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Kurt Busch is relishing that Shell wanted him; Jeff Burton fastest in practice; Dale Earnhardt Jr. gripes

  Three-wide at Talladega...but drivers complain that two-car breakaways can beat the pack (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   The happiest man at Talladega SuperSpeedway?
   That's a no-brainer: Kurt Busch, who just got a new long-term contract with Roger Penske and a multi-year sponsorship with Shell, one of the world's biggest companies.  
   The 2011 option on Busch's current contract with Penske was just picked up Penske a few weeks ago. Then came the Shell opportunity.
   "When the option was picked up by Roger, that was a perfect opportunity to talk about what the future could bring, not just 2011, but 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and beyond," Busch said.
   "We started with just a light-hearted sit-down at a dinner one night -- almost one of those napkin sketches: 'Hey, this is what I'd like to see, and this is what might happen.'
   "Then this Shell/Pennzoil opportunity just came up a few weeks ago, and it changed the whole landscape."
    Shell has been with Richard Childress and Kevin Harvick since 2007 but the company has been shopping its sponsorship for some time. Penske was late to the game, and only came into negotiations after a call from Shell. Penske currently has ExxonMobil as a major sponsor, but that will go away, because of the conflict.
    "One of the prerequisites from Shell was that I would be driving," Busch said. "That was really the only option they gave us. 
   "It's humbling because it's such a big organization, globally known. It has all the potential to be one of the biggest programs we've seen in Cup in some time."

  Kurt Busch: top of the heap (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The hardest driving in Friday afternoon's quite aggressive two hours of practice for Sunday's 500 was Jeff Burton, who drew praise from his crew. Drivers spent all their time in the draft, rather than single-lap runs or looking for clean air for Saturday's scheduled pole runs for Sunday's Aaron's 499. That's just as well, because bad weather will likely wash out Saturday here. So it's hard to translate Burton's 199.5 mph in the draft into a single-lap qualifying speed.
    However Burton is still miffed over a NASCAR penalty in Monday's Texas 500 that proved costly for him.
   Burton was getting ready for a routine yellow flag pit stop midway through the race, but Jeff Gordon suddenly blocked his path, so Burton couldn't pit. NASCAR then penalized him.
     "I went home and watched it, so I could see it from their perspective," Burton said. "I understand why the call was made, but I still disagree with the call. 
    "From their perspective I didn't get on pit road quick enough....which allowed Gordon to be next to me -- which put me in a position where I couldn't get on pit road. 
    "My perspective is that the rule says that I have to commit before the 'commitment line'...and I tried to commit before the commitment line, and I couldn't because there was a car there.
    "As long as you have raced, you think you have seen it all, and you just never have. 
    "The reason it happened is because we made the call too late to pit.  We were going to stay out, then we said 'pit.'
    "And in that amount of time Gordon pulled next to me, and I couldn't get on pit road.
     "NASCAR's take is that 'You guys waited too long....and if you had made your decision a little earlier, then he couldn't have been there.'
    "Our take is that it doesn't matter when we make the decision, we should be allowed the opportunity to get on pit road and shouldn't have been blocked off of pit road because we made a late decision.
    "I see both sides. I still think I'm right.
    "We had discussions about it, and we have different opinions about it...but they have the whistle and their call is final."


   Jeff Burton (R, talking with teammate Clint Bowyer) was not only fast Friday in practice but brutally hard in his driving, much to his crew's delight (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. used to be a formidable driver at Daytona and Talladega, but not lately, though his late sprint in that green-white-checkered finish in February was impressive.
    It's been an on-and-off season so far for Earnhardt. At Texas he was back on.
   But Earnhardt says he's being pushed to get more aggressive on the track.
    "People, even people close to me, have said I need to be more aggressive," Earnhardt said. "But you can't be aggressive when you are going backwards. Hell, you are just going to piss everybody off.
     "You can't be aggressive when you are sitting there trying to hang on to your butt all day long running 25th.
    "When the car is good, I can do that, and I will. I am willing to do that: I get fired up when I see opportunities, like the win standing there in front of me -- I can get aggressive.
   "But when your car is not running good, and you are going backwards, beating on everybody ain't going to do nothing but make you a bunch of enemies. So you've got to ride it out until your stuff turns around and you get going.
    "When you are playing offense all day long, it is easy to look cool and drive on the edge and get everybody up on their feet.
    "But when you are just hanging on, trying not to wreck, trying to stay the hell out of everybody's way, it is difficult to be aggressive and wild and flashy."

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   The Earnhardt name is powerful at Talladega...but it's not always easy carrying it (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

dale jr gripes?????

Dale jr. gripes nice name for your article. All that Jr. was doing was giving you the facts about the way he choses to race other drivers. You obviously don't like him with a headline like that.

When is JR going to man up

When is JR going to man up and stop whining and blaming everybody except the hot dog guy? This is getting really old. Get up on the wheel, get focused, drive the damn car and shut up. Get up on the wheel and earn the $30,000,000 you earned last year by being a second rate finisher. If you can't win or at least be a top ten finisher in a Hendrick car, maybe the problem isn't the car, the crew. I used to think it was everybody else too, now I'm not so sure.

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