Notebook > Sports

Chasing Dale

Sports | Speculation runs rampant about the plans of racing legend's son

Issue: "Jerry Falwell," May 26, 2007

At times it may be hard to distinguish Jr. Earnhardt from J.R. Ewing, considering the amount of drama that enveloped NASCAR when Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he was leaving his famous father's racing company, DEI.

Earnhardt, son of deceased stock car legend Dale Earnhardt, spent more than a year trying to negotiate with his stepmother, Earnhardt widow Teresa, before saying that 2007 would be his last year in DEI's No. 8 car. The announcement, made on May 10, sent shockwaves throughout NASCAR and instantly made Earnhardt the most anticipated free agent in the sport's history.

The rumors began flying around almost immediately. Two television stations falsely reported that Earnhardt had quickly struck a deal with the Richard Childress Racing team. "Speculation that wouldn't make it to TV a couple years ago, these days it seems to make it there pretty easily," he said.

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Only if your last name is Earnhardt. It's hard to imagine drivers Carl Edwards or Jamie McMurray (or even Tony Stewart) eliciting so much attention. That's because Earnhardt isn't just a driver: He's a living brand name. When the elder Earnhardt died from a crash in the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, his immense popularity quickly transferred to Junior almost like a birthright.

And even though Junior hasn't exactly followed in his father's winning legacy (seven Winston Cups), many speculate that if Earnhardt does in fact join Richard Childress Racing, he'll perhaps decide to race the No. 3 car his father made famous. And just as Michael Jordan's 1995 return to the NBA in the No. 45 jersey prompted a new round of apparel purchases for Bulls fans, the sight of Junior racing in the No. 3 car would no doubt prompt a cavalcade of must-have T-shirts and bumper stickers.

How long will the hubbub surrounding Earnhardt's destination last? "It's going to last until he signs a contract with somebody, which is really good," said Stewart. Good as in green.

Around the Horn

CYCLING: American cyclist Floyd Landis entered his latest fight swinging. The Tour de France winner accused of doping traded the yellow jersey for a symbolic yellow tie for an arbitration hearing to begin his defense against charges that could leave him stripped of his biggest cycling victory. "Make no mistake about it," Landis attorney Maurice Suh said, "this case is an utter disaster." Landis' attorneys will apparently attempt to impeach the credibility of the French testing lab where the cyclist's urine was analyzed.

BASKETBALL: When Phoenix Suns forward Amare Stoudemire called the San Antonio Spurs a "dirty team," he probably expected the former champion Spurs to vindicate the controversial statement. They seemed to do so with a pair of flagrant fouls in the third and fourth games of the seven-game playoff series. In Game 3, NBA officials upgraded to flagrant a foul on Spurs forward Bruce Bowen, who kneed two-time MVP Steve Nash in the groin. One game later, Nash was again on the receiving end of the Spurs' wrath. This time, Spurs veteran Robert Horry decked him into the scorers' table with a forearm. "He just body checked me out of bounds," Nash said after tying the series at two games apiece. "I understand he's frustrated. It happens, but he did body check me."

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