Jeff Gordon blasts NASCAR after 13 drivers aren’t permitted to make qualifying laps at Atlanta

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Sprint Cup qualifying was marred by a debacle for the second consecutive race to start the 2015 season.

Several NASCAR stars failed to get on track because their cars didn’t pass inspection Friday before the session began to set the field for the Fields of Honor Quiktrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. There were 13 cars that didn’t take a lap, including Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart.

Gordon blasted NASCAR after his No. 24 Chevrolet didn’t take a lap, apologizing to fans and 3M, which was making its debut as his primary sponsor.

“When you have this many teams having issues going through, there’s something wrong with this system or something wrong with the amount of time they’re allotted to get through,” said Gordon, whose car went through the inspection bay twice. “There’s no way with this many good cars and talented people that they can’t figure out how to get these cars through inspection. These guys are too smart and yeah, we’re pushing limits, but there’s something wrong here.

“I’m embarrassed for our series now that this just happened. I’m really upset for my sponsor 3M that just came on this weekend when we didn’t get a chance to qualify. We’re just fortunate that (we make the race). I know there’s a lot of teams that aren’t going to be that fortunate. I hate it for these guys that work so hard. … This is an embarrassment for all of us.”

Matt Kenseth shared that sentiment.

“It’s better than not starting,” he said. “I feel bad for whoever didn’t get through there and didn’t make the race.

“They should figure out how to get everyone through tech before qualifying starts, first of all. If they can’t do that, they should probably postpone qualifying until they get everyone through tech with that many cars.”

NASCAR delayed the start of the session by 15 minutes to get teams through inspection.

Sprint Cup director Richard Buck said NASCAR saw the trend develop and tried to provide dispensation to teams. All 47 cars attempting to qualify for the race were given at least one shot at passing inspection.

“We could see the trend develop,” Buck said. “Our job is to work with teams and allow them to meet parameters. We pushed it 15 minutes to give them as much time as we could.

“We treat everybody the same. There were cars that came through three times. Everyone got a fair shot at coming through in a timely manner.”

Buck said most of the problem areas in inspections were related to mechanical grip, specifically related to rear camber, or the angle at which teams tilt their wheels.

Buck said NASCAR would review the inspection process with teams and said he respected the fact that teams were trying to find speed within the bounds of new rules that include 125 less horsepower and 24 percent less downforce.

“They’re pushing the limits,” he said. “That’s their job to get every bit they can get through (inspection). It’s our job that everyone gets a fair opportunity to get through there. That’s what we did.”

Last week at Daytona International Speedway, Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer excoriated NASCAR after the debut of group qualifying for the Daytona 500 resulted in several wrecks.

Stewart took a more measured tone Friday on Twitter but still was critical.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified ninth, said he thought it could lead to improvements in the inspection process.

“I don’t know what my thoughts are because I don’t know what the situation is,” he said. “I don’t know enough about what the problem is and why guys are having problems, so it’s hard to make a comment.

“I am sure it’s something NASCAR doesn’t like to see.  The teams certainly would like to get a lap in, so they will work together to improve the situation. We’ve had a little trouble with the technical inspection over the last couple of years. A lot of new things implemented, the cars changing and the rules changing. It’s a bit of a struggle for NASCAR and the teams to sort of make that inspection process as smooth as possible, and (they’re) still learning.”

Said Danica Patrick, who qualified 18th, said: “I don’t know if it is the team’s fault, if it is the series’ fault, if it is the track’s fault or if it is logistical. I literally have no idea. I think we got a little bit lucky today, but we’ll take it because there are days when you are unlucky and you are mad at that.”

NASCAR weekend schedule for Cup and Xfinity at Daytona

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NASCAR kicks off the final 20 races of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season with this weekend’s racing action at Daytona International Speedway.

It also marks the return of NASCAR to NBC Sports and NBCSN for that 20-race stretch, which includes the 10 races leading up to the playoffs and the playoffs.

The main event this weekend is Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400. Brad Keselowski is the defending race winner. It will also be Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s final Cup start.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series also will be at Daytona with the Coca-Cola Firecracker 400 on Friday. Aric Almirola won last year’s race. Almirola will not  defend that win because he continues to heal from injuries sustained in a wreck during the May 13 Cup race at Kansas.

Here’s the full race weekend schedule at Daytona (all times Eastern):

Thursday, June 29

8 a.m. – 5 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

9:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

2 – 2:55 p.m. – Xfinity first practice (NBCSN)

3 – 3:55 p.m. – Cup first practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

4 – 4:55 p.m. – Xfinity final practice (NBCSN)

5 – 5:55 p.m. – Cup final practice (NBCSN, MRN)

Friday, June 30

9:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

12 p.m. – Xfinity garage opens

2:10 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying (single vehicle/two rounds) (NBCSN)

3:45 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

4:10 p.m. – Cup qualifying impound (single vehicle/two rounds) (NBCSN, MRN)

7 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 race (100 laps, 250 miles) (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, July 1

3 p.m. – Cup garage opens

5:45 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting

6:50 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

7:30 p.m. – NASCAR Cup Coke Zero 400 race (160 laps, 400 miles) (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s greatest moments at Daytona International Speedway

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Triumph and transcendence. Tragedy and tumult.

Daytona International Speedway has been a training ground for life in many ways for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has enjoyed many of his greatest success in NASCAR, and his greatest personal loss, at the 2.5-mile track.

After his seven-time champion father was killed in a last-lap wreck in the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt won in the Cup circuit’s next trip to Daytona less than five months later. It was the first of 17 victories that the Hendrick Motorsports driver has scored at the World Center of Racing, which has become inextricably linked to his family’s legacy. Earnhardt’s father is the winningest driver in Daytona history with 34 victories (including Cup, Xfinity, qualifiers and exhibition races, though it was an agonizing 20-year wait to win his first and only Daytona 500 in 1998).

“It makes me feel like I come from a better breed than most of the guys I’m racing against,” Earnhardt Jr. said about his lineage at Daytona after a 2003 victory in The Clash exhibition race. “I watched (his father) real close. I learned a lot about how to drive race cars by watching him, and I was probably watching more than he knew or anybody knew. I had a lot of practice just trying to think about, ‘Man, how did he lose that race or how did he win that race and why did the car do that?’ I’m running into all these situations and understanding certain things that I’ve seen over the years. He was really, really good at running at this track.”

So is Earnhardt Jr., and NBCSN will celebrate perhaps his greatest moment at Daytona ahead of his final start at the track as a full-time driver.

The second annual #NASCARThrowback special will feature Earnhardt’s 2004 Daytona 500 victory at 7 p.m. today on NBCSN. The interactive watch party, hosted by Dale Jarrett, Parker Kligerman and Carolyn Manno, will allow viewers to interact with drivers and NASCAR on NBC broadcasters on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the #NASCARThrowback.

Here are the greatest triumphs at Daytona for Earnhardt, who is retiring from Cup after 2017:

  1. Daytona 500, Feb. 15, 2004: Exactly six years after his father’s only victory in the Great American Race, Earnhardt won the race in his fifth attempt.He interrupted his postrace interview to take a call from President George W. Bush, who landed in Air Force One on a runway just behind the backstretch shortly before the race and gave the command to start engines. The race also signified the debut of new title sponsor Nextel and the dawn of NASCAR’s playoff era. All of it – even the president’s visit – was overshadowed by the winner, who passed Tony Stewart for the lead with 20 laps left. “Good God, I can’t believe it,” Earnhardt said. “This has got to be the greatest day of my life.”
  2. Coke Zero 400, July 7, 2001: In the first Cup race at Daytona after his father perished in Turn 4, Earnhardt Jr. drives from sixth to first in one lap on a restart with six laps left, celebrating with donuts in the infield and a memorable rooftop hug from Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Michael Waltrip. Recalling the win in a 2015 interview with Steve Letarte (video below), Earnhardt talked about driving to the scene of his father’s fatal crash a few days ahead of the race and walking around “just seeing how I would feel. I don’t want to fall apart in front of all my guys. It was good. Dad loved this place, and I’m still at peace with this place and still love being here. Looking forward to racing many more years.”
  1. Daytona 500, Feb. 23, 2014: It was easy to lose track of how many significant developments emerged from Earnhardt’s second Daytona 500 victory (achieving something his late father never did). There was the end of a nearly two-year winless streak, the automatic qualification for the revamped championship playoff and the spontaneous decision to join Twitter in the wee hours after a frenetic race that took nearly 10 hours to complete because of a six-hour rain delay. “We’re going for the jugular this year,” he said, presaging a season in which he would score his highest victory total in 10 years.
  2. Xfinity race, July 2, 2010: After years of speculation over whether he ever would run his father’s iconic number, Earnhardt put the entire debate to bed with a magically sentimental performance. Driving a No. 3 Chevrolet with a blue and yellow Wrangler throwback paint scheme for JR Motorsports, Earnhardt led the final 34 laps and then declared that was his final ride with the number, which he also took to victory lane in 2002 at Daytona with a Richard Childress Racing car and ran from 1998-99 in Xfinity for Dale Earnhardt Inc. “I don’t ever want to do it again and I won’t ever change my mind,” Earnhardt Jr. said. 
  3. Xfinity race, Feb. 16 2004: The bookend to his greatest victory at Daytona. Roughly three hours after his winning Daytona 500 car was enshrined, Earnhardt started a postponed Xfinity race on five hours’ sleep and scored a dominant victory that capped a Speedweeks tripleheader of victories (he also won a qualifier). It was Earnhardt’s ninth win at the 2.5-mile oval in three years. “I feel like you can compare me to (his father) today, we’ve done so much over the last three years,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “All the wins I’ve got come from either the confidence of being an Earnhardt when you pull out on the track and just knowing what your dad accomplished and feeling like you might have that down inside you as well.”

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson is delivering, others can’t get to victory lane (video)

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We’re through the first 16 races of the NASCAR Cup season and Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. continue to build the gap between themselves and the rest of the field.

What makes Larson and Truex so good?

Also, why are so many others — including past champions and veteran race-winning drivers — struggling to make it to victory lane?

Kevin Harvick finally cashed in for the first time in 2017 with his first career Cup win at Sonoma. We’ve also seen first-time winners in Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Blaney.

But there are still several notables who haven’t reached victory lane in a points race, including Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, as well as Jamie McMurray and several others.

Our crew at NASCAR America broke it all down on Wednesday’s show. Check out the video above.

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NASCAR America: Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones get a feel of how Olympians train (video)

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NASCAR drivers talk almost continuously about how they have to be in top physical condition to endure sometimes often very difficult conditions while on a racetrack and behind the wheel.

One only needs to look at seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson to see the rewards of being fit.

But going to one of the Olympic training centers in the U.S. is a whole other thing, something that separates folks who think they’re fit from those that really are.

Ask Toyota drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, who recently participated in a two-day training session at an Olympic training facility.

We wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still nursing sore muscles, given the workouts they endured – and which gave them new appreciation for what many Olympians must go through to be the best.

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