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.’’

Despite crash, Elliott Sadler maintains lead in Xfinity points standings after Charlotte

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Despite finishing 35th because of a late crash, Elliott Sadler maintained his Xfinity Series points lead Saturday after the Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sadler remained six points ahead of JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier. Teammate William Byron is ranked third.

With Allgaier and Ryan Reed qualified for the playoffs via victories, provisional playoff spots basesd off points currently belong to Sadler, Byron, Daniel Hemric, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brennan Poole, Matt Tifft, Michael Annett, Blake Koch, Cole Custer and Dakoda Armstrong.

Click here for the Xfinity points standings after Charlotte.

Xfinity Series results and statistics from Charlotte Motor Speedway

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Ryan Blaney scored the fifth Xfinity Series victory of his career and first since September 2015, winning the Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Blaney seized the lead from runner-up Kevin Harvick on a restart with three laps remaining.

Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.

Blaney led a race-high 107 of 200 laps.

Click here for full results from Saturday’s Xfinity race at Charlotte.

Ryan Blaney wins Charlotte Xfinity race for first victory in series since September 2015

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CONCORD, N.C. — Ryan Blaney won Saturday’s Hisense 4K TV 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Blaney took the lead from Kevin Harvick on a restart with three laps to go.

It’s his fifth Xfinity Series win and the first for Team Penske in 2017. It’s Blaney’s first Xfinity victory since Sept. 26, 2015 at Kentucky Speedway.

Blaney was followed by Harvick, Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin.

“I thought we were going to run out of laps to make it happen,” Blaney said, who was aided by a series of rapid cautions in the closing laps.

“We got a good restart and I was able to barely stay on (Harvick’s) quarter (panel) off of (Turn) 2 and dragged him back into (Turn) 3,” Blaney told Fox Sports 1. “I’m very proud, but you’re going to feel really bad if you mess up and don’t win. That’s what I thought was going to happen. I didn’t know if we were going to get our shot to get back to the lead. I don’t want to say the caution went our way because we kind of needed long runs. But they worked out so we could put ourselves in a position to  capitalize on it.”

Driving the No. 12 Ford, Blaney led four times for 107 laps on the way to the victory. Blaney raced to the front after starting from the rear for unapproved adjustments. He is the first driver to win after going to the rear since Marcos Ambrose at Montreal in 2011.

Blaney’s win comes 11 year after his father, Dave Blaney, won the fall Xfinity race at Charlotte. They are the first father-son duo to win at Charlotte in the Xfinity Series.

Stage 1 winner: Kevin Harvick

Stage 2 winner: Ryan Blaney

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: On the third lap of his Xfinity career, Christopher Bell was turned by Ryan Reed on the frontstretch and slid through the grass. He continued on and battled back to finish fourth. …. Brennan Poole brought out a caution with 42 to go after he got into the frontstretch wall, but managed to finish eighth. … Brad Keselowski finished sixth after starting 39th. He started there after multiple trips through inspection kept him from making a qualifying run. … Brendan Gaughan finished ninth after he spun exiting Turn 4 late in the race.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Michael Annett’s day ended with 25 to go when he got into the wall on a restart and went to the garage. He finished 36th …. On the next restart, points leader Elliott Sadler spun in Turn 4 and hit the inside wall hard. He was uninjured and finished 35th … Darrell Wallace Jr. was having his best race of the year, including leading three laps in the final stage, when it came unraveled. He brushed the Turn 4 wall with seven laps to go. He then lost a tire and spun in Turn 2. He finished 28th.

NOTABLE: Not counting the end of each stage, the race was slowed by 10 cautions.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Give him a sponsor, man. He passed me on a restart and drove away from me. It was awesome.” – Ryan Blaney on his battle for the lead with Darrell Wallace Jr. at the start of the final stage.

WHAT’S NEXT: OneMain Financial 200 at Dover International Speedway at 1 p.m. ET on June 2 on Fox Sports 1.

Kyle Larson fastest in final practice for Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Larson topped the final practice session for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 with a speed at 186.400 mph.

The Cup points leader, Larson will start 39th in the race because his No. 42 Chevrolet didn’t clear inspection in time to qualify.

Ryan Blaney (185.861), Matt Kenseth (185.046), Kurt Busch (184.856) and Erik Jones (184.818) rounded out the top five.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was seventh fastest at 184.433 mph. Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick was 20th fastest at 182.648 mph.

Jimmie Johnson recorded the most laps in the session with 47.

Jamie McMurray had the best 10-lap average at 180.914 mph.

The session was stopped for a caution once after Brad Keselowski spun exiting Turn 4.

Click here for the full practice report.