Talladega a must-win race for Dale Earnhardt Jr? Not what he thinks

Leave a comment

TALLADEGA, Ala. — After a deflating start to the season and only one win at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since late 2014, it’s easy to see why some suggest this could be a must-win weekend for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make the playoffs.

Just don’t count him among that group.

“I don’t buy the notion that we can’t win anywhere but Talladega or Daytona,’’ Earnhardt said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, a track he has scored six of his 26 career Cup wins. “We have had a dry spell, haven’t won a lot of races. We have won at other tracks in the past. I think if I go in thinking this is a must-win, then I’m probably going to get in there and make a few mistakes.’’

Earnhardt enters this weekend 24th in the points. He is 60 points — the maximum number of points a driver can score in a race — out of what is the final playoff spot at this time.

Five finishes of 30th or worse this season have put Earnhardt in this situation. Some of it has been bad luck, some of it has been mistakes that put him in a bad spot.

He led the Daytona 500 when Kyle Busch cut a tire in front of him and spun. Earnhardt clipped Busch’s car and did enough damage to his car that he was done for the race, placing 37th.

A speeding penalty dropped Earnhardt to the rear of the field at Martinsville and then he was collected in a crash, finishing 34th. Last week, crew chief Greg Ives kept him out while most of the field pitted. Earnhardt was running at the front but was on older tires. He was knocked into the wall when teammate Jimmie Johnson, unaware Earnhardt was on the outside, went up the groove and slammed Earnhardt’s car. Earnhardt continued but finished 30th.

What’s been disconcerting at times is that Earnhardt’s car hasn’t shown top-form speed. It’s an issue some of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates have had this season even with Johnson’s two wins.

Some have raised questions about Earnhardt’s playoff hopes just a third of the way thought the regular season because of his recent record. He has three wins since late 2014. One win was at Daytona, another at Talladega and the other at Phoenix (shortened by rain). Since 2008, Earnhardt has seven wins and they’ve been at Daytona (two), Talladega, Pocono (two), Phoenix and Martinsville.

Earnhardt isn’t focused on that. He views this weekend as an opportunity but knows a win won’t come easy at Talladega even for him.

“I just know what I need to do,’’ he said. “I’ve said it in the past. You’ve got to run the last 50 laps mistake-free and the guy that does that will win the race. That means choosing the right line to move up and take the run. Every move and decision, every slight turn of the wheel has to be the right decision.’’

He says he knows what kind of mindset he needs to succeed Sunday. He notes that in his 2014 Daytona 500 win, he was racing Greg Biffle for position and ran him aggressively. That’s what he’ll have to do Sunday.

“The only way I could keep myself from sliding backwards was to run like one inch off the door and squeeze him against the wall,’’ Earnhardt said of his battle with Biffle. “It really kind of killed both of our cars. But at least he wasn’t passing me.

“It was a bit outside of character for me to drive so much like a jerk, I guess, but that’s what you’re got to do. You’ve got to keep on cracking the whip, keep telling yourself, ‘This is what has to happen, this is how I have to do this to make this work if I want to win.’

“I can’t accept him taking the lead, maybe losing a couple of spots and falling to fourth and thinking, ‘Man, I’ll just get it back.’ That’s not as easy anymore. The cars are too equal.

“You have to be way more aggressive to holding positions and defending positions, and you’ve got to run guys tight and they don’t like it. Nobody likes somebody hanging on their quarter panel because it doesn’t feel good and it makes the cars act weird. You have to do it that way. You have to start the race really with the attitude. You’ve go to be willing to work every single lap and not settle for riding.’’

That’s the mindset he’ll have to have Sunday if he hopes to score a win and earn a playoff spot.

 and on Facebook

Six cars to miss time in final Cup practice session

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Six Cup teams, including playoff contenders Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray, will each miss 15 minutes of today’s final practice session at Kansas Speedway because of inspection issues, NASCAR announced.

Three teams were penalized 15 minutes in Saturday morning’s first practice – Derrike Cope, Landon Cassill and AJ Allmendinger. Each were penalized for being late to qualifying inspection Friday.

Teams penalized 15 minutes in final Cup practice will be Elliott, McMurray, Cope, Trevor Bayne, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola.

Bayne, Elliott and Almirola were penalized for failing qualifying/race inspection twice at Talladega.

Cope, McMurray and Menard were penalized for failing qualfiying qualifying inspection twice at Kansas.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 1:30 – 2:20 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Today’s Xfinity race at Kansas: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Xfinity Series begins the second round of its playoffs with today’s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway.

Here is all the info you need for the race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Kansas Lt. Gov. Dr. Jeff Colyer will give the command to start engines at 2:56 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:05 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 45. Stage 2 ends at Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Qualifying is slated for 12:05 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:25 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Mary Ann Hotaling will perform the anthem at 2:51 p.m..

TV/RADIO:  NBC will broadcast the race at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. on NBCSN with Countdown to Green. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 76 degrees and a 15 percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Kyle Busch dominated this race last fall, leading 150 of 200 laps. Elliott Sadler finished second. Daniel Suarez was third.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is at 12:05 p.m.

Saturday’s NASCAR Cup, Xfinity schedule at Kansas Speedway

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Today’s racing action at Kansas Speedway includes two NASCAR Cup practices, as well as Xfinity qualifying and race.

Today’s Xfinity race will be the first in the Round of 8, which will determine the four finalists for next month’s championship race.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All times are Eastern)

8 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens

9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Cup garage open

11 – 11:55 p.m. — Second Cup practice (NBC Sports App, MRN)

12:05 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (NBCSN)

1:15 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

1:30 – 2:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

3 p.m. – Kansas 300 Xfinity race (200 laps, 300 miles) (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Ryan Blaney’s car fails inspection after qualifying

Getty Images
Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Playoff contender Ryan Blaney’s car failed inspection after qualifying third Friday night at Kansas Speedway, NASCAR announced.

NASCAR stated that the car’s package tray did not maintain its original shape. That is the metal that holds the rear window in place.

Blaney will start last in the 40-car field and have the last pick of pit stalls this weekend and next weekend at Martinsville Speedway. There will be no further penalties.

Team co-owner Eddie Wood said:

“The rules are pushed to the max in every area, and today the NASCAR officials found something they didn’t like about our car. We’re not disputing their decision. We’ll own it and move on.

“We’ll work on our car in Saturday’s practice, line up in the back on Sunday and look forward to watching Ryan drive his way to the front.”

Blaney enters Sunday’s elimination race two points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who holds the eighth final transfer spot for the next round. Kyle Busch is nine points behind Blaney and Matt Kenseth is 10th.

Four of the 12 playoff contenders will be eliminated after Sunday’s race.

By starting at the rear, Blaney will be challenged to be in the top 10 by Lap 80 to score stage points. If he doesn’t, he could fall behind Johnson and Busch after the first stage.

Below is Section 20.4.17.8 of the Cup Rule Book, which features a diagram of the package tray

 and on Facebook