Hendrick drivers plagued by engine problems

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Those powerful, seemingly unbeatable Hendrick Motorsports cars had major engine problems Wednesday during practice for the Daytona 500.

Two-time defending NASCAR champion and pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson , four-time series champ Jeff Gordon , Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Casey Mears all were forced to change engines because of a lifter problem likely caused by a bad batch of coating.

Scott Riggs , driving for Haas CNC Racing and using Hendrick power, also swapped engines.

"It's a concern, naturally, because it's a widespread problem," said Jeff Andrews , head engine builder at Hendrick. "But it's early enough that we can fix it."

The engine swaps will send those five Chevrolets to the back of the field in their 150-mile qualifying races today, which will help set the starting lineup for the Daytona 500.

ALL-STAR BOOST: The crashes and fight between Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch helped sell tickets for last Saturday's Budweiser Shootout.

Earnhardt Jr.'s win gave television ratings a boost as well.

The non-points all-star race had a 5.1 household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research, and that represented a 6-percent gain over 2007.

The broadcast on Fox peeked during the final 10 minutes when Earnhardt Jr. passed Stewart for the victory.

EMOTIONAL DEDICATION: Tony Eury Jr. 's eyes welled with tears when he talked about dedicating last Saturday's victory to crewman Joey Arnold.

Eury, crew chief and cousin to Earnhardt Jr., said Arnold was at work a week before the race, a day after his 5-year-old son, Cayden , died of lung disease.

Eury said he found Arnold working on one of Earnhardt's cars at Hendrick Motorsports shortly after the boy died. When Eury asked why, Arnold said he was that committed to winning the Daytona 500.

"I mean, what do you say to a guy whose 5-year-old kid just died?" Eury said. "I didn't know.

"He said this was his best chance to win the Daytona 500, and I want to be part of it."

NOT INTERESTED: If you're looking for a sign that NASCAR's sustained surge of success is leveling off, just ask veteran driver Mark Martin if he'd ever be interested in owning a racing team.

"I'm just not going to do it," Martin said. "I've worked too hard too long, and I know all about this business. I owned a team, and I went broke in 1982. I know how this deal works, even when things look really good, like two years ago. Then you look at the climate of the sport today from an owner's standpoint or whatever, and the climate is not so good."

DAYTONA 500


(RACE NO. 1 OF 36)

WHERE: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.


WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Sunday


TRACK DIMENSIONS: 2.5-mile tri-oval with 31-degree banking


BROADCAST: Television -- 2 p.m. Fox-Ch. 54; Radio -- 2 p.m. Motor Racing Network, Sirius Satellite Radio 128


LAST YEAR'S WINNER: Kevin Harvick


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