A quick look at the NASCAR stories you may have missed at Phoenix International Speedway leading up to the second Sprint Cup race of the season Sunday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is without regular spotter T.J. Majors this weekend, as he is home recovering from an illness dealing with his intestines. Needing someone to be his eyes and ears, Earnhardt tabbed Bill Elliott, whose son Chase drives a Nationwide Series car for JR Motorsports, as his spotter Friday. Elliott won NASCAR's Most Popular Driver award a record 16 times, while Earnhardt has won 11 consecutive awards.
Earnhardt was fastest in Friday's lone practice session, qualifying fifth overall. Jeff Dickerson, who worked with Earnhardt on occasion last year, will spot for him Sunday.
Speaking of Earnhardt, immediately after winning the Daytona 500, he embarked upon a national media tour which saw him make stops in New York, Bristol, Conn., Austin, Texas, Los Angeles and Phoenix. But not wanting to be presumptuous that he'd win the Great American Race, Earnhardt did not have a bag packed with a change of clothes.
So how did Earnhardt get by without the essentials one needs? Girlfriend Amy Reimann, who works at a boutique in Mooresville, N.C., had an acquaintance named Kristin Heinrich in New York. After Reimann contacted her, Heinrich helped arrange fresh clothes for Earnhardt for his appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman," followed by a full day at ESPN headquarters.
"On our flight to New York from Daytona, Kristin was scrambling trying to put together some things judging by the schedule that I had," Earnhardt said. "I never had to wear socks twice or wear underwear twice so that was good. Everything was clean.
"I don't know what I would have done without Amy and Kristin at that particular moment. I definitely wouldn't have represented myself as well as I did this week. That was a big help from them."
In separate incidents during the Daytona 500, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick hit head-on the front stretch wall not covered by SAFER barriers. Neither was injured, but each questioned why Daytona International Speedway did not have the crash-absorbent soft walls installed throughout the track -- especially since Daytona is undergoing massive renovations to its grandstands totaling $400 million.
"The tracks, for the most part, don't listen to really anything unless it's profitable for their shareholders," Harvick said. "So, when you see somebody spending $400 million dollars on their track and they don't have soft walls around the inside, maybe they could spend $403 million to go ahead and finish the inside of the superspeedway there at Daytona."
Harvick said he was sore following the last-lap crash that saw his Chevrolet break loose coming to the start/finish line. Denny Hamlin sustained a broken back last year when he hit an unprotected inside wall at Auto Club Speedway, which has since been covered with a SAFER barrier.
NASCAR mandates tracks install SAFER barriers on all outside walls in each turn. However, there is no requirement pertaining to soft walls on other portions of the track a driver may contact.
"It's a little bit frustrating because it really shouldn't even be a debate," Harvick said. "I know they have data that shows where the most frequently hit spots are but we wear all this safety equipment and do all the things that we do to these race tracks for that one freak incident to keep things from happening like happened back in 2001 (when Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash in the Daytona 500).
"It's just one of those things I guess that you just wait around for something else to happen and then they'll fix it."