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.
Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET from the NASCAR Hall of Fame with special guest Daniel Suarez.
Marty Snider hosts, and he’ll be joined by analysts Jeff Burton, Kyle Petty and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.
On today’s show:
· Daniel Suarez will join us live and will talk about his rookie season in the NASCAR Cup Series, his racing development over the years starting in his native Monterrey, Mexico, coming to the U.S. to race, winning the Xfinity Series championship last season and his hopes for both the remainder of this season as well as the future.
· As we do each Wednesday, we’ll ask Daniel questions straight from you – the fans! Tweet your questions for Daniel to @NASCARonNBC, using the hashtag #AskDaniel.
· It’s also been a busy news day in the NASCAR world. It was announced earlier today that Ryan Blaney will move from Wood Brothers Racing to a third Team Penske NASCAR Cup ride in 2018. Also, Paul Menard will move from Richard Childress Racing to replace Blaney at Wood Brothers Racing. We’ll hear Blaney’s thoughts on the big news, and discuss the state of NASCAR’s ongoing youth movement.
The second half of a two-race gamble on himself that Ryan Preece has spent 20 years investing in since his days at a quarter-midget track in Meriden, Connecticut.
The 26-year-old driver is three days away from a race that could determine if he has any future at NASCAR’s highest levels.
The biggest race of Preece’s career comes in Saturday night’s Xfinity Series event at Iowa Speedway (3:30 p.m., NBC), a race where there will be no Cup drivers to keep him out of the spotlight.
He’s been on this stage before, though. He competed in this race against many of the same drivers last year, but in nowhere near the equipment provided by Joe Gibbs Racing’s No 20 Toyota. That’s why his presence in the Xfinity race two weeks ago at New Hampshire and his second-place finish may have taken some off guard.
“At a national level with Xfinity, there’s still probably some people who still don’t know I ran last year,” says Preece, who ran in all 33 Xfinity races in 2016 with JD Motorsports.
A second-generation driver, Preece rose through the ranks of modifieds and late models in the Northeast, winning numerous series and track championships and becoming the youngest champion of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2013. He has 17 wins in the series since 2007.
He eventually got a taste of the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series with underfunded teams the last three years.
But after his year with JD Motorsports, mostly spent in the back half of the field, Preece didn’t want another stagnant season. He didn’t want a 10th-place finish at Darlington to be his ceiling.
“(Newman) said ‘If you’re not having fun, why do it?’” Preece recalls. “ ‘If you’re not doing what you want to be doing, why do that?’ I said ‘You’re right.’ I want to win, and I feel I wasn’t going to be able to at that point in time.”
Preece chose to return to his home in modified racing.
There, he knew he was good. There, he knew he could be at peace and win at the same time.
“I learned that I’m just not somebody who is just going to settle, to just be there” Preece says. “I’m not about being just part of the show. I want to show everybody, more prove to myself that I can do this. Not that I don’t think I can, but I want to show everybody else too. I feel like I need that opportunity and I finally got it (with Joe Gibbs Racing).”
While Newman’s words helped him come to a conclusion, Earnhardt encouraged him along a specific path.
“I said, ‘If you can get into a Gibbs car, get in a Gibbs car,” Earnhardt said. ” ‘That would be your best opportunity to win a race. That’s really the only way you’re going to be able to get people to take notice. I’m not saying it was my idea, but I think he made a great decision with what little money he had.”
“When opportunity doesn’t knock, you’ve got to knock the door down,” Preece says.
If Preece didn’t heed the words of Earnhardt, he listened to Kevin Manion.
During his one season with JD Motorsports, Preece lived in the race shop of the Kyle Busch Motorsports crew chief.
It was Manion who gave Preece the phone number of Steve deSouza, the executive vice president of Xfinity and development at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Kevin Manion gave me his number and said, ‘Hey, at least you can call. If he doesn’t call back, it’s no big deal, at least you can say you called’,” Preece says. “That’s really, to be honest with you, what got everything going because (deSouza) called me back that night. Obviously, it took sponsors to get me into the car and finish off the deal. Those phone calls are what really got me to this point.”
Preece said this three days removed from the best finish of his Xfinity career in 37 starts.
It was a race that saw Preece lead two laps and finish runner-up to Kyle Busch.
But neither of those were the most fun part of the experience for Preece. That came with 10 laps left in Stage 1 as the race resumed after a caution and Preece restarting 16th on fresh tires.
Ten laps later, Preece finished the stage in second behind Kyle Larson.
“That’s what I like to do,” Preece said. “I’m used to on Friday and Saturday nights where we have what they call a handicap. You win your heat race and then you start 15th or whatever. I’m used to starting mid-pack and driving through the field and navigating through holes and keeping the car safe doing it. That was the most fun to me.”
Preece will get one more chance to show off his kind of fun in the Xfinity Series to anyone that’s paying attention.
With the backing of five sponsors who have supported his modified and late-model careers, Preece secured the race at New Hampshire. Three of those sponsors will be on his car this weekend in Iowa.
Preece says he hasn’t felt any more pressure to perform in these two races than he would in any at the modified level. Even if they could be his last real shot at NASCAR success.
“I knew what the value of those races could be, the risk that was being taken,” Preece says. “It’s funny, some people have even said after this point they thought what I was doing was pretty risky. They wouldn’t do it, it’s not the conventional way. I believe in myself, and I knew that if could get the right opportunity and be a part of something like that it could go exactly the way I felt it could go. I could have gone and blown up on Lap 5 and you still wouldn’t know who Ryan Preece is.”
But for at least one more race, Preece can force the spotlight on himself.
He seeks to make his name when it seems any noteworthy driver rising through NASCAR’s top three series hovers around the legal drinking age. But the 26-year-old believes his age is a benefit.
“One thing I know from personal experience is that I’ve gotten better and wiser with age and that’s something about our sport,” Preece says. “As long as you’re willing to put in the effort, you can keep going to the next level. You’re only going to get better as you get older.”
Even as the days tick down to his second start, Preece’s mind last week was focused on his full-time job. He drives a modified owned by Eddie and Connie Partridge that he takes care of himself.
Last Tuesday, he was in the middle of attaching panels to the car he drove to an eighth-place finish Friday night at Stafford Motor Speedway, located roughly 40 miles northeast of his hometown of Berlin, Connecticut.
Preece has taken it upon himself to prepare his modifieds since 2011 when he parted ways with a team after only three races.
It’s a work ethic Preece aspired to after witnessing one of his heroes, the late sprint car driver Dave Steele, from a distance. As a kid still driving in midgets, Preece watched Steele work on his car following a race at the Speedrome in Indianapolis.
“He won that night of course,” Preece recalls. “He had his lap top plugged into the whole system and from that day on he made me want to be like him. … I watched him work on his race car and really, he didn’t have many guys with him. From what I remember it was only two or three of them. It was a memory for me and kind of what set the tone for who I want to be and how I want to be.”
Now Preece is waiting to see if the combination of his work ethic and a gamble on himself will pay off following his Iowa venture.
But Preece is leaving his NASCAR fortunes “up to fate.”
“That will tell us if I was meant to do this or not at a bigger level,” Preece says. “My goal is to go out there and show the world what I feel I can do and that’s hopefully winning races at this level.”
Menards has adorned the No. 27 Chevrolet for RCR for seven consecutive Cup seasons and is among the last full-season sponsors in NASCAR’s premier series. It assuredly is the most lucrative of RCR’s sponsorships.
Though the team is committed to fielding Chevys for Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon next season, the impending departure of Menard leaves questions about whether RCR will remain a three-car team in 2018.
In a statement Wednesday morning, team chairman and CEO Richard Childress said the team “will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.”
Here’s the full statement from Childress:
Paul Menard and Menards, Inc. have had a partnership with RCR for seven years. Together, we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, including Paul’s emotional win at Indianapolis in 2011. He is a very talented driver and a good friend. Everyone at RCR wishes both Paul and Menards nothing but the best in the future.
Our entire RCR organization is 100 percent focused on getting all three of our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series programs in the playoffs this year, and bringing another Cup championship to RCR in 2017.
We will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.