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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)

Kyle Busch wins Stage 2 of Brickyard 400; Dale Earnhardt Jr. out after accident on restart

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Kyle Busch continued his domination of the Brickyard 400 by winning Stage 2 of the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Busch, who has led 85 of the race’s 160 laps, led the final 13 laps of the stage. Busch also won Stage 1.

Busch restarted ninth on Lap 75 after eight cars stayed out of the pits during the preceding caution. He passed Ryan Blaney to return to the lead on Lap 87.

The top 10 after 100 laps were Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Blaney, Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s final Brickyard 400 ended early when he ran into the back of Trevor Bayne on the Lap 75 restart. The collision smashed in the front of his No. 88 Chevrolet and damaged the radiator, which began trailing smoke and brought the caution back out. Earnhardt went to the garage with his sixth DNF through the first 20 races of the year.

“We had a great car, I was having a lot of fun, the car was fast, we had a top-10 car for sure,” Earnhardt told NBCSN. “It’s frustrating because I really enjoyed being out there.

“Hopefully, our luck’s going to turn around. It’s been pretty tough and this is a difficult one to put up with.”

The race’s second caution for an accident occurred on Lap 57 when David Ragan spun in Turn 1 and collected Jeffrey Earnhardt and JJ Yeley. Earnhardt and Yeley were able to continue, but the severe damage to Ragan’s No. 38 Ford ended his day.

Yeley’s day ended when he brought out another caution on Lap 70 when his No. 7 Chevrolet lost his right-front tire and hit the outside wall.

The Brickyard 400 is scheduled to end on Lap 160.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last Brickyard 400 ends early after making contact

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s hopes of finally winning a Brickyard 400 in his final career appearance in the mid-summer classic ended abruptly on Lap 77 of Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt made contact with the rear of the No. 6 of Trevor Bayne, causing significant damage to the front end and radiator of Earnhardt’s No. 88.

Shortly after that, smoke began to billow from the rear of Earnhardt’s car. He didn’t take the car to pit road, going straight to the garage instead, his day officially over.

“There were just a bunch of cars slowing down and stopping and caused a chain reaction,” Earnhardt told NBC. “I got into the back of the 6 car (Trevor Bayne), they were all getting into each other, and just knocked the radiator out of it.

“We had a great car, I was having a lot of fun, the car was fast, we had a top-10 car for sure. It’s frustrating because I really enjoyed being out there.”

Earnhardt now has just six races to qualify for the NASCAR playoffs. He’s pretty much in a must-win situation if he hopes to make the 10-race playoffs.

“Hopefully, our luck’s going to turn around,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been pretty tough and this is a difficult one to put up with.”

Earnhardt is the second Hendrick Motorsports driver to see his day come to an early end. Chase Elliott suffered engine failure on Lap 45.

 

Engine issue ends Chase Elliott’s Brickyard 400 hopes early

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Chase Elliott‘s hope of winning the Brickyard 400 went up in smoke about one-quarter of the way through Sunday’s 24th edition of the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Elliott had some issues with his engine that brought him to pit road. After his team looked over the car, it sent him back out on the racetrack and shortly after, smoke began coming out of the rear of his Chevrolet on Lap 44. Elliott took his car to the garage, his day officially over.

“We don’t know, it was some type of motor issue,” Elliott told NBC of the apparent cause of the engine failure. “We went down a cylinder and then started blowing smoke out of the pipes. I’ve been racing Hendrick engines since 2013 and this is the first engine problem I’ve ever had. … We’ll move on to next week and see what we have there.”

Elliott came into the race hoping to repeat what his father did in the latter’s win in the 2002 Brickyard 400.

 

Kyle Busch leads Brickyard 400 at end of Stage 1; Chase Elliott out due to engine problems

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Pole-sitter Kyle Busch led all 50 laps to win the first stage of the Brickyard 400.

Busch is seeking to win his first Cup race in his last 36 starts since capturing last year’s Brickyard 400.

The top 10 after 50 laps were Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Denny Hamlin finished the stage in 24th after he pitted twice under the competition caution to fix damage from contact with Ryan Newman on his first trip down pit road.

Chase Elliott is out of the race after his No. 24 Chevrolet blew an engine on Lap 45. Elliott had begun dropping off the pace around Lap 20 and he was a lap down after an extended stop during the competition caution.

It is the first time Elliott has lost an engine in his Cup career.

The first caution of the race occurred on Lap 9 when Corey LaJoie hit the wall in Turn 3. During the caution the field was brought to pit road on Lap 12 ahead of severe weather.

The race was red flagged for lightning before it began raining. The red flag lasted one hour, 47 minutes and three seconds and was lifted at 4:47 p.m.

The race went back to green on Lap 18.

The competition caution originally scheduled for Lap 20 was pushed back to Lap 30.

Stage 2 will end on Lap 100 with the race scheduled to go 160 laps.