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Tony Stewart retirement leaves one less driver who was ever Intimidated

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When NASCAR’s best gather in Las Vegas this weekend for the Sprint Cup Awards, someone needs to take a very specific picture.

The people who pose for the picture are part of a very exclusive club. It’s a club that stopped accepting members on Feb. 18, 2001 and loses members almost every year.

This picture would feature full-time Sprint Cup drivers who once raced against seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Had the club portrait been taken just last year the group of drivers would have included Bobby Labonte, Michael Waltrip,  Jeff Gordon (with the knowledge he’d be a substitute driver in 2016) and Tony Stewart.

Now Stewart is retired from NASCAR competition and Gordon is really retired. Labonte and Waltrip have not announced plans for next season.

How large is the club’s membership now 15 years after Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500?

When the green flag drops on the 59th Daytona 500 on Feb. 26, only four drivers in the field – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch – will be able to boast that.

The last addition to the club of the four was Newman.

Two years before his rookie season in 2002, Newman made his Cup debut in the Checker Auto Parts / Dura Lube 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. At 22, Newman started 10th and finished 41st after engine problems. Earnhardt started 31st and finished ninth.

Busch made eight starts against Earnhardt, the first coming on Sept. 24, 2000 in the MBNA.com 400 at Dover International Speedway.

His eighth start was the 2001 Daytona 500. Years later, Busch proudly lays claim to being one of, if not the last driver, to ever be Intimidated.

The moment came on Lap 85, with Busch and Earnhardt running next to each other in the top five. Busch was driving the No. 97 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.

“My ‘Welcome to NASCAR Moment’ was probably the finger out the window from Dale at Daytona,” Busch told the Las-Vegas Review Journal in 2011. “It was my first Daytona 500, and I got the finger out the window. I thought I was minding my own business in the middle lane, but when it’s Senior, you gotta move over and let him through.

“He was on his way to the front.”

Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth will be the only full-time Cup drivers in 2017 who competed in a full season against Earnhardt Sr.

Both drivers had their rookie seasons in 2000, with Kenseth winning Rookie of the Year. But both made five starts in 1999, with Earnhardt Jr.’s first coming in the Coca-Cola 600.

However it’s Kenseth, now 44, who made the earliest start against the Man in Black.

On Sept. 20, 1998, at the age of 26, Kenseth was called on to substitute for Bill Elliott in the MBNA Gold 400 at Dover.

Driving Elliott’s No. 94 McDonald’s Ford, Kenseth started 16th and finished sixth. Earnhardt, starting last, finished 23rd.

Other active NASCAR drivers (in 2016) who competed against Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Elliott Sadler (33 Xfinity Series in 2016)

Morgan Shepherd (23 Xfinity starts in 2016)

Jeff Green (29 Xfinity starts in 2016)

Derrike Cope (24 Xfinity starts in 2016)

Mike Bliss (Three Xfinity and Truck Series starts in 2016)

Joe Nemechek (Two Xfinity starts in 2016)

Hermie Sadler (Two Xfinity starts in 2016)

Todd Bodine (One Xfinity start in 2016)

Ken Schrader (One Truck start in 2016)

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.