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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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Martin Truex Jr.: VHT ‘a huge factor’ in Coca-Cola 600 — but wouldn’t work as well elsewhere

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CONCORD, N.C. — Though the rain paid a visit to the Coca-Cola 600, the traction agent applied high in the corners of Charlotte Motor Speedway was a “huge factor” in NASCAR’s longest race, according to Martin Truex Jr.

Truex, who led a race high 233 laps, lauded the VHT chemical used to improve racing at the 1.5-mile track after a dud of an All-Star Race.

“I think last weekend the middle groove, middle to high middle, was nonexistent,” Truex said after finishing third early Monday morning. “It was the slickest part of the racetrack.”

But that changed Sunday. Following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, NASCAR and the track reapplied refresh coats of VHT to the upper grooves in the turns after consulting drivers and crew chiefs. Even after a downpour swept over the track on Lap 143, Truex said the traction compound was a factor for 375 of the race’s 400 laps.

“It was the main groove,” Truex said of the higher grooves. “Where typically there is the least grip (there) on this racetrack, it was the most tonight. It definitely played a factor. It changed the race quite a bit. I think the downforce rules this year changed it quite a bit as well. The bottom of the racetrack is so bumpy and so slick, I’m telling you after 10 laps it’s all you can do to make laps without crashing down there.

“It definitely changed the race tonight. It made it a lot of fun. I thought it was a good addition.”

Winner Austin Dillon thought the VHT – also known as PJ1 TrackBite – benefited the race. But the Richard Childress Racing drive would like to see a change in where the agent is applied to the track surface.

“The middle groove had a lot of speed, took away from the bottom,” Dillon said. That’s usually dominant here. The bottom got good again. After the rain, the bottom was pretty dominant. As the race went on, I could actually see the VHT leaving the track. It was getting clean higher and higher.

“We’ve got something there as far as trying it. It’s not a bad thing. I really think we should try it more often. I think the next thing you look into is the placement of it. I feel like we needed more on the very top because the middle was really dominant, but you couldn’t really get into the top of it like you needed to. That would be my next shot at it. It’s not a bad thing at all. I like it.”

What’s next?

The chemical has been used on the concrete high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway and the asphalt of Charlotte and been mostly praised.

Should it be tried at any other tracks on the NASCAR circuit?

“I don’t think so,” Truex said. “I think this track is so unique, the pavement here, the geometry of the racetrack, the bumps that are in it. It’s almost got a concrete feel the way the bumps are. They’re really, really small, high‑frequency bumps, almost like a washboard, kind of the feeling you get at Dover (International Speedway). Most asphalt tracks are not bumpy that way. They’re more of a swell. The car kind of goes through swells, a place like (Chicagoland Speedway) or Atlanta (Motor Speedway).

“It’s very, very different here. The pavement is different than anywhere we go. The bumps in the racetrack are way different than anywhere we go. I think both of those things kind of contribute to us needing to do some different things here to change-up the racing.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends Kyle Busch’s surly mood after the Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 left Kyle Busch in an irate mood, which is perfectly fine, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A seemingly agitated Busch, cupping his face in his hands after sitting down, entered the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway Center shortly after 12:30 a.m. Sunday. It was roughly 10 minutes after Austin Dillon scored the first victory of his career in NASCAR’s premier series by stretching his final tank of fuel for 70 laps.

Was Busch surprised that Dillon made the checkered flag? What did it mean for a driver to get his first win?

“I’m not surprised about anything,” Busch snapped. “Congratulations.”

He dropped the mic on the dais. There were no further questions. (The video is available above).

Shortly afterward on Twitter, Earnhardt took up for his peer (whom he replaced at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008).

Busch, who hasn’t won since last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a span of 28 races) gave more elaborate answers shortly after exiting his No. 18 Toyota, which finished 0.835 seconds behind Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet.

He apparently didn’t realize until late in the race that his pass of Martin Truex Jr. (who led a race-high 233 laps) with a lap remaining was for second instead of the victory.

“This M&M’s Camry was awesome tonight,” Busch said. “It was just super fast. I mean we had one of the fastest cars all night long and then (Truex) was probably the fastest. There at the end, somehow we ran him down. You know he got a straightaway out on us, but there that last 100 laps we were able to get back to him and pass him so you know that was promising for us there at the end in order to get a second-place finish, but man just so, so disappointed.

“I don’t know. We ran our own race. We did what we needed to do and it wasn’t – it wasn’t the right game. We come up short and finish second.

“It’s a frustrating night, man. There’s nothing we could’ve done different.”

Others took a different view of Busch’s tirade.

But some agreed with Earnhardt’s stance.

After defending Busch, Earnhardt also poked some fun at him later Monday, too.

 

Martin Truex Jr. takes Cup points lead after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. took over the Cup points lead with a third-place finish in Saturday’s Coca-Cola 600.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, who led a race-high 233 laps, also extended his lead in the playoff standings by winning the second stage and bringing his total to 16 points.

Kyle Larson, who had led the standings for eight consecutive races since Phoenix International Raceway, fell to second in the rankings after crashing and finishing a season-worst 33rd. Larson trails Truex by five points in the race for the regular-season championship (and 15 playoff points).

Click here for the points standings after Charlotte.

Results, stats for the 58th annual Coca-Cola 600

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With a fuel gamble, Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 for his first NASCAR Cup win.

It comes in his 133rd start and is the second win for Richard Childress Racing this year.

Following him was Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Click here for the full results.