Waiting for tonight: Earnhardt fought handling issues in final Coke 600 practice
By REID SPENCER
CONCORD, N.C. (NASCAR) - The optimism Dale Earnhardt Jr. generated with his aggressive run in the May 19 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race took a hit Saturday afternoon as Earnhardt struggled with the handling of his No. 88 Chevrolet during final practice for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The bottom line was that Earnhardt simply couldn't find the speed he had enjoyed in the All-Star event, where he finished fourth overall after winning the preliminary Sprint Showdown and the fourth of five segments in the main event.
In Happy Hour, on the other hand, Earnhardt was 22nd fastest, with his best lap .356 seconds slower than that of practice leader Brad Keselowski.
Earnhardt and his crew worked on the car throughout the session, but at the end of Happy Hour, they still had issues.
"It drives like (expletive)," Earnhardt said after a final shock change. "It was really, really tight into (Turn) 3. It'd come off the corner and just snap."
There was no reason for Earnhardt Nation to abandon all hope, however. Most of Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 is run at night - like the All-Star Race and unlike practice.
BAD WEEK FOR PASTRANA
The best part of the week for Travis Pastrana was Sunday - when he wasn't driving anything.
On Wednesday, during media ride-arounds to promote Saturday night's Global Rallycross race, Pastrana knocked down a chain-link fence separating the course from the infield.
In qualifying for Saturday's History 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series event, Pastrana spun on his first lap. Then, in the race itself, he caused two cautions with a pair of spins off Turn 4, tearing up a section of infield grass in the process.
In the third Rallycross heat that night, the X Games gold medalist wiped out on the first lap and failed to qualify for the final.
Pastrana felt so bad about the damage he did to CMS that he offered to pay for the fence. Charlotte Motor Speedway president Marcus Smith declined.
"He told me not to worry about it," Pastrana said. "But I felt really bad because I thought they were going to have to reconfigured the (Rallycross) course and take a bunch of time out."
Fortunately, that wasn't the case, but perhaps Smith should consider a rider on his insurance policy the next time Pastrana comes to town for a long weekend.
GREAT DAY FOR AUSTRALIA
What's number one on this week's list of proposition bets you wish you'd made? That an Australian driver would start from the front row of each of the three races that make up the greatest day in motorsports.
Aussie Mark Webber won Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco from the pole. Ryan Briscoe started from the pole in the Indianapolis 500 and drove his Penske Honda to a fifth-place finish.
Tasmanian Marcos Ambrose completed the trifecta, qualifying second to Richard Petty Motorsports teammate and Coors Light Pole winner Aric Almirola for Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600.
Updated May 27, 2012