Dale Earnhardt Jr. still plans to race during his Cup retirement

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While Dale Earnhardt Jr. will walk away from the NASCAR Cup Series after this season, he’ll drive at least two Xfinity races next year.

“You’ve not seen the last of me on the race track,’’ he said Tuesday.

Earnhardt, whose contract with Hendrick Motorsports expires after this season, announced that he will not drive the team’s No. 88 Chevrolet after this year.

Wanting to leave the series on his own terms after missing half of last season because of a symptoms related to a concussion, Earnhardt told car owner Rick Hendrick on March 29 he would not be back for the 2018 season.

Earnhardt stressed in a press conference that he’ll continue to race, though.

“I’m eager to explore new opportunities,’’ he said. “I don’t see myself really detaching from NASCAR. My intention is to still be a part of the sport on some level. In fact, I still have two Xfinity races to run for JR Motorsports for 2018. So even after this season is over, you’ve not seen the last of me on the race track.’’

And there could be more races.

“I told (wife) Amy I might slip off and run a 40 lapper at Hickory one night,’’ Earnhardt said. “So if I’m missing on a Saturday night, she might know where I’m at. But other than that, I don’t have any plans.’’

Earnhardt’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, said she’s not sure how many Xfinity races he will run for JR Motorsports.

“It will depend on our car lineup,’’ she said. “We don’t have a lot of opportunity for a fifth car to run a lot of races, just because of resources. We’re currently partnered with three of the four teams for next year and the fourth one is on deck to be signed shortly. So there probably won’t be a ton of opportunity to do a lot of races with Dale.’’

The team has Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, William Byron and Michael Annett as its drivers this season.

What races Earnhardt, a two-time series champion, will run in the Xfinity Series have not been picked, Earnhardt Miller said. She said they will be with sponsors Unilever and Goody’s.

Earnhardt is scheduled to run in the Xfinity Series at Bristol in August and Richmond in September.

“My heart loves being in the car,’’ Earnhardt said. “I love driving. I enjoy it as much as I ever have.’’

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Jimmie Johnson: ‘I honestly welcome the challenge’ of playoff format

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No matter the playoff format that’s been thrown at Jimmie Johnson, his No. 48 team has bested them, earning seven Cup championships.

This is the first year that the elimination format has included the stage format in races and Johnson said on NBCSN’s “Countdown to Green” that “I honestly welcome the challenge” of it.

The challenge for Johnson Sunday at Kansas Speedway is to stay on the positive side of the cutoff line. He sits in the final transfer spot, seven points above Kyle Busch. Four drivers will be eliminated from contention following the race (3 p.m. ET on NBCN).

“I’m in a position where I have to win, I think, going forward,” Johnson said. “I’m going to regret not being at the front at the start of races to collect those first stage points or the second stage as often as we should have. I honestly welcome the challenge.”

Added Johnson: “This might not be our best year with this format, but give us a little time and we’ll sort it out.”

Watch the above video for the full interview, including Johnson talking about meting the family of a fan who was killed in a car accident.


Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in must-win scenario at Kansas

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Going into Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are likely to be among the four drivers eliminated from playoff contention.

Stenhouse is 22 points back from the final transfer spot and McMurray is 29 points back.

Both drivers talked with NASCAR America before the race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) about being in a must-win scenario to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Watch the above video for the interviews.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator for Furniture Row Racing, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack, the team stated Sunday morning. Watson was 55.

A native of Greenfield, Wisconsin, Watson had been a member of Furniture Row Racing since February. He worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-15 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports. He was a long-time racer, competing in dirt late models and asphalt super late models throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

Watson was with the team this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

He is survived by wife Laurie and daughter Brittany.

“On behalf of Furniture Row Racing we extend our deepest sympathies to Jim’s family,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “He was an outstanding and talented member of our racing family, whose life was dedicated to racing since his early days as a race-car driver in Wisconsin. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim’s wife Laurie, daughter Brittany and to his entire family and friends. Our No. 77 and 78 teams will be racing with heavy hearts today.”