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Stewart wants to bring NASCAR to dirt tracks

Forget the concrete track at Dover. Tony Stewart would love to drive with dirt flying out from under the wheels of his car.

If NASCAR can't make a race on a dirt track happen, Stewart wants to organize it.

Stewart is promoting a half-mile dirt track race Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway featuring NASCAR stars Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin. The drivers will run the 30-lap race in dirt late-model stock cars in front of about 20,000 fans. The race will be broadcast live on pay-per-view.

"It's going to have that Nextel Cup feel, but at the same time still be on a short track," Stewart said.

Stewart looks at the third "Prelude to the Dream" race as a fun opportunity for some of these drivers - like Gordon who last turned a lap at Eldora in 1991 - to get back to the grassroots level. And it's for charity, with pro-ceeds going to the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

"I want the people to show to have a good time," Stewart said. "I want the track to be good for the drivers and for them to have a good time."

Stewart, in position to win at least one or two races this season only to come up empty, wanted to make it a throw-back to simpler times for the drivers. That means limited, if any, meet-and-greets for the drivers and a secure, invita-tion-only pit area. No mob scene, only drivers leaning against their cars and talkin' racing.

"You never see that happen over here," Stewart said. "It's just too complicated."

Not that's life as track owner isn't without complications. Stewart said weather was the biggest concern about owning Eldora. While Cup tracks are generally dried out with blowers after rain, a dirt track could have a race wiped out days in advance because there's no easy man-made way to dry it out.

"The weather is supposed to be good, which is about three-quarters of my worrying," Stewart said.

While raising money for the children's charity is the main focus of the race, Stewart would love for a successful run to open NASCAR official's eyes about running on a dirt track, even though it seems like a long shot.

"We run road courses with cars that aren't really supposed to be run on road courses, so why not run them on dirt?" he said. "It makes sense to do that. Who knows how big this is going to get?"

Welcome aboard?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes to make a decision in the next few weeks on what team he'll drive for next season.

Denny Hamlin says Junior is certainly welcome at Joe Gibbs Racing.

"I know what he could bring to our organization, I know what we could offer him," Hamlin said. "It would be a good deal for him. He's got a lot of things he has to work out other than the driving and the racing part. There's so much more that goes into it nowadays than just getting behind the wheel and choosing the best race car for you."

Hamlin, who along with Tony Stewart, and J.J. Yeley, have all gone through their struggles this season for winless JGR. Hamlin chatted with Earnhardt about what he might do once he leaves Dale Earnhardt Inc. after this season.

Hamlin said he does the best he can to answer Earnhardt's questions, but that team president J.D. Gibbs is the one that needs to really do the hard sell. Hamlin said while he's become good friends with Earnhardt, that won't mean a whole lot when it comes down to a decision.

"I think he's really looking to find a place where he get a little more time to himself," Hamlin said. "I think that's going to be very important to him and wherever he goes, he's going to want that time."

Hamlin did wonder how JGR would find a place for one of NASCAR's most popular drivers and the hottest free agent.

"From the outside looking in, it would be a great fit, but the No. 18 car (Yeley) is really running well now and it's tough to say where he'd fit in," Hamlin said.

When a driver like Earnhardt is available, it's easy to believe he can be squeezed in.

Make A Wish

Even 7-year-old fan Jonathan Neiswender wanted to know where Dale Earnhardt Jr. will end up next season.

Neiswender didn't find out Saturday, but nothing took away the thrill of meeting his favorite driver.

Neiswender had a private conversation with Earnhardt for about 15 minutes outside the No. 8 hauler. Neiswender, who has neurofibromatosis (NF1), visited with his family as part of the Make-A-Wish foundation.

The youngster also got an autograph on a notebook and other Junior merchandise.

"He doesn't care about any other driver," said Jonathan's mom, Tonya Neiswender. "That was pretty amazing."

The boy, his gap-toothed smile present with every click of the camera, was dressed in all Earnhardt clothing, and told Junior he wanted him to stay in the No. 8 car and stick with red next season.

"Can you believe that? He told him what to do!" said Tonya Neiswender, laughing.

In the pits

Jimmie Johnson qualified 27th for Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway, leaving him back in the 14th row. Not great, but at least he'll have his own pit stall.

When he was here for last June's race, Johnson had to share a pit stall because of the Monster Mile's unique lay-out. Dover only has 42 pit stalls, so two teams always have to split a pit stall. On Sunday, Johnny Sauter and A.J. Allmendinger have to share.

"I cannot believe that we only have 42 pit stalls here," Johnson said. "After what took place last year, and the promises made by the track that they were going to increase it to 43 stalls and give us a real garage area to work in … we come back and none of it has changed."

Just wait, Jimmie. Change is coming.

The entire complex is undergoing a five-year improvement project and some of the results - like an upgraded me-dia center - were evident this weekend. The compact garage area will be expanded, and the issue of pit stalls will be addressed in the next few years.

"We'll extend the pits and make the stalls longer," Dover spokesman Gary Camp said Saturday. "They'll stretch them into the turns, which will actually give the fans pit views."


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