NASCAR year be­longs to Ju­nior, Jeff and Jim­mie

Earn­hardt Jr., Gor­don and John­son lead­ing the way

The Covington News - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C.— From Ju­nior to Jeff and Jim­mie, the 2007 Nex­tel Cup sea­son be­longed to three dif­fer­ent driv­ers for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

Dale Earn­hardt Jr. waged a pub­lic bat­tle with his step­mother for con­trol of his late fa­ther’s com­pany, and when his coup failed, he be­came the hottest free agent in NASCAR his­tory. His de­ci­sions started a domino ef­fect, and the win­ners and losers won’t be known for years.

Ju­nior even­tu­ally set­tled on mighty Hendrick Mo­tor­sports, where he’ll join a team that won 18 of 36 races this sea­son and its sev­enth Nex­tel Cup ti­tle. The move has put pres­sure on NASCAR’s most pop­u­lar driver to fi­nally de­liver his first cham­pi­onship, and on Rick Hendrick to make sure it hap­pens with­out dis­rupt­ing the bal­ance of the most pow­er­ful team ever as­sem­bled.

“I think the pres­sure’s on me, be­cause of his fan base ex­pect­ing him to do well,” Hendrick said. “If he does well, it’s be­cause of his tal­ent. If he doesn’t, it’s go­ing to be my fault. That’s kind of the way it works when you have mul­ti­ple cars ... and I’m look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenge.”

Ju­nior will get sup­port from Hendrick driv­ers Jim­mie John­son and Jeff Gor­don, who dom­i­nated this sea­son like no duo ever had.

John­son led the way with 10 vic­to­ries and an in­cred­i­ble per­for­mance dur­ing the Chase for the cham­pi­onship that cul­mi­nated in his sec­ond straight cham­pi­onship. Gor­don fin­ished sec­ond, with six wins and a record 30 top-10 fin­ishes.

“We knew we couldn’t put our guards down. We knew who we were rac­ing and the team and the track are bet­ter than any­one else out there, and they had an amaz­ing year,” John­son said. “And we knew we had to fight to the very end to get this thing done.”

Al­though he came up just short, Gor­don proved he’s still among the best af­ter 16 sea­sons in NASCAR’s top se­ries. He also showed class in de­feat, cel-

“Jay­hawk” Hawkins and the tena­cious Tevin “Spi­der-Man” Bradley. All of the above­men­tioned play­ers played im­por­tant roles through­out the re­gion and state tour­na­ment last sea­son.

“Tee” Far­ley, Omar Craw­ley, Der­rick Henry and Demetrius McCray are also primed to con­trib­ute. McCray brings his ae­rial ac­ro­bat­ics from the foot­ball field to the hard­wood courts. Foot­ball stand­out Ruben Hatch­ett, Jonathan Turner, Jared Mann, Charles Ed­wards, Win­dell Dar­ring­ton and Matthew Pow­ell com­plete the var­sity ros­ter for the Rams.

“I think this team right now has bet­ter lead­er­ship than we did last year,” noted Ras­mussen. “This team has re­ally ral­lied around each other, and the thing I like is their at­ti­tudes are good.”

Ras­mussen en­ters his third sea­son as head coach and 10th sea­son over­all at New- ton. In seven of the pre­vi­ous nine years dur­ing his ten­ure, the Rams have won 20 or more games and made it to the state play­offs, in­clud­ing a Fi­nal Four ap­pear­ance in 2005. In fact, Ras­mussen knows what his team must do to be suc­cess­ful.

“Our team is built on two key points: fun­da­men­tals and dis­ci­pline,” he said. “From day one we have stressed both of th­ese points. We have to play re­ally strong de­fense and work hard at block­ing out and re­bound­ing to help make up for our lack of size.”

Ras­mussen likes what he has seen so far from his team as he spoke about its chem­istry. “We have a very good

e have a very good group of young tal­ent (who) gets along well to­gether and likes each other. We be­lieve we have the po­ten­tial for an­other ex­cit­ing sea­son.”

— Rick Ras­mussen Boys bas­ket­ball head coach, New­ton High School

group of young tal­ent (who) gets along well to­gether and likes each other. We be­lieve we have the po­ten­tial for an­other ex­cit­ing sea­son.”

But it will not be an easy chore for the Rams in or­der to ex­pe­ri­ence an­other great year. Play­ing in Re­gion 2-AAAAA is no small task. They must take on the likes of Stephen­son, M.L. King, Litho­nia, Redan, Dou­glass, Luella and Union Grove.

New­ton’s non-re­gion home games in­clude Jack­son, Salem, Al­covy and East­side. The first will be Tues­day against Jack­son, fol­lowed by a short trip across the county to archri­val East­side for a bat­tle with the Ea­gles on Dec. 1.

“We need to start the sea­son strong,” said Ras­mussen. ”Hope­fully we can build on the Mon­roe game and im­prove as the sea­son goes on. If we con­tinue to play with fun­da­men­tals and dis­ci­pline, we’ll give our­selves a chance to win night in and night out.

“The guys have worked re­ally hard and have been a plea­sure to coach so far,” added Ras­mussen. “They should be fun and ex­cit­ing to watch, and I’m look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenge, so all Ram-faith­ful mark Tues­day on your cal­en­dars.”

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Play­mak­ers: Omar Craw­ley, left, lays it up over a de­fender dur­ing the New­ton Blue/White scrim­mage last week at the school.


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