Friday, July 23, 2004

Earnhardt ready to return this weekend

The Associated Press

LOUDON, N.H. - There's no keeping Dale Earnhardt Jr. away from the track.

Less than a week after being burned in a wreck, he'll be back at New Hampshire International Speedway, where he will race to try to hold onto second place in the Nextel Cup standings.

"Driving race cars is what I love doing," he says.

That dedication to racing nearly resulted in a serious injury to the son of the late Dale Earnhardt. He could have relaxed on a rare weekend off from NASCAR's top series, but instead he decided to drive in an American Le Mans event last Sunday in Sonoma, Calif.

Earnhardt sustained second-degree burns to his legs, face and neck.

Officials at Dale Earnhardt Inc. said Little E never hesitated about climbing into his car this weekend. But how long he races Sunday in the Siemens 300 was unclear.

Martin Truex Jr., who drives for Earnhardt's Chance 2 Motorsports Busch series team, will be standing by in case his boss needs relief. Earnhardt has been quiet since the crash but planned a news conference for today.

Earnhardt spokesman Jade Gurss said the No. 8 Chevrolet will have an extra cool box and venting to try to keep the driver from becoming uncomfortably hot.

Earnhardt goes into the event 105 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

Earnhardt could sit out this weekend with little damage to his title hopes.

Getting out of the car after the start Sunday also would not hurt Earnhardt, because the driver who starts the race earns the points.

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon will also receive plenty of attention today, when he goes for a record-tying fifth consecutive pole.

If Gordon is the fastest in qualifying, he would tie the Cup record Bobby Allison set in 1972. Cale Yarborough matched it in 1980.

FORUMLA ONE: Six-time world champion Michael Schumacher has had little success at his home race, the German Grand Prix. But a victory here Sunday will equal his record for most wins in a season.

The Ferrari driver has won only twice here in 11 starts, his worst record at any track.

Still, Schumacher is optimistic about going for his 11th victory in 12 races this season. In 2002, he set the record of 11 wins in 17 races.

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