Dale Earnhardt Jr. says sitting out this season has taught him to appreciate more about NASCAR

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. can’t wait to return to racing next year, but when he does, he says he’ll have a different attitude.

Earnhardt says that being sidelined since the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway by a concussion has made him appreciate parts of the sport beyond driving that didn’t enthuse him previously.

“I did all that stuff, reluctantly, just to do the driving part,’’ Earnhardt said Wednesday at Martinsville Speedway. “Now that I’m not in the car, I enjoy all the stuff that I’m doing outside the car that I’ve always done. Getting up in the morning for race day and going to do the hospitality or coming to do (media events) here or at Talladega, I’ve really enjoyed doing those things.

“The pressure of racing made the majority of everything that came with it miserable, and I’m probably responsible for controlling that. So I think  being out of the car has shown me that I’ve got to find a way that if I’m going to race more how to not feel so much pressure that it makes everything else intolerable or hard to do.’’

Pressure will always be there for the sport’s most popular driver who turned 42 on Monday and still seeks his first Sprint Cup championship. The pressure will come from those expecting more from the two-time Daytona 500 winner but more so from himself.

“I think once I get back in the car, I’ve got to have a whole new frame of mind about how I handle the pressure of driving and the pressures of performing and finishing well and all that stuff,’’ Earnhardt said. “I’m so hard on myself. If I don’t get the result I think I should get, it just ruins the whole thing, it ruins the whole experience for me. Not being in the car, not having to worry about performing, not having the stress of living up to my own expectations, I’ve enjoyed being at the track.’’

He noted how he went into the Cup garage early Saturday at Dover and relished the time there, admitting if he was driving, he wouldn’t have arrived in the garage so early.

“I was standing there and it was like an hour and a half before practice starts and I was like there’s nobody in there but the teams and it was good and I was having conversations with people,’’ Earnhardt said. 

“I’m like I don’t know why I don’t do this when I’m driving the car? Why don’t I do this? Why do I wait to the last possible minute to come to the garage? Why is it such a pain in the ass to get up and come to the garage for practice? Once you’re in the car you’re fine. The whole process of getting up and going to the garage seemed like such a hassle.’’

Another change for Earnhardt has been his workout program. He’s had to do various exercises as part of his rehabilitation from his concussion. Earnhardt admits his workout program at times has consisted of just racing. Since he’s done his exercises for his recovery, he’s lost eight pounds.

“It has inadvertently gotten me in better shape,’’ Earnhardt said. “So that’s good. I feel good. I feel like I can get out there and do it. I’m anxious for this season to get wrapped up and over with and get to Daytona. I’m looking forward to getting to Daytona, getting into the garage, getting into my suit, back into the process of being a part of the team.’’

Starting lineup for Cup race at Richmond

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Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott will start on the front row for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway.

Truex won his third pole of the season.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Kyle Busch, who is trying to win a third consecutive race, qualified 32nd.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Martin Truex Jr. wins pole for Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

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Martin Truex Jr. qualified first for Saturday’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway, winning his third pole of the season.

Truex claimed the pole with a speed of 123.859 mph around the .75-mile track. The Toyota Owners 400 will mark Truex’s 450th Cup start. Truex had DNFs in the last two races.

“It’s definitely been a crappy two weeks,” Truex told Fox Sports 1. “But that’s part of racing. This team, I’ve got so much faith and confidence in them and everything we’re doing. You can’t let those kinds of things get you down. It was nothing we did, just circumstances. Just proud of the effort today.”

The pole matches Truex’s total from last year.

Chase Elliott qualified second (123.621 mph). The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Ryan Blaney will start 12th, followed by Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson.

Daniel Hemric will start 22nd in his first Cup start.

Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski both failed to advance out of the first round. Keselowski will start 28th and Busch will start 32nd.

“We didn’t make a mock run in practice and then we thought the spread would be about three tenths (of a second),” Busch told Fox Sports 1. “It wasn’t, it was faster than that. We only ran two laps trying to make sure we preserve out tires for later on deeper into the session. A bunch of those guys ran three laps and obviously we needed that third lap. It would have picked up. For some reason the tire here today, even in race trim, your fastest lap was the seventh lap. So just takes awhile for everything to come in. Just trying to short cut it a little bit and it didn’t work out for us.”

Click here for qualifying results.

Cole Custer wins pole for Xfinity race at Richmond

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Cole Custer will start first in tonight’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond Raceway after earning his second consecutive pole.

Custer won the pole for the ToyotaCare 250 with a lap of 121.332 mph. He earned his first career pole last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver will be joined on the front row by Christopher Bell (120.881 mph). He has started on the front row in four of the first eight races this season.

The top five is rounded out by Austin Cindric, Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek.

Cindric will start in the top five for the first time this season.

Hemric is the highest qualifying of the four Dash 4 Cash drivers. Justin Allgaier will start seventh and Elliott Sadler will roll off eighth. Spencer Gallagher will start 17th.

Noah Gragson will start 11th in his Xfinity debut.

Tyler Reddick suffered some cosmetic damage when he scrapped the frontstretch wall in Round 2. He will start 10th.

Click here for qualifying results.

Tonight’s Xfinity race at Richmond: Start time, lineup and more

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The Xfinity Series is back on a short track for round two of the Dash 4 Cash series. Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Daniel Hemric and Spencer Gallagher will compete for the $100,000 bonus tonight at Richmond Raceway.

Here is all the info for tonight’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START:  Leslie Gravitte, Toyota Camry owner, will give the command to start engines at 7:07 p.m for the ToyotaCare 250. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 250 laps (187.5 miles) around the .75-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:10 p.m. Driver introductions are at 6:35 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Henrico Fire Choir will perform the anthem at 7:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race beginning at 7 p.m. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 6:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 59 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson took the lead with 10 laps to go to win this race last April. He was followed by Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric. Brad Keselowski won last September’s race and was followed by Kyle Busch and Ty Dillon.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup.