Murto: Grandfather clock goes to Junior

By Craig Murto

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally accomplished something he dreamed of since he was a child.

A Martinsville Speedway grandfather clock is now safe and sound in the Earnhardt Jr. home after his victory in the first race of the Eliminator Round of the Sprint Cup Chase.

Earnhardt took the lead from Tony Stewart on a restart with five laps to go and held off a hard-charging Jeff Gordon. Gordon had the best car throughout the day, but when it mattered most Earnhardt was not to be denied.

“I’ve wanted that grandfather clock since I was a little boy and I got it today,” Earnhardt shouted in the victory lane.

His late father Dale Earnhardt Sr. won six times at Martinsville, and as a child Earnhardt Jr. became quite familiar with the most unique trophy in motorsports.

“I know this place has a special meaning and a special place in the series and the sport,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve been coming here so many years. My dad won several [clocks] and brought one home and set it by the front door by the stairs. There was a little rug by it. I used to race my matchbox cars on that rug and remember hearing the clock chime on the hour.”

Earnhardt held off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon. Ryan Newman finished third, followed by Tony Stewart and Joey Logano. With his second-place finish, Gordon took the points lead in the Chase by three over Ryan Newman.

With four spots open to run for the title at Homestead, Fla., and only two races left in the Eliminator Round, at least two of the title contenders are going to get to compete for the championship based on points.

Ryan Newman’s been keeping his hopes alive all season based on points; could he make it to the final four? And what if he actually wins the championship without winning a race? Reaction to that scenario will be interesting, especially given the new Chase format’s emphasis on winning.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t the only driver to go home with a grandfather clock last weekend. On a day when his team honored 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Wendell Scott, Darrell Wallace Jr. delivered the ultimate tribute and went home with his second clock on Saturday.

Wallace bounced back from a late-race incident to win the Kroger 200 Truck Series race, his second straight victory in the event. When he won at the half-mile oval a year ago he became the first African American to win a NASCAR touring series race since Scott in 1963.

“This [win] is a touch sweeter, having the No. 34 tribute truck,” said Wallace. “I couldn’t ask for a better day … having the Wendell Scott family here, my family, my girlfriend. It’s a big moment.”

Wallace’s Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota carried a throwback paint scheme that replicated Scott’s car from the 1963 victory. Wallace normally runs the No. 54, but for this race he switched to No. 34, the number Scott — from nearby Danville — carried his entire career.

With the upcoming changes in NASCAR’s TV package, some broadcasting careers are getting cut short. And some familiar faces to race fans will no longer be seen.

Dr. Jerry Punch, for example, will no longer be a pit road reporter. Either he still has time remaining on his ESPN contract, or NBC and Fox are overlooking the most talented pit road reporter in the business. Punch — a working medical doctor — actually saved the lives of at least two racers, Rusty Wallace and Ernie Irvan, by being at the right place at the right time.

Hopefully NBC, which gets the Cup Series in 2015, doesn’t hire pretty faces over knowledgeable broadcasters. That would be a real shame, and would not do the sport any good.

But ESPN will keep Ricky Craven. A former Sprint Cup race winner, Craven agreed to a new contract and will remain with ESPN as a NASCAR analyst, according to an ESPN release.

During his driving career, Craven, from Newburgh, Maine, won the Rookie of the Year titles in both the NASCAR Nationwide Series (1992) and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (1995). He won races in both series as well as in the Truck Series. In fact, with his first Sprint Cup victory he took home one of Martinsville’s grandfather clocks.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.