAR’s (and FOX race commentators’) pious pronouncements of erring on the side of safety, could it be that NASCAR decided to keep things running just to beat the rain to halfway, regardless of how much junk was scattered around the track? Just asking.