NASCAR year belongs to Junior, Jeff and Jimmie
Earnhardt Jr., Gordon and Johnson leading the way
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.”
Playmakers: Omar Crawley, left, lays it up over a defender during the Newton Blue/White scrimmage last week at the school.