Dale Earnhardt Jr. attempting feat last accomplished by father 25 years ago

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There’s been a lot of attention paid this week to the 15th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s dramatic final Sprint Cup win in the Oct. 15, 2000 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

But this year marks another anniversary in “The Intimidator’s” storied career and in the history of restrictor-plate racing. It was 25 years ago that a flat tire in the last two turns of the Daytona 500 ensured that Dale Sr. would have to wait eight more years for his one and only win in the race.

However, after having to watch Derrike Cope celebrate, Earnhardt made sure no one else would have success in plate races during that 1990 season. Earnhardt won all three remaining races that year at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega.

Since then, no driver has won more than two plate races in a season.

Not Jeff Gordon. Not Jimmie Johnson. Not Tony Stewart.

And surprisingly, not Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But that could change Sunday in the CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega. Earnhardt Jr., who won the May 3 race at Talladega and the Coke Zero 400 in July, could be the first driver in 25 years to win three.

The numbers are in Earnhardt Jr.’s favor. Start with the fact that the No. 88 Chevrolet has won three restrictor-plate points races in the last two years and one Daytona 500 qualifying race.

Then look at Earnhardt Jr.’s average finish at the plate tracks through three races in 2015. With his third-place finish in the Daytona 500, Earnhardt Jr.’s current average is 1.67. Barring an unfortunate turn of events Sunday, Earnhardt Jr. could tie the best single-season performance at Daytona and Talladega.

The four best all-time average finishes in a single season across the four annual races held at those tracks are Earnhardt Sr. (1999) and Bobby Allison (1988) at 1.50, and Earnhardt Jr. (2004) and Richard Petty (1974) at 1.75.

But there’s a more at stake for Earnhardt Jr. in Sunday’s race than an average finish. Earnhardt all but needs a win to advance to the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

A win also would provide a much-needed boost to Hendrick Motorsports, which hasn’t visited victory lane or finished in the top two since Earnhardt Jr.’s Coke Zero 400 win, which was 14 races ago. The average finish of all four cars in the 14 races since is 17.09.

This is the longest a Rick Hendrick-owned car has not won since 16 races came and went between the 2011-2012 seasons. But going in the team’s favor this year is restrictor-plate tracks. Hendrick cars have finished 1-2 in the last two plate races.

They have led 84 percent of the laps run in the three races. Jeff Gordon, who hasn’t won on a plate track in his last 31 attempts, has led more laps in the three restrictor-plate races this season (134) than he has in the other races combined (75).

Earnhardt is the only Hendrick driver to win a plate race since Johnson won the Coke Zero 400 in 2013.

My Home Tracks: New Mexico’s the Land of Enchantment and home of Cardinal Speedway

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The state of New Mexico is known more for IndyCar racing, with the Unser family being the state’s favorite sons.

Al Unser won four Indianapolis 500s, brother Bobby three and Al’s son Al Jr. a two-time winner (this weekend’s 500 marks the 25th anniversary of Little Al’s second 500 triumph).

But there’s a strong grassroots racing scene in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in the far southeast corner of the state at Cardinal Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the little town of Eunice.

NASCAR America continues its My Home Track series of 50 states in 50 shows.

Wednesday, we visit New York state.

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September. While still in the rumor stage, there’s a lot of talk that IMS may change the race to something akin to its Verizon IndyCar Series Indy Grand Prix race in mid-May, where half the race is run on the infield road course and the other half on the traditional racetrack surface.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.

Tony Stewart pulled over by state trooper, but it’s not for speeding

Photo courtesy Damein Cunningham Twitter account
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Retired NASCAR Cup driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart was stopped by an Illinois State Trooper over the weekend near DeKalb, Ill., about 90 minutes west of Chicago.

But before you think Stewart was stopped for speeding by Trooper Damein Cunningham, he wasn’t.

Rather, Cunningham pulled Stewart over for improper lane usage, although exactly what the infraction was is unclear.

After getting a verbal warning, Stewart gladly posed with Cunningham for a selfie, which the trooper promptly tweeted out.

“Just pulled over NASCAR LEGEND Tony Stewart on I-88 in DeKalb, IL, what you think I got him for? #NASCAR #ISP”

But according to the Chicago Tribune, Cunningham’s bosses apparently didn’t have a sense of humor about the incident or realize the good PR it meant for the Illinois State Police.

That, or they’re not Stewart or NASCAR fans. They ordered Cunningham to delete the tweet, which he did.

It’s unclear what Stewart, who was stopped on his 46th birthday, was doing in the Land of Lincoln.

But his luck went from bad to worse a few hours later. According to USA Today, Stewart and others were stuck in an elevator in a Madison, Wisconsin hotel for about 20 minutes before being rescued by firefighters.

We can just imagine what the elevator riders talked about while trapped.

How much do you want to bet Stewart said, “Man, do I have a story about a cop that I have to tell you.”

Cunningham then posted another tweet on Sunday after attending church services.

 

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All-Star Race will remain at Charlotte in 2018

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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NASCAR confirmed that the All-Star Race will be held again at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite more of a push from competitors and others to move the event.

Criticism was raised after last weekend’s 70-lap event featured only three lead changes. Kyle Busch took the lead on the restart to begin the final 10-lap stage and went on to win. It marked the fourth time in the last five years the All-Star winner led every lap in the final stage. In 12 All-Star Races at Charlotte since the track was repaved, there have been two lead changes in the final five laps.

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, was clear in a call with reporters Tuesday that the All-Star Race is set for Charlotte.

“We’ve finished our discussions for ’18,” he said. ” We’ll begin looking at ’19 and beyond in the near future.”

The All-Star Race debuted at Charlotte in 1985, moved to Atlanta in 1986 and returned to Charlotte the following year. It has been held at Charlotte ever since.

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