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Dale Earnhardt Jr. praises, feels bad for Bowman; looks forward to Xfinity title race

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During his weekly podcast on Monday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. both praised and lamented what happened to Alex Bowman in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Bowman once again was filling in for the sidelined Earnhardt, who has still not been medically cleared to race due to concussion-like symptoms.

First the good about Bowman:

“Alex really did an amazing job,” Earnhardt said on The Dale Jr. Download. … “Greg (crew chief Greg Ives) and those guys did an awesome job, giving him a great car all weekend, gave the kid a pole, man; he was thrilled about that.”

Then there was the tough luck outcome when Bowman and Matt Kenseth made contact late in the race, ending Kenseth’s hopes of advancing to the Championship 4 round this Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Man, this whole day has been miserable, watching that race,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know how you fans do it. For the longest time, I haven’t felt that way since watching Dad race. I remember it so clear now, all the nerves and sick feelings in your stomach.

“I knew the end would come down to a lot of cautions and where you lined up … it didn’t work in our favor.

“I know (Bowman) feels like he had the best car, and he did. But you can’t control a lot of things, like at the end. … Alex carried the weight of that on his shoulders really well. I know he certainly regrets getting into the 20 car … and regrets how it ended for Matt (Kenseth) and for him (Bowman).

“… He’s a solid dude. … But man, that sucked.”

Earnhardt on watching the race from a fan’s perspective, rather than as a driver:

“I just can’t believe how the day went,” he said. “It was hard being a fan. I really got a new appreciation for what that’s like. I had forgotten what it was like. I’m seeing so many new perspectives, a lot of them unintentionally, that’s changed the way I see everything about it and will be different when I get back in the car and try not to forget what I’ve learned.”

Earnhardt on looking ahead to returning to racing in 2017:

“I’m going to get in that thing next year and it’s going to be as good or better than when I got out,” he said. “I feel like a very lucky guy in that regard. I’m getting excited for next year, getting back on the track and cutting some laps and just being a driver. I miss it, especially since I’m getting healthier more and more.”

Earnhardt will be at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend to cheer on JR Motorsports drivers Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier in their Chevrolets as they battle the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones for the inaugural Xfinity Series Chase Championship.

JRM will be down one significant person in Saturday’s title race. Sadler’s crew chief, Kevin Meendering, has been suspended for the race by NASCAR after lug nuts were found missing from Sadler’s car after the last two races (Texas and Phoenix).

“It was a tough week for our Junior Motorsports gang,” Earnhardt said. “We’re going to have a suspended crew chief on the 1 car going into Homestead, but we’ll make the adjustments we need to give the 1 car the opportunity to try to win that championship.

“I’m proud of that company to have two cars in the Chase, two cars to make it to the final round. … There’s a lot of pride there for everybody at Junior Motorsports. I’m excited to see how all those guys do Saturday. I’ll be there Saturday and Sunday.”

One day after he hopes one of his drivers wins the Xfinity Series Chase Championship, Earnhardt will be on hand Sunday for what he hopes will be a special finish in the deciding race for the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

“I want to be there to shake Jimmie Johnson’s hand if he wins that seventh championship,” Earnhardt said.

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NASCAR America: A Matt Kenseth return to Roush Fenway Racing would mean …

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Roush Fenway Racing will make what it is calling a major partner announcement at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a report states that it will include details on Matt Kenseth returning to drive for the team.

NASCAR on NBC’s Nate Ryan reported Tuesday that Roush Fenway Racing declined comment on SB Nation’s report that Kenseth would run select races for Trevor Bayne beginning May 12 at Kansas Speedway. Ryan reported that multiple principles, including a former Roush Fenway Racing driver will be at Wednesday’s announcement.

Kenseth, who turned 46 in March, won Cup Rookie of the Year honors with Roush Fenway Racing in 2000 and remained there through the 2012 season.

Kenseth left for Joe Gibbs Racing and raced there from 2013-17. He was replaced after last season in the No. 20 car by Erik Jones, leaving Kenseth without a full-time ride for this season.

NASCAR on NBC’s Kyle Petty said on NASCAR America that should the report of Kenseth’s return to Roush Fenway Racing be true, it would provide a nice homecoming.

“He knows the players,’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He knows everything about the place. He grew up there. He came of age there. He won (a) championship. He won races there. So from all those pieces, it makes sense for a guy like Matt Kenseth to go back there just as it would if Jeff Gordon said I want to go back to Hendrick. It makes perfect sense. But only Matt can answer that question (of why).’’

Ryan noted it is not unusual for teams to put another driver in a car to benchmark that car’s performance.

Bayne is 26th in the points. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has not finished better than 12th (Texas) this season. Every driver ahead of him in the points has at least one top-10 finish this season.

“Even in a part-time basis, what could he bring?’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He brings so much. It’s an intangible. I think we saw it when he went to Joe Gibbs Racing. What did he bring there? That team just, all of a sudden, just took off. Was it all Matt Kenseth? No, but it’s part Matt Kenseth, it’s part that knowledge, it’s part that experience, it’s part that desire to run up front, win races and build something and I think Matt felt he had built something that first go around.’’

Kenseth scored the 39th Cup win of his career in November at Phoenix. A week before that win, Kenseth talked to Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC podcast about realizing the end of his career seemed near.

“But like I said, I feel like the way things have gone that for whatever reason — reasons I don’t understand that I think will become really, really clear in the future — that it’s just not meant for me to race next year,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s that simple. Everything lined up this way because I wasn’t going to make the decision myself, so someone made it for me. It’s just not supposed to happen.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs said Tuesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he would look forward to a return by Kenseth to Cup.

“I’ve got to tell you I would love it,’’ Gibbs said. “What a great guy, a great person, a great representative for the sport and for sponsors and extremely competitive. I would love that, and I hope that is going to be the case. I hope he can be there on a steady basis.

“It would be a thrill for us to have Matt back. I think he’s a real credit to the NASCAR Series and love the family. I think that would be great for us. I hope that’s going to be the case. I hope he gets to run a bunch of races.’’

For more, watch the video above.

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Deontay Wilder named Geico 500 honorary pace car driver

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Talladega SuperSpeedway has a reputation for delivering blows to the competition, so it is only fitting that the honorary pace car driver for the Geico 500 will be a man known to deliver knockouts to his opponents. Reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) World Heavyweight Champion and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native Deontay Wilder will pace the field before the initial green flag Sunday.

Wilder, 32, has a record of 40-0 with 39 of his wins by knockout.

Known as the “Bronze Bomber” because of the 2008 Bronze medal he won in the Beijing Olympics, Wilder found boxing as a way to provide for a daughter diagnosed with spina bifida. He immediately found that he was a natural by scoring a technical knockout over Ethan Cox in November, 2008.

Wilder has held the title since January 2015 after defeating Bermane Stiverne in his only bout that was not decided by a knockout. Wilder scored a unanimous decision and has defended his belt seven times since.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Update on Matt Kenseth report, Matt DiBenedetto visits

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features Matt DiBenedetto, who is coming off a 16th-place finish at Richmond Raceway.

Marty Snider hosts and will be joined at the Big Oak Table by Kyle Petty, Nate Ryan and DiBenedetto.

On today’ show:
  • NBCSports.com’s Nate Ryan joins the show with the latest news following last night’s report from SB Nation that said Matt Kenseth is returning to the Monster Energy Series in a part-time role with Roush Fenway Racing.
  • Go Fas Racing driver Matt DiBenedetto will be our special guest! The leader of ‘DiBurrito Nation’ will discuss his solid run last weekend at Richmond and reveal his throwback scheme for this year’s Southern 500 at Darlington. But one question remains – will Matt bring fresh-baked treats from his Mom’s kitchen to the Big Oak Table?
  • We’ll have footage from the latest Dale Jr. Download, as Junior sits down with Kasey Kahne’s crew chief, Travis Mack – who tells the incredible story of how he unexpectedly delivered his own baby at home!
  • And our Tuesday tradition continues … We’ll listen in on all the action from drivers, crew chiefs and spotters on a Saturday night under the lights in Scan All Richmond!
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Preliminary entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Talladega

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Forty cars are entered for Sunday’s Geico 500 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Joey Gase will be in the No. 00 car for StarCom Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is back in the No. 62 this weekend for Beard Motorsports.

Timothy Peters is set to make his Cup debut in the No. 92 for RBR Enterprises.

Cole Custer is listed in the No. 51 car for Rick Ware Racing but a team spokesperson told NBC Sports that Custer will not be driving the car.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won this race a year ago in overtime, beating Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.

Click here for Cup entry list

Xfinity Series

There are 41 cars entered for the Sparks Energy 300 Xfinity race.

The race is a Dash 4 Cash event, so no drivers who earn points in the Cup Series are permitted to race in this event.

Noah Gragson, who finished second in his series debut last weekend at Richmond, is back in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend.

Shane Lee, who finished 14th in his series debut two weeks ago at Bristol, is back in the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing.

Aric Almirola won this race a year ago, finishing ahead of Elliott Sadler and Joey Logano.

Click here for Xfinity entry list