Dale Earnhardt Jr. begins final phase of career in a full-contact collision with teammate

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RICHMOND, Va. – This wasn’t the bang Dale Earnhardt Jr. anticipated going out on as he began the final 28-race stretch of his Cup career.

Earnhardt was hugging the Turn 2 wall in the outside lane with 43 laps remaining at Richmond International Raceway, stretching out his pit cycle and staying out of traffic in hopes of catching a caution on an aggressive pit strategy.

And on the exit of the corner … BOOM!

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet had slammed into Earnhardt’s No. 88 at full speed – or somewhere roughly around 130 mph.

“(Spotter) TJ (Majors) was giving me pretty good warning about guys getting on my inside, but otherwise when you are running the top you don’t have to worry about it (because) everybody kind of takes care of you,” said Earnhardt, who announced last Tuesday that the 2017 season would be his last in Cup. “But Jimmie didn’t know we were there.

“It was an explosion, but the car held up pretty well.  It knocked the sway bar arm off of it, so we ran the last bit of the race without a sway bar hooked up.  It wasn’t a great day.”

Earnhardt still managed to finish 30th despite the heavy damage. Johnson actually salvaged an 11th but wasn’t pleased with the result.

“I’m trying to figure out if I just didn’t hear it being told to me or if it wasn’t told to me,” said the seven-time series champion, who later chatted with spotter Earl Barban after relaying his apologies to Earnhardt. “It’s still terrible, obviously.

“Man, I’m surprised our cars kept rolling after that because I just body-slammed him into the wall. And I could have easily not heard the clear or something else happened. I don’t know. But that’s the last thing you want to happen with a teammate.”

At least Earnhardt found some humor in the situation, sharing a text from his mother, Brenda after the race.

But the 14-time most popular driver is facing an uphill climb to make the playoffs in his final season on NASCAR’s premier circuit. After his fifth finish of 30th or worse, Earnhardt is 24th in the points standings.

It’s approaching a win-or-else situation, which might be why his team was “aggressive” with its pit speed monitor (which contributed to him speeding on Lap 67.

“This luck is awful,” he said. “I don’t know what else we need to do. Something seems to always bite us.

“Racing is more frustrating than joy. The joy is worth hanging around for, and lot of frustration, it mounts up, I don’t want to cruise and not give a damn, I want to win a couple of races this year. Whatever happens, happens. We’re not helping with these finishes. We’re just getting issues that are taking away reasonable finishes that we need to get. When the car isn’t great, we need to finish top 15.”

Though Johnson had won the past two races entering Richmond, none of the Hendrick Chevys were great Sunday. Kasey Kahne was 22nd, and Chase Elliott was 24th.

“It’s a competitive sport,” Earnhardt said. “You get written off one week, you’re back in the conversation the next.

“None of our cars were really that fast. We’ll probably come back here with a different idea, different direction on our setups and see if we can figure something out. We have the equipment and resources to run in top five. It’s shocks and springs and setups that just didn’t pay off today.”

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.