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Loose wheel stymies Dale Earnhardt Jr. late at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Poised to make a run for the win and earn a playoff spot, Dale Earnhardt Jr. saw his hopes end because of a loose wheel in Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

He said after the race that the issue had been glue on the lug nuts but stated later on his Periscope Sunday night that he found out it was not a glue issue. He said the team would inspect the air gun Monday to see if it failed to secure the lug nuts. 

The problem led to Earnhardt’s car making contact with the wall and finishing 22nd.

Earnhardt was third on a restart with 15 laps to go. He struggled with the car throughout the race and felt something wasn’t right during the caution. Jamie McMurray pulled alongside Earnhardt’s car during the caution to check his tires. All were inflated.

Shortly after the restart, Earnhardt drifted high, hit the wall and fell back.

“Just unfortunate,’’ Earnhardt said on his Periscope. “It sucked.’’

After the race, he said there was only one lug nut securing the wheel.

“It was going to come off in the race,” he said. “It wouldn’t have made it to the end. That would have been pretty catastrophic.’’

That culminated a frustrating day for Earnhardt, who did not lead a lap despite starting on the front row.

“I was hoping we would have been able to rebound late,’’ he said. “We just didn’t get in the right lane. Our car wasn’t very good in the pack in traffic, it wasn’t very good at all. We didn’t run many laps inside the top five, the top 10 all day because the car didn’t have a lot of speed. We’ve just got to kind of work on that.

“The car runs great by itself. Out front, I’m sure it would be great. Any time we got a little bit close to the front, those guys around me were a little stronger.’’

In a race some viewed as one of the best chances for Earnhardt to win to earn a playoff spot, he failed to score a top-20 finish and fell one spot to 25th in the points standing. Sunday marked his sixth finish in 10 races outside the top 20.

“I don’t know what the heck we’ve got to do,” Earnhardt said on Periscope. “This luck has been awful. Not going to be in a very good mood for a couple of days.”

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Jimmie Johnson: ‘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.

 

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.”