Is Junior on his way to Hendrick?

Dave Ongie • Apr 16, 2007 at 10:21 AM

It will go down as the most over analyzed nine laps in the history of NASCAR racing.

After Kyle Busch's crew worked feverishly for about 50 laps to repair his mangled car after a crash on lap 253, they were surprised to find out their driver had decided to take the rest of the afternoon off.

Never mind the fact that the crew had busted their rear ends in an effort to allow Busch to get back on the track and salvage a few points, Busch apparently had better things to do with the rest of his day.

And so the hunt began to find a new driver.

Then somebody realized that Dale Earnhardt Jr. had blown an engine and was hanging around the infield.

As far as relief drivers go, you could do a heck of a lot worse.

So in a scene not witnessed since Ricky Bobby got his big break by climbing into the driver's seat of the No. 26 Laughing Clown Malt Liquor car in "Talladega Nights," Earnhardt strapped into Busch's No. 5 Chevy and ran the final nine laps of the race.

As it turned out, Earnhardt's relief appearance netted Busch three points while giving Junior the chance to go fast for the final nine laps.

It was a win-win situation destined to go down as an interesting footnote in NASCAR history ... or at least it was until the media got a hold of it.

When Junior stepped out of the car, he was met by a throng of reporters who wondered whether or not the decision to drive the Hendrick Motorsports ride had anything to do with his contract negotiations.

One reporter even wondered whether or not it was "a tryout."

Are you kidding me?

First of all, if Junior were seriously going to try out for Rick Hendrick, he would at least try out in a car that was held together by more than spit and duct tape.

Second of all, even if he can't come to terms with Dale Earnhardt Inc., I would bet the farm that Hendrick Motorsports is the last team on earth Junior would sign on with.

Junior teaming up with Jeff Gordon would be like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox merging, like Duke and North Carolina consolidating into one university - fans of both drivers would never let either of them live it down.

Beyond that, the situation at Hendrick Motorsports can't be much fun if your name isn't Jeff Gordon.

If you listened to Gordon's comments at Martinsville as he battled Jimmie Johnson down the stretch, you know that Gordon sees his teammates as drivers whose only purpose for being on the track is to help get the No. 24 Chevy into victory lane.

In Gordon's mind, he's Lance Armstrong and Johnson, Busch and Casey Mears are the anonymous U.S. Postal Service riders who should help push him to victory.

And who knows - after 15 years of being the cornerstone of Hendrick Motorsports, maybe Gordon has earned the right to think of himself as the top dog.

But as long as Junior's goal is to win championships and as long as Gordon is still in the No. 24 car, driving for Hendrick Motorsports will never be an option for Earnhardt.

• Fox's race coverage is awful, mostly because a certain someone in the booth finds it necessary to tell us every week that a driver staying out during a caution is doing so to lead a lap, which will earn that driver five bonus points.

But I can't criticize Darrell Waltrip this week because our Fox affiliate couldn't keep him on the air long enough for me to get a good earful of his "racing observations."

Did you hear that DW? Boogity, Boogity, Boogity - you're off the hook this week.

If you sat down in front of your television to catch the race on Sunday, you probably saw an episode of "That's Funny" instead.

That's because our Fox affiliate lost connection with Fox's race coverage for well over an hour, and no, it wasn't that funny to race fans.

Fox has always been a second-rate network and NASCAR needs to do us all a favor and award the next television contract to ABC, handing control of broadcasting over to the folks at ESPN.

Cup races could appear on ABC with Busch races on ESPN or ESPN2 and we'd get the benefit of some intelligent commentary all year long.

• It was another great week for Chip Ganassi Racing, which placed two drivers in the top 10 again.As it stands, Ganassi has David Stremme in the top 12 in points with Juan Pablo Montoya lurking in the 13th spot.On the other hand, fellow Dodge driver Kasey Kahne continued to struggle.Kahne's 20th place finish was good enough to keep him in the all-important top 35 in points, but it was another disappointing finish on a 1.5-mile track for a guy who has carved out his reputation by dominating intermediate tracks.

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