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The backstory of why Alex Bowman was in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car Saturday night

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – During his December test at Darlington Raceway that cleared his return to NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gathered his No. 88 team in the hauler and broke some news.

He wouldn’t be running The Clash, turning over the wheel of his Chevrolet to Alex Bowman as a reward for filling in for him last season.

Unless his team said otherwise.

“I said, ‘They could put (Bowman) in the 5 (the car of Kasey Kahne, who wasn’t eligible Saturday), and if the guys really want me to run (the No. 88), I’ll run it,” Earnhardt said Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. “But otherwise I’d just assume let Alex run it. They said, ‘Yeah, I think Alex earned his shot, and he should be able to work with guys that he knows.’ Nothing against the 5 guys, but he hadn’t worked with them any.”

Bowman and Earnhardt both were eligible to run in The Clash – the former by virtue of winning the pole position at Phoenix International Raceway, the latter as a former winner of the event.

But Earnhardt, a NASCAR historian, didn’t feel worthy of him being in the race because he has “such strong feelings about The Clash being strictly for pole winners, and I didn’t feel good about how I was eligible.

“I don’t feel deserving of the opportunity to be in the race, because I think it should be strictly pole winners. So when Alex got it, I’m like, he’s trumped me in how to get into the race to begin with.”

Earnhardt planted the seed for putting Bowman in The Clash minutes after that Phoenix pole.

Earnhardt, who missed the final 18 races of the 2016 season while recovering from concussion symptoms, was at Phoenix standing with Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt and No. 88 crew chief Greg Ives.

“Your initial emotion is, ‘Man, he deserves it,’ ” Earnhardt said. “We’ve been on this mission to get Alex going and get his career where he wants it to be, and we had some real momentum last year with him getting an opportunity to drive that car. So when he got that pole, I looked at Doug and Greg and was like, ‘Man, you’ve got to put Alex in the car for The Clash,’ and I was kinda judging their reaction. It got a little closer, and they had made the decision that Alex would do it.

“I like the fact he’s in our car with our guys. Anything to give him an opportunity to showcase what he can do and learn is good.”

Bowman drove in 10 races for Earnhardt last season, posting a best finish of sixth at Phoenix (where he led a race-high 194 of 324 laps).

He also learned during the Darlington test that he would be making his Clash debut.

“We joked about it a lot, but it never even crossed my mind that I would be driving the No. 88,” he said. “Greg Ives was talking about Greg Ives Racing bringing a car, or something crazy like that. I just kind of let it go quiet. I didn’t want step on any toes, or ask anybody and have it seem like I was begging for something. I wasn’t really asking.

“Mr. Duchardt said I was going to drive the 88 in the Clash. I said ‘OK, cool.’ So, I am very thankful for the opportunity. Dale’s been so great to me. I wouldn’t be here without him. He is the one that pointed me out when he wasn’t feeling good. I feel like I owe a lot to him, and I am very thankful for him to put me in the car for this race.”

Earnhardt was in the Fox Sports booth Saturday night, and he was in the NBC Sports booth when Bowman raced at Talladega Superspeedway last October.

“(Daytona) and Talladega, more than anywhere else, that adds a lot of pressure,” Bowman said. “He is such a good superspeedway racer. I feel like I do a good job, but I don’t have the experience he has by any means.

“So just trying to do my best and really lean on him for advice when I can.T.J. (Majors) is so good at spotting these races, and these race cars that Hendrick Motorsports brings to these races are so good, I feel like we can be up front all night. But it definitely adds some pressure to have probably the best speedway racer of our time in the booth calling the race.”

Watching Friday’s Clash practice at his house in North Carolina, Earnhardt said he was slightly antsy to “be out there learning something” but added he wouldn’t want to race with another crew chief besides Ives.

“There’s plenty of opportunities to run this week, and I’ll get enough laps,” he said. “I’m not going to be short of laps, but I’m not that upset to not be running the race.

“If there’s a race going on, it feels weird when I don’t run the Xfinity race here. It feels weird, you can’t help but not have some kind of a little part of you wanting to be out there and seeing the guys out there running and maybe your cars are out there running and (thinking), ‘Man, I would have done something different right there.’ It’s hard not to feel that way a little bit.”

Justin Allgaier wins pole for Charlotte Xfinity race

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CONCORD, N.C. — Justin Allgaier won the pole for the Xfinity Series’ Hisense 4K TV 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

With a speed of 182.488 mph, Allgaier earned his fifth Xfinity pole and his first since the March 2013 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Allgaier is joined on the front row by Austin Dillon (181.519).

The top five is completed by Ryan Blaney (181.378), Daniel Hemric (181.324) and Kevin Harvick (181.245).

Christopher Bell will start seventh in his first Xfinity race.

Brad Keselowski and Dakoda Armstrong will start from the rear after not passing inspection in time to qualify.

Click here for full qualifying results.

Ryan Blaney leads second Coke 600 practice

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CONCORD, N.C. — Ryan Blaney posted the top speed in the second practice session for the Coca-Cola 600.

Blaney’s No. 21 Ford produced a speed of 188.055 mph Saturday morning around Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The top five was filled out by Erik Jones (187.598 mph), Martin Truex Jr. (187.084), Daniel Suarez (186.838) and Trevor Bayne (186.239).

Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick was ninth fastest at 185.567 mph. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 14th quickest at 185.141 mph.

Kyle Bush recorded the most laps in the session with 48.

Click here for the full practice report.

Eight teams lose 15 minutes of Coke 600 practice for failing pre-qualifying inspection

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CONCORD, N.C. — Eight Cup teams will be held 15 minutes during Coca-Cola 600 practice today for failing pre-qualifying inspection on Thursday

Drivers include Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Corey LaJoie and Chris Buescher.

Buescher’s team also loses pit selection for Sunday’s race due to failing pre-qualifying inspection three ties.

Larson and LaJoie’s loss of practice time comes on top of them not making qualifying runs on Thursday after neither of their cars passed inspection in time.

 

NASCAR America: How much risk should drivers take in the Coca-Cola 600?

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As in many things in life, whether something is worth doing comes down to risk vs. reward.

Such will be the case in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. How much are drivers willing to risk? Will that risk be worth reward, particularly with the additional stage to the race?

On Friday’s NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman jumped into the iRacing simulator and showed the greatest strategies to employ in Sunday’s race, especially with the traction compound up top.

Check out the above video.