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Dale Earnhardt Jr. sees signs of greatness for Chase Elliott at Daytona but work remains

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows it will come. It just may take a little more time.

He wasn’t talking about his driving at Daytona International Speedway but that of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, who become the youngest driver in NASCAR history to win a Daytona 500 qualifying race.

While Earnhardt, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and a few other Daytona 500 champions deftly move from lane to lane with the artistry of a maestro leading an orchestra, the 21-year-old Elliott’s blocking style is less refined.

“I noticed that, too,’’ said Earnhardt, who watched Elliott win the first qualifying race before Earnhardt competed in the second. “That’s just experience. He’s got a great spotter, but it’s the communication between him and the spotter. I think he’ll understand as he goes how much better to interpret what he’s getting from the spotter.

“He’s also going to learn and understand how the energy of the car and the draft works to where he can anticipate these moves. He’s sort of coming late into the move and that’s fine. I was the same way. He’ll get to where he’ll see it and knows to do it and do it more and he won’t have to be so abrupt because he’s ready for it.’’

It helped that even though Kevin Harvick labeled the first qualifying race “as aggressive a duels as I’ve ever been in,’’ cool, calm and collected minds prevailed. Even with points available in this event for the first time in decades, the goal for many was to ensure their Daytona 500 car emerged unscathed from this 150-mile tune-up.

So, no there wasn’t going to be the hard charge Brad Keselowski used on the final lap of Sunday’s Clash. Drivers were going to push but there was a limit to how wild they would get.

That doesn’t mean Elliott got a free pass. Harvick challenged for the lead at times but couldn’t get around the second-year Cup driver.

“I think he did a pretty good job,’’ Harvick said of Elliott’s blocking. “There was definitely some aggressive turns back and forth. That’s what you’ve got to do. That’s part of the game. They knew when they weren’t clear and didn’t pull all the way up. I thought they did a pretty good job.’’

Elliott, who led 25 of 60 laps in the first of two qualifying races Thursday, conceded in victory lane that he learned a lot racing Keselowski and others at the front of the field.

Including last year’s qualifying race, Elliott had led only five laps in Cup at Daytona before Thursday night.

“I got some great experience being able to stay out front in those final laps,’’ Elliott said after his first Cup victory of any kind. “I know it wasn’t for a 500 win, but I feel like those guys were still trying to get some runs. I’m sure that will be amped up Sunday.’’

This also teaches him what to expect.

“I feel like really one of the biggest things I picked up on is who the players were tonight, who is going to be good on Sunday, what cars to look out for,’’ Elliott said.

“I’m eager to get back and see how good these guys do. I know with as good as our motor was running tonight, I feel like Dale is going to be tough.”

And smooth while blocking, something Elliott may need to be more of Sunday if he hopes to win the Daytona 500.

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NASCAR America: NASCAR’s stars hit the track for the ‘Little 600’ (video)

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Like more than three dozen of his NASCAR Cup counterparts, Joey Logano is gearing up for the longest race of the year, Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

To warm up, Logano, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Darrell Wallace Jr. and other NASCAR drivers headed to the GoPro Motorplex in North Carolina for the “Little 600.”

Check out how they fared in the above video that was on Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America.


Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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CONCORD, N.C. — Kevin Harvick will start on the pole for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, marking the second consecutive race at Charlotte Motor Speedway he has led the field to the green flag.

Harvick, a two-time Coke 600 winner, earned the top starting spot Thursday night with a lap of 193.424 mph in his Ford. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch, who won last weekend’s All-Star Race.

Chase Elliott starts third and is followed by Matt Kenseth and rookie Erik Jones.

Points leader Kyle Larson will start 39th in the 40-car field after not making a qualifying attempt. He hit the wall in practice and then his team couldn’t get through qualifying inspection until one minute remained in the opening round of the session. The team was unable to get Larson out of the garage in time to make an attempt.

Click here for Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

Slugger Labbe: How do crew chiefs prepare for grueling Coca-Cola 600? (video)

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Veteran crew chief Slugger Labbe stopped by the NASCAR America studio in Charlotte on Thursday.

Labbe gave his perspective on how NASCAR Cup crew chiefs will prepare for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. While the race length will be the same as it has been for decades, one significant change will have crew chiefs developing strategy that they’ve never had to deal with in the 600, namely, four different race stages.

Labbe also gave his take on the positives and negatives of the Laser Inspection Station for both pre- and post-race inspections.

Check out the above video.

NASCAR: Remembering Martin Truex Jr.’s dominating 2016 Coca-Cola 600 win

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In one of the most dominating performances in NASCAR history, Martin Truex Jr. turned last year’s Coca-Cola 600 into a runaway one-man show, leading the field for 392 of 400 laps.

Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America took a look back at Truex’s record-setting win.

Check out the video above.