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Justin Allgaier puts close Daytona loss, missed title behind him ahead of new Xfinity season

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Justin Allgaier doesn’t let the closest loss of his NASCAR career keep him up at night.

At least not since November.

“After Homestead, none,” Allgaier told NBC Sports on Thursday in a phone interview.

Last July, Allgaier missed out on winning the Xfinity Series’ July race at Daytona International Speedway by the slimmest of margins thanks to a delayed caution for a crash on the backstretch on the final lap.

Instead of Allgaier earning his fourth Xfinity win, it was Aric Almirola who celebrated in victory lane with his first.

“I would say I kind of carried that, even though I wasn’t supposed to or I didn’t want to, I carried it to Homestead,” Allgaier said.

The Illinois native admits lingering feelings on the loss went against the counsel of his wife, Ashley Allgaier.

“My wife is pretty good about ‘when we drive to the airplane, when you get on that airplane, whatever happened today is gone,'” the driver said. “My wife is very, very good for me in a lot of ways. She’s a very, very good at keeping things level. Not letting the highs get too high and not letting the lows too low.”

Homestead represented one of those highs.

The 30-year-old driver, despite not winning in 2016, was one of the four who raced for the Xfinity title in its first season with the elimination playoff format. Competing against his JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler and Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez of Joe Gibbs Racing, Allgaier said it was the best race he’s ever been a part of.

“The fact that it came down to end of the race and all four of us going for the (championship) were battling it out, that was just a cool day,” Allgaier said. “That whole weekend was cool.”

While Suarez won the race and title, Allgaier finished the year third in the standings, which matched his result from 2011.

Since then, Allgaier has been busy. He went to Brazil immediately following the season to compete in the Porsche GT3 Cup. He then ran in the Chili Bowl Nationals where he won a heat race and also went for a tumble.

In the middle of that, Allgaier took his wife and daughter to Walt Disney World for the first time. With 15 days until the first Xfinity Series practice at Daytona, Allgaier estimates he’s spent less than 15 days at home since the biggest race of his career.

“My mindset is actually really good,” Allgaier said. “I hate that it’s called the offseason. It should be called the non-racing season.”

Allgaier is entering his second season with JR Motorsports in the No. 7 Brandt Chevrolet and his seventh full Xfinity season since 2009. Allgaier spent his offseason in a “really good place.”

“(I) haven’t thought about the what ifs, coulda-woulda-should ofs,” Allgaier said. “I look at 2017 as a new page, new chapter. It’s just like when you go to school. You get a new page in a notebook or you get a new notebook and you’re like ‘nothing in that other notebook makes a difference. … It’s going forward and I think that’s always been the case.”

When Allgaier started his 2016 “notebook,” he didn’t know he would eventually make one Cup start, in the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway in relief of his former HScott Motorsports teammate Michael Annett. It was Allgaier’s 76th Cup start after his two seasons with HScott and four starts in 2013.

Driving the No. 46, Allgaier started 39th and finished last after getting caught up in Lap 358 crash.

If it winds up being his last Cup Start, Allgaier is “100 percent” satisfied with what he accomplished at NASCAR’s top level.

“There’s tons and tons of race car drivers who would love the opportunity to just go into the pits of a Cup series race,” Allgaier said. “I can say I’ve been able to line up against some of the best races in the world, beat some of them at times. Obviously, the last (Cup start) didn’t end the way I wanted it to end, but at the same time … I’m not disappointed at all with my Cup career as a whole. I’m just blessed to be doing what I’m doing.”

Allgaier starts his 2017 Xfinity “notebook” on Feb. 25 at Daytona.

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Staff picks for Coca-Cola 600

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Martin Truex Jr. Feels as if the previously used Kyle Busch Rule applies in reverse: I’ll pick Truex until he doesn’t win on a 1.5-mile track.

Dustin Long

Kevin Harvick. He becomes a three-time winner of this event and scores his first victory of the season and first for Stewart-Haas Racing since the Daytona 500.

Daniel McFadin

Erik Jones becomes the second first-time winner this season, following in the footsteps of Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Matt Kenseth in getting his first win at Charlotte.

Jerry Bonkowski

Charlotte Motor Speedway is Jimmie Johnson‘s track. In 31 career starts, he has eight wins — including four in the Coca-Cola 600 — plus 15 top-5 and 19 top-10 finishes. He won there last fall, and he doubles up Sunday night.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Winning Coke 600 in final attempt ‘would mean a lot’

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CONCORD, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. “couldn’t have told you what year it was.”

It was 2011 and it was the Coca-Cola 600.

In his fourth year with Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt led two laps in the race. On his way to lead a third – the last lap – his No. 88 Chevrolet ran out of gas in Turn 3. He finished seventh as Kevin Harvick went to Victory Lane.

He’s had better finishes before and since, but that was closest Earnhardt has ever come to winning a Cup points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“(That race) doesn’t really weigh on me that much,” Earnhardt said on Thursday. “It was tough to get over for a few weeks, but I believe (former crew chief) Steve Letarte might still talk about it today, but a lot of things, a lot of water under the bridge since then.”

Earnhardt said two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway winning tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 is the one box he’d like to check off the most during his retirement tour, which has 25 races remaining in it. Earnhardt will visit nine track he hasn’t won at.

“The 600 would be awesome,” Earnhardt said. “Any of them that we haven’t won at would be great. Any win this year, right, would be good. But if I had to pick Charlotte would be … winning the 600 would mean a lot.”

While the tracks in Daytona and Talladega carry a lot of weight in Earnhardt’s history, it’s the 1.5-mile track in his own backyard where he first got a taste of what the sport he would one day be the face of.

Dale Earnhardt poses in Victory Lane with his two sons, Dale Earnhardt Jr., left, and Kerry Earnhardt, right, after winning the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24, 1992. (Photo by Dozier Mobley/Getty Images)

“I grew up here and went to all the races here when I was a little kid,” Earnhardt said Thursday. “I used to go to the dirt tracks with Dad when I was very small, but the first memories of actually being at a Cup event were here. The Eury’s and the Earnhardt family would park up on the hill of the road course, about the tallest peak of elevation there.

“And we had these plastic cars, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough, and we would roll them down the hill of the road course and spend the whole weekend there watching Dad race the Xfinity race and the Cup race.”

The 14-time most popular driver watched his father win at Charlotte five times, including three times in the longest race in NASCAR.

But in 33 of his own Cup starts here, Earnhardt hasn’t driven into Victory Lane.

Even Earnhardt can’t quite believe it.

“I thought, considering we’ve had some decent success in the sport, I would have guessed I’d have got a win here in a point race at some point, but it just hasn’t happened,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve had some close ones, but the way we ran out of the gate as a rookie, we ran pretty good.”

Earnhardt made his Cup debut in the Coke 600 on May 30, 1999, starting eighth and finishing 16th. A year later, he claimed his first career pole in the race. Earnhardt led 175 laps before finishing fourth.

“I thought that this would be a good track for us, but since the repave (in 2006), for whatever reason it’s really been tough for me,” Earnhardt said. “We just really haven’t been able to hit on how to get around here. Either how to set the car up or what I’m looking for or what I need to be doing with the car driving it.”

Earnhardt has six top fives at Charlotte, the most recent coming in the 2015 Coke 600. In his 33 starts, he has an average finish of 19th, which is his third worst among active tracks.

Earnhardt’s bumpy retirement tour hasn’t smoothed out during the season’s two-week layover in Charlotte. Last week, Earnhardt’s final start in the All-Star Race ended with him 18th in a field of 20 cars. He start 19th in tonight’s race.

“We totally eighty-sixed all that stuff we ran last week and we put in Jimmie (Johnson’s) set-up, we’re just like him,” Earnhardt said.

If the No. 88 team should lean on anyone, its Johnson’s team, which has won at Charlotte eight times.

“(Crew chiefs) Greg (Ives) and Chad (Knaus) got real close this week and me and Jimmie have been in communication and Jimmie has come by the car a couple of times in practice already looking at notes and printing out our driver traces and trying to figure out whatever we can do to help me,” Earnhardt said. “One of the things about Jimmie that I’ve always thought was pretty cool was he was always open to looking at other drivers traces and adjusting how he drives.

“If he sees a guy go through the corner and does something different with the gas or the brake he will try it.  And he encourages me or any other teammate to do the same thing.  He comes over with these print outs and says this is what I’m doing with the gas and this is what you are doing and this is where the time is getting lost and maybe try this and that and the other, he is a super teammate.  I’m lucky to be able to work in the same shop with him.  He has certainly been an influence on my success and my enjoyment in the sport.”

If Johnson’s help turns into the desired win for Earnhardt, it will be only his second top 10 finish of the year. His first came with a fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, a sister track to Charlotte.

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How an encounter at NASCAR Hall of Fame changed Ryan Newman’s view of the military (video)

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Ryan Newman‘s appreciation for the military and its purpose was strengthened by a chance encounter with a service member at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

In an interview with NASCAR America, the Richard Childress Racing driver spoke about the meeting, which resulted in a friendship.

“He came up to me and introduced himself and looked me square in the eye and says ‘You’re who we fight for,” Newman said. “I’m like, ‘what are you talking about?’ He goes, ‘You. You and your family, that’s who we fight for. That’s why we go do what we do. Because you represent America. You represent the freedoms that we try to keep and have for our kids. You’re who we fight for.'”

“It hit me and it hit me hard,” Newman said.

Newman and the rest of the drivers in tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 will feature names of fallen soldiers on the top of their windshields.

Newman’s No. 31 Chevrolet will honor Lance Corporal Daniel Freeman Swaim of the United States Marine Corps.

Swaim is the cousin of Cruz Gonzales, the gas man on Newman’s team. Swaim served in the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. On Nov. 10, 2005, he passed away from wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces during Operation Steel Curtain in Iraq.

Tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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Kyle Busch seeks to follow his All-Star win with the first points win of the season tonight for Joe Gibbs Racing. Martin Truex Jr. won at Kansas earlier this month, the last points race before tonight, and will look to repeat his dominance in this event last year.

Before they and others take the green flag, Charlotte Motor Speedway will honor military members on this Memorial Day weekend.

Here are the particulars for today’s Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Channing Tatum, co-star of the upcoming movie “Logan Lucky,” will give the command for drivers to start engines at 6:10 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 6:18 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 400 laps (600 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 100. Stage 2 ends on Lap 200. Stage 3 ends on Lap 300.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. The drivers meeting is at 4 p.m. Driver introductions are at 5:20 p.m.

AMAZING GRACE: Charlotte Fire Department Pipe Band will perform this song at 6 p.m.

21-GUN SALUTE: Fort Bragg Firing Party will perform this at 6:02. It will be followed by the playing of “Taps” by a bugler from Fort Bragg.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: The 82nd Airborne Division All-American Chorus will perform the Anthem at 6:03 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 6 p.m. Its coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at gorpn.com. PRN’s coverage begins at 5 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 83 degrees at race time with a 38 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Martin Truex Jr. led a record 392 of 400 laps to win last year’s Coca-Cola 600. Kevin Harvick was second and Jimmie Johnson third. Johnson won at Charlotte last fall in the Chase. Matt Kenseth was second and Kasey Kahne third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup