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Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott lead playoff standings going into Easter break

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After seven races, we’ve reached the first off-week of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

Teams will resume the long haul of the season April 23 at Bristol Motor Speedway (with only one more weekend break in late August through the Nov. 19 finale at Miami).

With that in mind, here’s a look at the playoff standings following Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway:

Only 16 drivers will qualify for the playoffs, which will begin Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kyle Larson, who has one win and four runner-up finishes, leads the standings over Chase Elliott, who is the only driver ranked in the top four who hasn’t won this season.

Denny Hamlin is currently on the bubble, 164 points back from Larson.

The first four behind Hamlin are Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch have race wins but no stage wins.

Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick have multiple stage wins but no race wins.

Below is the top 20 in standings through seven races. Drivers in green would make the playoffs based on wins, drivers in yellow would based on points.

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Sponsor expanding its partnership with Danica Patrick’s team

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Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that Code 3 Associates will partner with One Cure initiative for three races on Danica Patrick‘s car this season and that Code 3 Associates will add another race on Patrick’s car.

Code 3 Associates is using its partnership with One Cure, a project led by the Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center, will be on Patrick’s car at Kansas Speedway (May 13), the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 20) on All-Star weekend and Aug. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Code 3 Associates will serve as the primary sponsor of Patrick’s car June 25 at Sonoma Raceway.

“We need a new way to find potential cures for cancer, and pets may provide the answer,” said Dr. Rodney Page, director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center. “Cancer is cancer, so what is learned in pets being treated for cancer holds promise to benefit people and vice versa. This approach is known as comparative or translational oncology, and it is the core of the One Cure concept. This partnership helps educate more people about comparative oncology and improves the lives of all cancer patients, whether they have two legs or four.”

“Code 3 Associates has championed animal welfare for more than 25 years, and One Cure allows us to take what’s learned from treating animals that are fighting cancer to people who are fighting the same battle,” added Nan Stuart, founder, Code 3 Associates. “Danica and Stewart-Haas Racing have been strong advocates for animal welfare and this extension of our partnership with them helps more people understand and appreciate One Cure’s mission.”

The car for Kansas will feature the upcoming “Wonder Woman” movie on it. The movie debuts June 2.

 

NASCAR America live at 6 pm on NBCSN: Exclusive Dale Jr. interview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6 to 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Krista Voda hosts from Stamford, Connecticut, along with Kyle Petty and Greg Biffle.

Here’s what’s on today’s show:

* We continue to follow up on Tuesday’s major announcement of Dale Earnhardt’s retirement at the end of this season. One of the biggest elements of today’s show is the exclusive interview our Marty Snider had with Junior. Check out the video above for some of that interview.

 Which drivers in the Cup Series’ current crop of young talent could ultimately replace Earnhardt as the face of the sport?

* Xfinity Series points leader Elliott Sadler also joins the show to share his reaction to yesterday’s news. Sadler joined JR Motorsports last season, but his friendship with the Earnhardt family goes back much farther.

* The next stop on NASCAR America’s My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows tour of the USA is The Bay State: Massachusetts. This state has seen major success recently with its Boston pro sports teams, and it’s also home to one of New England’s premier short tracks, Seekonk Speedway.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can 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 plug-in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Cup season could lead to greater ticket sales

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Tuesday that he will retire from the NASCAR Cup Series after this season could help minimize attendance declines that have become common at tracks.

Asked about the impact Earnhardt could have in the final 28 races of the season, Marcus Smith, chief executive officer and president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., likened Earnhardt to another famous athlete.

“Dale Jr.’s announcement yesterday is significant, it’s similar to when Michael Jordan decided it was time for him to retire from basketball,’’ Smith said Wednesday in a conference call with investor analysts. “The opportunity for fans to see Dale Jr. race one more time is certainly special and something we expect will be inspiring to a lot of fans to come to races.’’

Speedway Motorsports Inc. reported that admissions revenue was down 4.5 percent in the first quarter this year compared to the same time last season. The first quarter covered race weekends for Atlanta and Las Vegas. SMI reported that attendance at Atlanta was “up a little bit” and attendance at Las Vegas was “down a little bit” but did not provide numbers.

Earnhardt will be the fourth major NASCAR driver to leave the Cup series since last year Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart ran their final races last season. Carl Edwards announced before the season that he would not race this year.

International Speedway Corp., which owns tracks such as Daytona, Talladega, Darlington and Homestead-Miami Speedway, cited the absence of Gordon, Stewart and Earnhardt (when he missed the last 18 races of last year) as impacting admission revenue last season.

ISC reported its fourth-quarter admissions revenue was down 9.3 percent last year from the previous season. The company hosted Cup races at Darlington, Richmond, Chicagoland, Kansas, Talladega, Martinsville, Phoenix and Homestead during that quarter.

“The impact of Jeff Gordon’s retirement was underestimated, which was compounded with Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing races throughout the season,’’ said John Saunders, ISC president, in January about one of the reasons for the decline.

Earnhardt’s announcement that this will be his last Cup series already has some fans purchasing or looking to purchase tickets.

Richmond International Raceway reported an increase in interest for this weekend’s race after Earnhardt’s announcement. Richmond also is selling tickets to its fall race weekend. Earnhardt is scheduled to compete in both the Xfinity and Cup races there Sept. 8-9.

The series heads to Talladega next weekend and Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway, anticipates more Earnhardt fans showing up.

“If you’re going to go see him one more time, why wouldn’t you go to the track where he runs the best,’’ Lynch said. “We think that’s the a positive for Talladega. He’s always been great at Talladega. It’s an Earnhardt track. I hope folks will take the attitude that ‘Wow, I’ll get two more chances to see him,’ see him next weekend and come see us again in October.’’

The greatest demands for tickets likely will come for races at the end of the season.

Earnhardt’s final Cup race will be Nov. 19 at Homestead. The track is selling three-day weekend packages. Deposits for single-day tickets, which go on sale May 5, are being taken. That race sold out last year.

The week before Homestead, the series races at Phoenix Raceway. The track is in the renewal process for the Nov. 12 race with fall race ticket holders. The track is selling tickets to its new Club 64 section above Turn 1 now. Grandstand tickets and camping go on sale June 2.

The week before Phoenix, the series races at Texas Motor Speedway. The track is selling weekend ticket packages only at this point. The track will sell individual tickets to its fall Cup race in June. A date has yet to be determined but it will come after the June 10 IndyCar race there.

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Complete list of Dale Earnhardt Jr. retirement NASCAR Talk stories/videos

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There were numerous storylines that emerged from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Tuesday that he would retire at the end of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season.

NASCAR TALK was all over the Earnhardt announcement with comprehensive blanket coverage with our team of Nate Ryan, Dustin Long, Daniel McFadin and Jerry Bonkowski.

If you missed one or some of our stories or videos, here’s a convenient list for you to go through and learn everything and anything related to Junior’s announcement:

Follow @JerryBonkowski