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More Cup teams playoff eligible after seven races than in first three years of format

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After seven races in the NASCAR season, the sport’s premier series is experiencing its highest level of parity this early since the introduction of the current playoff format in 2014.

Drivers and teams become eligible for the one of the 16 spots in playoffs with a race win. Any spot not filled by a race winner is filled by points.

Jimmie Johnson‘s win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway put the number of teams and drivers eligible for the playoffs via wins at six each ahead of the Easter break this weekend.

For teams, that’s the most organizations that have become eligible since the format was introduced. Four teams were eligible in each of the first three years.

Six drivers is the second most since the seven that qualified in 2014.

Teams and drivers that are eligible for the playoffs through seven races: Stewart-Haas Racing (Kurt Busch), Team Penske (Brad Keselowski), Furniture Row Racing (Martin Truex Jr.), Richard Childress Racing (Ryan Newman), Chip Ganassi Racing (Kyle Larson) and Hendrick Motorsports (Jimmie Johnson).

The parity is helped by Richard Childress Racing, Furniture Row Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing winning races this early for the first time under the win-and-in format.

Joe Gibbs Racing was shut out of Victory Lane before the off-week for the first time under the format. JGR qualified two drivers in 2014 and 2016 and one driver in 2015.

MORE: Hendrick teams find speed, Joe Gibbs Racing still struggling

Hendrick, Penske and Stewart-Haas have had at least one playoff-eligible driver through sevens race in each season.

Hendrick has never had more than one driver eligible through seven races.

Here’s which teams and drivers were eligible at this point in the first three years of the current playoff format and how many teams were eligible at the end of the regular season.

2014; four teams/seven drivers: Hendrick Motorsports (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), Stewart-Haas Racing (Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch), Team Penske (Kesleowski, Joey Logano), Joe Gibbs Racing (Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch).

End of regular season: Eight teams/16 drivers

2015; four teams/five drivers: Team Penske (Logano, Keselowski), Hendrick Motorsports (Johnson), Stewart-Haas Racing (Harvick), Joe Gibbs Racing (Denny Hamlin).

End of regular season: Eight teams/16 drivers

2016; four teams/five drivers: Joe Gibbs Racing (Hamlin, Kyle Busch), Hendrick Motorsports (Johnson), Team Penske (Keselowski), Stewart-Haas Racing (Harvick).

End of season: Eight teams/16 drivers

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Dale Jr’s priorities shifted last season while away from track (video)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is unsure how the rest of his life will look now that he’s made the decision to retire.

On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Greg Biffle and Kyle Petty discussed how Junior’s time away last season prepared him for his retirement decision.

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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