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James Finch! Can't keep a good man down...


   By Mike Mulhern


  You just can't keep James Finch down.
  The funniest, most outspoken car owner in NASCAR is frequently in Dutch with the sport's powers-that-be, for his willingness to tell it like it is.

And last season he ripped NASCAR for the Nationwide tour's domination by big Sprint Cup team owners.
  As a man with more than 20 years in the sport, his complaints typically have legitimacy, and typically have a bluntness that's thrilling to behold.
  The Florida construction magnate this time around will have legendary Bill Elliott at the wheel of a Cup car for the Daytona 500 and a few other Cup tour events, depending of course on sponsorship, which is still quite dry in this neck of the woods.
   Finch would like to have Georgia's Elliott running at least 18 Cup races.
   That means the man who helped Ford for so many years and who was once Ford's leading star will now be carrying a Chevy Bowtie on the hood.
   Elliott, now 55 and only running part-time the past several years, ran for the Woods' last season, his 35th year in the sport, an amazing mark. This year the Woods will be going with up-and-comer Trevor Bayne, who performed well for them last fall.
   A plus for Elliott – Finch has a deal to run Rick Hendrick engines.

    Elliott will be one of maybe 50 drivers on the track Thursday.
    And while it's not quite the old Winston Cup Preview, Thursday and Friday here, after each day's test sessions, drivers will be on stage just outside the infield garage for a meet-and-greet with fans. Thursday, at 6 p.m.; Friday, at 5.
    Tickets are $20. And fans can camp free in the infield, first-come, first-serve.

     Roger Penske's Sam Hornish, whose move from Indy-car super-star to aspiring NASCAR racer has been a struggle, will likely be stepping back to a Nationwide team this season, while awaiting any Cup sponsorship success.
   Fellow Indy-car star Danica Patrick struggled last year on the Nationwide tour, in her few but highly publicized events.
   This season Patrick is adding Bristol's March race to her schedule, which should certainly be an eye-opener. It will be her first run at Bruton Smith's stunning half-mile.
    "I've heard the atmosphere at Bristol is like no other track in America," Patrick says. "Throughout my career, one thing people tell me over and over is that seeing a race in Bristol is something every race fan needs to do at least once."
    Considering how long it took five-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson to figure how to run Bristol, this March 19th event could be quite interesting. The best Bristol finish by a woman was Janet Guthrie's sixth in the 1977 Cup race.
    Patrick's best finish in her 13 Nationwide runs last season was a 19th at Homestead.
    Unless NASCAR changes its no-testing rules, Patrick may have to run Bristol cold.
    Patrick is set to run Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas in the coming weeks for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Nationwide team.

    It's the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death here. But there will be a few Earnhardt around racing, not just Dale Jr., but Jeffrey in the 24 Hours....and maybe another promising stock car racer --  Bobby Dale Earnhardt.
    Curious name.
    And it remains to be seen what he can do at the wheel of a race car.
    But the grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt took his first laps around this track last week, in an ARCA car.
    Bobby Dale, son of Kerry Earnhardt, is just 23 and hopes to see how good a racer he is, if he can put together a deal.

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