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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.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NASCAR America: Chase Elliott ‘biggest surprise’ of Cup playoffs

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Only two drivers are safely in the third round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs. Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski secured spots through their wins at Charlotte and Talladega.

That leaves six spots to be decided Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

NASCAR America analysts Parker Kligerman and Kyle Petty broke down the drivers competing for spots. Both of them agreed that Chase Elliott, who has finished in second in three of the five playoff races, has a great chance to make it all the way to the championship race in Miami.

“If Talladega had played out, he was either going to be in victory lane or in the top two or three,” Petty said. “When you look at that, he has had the most solid playoffs of any driver out there. We keep talking about the big three: Larson, Busch and Truex. This guy is a sleeper. But he’s my No. 4.”

Said Kligerman: “He’s been the biggest surprise. That 24 team has been incredible through the playoffs. One thing I’ve noticed about that team, just speaking to (crew chief) Alan Gustafson, speaking to Chase, it’s almost as if they want that first win more than they care about the playoffs.”

Watch the above video for more on the playoff drivers.

Friday’s NASCAR Cup, Xfinity schedule at Kansas Speedway

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Things get started today for the pivotal weekend at Kansas Speedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series will have its elimination race in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, where four of the 12 remaining playoff drivers will not advance to the Round of 8.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series begins its Round of 8 with Saturday’s Kansas 300.

But it all begins today, as Cup has its first practice (the other two are Saturday) and qualifying, while the Xfinity Series will have its two practice sessions.

Here’s how today’s schedule shapes up:

(All times are Eastern)

10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

12 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity garage open

1 – 2:25 p.m. — First Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

2:30 – 3:25 p.m. First Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)

5 – 5:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, 3 rounds) (NBCSN, MRN)

NASCAR: Will Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch advance in playoffs?

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The last two drivers to win NASCAR Cup titles are in precarious positions ahead of the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Kyle Busch, the 2015 champion, is outside the top eight in ninth. He sits seven points behind defending champion Jimmie Johnson.

NASCAR America analysts Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman debated who they think had the best chance to advance to the Third round after Sunday.

Petty put his money behind Busch, who has finished in the top five in each of his last five starts at the 1.5-mile track.

“He’s one of the big three: Truex, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson,” Petty said. “I don’t see where these (last) two races (Charlotte, Talladega) have changed anything. The one thing Kyle Busch brings into Kansas City … he brings speed. These guys have had speed all year-long.”

Johnson on the other hand has produced only four top fives all season and just one since he won at Dover in June.

But Kligerman explained why he thinks the seven-time champion will prevail on Sunday.

“Jimmie Johnson knows how to pass and that is what has become evident throughout this season,” Kligerman said. “No, they have not had the fastest cars at Hendrick Motorsports. No, they have not qualified well. They’ve actually been sort of abysmal at qualifying of late.

“… He has three wins this year. Two of those he started at the back.”

Watch the video for more.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez’ racing roots

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut.

On the show:

  • We’ll debate which past Cup Series champion will advance to the Round of 8. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson currently leads 2015 champ Kyle Busch by only seven points for the final transfer spot. Who has the edge going into Kansas this Sunday? This elimination race will be a heated competition just to finish above the cut line. Log on to NBCSports.com/NASCARVote and weigh in!
  • Xfinity Series playoff driver Daniel Hemric calls into the show to talk about his chances of advancing to the championship four in Miami. He’ll also describe his experience being one of the four drivers to participate in the recent tire test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval.”
  • We take a look at the Daniel Suarez’s Racing Roots and discuss his transition from Xfinity Series champion to Monster Energy Cup Series rookie.
  • Parker Kligerman hops into the iRacing simulator to preview Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas, as well as the Formula 1 race in Austin, Texas.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream 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.