Why sideline Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Clash?
Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday morningthat Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been cleared for NASCAR competition following an on-track test Wednesday at Darlington (S.C.) Speedway. What has me perplexed, though, is that Earnhardt isn’t participating in the Clash at Daytona exhibition race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Feb. 18. As a result, other than practice and a pole qualifying session, Earnhardt’s only taste of competition at Daytona before the Feb. 26 running of the Daytona 500 will be his respective qualifying race a few days prior. Shouldn’t his Hendrick Motorsports team want him to get as much track time as possible ahead of the 500? I’m sure the sponsor of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet wouldn’t mind having NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver in its car for the Clash.
I get that car owner Rick Hendrick wants to put Alex Bowman in a car for the Clash to reward him and thank him for his performance behind the wheel of the No. 88 in Earnhardt’s absence in the second half of the 2016 season, but couldn’t he do that and put Earnhardt back in the No. 88 for the Clash?
One of HMS’ drivers, Kasey Kahne, isn’t qualified for the Clash, making the No. 5 Hendrick entry available. Why not put Bowman in that car and Earnhardt back in the No. 88? The call to keep Earnhardt out of the car for the Clash when there’s another car Hendrick could put Bowman in really has me scratching my head. I’m sure, though, there’s a legitimate reason. I’m just not seeing it.
Sure, because of his injury in 2016, Earnhardt will be allowed some testing time ahead of the start of the 2017 season, and maybe some of that testing will be at Daytona. But, still, a single car on the track at Daytona doesn’t even come close to being out there with a bunch of cars. And, heck, even being out there with several cars during practice isn’t the same. Why pass up a chance to run with several cars on the track under a competition setting? I don’t get it.
Maybe I’m missing something, here, but it looks to me as if Rick Hendrick has dropped the ball on this one. I just don’t understand the call to put Bowman in the No. 88 instead of Earnhardt. Why couldn’t Bowman drive the No. 5, since Kahne isn’t qualified to drive the car in the Clash, and let Earnhardt get some extra track time with a competition flavor prior to the “real” start of the season? I’m confused.