NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 75: Steve Letarte on a special photo with Dale Jr. and what’s ahead

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Steve Letarte tweeted a photo Tuesday of his family standing with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy, saluting the strong bonds they share.

He nearly picked a shot that wasn’t quite as family friendly … but said just as much about his friendship with the 14-time most popular driver.

“I was scrolling through the pictures in my phone, and I was a millisecond away from showing 15 overly served guys on a Wednesday night in 2014,” Letarte said with a laugh on the NASCAR on NBC podcast, describing a night of celebrating with Earnhardt and the No. 88 team at Margaritaville in Las Vegas just two weeks after winning the Daytona 500. “We sat around outside as friends for hours and drank buckets and buckets of beer and enjoyed each other’s company.

“I have a picture of us around sundown, and everyone has their arm around each other, and it’s the coolest picture.”

Letarte also has a photo of the sun coming up after an all-night party at Earnhardt’s property following their final win together in October 2014 at Martinsville Speedway, showing that “it is about the relationships” for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

“It’s infectious,” Letarte said. “I was fortunate enough to win the Daytona 500 with him. But if I had to give back his friendship or the trophy, I’d give back the trophy.

“The accomplishments of my career are not the trophies. They’re easy to measure and easy to discuss, but the accomplishments of my career are  walking down pit road and seeing crew chiefs, car chiefs, people that were my engineers that I have I helped along in my career because that’s how I got there. Jeff Gordon, Ray Evernham and Robbie Loomis helped me in my career.”

Earnhardt will remain a fixture in NASCAR after his 2017 retirement from the Cup Series as a team owner with JR Motorsports. He also is slated to drive in at least two Xfinity races and has hinted there could be more in the Camping World Truck Series and Late Models.

Letarte said it could depend on how the world adapts to Earnhardt being a part-time driver.

“It’s all how the racing community will respect him,” he said. “He would drive forever. Will the fan base be OK if Dale Jr. runs fifth in an Xfinity car? Will the fan base be OK if he goes to Martinsville and runs seventh to six young kids. Will the fan base be OK if he can’t dominate in a lower series? Because he’s not going to dominate, he’s going because he loves to race. If he could wear a costume, he’d go run a Late Model at Myrtle Beach now. That’s how he is.

“He’s smart enough to know he can’t be Dale Earnhardt Jr. and have all these partners and be this persona and be able to just hide. He can’t do both. So if the world will allow him, he’ll race a lot. I don’t know if the world is ready for that.”

Letarte said NASCAR is ready to handle the departure of Earnhardt on the heels of exits by Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, making the case that youth such as Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott will fill the void left by the superstars.

“If everyone goes on stage, there still is only one spotlight,” he said. “There’s only room for how many people can be in the spotlight. There’s no argument Dale Jr. is a spotlight driver, as are Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. The spotlight can’t shine on someone else until it shuts off on someone. It’s not doomsday, and everyone is going to start cheering for soccer.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

Matt Kenseth: Brickyard 400 restarts ‘kind of ridiculous’

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Matt Kenseth came close to winning Sunday’s Brickyard 400, but ultimately finished fifth.

Kenseth called the race “kind of ridiculous” down the stretch because of the several restarts that brought about further havoc and wrecks.

Kenseth competed in his final Brickyard 400 for Joe Gibbs Racing. With his future uncertain and whether he’ll be able to continue racing in 2018, could Sunday have been the final Brickyard 400 of his career, much like good friend Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is retiring after this season?

Check out the video above for Kenseth’s comments on the race.

Rick Hendrick on Kasey Kahne’s future: ‘Our plans are not set for the No. 5 car’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne has a contract for 2018 at Hendrick Motorsports but possibly doesn’t have a job next season.

Team owner Rick Hendrick confirmed Sunday night that “our plans are not set for the No. 5 car” after Kahne ended a 102-race winless streak in the Cup Series.

“There’s nothing concrete or done, and that hasn’t changed,” Hendrick said. “We’ll see how things shake out the rest of the year.  There’s a lot of things involved, sponsors and a lot of things we look at.  We’re going to try hard.  But there’s no decisions made at this time.”

Kahne felt the 18th victory of his career helped him make a case for staying in the No. 5 Chevrolet.

“I think this shows I still want to win races,” he said. “It shows I gave it all that I can to get a win and shows that I’m passionate about driving stock cars, and that I can still win races, too.

“I have a deal through 2018 with Hendrick Motorsports. I hear a lot of things, but it’s tough to say exactly what’s going to happen. I don’t know at this point and time. I know me and Mr. H will figure it out. I think this shows that I want to be and still have the drive and passion to do it, so I’m going to keep trying hard I know that.”

During a Sunday morning pre-race news conference to formally introduce Alex Bowman as the replacement next season for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick said he planned to run four cars next season but deflected a question about Kahne’s status (“that’s for another day”).

Xfinity Series rookie William Byron, who is under contract to Hendrick, would be an option for the No. 5 Chevrolet, but Hendrick said “we’re not ready to cross that bridge yet” when asked about Byron’s Cup future.

Kahne is ranked 22nd in the points standings with only four top 10s in 20 races this season.

“When you’ve had a rough road, your confidence gets down,” Hendrick said. “He said, ‘I know I can do it. The harder I try, the more it seems like I have this rough bad luck.’

“Something like this (win) can be really good for any guy to have, the whole team, to have confidence.  … All I can say about Kasey is he shows up, he shows up on time, and he shows up on time with his game face on, and he puts in the effort. Sometimes it just takes a break.  But he’s done everything.  I know in his heart he wants to do it.  He’s trying, so … ”

Ryan Newman on Brickyard 400: ‘That’s not racing, just craziness’

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Ryan Newman was in the right place at the right time in Sunday’s Brickyard 400, finishing third.

It was Newman’s second-best finish of 2017 after his win earlier this year at Phoenix.

But Newman, who is never afraid to speak his mind, did just that after Sunday’s race. Even with his strong finish, he echoed the comments of several other drivers that the racing action — particularly restarts — by saying, “That’s not racing, just craziness.”

Check out what Newman had to say in the video above.

Joey Logano’s fourth-place finish is bittersweet as playoff chances dip

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Joey Logano had a bittersweet day in Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

He finished a strong fourth in the incident-filled 24th edition of the Brickyard 400. It was just Logano’s second top-five finish and third top-10 showing in the last 11 races.

But there was also bad news, too.

Kasey Kahne‘s win knocked Logano further back in his bid to rejoin the top-16 drivers eligible for the upcoming NASCAR playoffs. With Clint Bowyer dropping out of the top-16 and Kahne moving into playoff contention, Logano has slipped back to 18th place in the playoff-eligible standings.

As a result, Logano all but has to win one of the next six races to qualify for the playoffs — unless he can point his way in with continued strong top-five finishes.

Logano talked about the situation he faces with NBC Sports after Sunday’s race. Click on the above video to see what he had to say.