Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends return to racing despite concussions

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. defended his return to racing despite missing the final 18 races of last season because of a concussion and his history of concussions.

Earnhardt was cleared Wednesday to return to competition after running 185 laps in a five-hour test at Darlington Raceway. He had not been in a car since the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway. Doctors have pinpointed his concussion symptoms to a June 12 crash at Michigan.

The concussion is at least the fifth he’s had in his NASCAR career. He missed two races in 2012 because of concussion symptoms after a crash in a test at Kansas Speedway and a crash about six weeks later at Talladega Superspeedway.

“I wouldn’t be coming back to the seat and wanting to drive and excited about driving cars if there was any risk other than the typical risk that every driver faces on Sunday,’’ Earnhardt said Friday in a conference call with reporters.

“I feel very confident in what I’ve seen in myself, in my improvement. I feel confident in what my doctors are telling me about my future and the risks that I’m taking and my ability to be able to withstand the normal wear and tear of not only driving a race car but getting into that unfortunate accident from time to time.

“We all feel pretty confident that not only am I as healthy as I was before the symptoms came (this season), but I’m actually stronger. Having gone through this before also gives me additional confidence. This isn’t uncharted territory for me. I know what I need to feel personally to know that I’m as strong as I need to be and healthy and I’m certainly feeling that way.’’   

Earnhardt also said he understands that it is his decision to return.

“I have a personal responsibility to myself to be smart, make great decisions for myself,’’ Earnhardt said. “My health is No. 1. Everybody in this room, (car owner Rick Hendrick and) everybody in the shop all put my health first. I’m not going to take any unnecessary risks with my own health.’’

Earnhardt noted that he recently had his head scanned to have a better fitting helmet. That was done, though, more for comfort he said. Earnhardt expressed confidence in the safety equipment he uses and is in his car.

Starting lineup for Cup race at Richmond

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Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott will start on the front row for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway.

Truex won his third pole of the season.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Kyle Busch, who is trying to win a third consecutive race, qualified 32nd.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Martin Truex Jr. wins pole for Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

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Martin Truex Jr. qualified first for Saturday’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway, winning his third pole of the season.

Truex claimed the pole with a speed of 123.859 mph around the .75-mile track. The Toyota Owners 400 will mark Truex’s 450th Cup start. Truex had DNFs in the last two races.

“It’s definitely been a crappy two weeks,” Truex told Fox Sports 1. “But that’s part of racing. This team, I’ve got so much faith and confidence in them and everything we’re doing. You can’t let those kinds of things get you down. It was nothing we did, just circumstances. Just proud of the effort today.”

The pole matches Truex’s total from last year.

Chase Elliott qualified second (123.621 mph). The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Ryan Blaney will start 12th, followed by Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson.

Daniel Hemric will start 22nd in his first Cup start.

Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski both failed to advance out of the first round. Keselowski will start 28th and Busch will start 32nd.

“We didn’t make a mock run in practice and then we thought the spread would be about three tenths (of a second),” Busch told Fox Sports 1. “It wasn’t, it was faster than that. We only ran two laps trying to make sure we preserve out tires for later on deeper into the session. A bunch of those guys ran three laps and obviously we needed that third lap. It would have picked up. For some reason the tire here today, even in race trim, your fastest lap was the seventh lap. So just takes awhile for everything to come in. Just trying to short cut it a little bit and it didn’t work out for us.”

Click here for qualifying results.

Cole Custer wins pole for Xfinity race at Richmond

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Cole Custer will start first in tonight’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond Raceway after earning his second consecutive pole.

Custer won the pole for the ToyotaCare 250 with a lap of 121.332 mph. He earned his first career pole last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver will be joined on the front row by Christopher Bell (120.881 mph). He has started on the front row in four of the first eight races this season.

The top five is rounded out by Austin Cindric, Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek.

Cindric will start in the top five for the first time this season.

Hemric is the highest qualifying of the four Dash 4 Cash drivers. Justin Allgaier will start seventh and Elliott Sadler will roll off eighth. Spencer Gallagher will start 17th.

Noah Gragson will start 11th in his Xfinity debut.

Tyler Reddick suffered some cosmetic damage when he scrapped the frontstretch wall in Round 2. He will start 10th.

Click here for qualifying results.

Tonight’s Xfinity race at Richmond: Start time, lineup and more

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The Xfinity Series is back on a short track for round two of the Dash 4 Cash series. Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Daniel Hemric and Spencer Gallagher will compete for the $100,000 bonus tonight at Richmond Raceway.

Here is all the info for tonight’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START:  Leslie Gravitte, Toyota Camry owner, will give the command to start engines at 7:07 p.m for the ToyotaCare 250. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 250 laps (187.5 miles) around the .75-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:10 p.m. Driver introductions are at 6:35 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Henrico Fire Choir will perform the anthem at 7:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race beginning at 7 p.m. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 6:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 59 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson took the lead with 10 laps to go to win this race last April. He was followed by Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric. Brad Keselowski won last September’s race and was followed by Kyle Busch and Ty Dillon.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup.