Dale Earnhardt Jr. scores best finish in 10 months, ponders the speed of Team Penske

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team found speed in the No. 88 Chevrolet during Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

But after Earnhardt (fifth) scored his first top five in 10 months, he couldn’t help but wonder how to find the little extra that his rivals seemed to have – particularly the Team Penske Fords.

“I mean, I felt like we were pretty good and we ran with the cars that have been really fast,” Earnhardt said. “I think (Brad Keselowski) and (Joey Logano) have been really the class of the field.

“I saw those guys weaving after the race and downshifting hard to reset their housing, so we have to figure out what they are doing and see if we can’t make it better.”

Earnhardt still was in the game after starting 37th because he didn’t take a qualifying lap on the repaved 1.5-mile oval.

He was outside the top 10 after the first stage but was ninth after the second stage and took advantage of a well-timed pit stop with five laps remaining before the closing segment of the race.

The 14-time most popular driver also battled a malfunctioning cooling system that wasn’t directing enough air into his helmet (winning teammate Jimmie Johnson battled the same problem and needed fluids after the race).

Earnhardt said he ran the 500-mile race with his visor up to help with circulation, blaming the lack of air conditioning partly on a windy day at Texas.

“I think it makes it hard to get into the inlet that lets air in the helmet,” Earnhardt said on a postrace Periscope. “It was like a vacuum. I saw Jimmie in victory lane, and he about passed out when he got out of the car. It was super, super hot.”

Earnhardt said Hendrick would evaluate the cooling systems on the Nos. 48 and 88 Chevrolets.

“We have all our stuff routed the same,” he said. “Maybe we need to look at what we’re doing and improve the interior.

“I’m not going to complain too much because Adam (Jordan), my interior guy, one of the greatest guys on earth, is getting married on Easter weekend. One of my very good friends, I’ll talk to him about how to fix the interior or work on the air conditioning when he gets back from his honeymoon.”

Earnhardt scored his best finish since a second on June 6, 2016 at Pocono Raceway. A week later at Michigan International Speedway, he was involved in the crash that caused the concussion-like symptoms that forced him out of the car for the final 18 races of the 2016 season.

“Good run, finally got a great finish,” Earnhardt said on Periscope. “We should have finished better. Maybe even won the race. Our car was good enough for that. I don’t know. I didn’t do everything just right on restarts and stuff. I think we had a fast enough car for sure.

“Always fun to have a good run when you have an off-weekend coming up. I like finishing good before an off-weekend so we can have fun and not think about racing a bit.”

AJ Allmendinger making return to Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2018

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After a one-year absence, AJ Allmendinger will return to the Rolex 24 at Daytona next month.

Allmendinger, who drives for JTG Daugherty Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, will once again drive for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race at Daytona International Speedway, which will be held Jan. 27 – 28.

A winner in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Allmendinger will split time in the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 in the GTD class with Justin Marks, Lawson Aschenbach and Mario Farnbacher.

Allmendinger drove for Michael Shank Racing in the endurance race from 2014-16. His best result during that stretch was fifth in the Prototype class in 2015.

“I am pumped to be back racing for Shank in the (Rolex) 24. I missed the race last year and I hated to, so I’m really glad to be back,” Allmendinger said in a press release. “His whole team did an awesome job with the Acura last year and it is awesome to be back with him for the Rolex. After racing for the overall win so many years in Prototypes, it will be a completely different experience to be racing in the GTD class, but I’m looking forward to it. Mike (Shank) always puts an awesome team together and this year is no different so I am counting down to get my first shot in this car.”

Allmendinger is coming off his fourth full year of driving the No. 47 Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing. He finished the season 27th in the standings, his worst during his tenure with the team. He earned one top five and five top 10s.

Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s to sponsor RCR in Cup, Xfinity in 2018

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Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s will sponsor Richard Childress Racing in multiple races in the Cup and Xfinity Series next year, the team announced Monday.

Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s merged in September 2017.

The outdoors brands will be on Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet during the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 and in several other races during the season.

Richard Childress Racing

They will also be a primary sponsor for Austin and Ty Dillon on the No. 3 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series for several races.

“Our relationship with Bass Pro Shops dates back to the mid-1990s and we’re thrilled to be able to continue it during the 2018 season,” team owner Richard Childress said in a press release. “Austin, Ty and Ryan are terrific ambassadors for the great outdoors. They are all passionate about our hunting, fishing and conservation heritage which has made this partnership thrive.

“Next season will be exciting as we welcome Cabela’s, the iconic outdoor brand acquired by Bass Pro Shops, to the RCR family.”

Bass Pro Shops, founded in 1972 by Johnny Morris, is also a primary sponsor of Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota owned by Furniture Row Racing.

The store chain will be on the hood of the No. 78 in 16 races and on the sides of it in 14 others.

Here’s the eligible drivers for the 2018 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona

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NASCAR has officially announced the 20 drivers who are eligible to take part in the Cup Series’ season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.

The 75-lap exhibition event is set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 11, the same day as qualifying for the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

The race will be divided into two segments. A competition caution on Lap 25 will divide them.

Drivers become eligible for the Clash by winning a pole the previous season, being a Daytona 500 pole-winner who competed full-time the previous season or being a playoff driver the previous season.

Here are the eligible drivers.

2017 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (14)

Former Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (3)

2017 Playoff Drivers (3)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are not expected to compete in the race. Earnhardt retired from Cup competition following the 2017 season and Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for the 2018 season.

Danica Patrick, the 2013 Daytona 500 pole-sitter, announced last month she was done as a full-time driver but that she planned to race in the Daytona 500. No definitive team plans have been announced for her.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram injury update: still in ICU, but continues to show progress

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram continues to show improvement from the serious injuries he suffered in a December 3 car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina.

In an update Sunday written on CaringBridge.org, Ingram’s daughter, Ingrid Jones, said her father remains in the Intensive Care Unit at Asheville’s Mission Hospital.

According to Jones:

“Daddy continues to hold his own, making healing steps forward and then a step back, which we fully expected-but he’s surprising us each and every day with his strength and courage to overcome this. Overall, he’s doing amazingly well.”

Ingram’s family had hoped he could have moved out of ICU and into the Trauma Unit as the next phase of his recovery, but he remains in intensive care.

Said Jones:

“For now, he’ll remain in ICU until he can go a full 24 hours without ventilator assisted breathing. We’re almost there … but may still be a few days.”

Ingram, who turns 81 on Dec. 28, was able to sit in a chair and watched part of Sunday’s NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings with his family. Jones wrote that Ingram also was surprised to learn that the mountain near the family’s Asheville-area home received a total of 16 inches of snow Friday and Saturday.

Jones added, “We continue to be optimistic for his health, and we also continue to appreciate the prayers and encouraging thoughts.”