Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Back in the saddle: Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks to this season and beyond

Leave a comment

Dale Earnhardt Jr. understands that it could take time to return to an elite level after a concussion forced him to miss half of last season.

“You can’t take six months off and come right back and expect to be right there where you were like you hadn’t missed a step,’’ the two-time Daytona 500 winner told NBC Sports in a recent interview.

“The sport has changed, the cars have changed and any week you’re not in the car you’re getting behind. So if there is some learning curve, I won’t be shocked. Hopefully, it doesn’t last very long. I expect to be able to adapt very quickly.’’

Earnhardt will be back in a car Tuesday for only the second time since July when he takes part in a NASCAR organizational test at Phoenix International Raceway. The session continues Wednesday.

The only other time Earnhardt has been on track since the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway was a one-day test at Darlington Raceway that doctors and NASCAR used to determine if he was ready to return to competition.

Now that he’s back, Earnhardt has much work ahead of him. That’s why he is doing the Phoenix test for Hendrick Motorsports. Each organization is allowed to have one team at the test.

Earnhardt admits that the beginning of the season will be important as he seeks to catch up to his competitors. He seeks more than moral victories.

“I feed off statistics,’’ Earnhardt told NBC Sports when asked what he wants to see early in the season. “Top fives, wins. Obviously, we want to win every race. If we can go get some good runs and supplant ourselves in the top 15 in points really well early in the season, that would relieve some stress and concern about what the learning curve is for me having been out of the car.

“Also, every race you put in the bank gives you the confidence in your health. I’ve got to rebuild sort of the confidence in myself and my health as well as my performance, my ability to go out there and do the best job I can.’’

While every driver and situation is different, Kyle Busch won in his fifth race back after missing the first 11 races of the 2015 season because of injuries suffered in a crash in an Xfinity race at Daytona. Busch returned for the All-Star race and then ran four points races before winning at Sonoma — the first of five victories in his championship season.

If things go as well as his Darlington test, Earnhardt figures he’ll be in good shape when he competes in his first event, which will be will be a qualifying race Feb. 23 at Daytona International Speedway (Earnhardt won’t compete in the Feb. 18 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona even though he is eligible). It didn’t take Earnhardt long to feel comfortable in the car during that Darlington test.

“I was a little bit apprehensive for sure, wondering how I was going to feel and how the car was going to feel and what was going to happen,’’ Earnhardt said. “We ran about three of four laps and it felt pretty comfortable and pretty familiar. After about 15 or 20 laps, it was like me and the car were one piece.’’

Earnhardt, who is 42 years old, said the time out of the car gave last year him a glimpse of what retirement could be like. 

“I never thought that the transition from driving a car to retirement would be a difficult one for me, but it certainly answered some questions and made me lot more comfortable with that prospect,’’ he said. “There’s going to be some opportunities for me beyond driving that will be fun and interesting. I have some businesses that can be successful if I pull the right levers, so I’m not too worried about it. It was interesting to see the sport from the angle I did and to sort of get what being out of the car is like.’’

While he was out of the car, Earnhardt also did some broadcasting. Could that be a part of his future once he’s no longer driving?

“I would certainly entertain the opportunity to be in broadcasting, but … I just know there’s a lot of guys that want to do that,’’ Earnhardt said. “(Kevin) Harvick has talked about that. There’s just going to be more people interested in filling those small, select positions, and I don’t know if that is a competitive field I want to get involved in. It will just have to come naturally. I really did love being in there.

“I could certainly have a lot of fun trying to describe the action to the fans. I could see myself doing that. We’ll just have to see how it works out. I’m not sure what those opportunities will be. … but I’d love to be a part of the sport one way or the other.’’

He’s clear on one thing about his future, though.

“I’m pretty sure that (Cup) ownership is not one of those options,’’ he said of post-driving plans. “It’s not a way that I want to be connected to the sport, going down the road on the Cup level. But I’d love to be at the track and at the races and have a purpose to be there.’’

And once he’s done racing in NASCAR, he still might compete.

“If my health allows me to race Late Models and do all that stuff,’’ he said. “I would do it.’’

 and on Facebook

NASCAR America: Was Kyle Busch wrong to blame Joey Logano?

2 Comments

It wasn’t so much that Martin Truex Jr. kept Kyle Busch from winning the championship in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400.

At least that’s not the way Busch saw it.

Busch felt he had the race car and the speed to track down Truex and eventually pass him – had it not been for Joey Logano.

An upset Busch said after the race to NBC Sports that he felt Logano may have impeded his progress but on Monday’s NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman both agreed that Logano did nothing wrong, that he was trying to win the race himself.

Here’s some of what the analysts had to say:

Jarrett: “It’s not just the four championship drivers that are out there competing, everyone else is out there and they have an agenda. Joey Logano has had a bad year by his standards, so he was trying to get everything he possibly could.

“But, here’s another thing I’ll say: Joey Logano really did nothing wrong there. And something that all drivers, not just Kyle Busch, that you have to think about … things that you might have done to rile a competitor, you never know when that might come back to get you.

“We talk about paybacks all the time. It doesn’t have to be somebody wrecking somebody to pay back, all they have to do in a critical situation is hold you up a little bit. I don’t know if that’s what Joey Logano was doing or not or just racing as hard as he could and that made it difficult for Kyle Busch to get by.

“… I think it was simply racing. It was unfortunate for Kyle, but it’s part of the way the playoff system works here in NASCAR.”

Here’s what Kligerman had to say:

“I think at that point of the race, there was still a chance for Joey Logano to rally and go challenge for a win. … That’s what you have to deal with, that’s what racing over 38 weeks is about in the Cup Series, racing 39, 40 cars every week. You have to race those guys. … Kyle Busch had one of the fastest cars, but was Joey Logano the only one that was really the problem. As they came to the end, Kyle Larson was in the picture a little bit. You can’t put the blame on Joey Logano. He was just driving his race.”

Hear more about what they had to say in the video above.

 

 

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s first moments of retirement

Leave a comment

As soon as he crossed the checkered flag in Sunday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400, Dale Earnhardt Jr. morphed from race car driver to retired race car driver.

And what better way to begin retirement than with a party, and that’s what Junior did with his team, friends and fans along the frontstretch of Homestead-Miami Speedway.

On Monday’s NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman both spoke about how Junior sailed on into retirement.

Among their comments:

Kligerman: “It was maybe an hour and a half and there was still this swarm of people around his car. He and his team were sitting there, drinking beer and hanging out, he was signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. It was just incredible to see him just sitting there and taking in the moment.”

Jarrett added about the role and impact Rick Hendrick had upon Junior’s life and career both on and off the track: “Rick Hendrick came in and got in Dale Jr.’s life at a time that Junior really needed someone and needed that support, that father figure, if you will. Rick Hendrick is just so good at that. Rick’s been through a lot in his life, Dale Jr. has been that. The two of them together did a lot of real good things and were good for each other.”

Check out more of what Jarrett and Kligerman had to say in the video above.

 

 

 

NASCAR America: Jarrett, Kligerman on role Sherry Pollex played in Truex’s championship

Leave a comment

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman talked about the key role Sherry Pollex played in Martin Truex Jr.‘s run for the NASCAR Cup championship — not just in Sunday’s race, but through the whole season as a source of inspiration and motivation.

First, here’s some of what Kligerman said:

“She’s a massive inspiration. I can’t imagine what she’s going through. For what Martin and this team have all gone through, and to have the success they’re having on the track, and all this going on off the racetrack, it’s just incredible.

“To bring inspiration to people’s lives, that’s really impactful. They are going through a tough time and it’s easy to get down when you’re going through a tough time. But they’re using their success on the racetrack to bring inspiration to other people. That’s one of the best things you can possibly do, I believe.”

And here’s some of Jarrett’s insight:

“She’s just an amazing person and you can tell just the inspiration she has been to Martin Truex Jr. to just never give up and never waver.

“You never hear them talk about the struggles, only when they’re asked about it. They don’t talk about how difficult their life is, because they know others are probably struggling more than they are at times.

“But they’re such good people and it’s really good to see good things happen to good people that really give their all and are an inspiration to others.

“I don’t care who you might have been a fan of and pulling for … you had to feel good to have this end this way because they’ve been through a lot, and they’ll continue to go through that, but they have a championship to show for all those struggles, hard work and effort.”

See and hear more of Jarrett’s and Kligerman’s analysis in the video above.

Also, check out what Truex had to say about how important his father was to his development as a race car driver — and now a Cup champion — in the video below.

 

Roush Fenway Racing to field three-driver Xfinity development team in 2018

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Roush Fenway Racing announced Monday it will field a full-time driver development team next season in the Xfinity Series.

Ty Majeski, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe will share driving duties behind the wheel of the No. 60 Roush Fenway Ford Mustang.

In addition, Team Penske and Ford Performance will also collaborate in the venture.

Mike Kelley, who led Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to two Xfinity championships, will serve as crew chief for the No. 60.

“All three of these drivers have exhibited a great deal of potential on and off the track,” Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark said in a press release. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch as they hone their skills together and grow into the next generation of champions in our sport.”

Here are the drivers:

* Majeski recently earned his fourth consecutive ARCA Midwest Tour championship, winning six of 12 races. He also competed in 32 Late Model races this year, winning 20 and finishing top-3 in 29. He’s also ranked the No. 1 iRacer in the world, with over 830 wins in 1,112 starts. He finished 10th Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his third Xfinity start.

* The 19-year-old Cindric has won races in rallycross, IMSA, ARCA, the NASCAR K&N Series and the Camping World Truck Series. In his rookie season in Trucks this year, he advanced to the championship round. In 2017, he had one win, eight top-fives and 16 top-10s.

* Briscoe had one win (season finale Friday at Homestead), 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes and finished sixth in the points standings in his rookie season in Trucks. He won the 2016 ARCA championship by more than 500 points over the series’ runner-up with six wins and led nearly 1,000 laps.