Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Larson have a message for the rain: Stay away

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants rain to miss Bristol Motor Speedway. So does Kyle Larson but for a different reason.

A forecast that calls for rain all day Saturday has both drivers concerned. 

Larson wants more track time so cars can run the top groove and rubber it in to make it faster. He wants to run there instead of on the lower groove that has had VHT added for more grip.

Earnhardt, who starts 22nd, wants more track time to get used to the VHT on the lower groove since he didn’t compete in last August’s race, the first where the substance was used.

“I feel like I’m behind a little bit compared to everyone else out there who has been running on it and knows what to expect,’’ Earnhardt told NBC Sports after he was 24th in Friday’s lone practice session.

“I had no idea what to expect when I first went out there. I hope we get a little more practice (Saturday). I was happy how we ended. I thought the car drove OK, but I’d like a little more practice just to tune on my car, make a couple of more changes.’’

Earnhardt said he could feel the additional grip the VHT-treated portion of the lower groove provided.

“It’s looks like they are learning how to make that stuff where it’s a little more active and a little more long-term,’’ Earnhardt said of the 7-foot wide section in the corners. “I think it wore out a little the last time they used it. I think it will be tough to have it as durable as they want. It adds an alternative and gives a guy the option to run down there if he wants and that’s good. It’s certainly going to make an interesting race if we’re all down there like we used to be.’’

That’s the purpose of the VHT — to make the lower groove the preferred line and force drivers to run there and have to bump others out of the way to pass. Just as it was done years ago.

That’s not what Larson wants, though. He wants to run the top groove. So far it’s too slick. It needs to have more cars run up there. If it rains, that’s less track time and less opportunity for drivers to do so.

That could mean fans could see old Bristol in the Cup race.

That’s something Larson, who will start on the pole, does not know since he never raced in those conditions.

I will probably have to go back and watch like 1980 Bristol or something like that,’’ he joked about preparing for such a race.

“I think you look at myself and Chase (Elliott), who I feel like have been the fastest all year long, who are young and haven’t gotten to race around Bristol when it’s been on the bottom, we were both a little bit off in practice, so it will be interesting. I think you will see some of the veterans, the older guys who did get to run on the old Bristol excel if it does end up being around the bottom. But, Bristol is Bristol and it’s an aggressive track, and I still feel like I should be okay once we get to racing.”

Then again, Larson’s silver lining could be a lot of rain.

“If it rains a lot, it might wash some of the VHT off,’’ Larson said before conceding that “I think with all the rain, it’s going to make it hard for us to go up there and widen the track out.’’

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NASCAR America: Don’t count out Kyle Busch at Kansas (video)

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Kyle Busch is ranked ninth, seven points below the cut-off line to advance to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup playoffs, heading into Sunday’s Round of 12 finale at Kansas Speedway.

While many of his fans may fear that with back-to-back poor finishes at Charlotte and Talladega, Busch will be eliminated at Kansas, the NASCAR America crew on Monday felt exactly the opposite.

They’re bullish on the younger Busch’s chances of advancing to the third round of the playoffs – very bullish.

Here’s why:

Dale Jarrett: “Other years, you have two bad races like he’s had, he wouldn’t have a chance of going to Kansas other than winning. I think he’s very capable of winning at Kansas. He has two opportunities here: he runs well in both stages, let’s say he earns 17 to 20 points and he gets himself in a good position and then he runs in the top-five, which he’s done on a regular basis recently. I think he has great opportunity and gets through (to the Round of 8) with no problem.”

Nate Ryan: “At one point, Kansas Speedway was a house of horrors for Kyle Busch. It took him 10 years to get his first win there. Now, he’s had five straight top-fives there. He had 16 stage points in the race there at May. And because Toyotas are running really well on mile-and-a-half speedways, he’s qualifying well, I think you can count on him amassing a significant number of stage points and probably more than the guy he’s below on the cutline right now, Jimmie Johnson.”

Kyle Petty: “I know we’re looking at the points; don’t look at the points. In the first 26 races, he was in contention almost every week. Honestly, I don’t think the stage points are going to matter … Kyle Busch can go there and win this race and all this speculation, all this doubt, can be thrown out the window. He’s still a favorite, as far as I’m concerned.”

NASCAR America: What Talladega win meant to Yates family (video)

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It was a heartwarming day Sunday for engine builder Doug Yates.

While he was happy that Brad Keselowski and his Ford – powered by a Roush-Yates engine under the hood – won the Alabama 500, it was also a strong reminder of his father, Robert, who passed away nearly two weeks ago.

“My dad and I loved racing here together so much, from the time we started with Davey Allison back in 1987 when he won here,” Doug Yates said. “It’s an emotional time.

“It’s a great place, I’m glad I’m here, feels like coming home, and I know he would be so proud of us and all the hard work that everybody at Roush-Yates Engines put in, and Ford Performance and the drive that Brad Keselowski and Team Penske put on was really special.

“We’re really proud to be here and I know my dad’s smiling today.”

Also, check out what Dale Jarrett, Nate Ryan and Kyle Petty had to say about the significance of the Yates family legacy to NASCAR over the years.



NASCAR AMERICA: How working radio, Joey Logano helped Keselowski win at Talladega

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Sure, Brad Keselowski had to dodge much of the mayhem Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway to win the Alabama 500.

But there was more to it than just Keselowski crossing the finish line.

His win also proved the importance of spotters and radio communications at Talladega. When Keselowski lost an antenna on top of his car, the team was forced to pit and give up track position temporarily to allow his team to fix the radio for the long haul.

That moved proved pivotal as it’s likely Keselowski wouldn’t have won if not for his spotter steering him away from problems and to keep him abreast of all the cars around him on the final laps.

The NASCAR America crew discussed that on Monday’s show. Check out the video above.

And then, check out the video below, where Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, helped get Keselowski to victory lane.

Sure, Logano wanted to win himself, but when it appeared that wouldn’t happen, Logano helped keep Keselowski at the front of the field all the way to the checkered flag.

Check out what our NASCAR America analysts had to say about how Logano and Keselowski worked together in the video below.


NASCAR America: Talladega brings Dale Jr. retirement into focus (video)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans that have been in denial about his retirement at season’s end may have been slapped with a huge sense of reality in Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

There’s no other track that has been as synonymous with Junior and his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Sr., than NASCAR’s largest track, the 2.66-mile facility about 50 miles east of Birmingham, Alabama.

Now that Talladega is in Junior’s rearview mirror, reality is quickly setting in that he has just five races remaining in his NASCAR Cap career: this Sunday at Kansas, followed by Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, our team of analysts explored the reality that Junior’s storied career is indeed coming to a conclusion.

“This weekend really felt like this was it,” said NBCSports.com’s Nate Ryan. “It had the right amount of sentimentality, there were the feel-good moments, and even though he didn’t win, there’s no other track where you can hear the roar of 100,000 people over the engines going down the frontstretch at Talladega.

“I really feel like you had that this weekend. Giving him that No. 2 car his father owned and him being on the pole, this really felt like this was the moment when there was a great appreciation for everything Dale Jr. has done in his career. It felt like this was the race this season where we’re really finally honoring Dale Jr.’s  last year.”

Added Jarrett, “With everything I saw the entire weekend, you could tell just from his voice the appreciation he felt of everything that was being done for him and I think it’s finally setting in to him that this is coming to an end.

“But I think he also realized that realistically, yesterday was going to be their best opportunity to get back to victory lane that one last time. Sure, he has a chance at the rest of these races, they’ve been running better and we know anything can happen, but I think that would have been more special to him if he had been able to do that.”