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Ray Evernham remembers Dale Earnhardt: ‘The day he died I knew racing had changed for me’

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The 1997 Daytona 500 is a staple of Dale Earnhardt lore (despite a 31st-place finish) because of one indelible memory.

After crashing with 10 laps remaining, Earnhardt was sitting in an ambulance when he realized his No. 3 Chevrolet still might be repairable. He got back into his iconic ride, cranked the engine and drove the wounded car back to the pits – without even putting on his helmet.

But the moment didn’t end there for Ray Evernham, crew chief of Jeff Gordon’s winning No. 24 Chevy in that race.

After his car was repaired, Earnhardt mischievously sent a message to his rival while exiting the pits.

“The race is getting ready to go green, here comes this thing driving down pit road — roll cage laid back, roof busted, deck lid taped on,” Evernham recalled with a laugh during the most recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “And (Earnhardt) pulls alongside, revs his motor and flips me off. He had that big goofy smile with that open-faced helmet. He could smile as wide as the opening.

“He wasn’t mad. He was just letting me know, ‘Hey, I ain’t done yet.’ ”

From his days of working as an IROC mechanic, Evernham knew Earnhardt for two decades, and they’d bonded as two racers from blue-collar backgrounds. When Evernham raced Modifieds, he once drove in a firesuit borrowed from Earnhardt (who was of similar build).

“I always treated him with respect,” Evernham said. “I always was in awe of what he accomplished. We talked about a lot of things.

“I had a tremendous amount of respect for him. I wasn’t intimidated by him. I used to give it back to him, and I think he liked that. He’d grab me by the neck, but I’d get behind him and do the same thing. As we raced together, he respected my knowledge and ability as much as I respected his ability as a driver.”

Earnhardt and Gordon’s high-profile battles throughout the mid- to late 1990s enhanced the relationship.

In the recent “Refuse to Lose: 1997 Daytona 500” documentary (which will re-air on FS1 on April 16 at 4:30 p.m., April 17 at 7 p.m.), Evernham and Earnhardt playfully throw shade at each other in the Daytona International Speedway garage.

“Certain people in your life drive you to be better,” Evernham said on the podcast, which recalls the ’97 race. “You care enough about these people or you respect them so much that you want to impress them and be on their level.

“Dale Earnhardt was the best in the business, and I wanted to show him that I could be the best in the business. I wanted to be worthy of being able to compete with him.

“It was probably one of the greatest things in my career to have that friendship with him. We yelled at one another a couple of times, but (he respected) the fact I yelled back at him. ‘Don’t you respect my seven championships?’ ‘I do respect your seven championships, but don’t run into my damn car!’ ”

Evernham left the crew chief role in 1999 and became a team owner starting with the 2001 Daytona 500 in which Earnhardt was killed on the final lap.

“The day he died I knew racing had changed for me,” Evernham said. “I just said to people it’s never going to be the same. That was my first day really as a team owner. We lost Dale Earnhardt in that race, and it never was the same. I think that day some of my fire went out … Even though I loved my time with (drivers) Bill Elliott and Kasey (Kahne), the fire was just never the same after that. It got turned down a notch.”

Evernham left team ownership after selling in 2007. He since has worked as a TV analyst (recently with NBCSN) and also hosts the Velocity show “Americarna,” which started its fourth season Thursday.

During the podcast, Evernham also addressed:

–Why his teams bought into his stern philosophies;

–His brief career as a baseball player;

–The games he played in NASCAR inspections and how they’ve changed;

–His thoughts on some of his No. 24 protégées who went on to great success as crew chiefs: Chad Knaus, Steve Letarte and Tony Gibson.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

NASCAR America 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Dale Earnhardt Jr. live from NASCAR Hall

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Our special guest for the entire hour is two-time Daytona 500 winner and 14-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Marty Snider hosts and will be joined by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton.

Among the topics on today’s show:

  • We’ll talk with Dale Jr. about his last Cup race at Talladega, the emotions he went through, starting from the pole for the first time there and ultimately finishing seventh.
  • How is Earnhardt approaching the final five races of his Cup career before retiring at season’s end, the JR Nation Appreci88ion campaign, his role with NBC Sports Group next season, as well as his Hall of Fame father, Dale Earnhardt and the Earnhardt legacy. Also, what does the future hold for him?
  • Speaking of the future, we’ll also congratulate the 26-time Cup race winner on soon becoming a father for the first time with wife Amy. What kind of father does Junior expect to be?
  • You can also send in your own questions for Dale Jr, who will answer them during the show! Just send them on social media with the hashtag #AskDaleJr

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

William Byron tops Xfinity playoff grid to start second round

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The second round of the Xfinity Series playoffs begins this weekend when the series heads to Kansas Speedway for the Kansas Lottery 300.

Following an elimination race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the series and the eight remaining playoff drivers are coming off an off week for the first time in months.

Those eight drivers are led by JR Motorsports’ William Byron, Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler. The three drivers have been at the top of the standings since the second race of the first round.

There was a minor adjustment after the Charlotte race. Matt Tifft was penalized 10 driver points for his car failing post-race inspection. But due to the reset in points, it had no bearing on his placement in the playoffs.

Tifft is eighth in the standings and trails Ryan Reed by one point. The bottom four drivers – Cole Custer, Brennan Poole, Reed and Tifft – are each separated by one point.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Carl Edwards to receive Stan Musial Award for sportsmanship

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Former NASCAR Cup driver Carl Edwards is among one of more than a dozen individuals that will receive the prestigious 2017 Musial Award.

The annual ceremony will be held Nov. 18 at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis.

The Musial Awards – named after late St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial – “honor this year’s greatest moments of sportsmanship and the biggest names in sports for their class and character,” according to a media release.

Edwards will be honored for his actions in last year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Here’s how the awards committee described what Edwards did that day:

Last November at Homestead—Miami Speedway, Edwards was among four drivers in contention for NASCAR’s Cup Series championship. He led the season finale race with 10 laps to go. But as he tried to block competitor Joey Logano from passing him on a restart, the two drivers crashed, ending Edwards’ shot for his first Cup Series title.

“Instead of losing his cool, as other athletes might have done, Edwards took the high road and showed pure class. He walked over to Logano’s pit crew, shook hands with crew chief Todd Gordon, and wished the team good luck. It was a gesture of extraordinary sportsmanship that was lauded throughout NASCAR.

“Based on the character he has shown throughout his career, it was not a surprise Edwards would take such a gracious approach. Winner of NASCAR’s Busch Series in 2011 and holder of 28 Cup Series wins, the Columbia, Mo., native’s success on the track is equaled by the class, respect and humility he has personified over time.”

Also, renowned track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee – considered by some as the greatest female athlete ever – will receive the Musial Lifetime Achievement Award, joining previous lifetime award winners Joe Torre (2014), Arnold Palmer (2015) and Cal Ripken Jr. (2016).

Other honorees include Arizona Cardinals (NFL) president Michael Bidwell, female boxer Aliyah Charbonier and LSU head baseball coach Paul Mainieri.

Preliminary entry lists for Kansas Speedway

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NASCAR’s top two series will be in action this weekend at Kansas Speedway as they hold two different stages of their playoff races.

The Cup Series has its second round elimination race with the Hollywood Casino 400. The Xfinity Series begins its second round with the Kansas Lottery 300 after an off week.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races:

Cup – Hollywood Casino 400

There are 41 cars entered into the race.

StarCom Racing is set to make its debut with Derrike Cope driving the No. 00 Chevrolet. Tony Furr will serve as Cope’s crew chief.

There are four cars without drivers attached to them yet: BK Racing’s No. 23 and No. 83 Toyotas, Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet and Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet.

Gray Gaulding will driving Premium Motorsports’ No. 55 Chevrolet.

Martin Truex Jr. won the last visit to Kansas Speedway in May. He beat Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick after passing Ryan Blaney with 19 laps to go.

Harvick is the defending winner of the playoff race.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Kansas Lottery 300

There are 41 cars entered into the race.

Cup drivers entered into the race include Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

Christopher Bell will driver the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Kyle Busch is the defending winner of this race. He has won the last three Xfinity races at the track.

Click here for the entry list.