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Dale Earnhardt Jr. keeps door open for future Daytona 500 run, TV work

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race a Cup car next week at Daytona International Speedway for the final time.

Or will it be?

The 14-time most popular driver, who has said he will retire from full-time driving at the end of this season, opened the door Friday to running the Daytona 500 again some day.

Asked about his feelings of racing at Daytona one last time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Earnhardt noted an interest in running the Daytona 500 again some day.

“You never say never,’’ said the two-time Daytona 500 champ, whose 2004 triumph will air from 7-9 p.m. ET June 29 on NBCSN. “I’m just retiring from full-time racing. I’m going to run some Xfinity races next year. I don’t know that I won’t ever run the Daytona 500 again if the right deal comes along.

“All these tracks, you have memories at all of them, Daytona included. I’m going to be coming back to these tracks and want to be continue to be part of the sport. I don’t think it’s really, I don’t know how it’s going to affect me. It’s hard for me to put into words.

“It will be pretty weird, I think, to come back to the 500. I’m going to go to the 500 (next year) whether I’ve got any work to do or not. So it would pretty weird to be there and not race. It’s going to be strange.

“I remember when (former crew chief and current NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve) Letarte went into the booth. When he wasn’t working a race, he had a hard time being there, he had a hard time watching it and not wanting to be a part of it.

“That was pretty difficult last year (for Earnhardt when he sat out the final 18 races because of concussion symptoms) but it was a different circumstance with the injuries. It will be interesting just when we get to the 500 next year to see how all that feels emotionally.’’

But even if Earnhardt isn’t on the track, he could be on TV. A June 19 report by Sports Business Journal, citing industry sources, stated that Earnhardt was talking to both Fox Sports and NBC Sports about joining either next year.

How likely is it that fans will see him working for one of the TV networks next year?

“I definitely did enjoy doing that,’’ said Earnhardt, who has been in the booth for both networks previously. “We are certainly open to discuss the possibilities, seeing what options I have … what kind of job they want me for. We’re sort of in the middle of understanding that. That just goes along the lines of doing due diligence on everything.

“I’m not retiring from work. I want to keep seeking out opportunities to make a living, make money and be relevant and be a value to my partners. I want to continue to be a part of the sport and not just as an owner in the Xfintiy Series. I want to be a valuable asset to the growth of the sport and continue to help raise the bar and raise the awareness of the sport and promote the sport as much as I can. We’re just kind of looking at what opportunities there are out there for me.

I’ve obviously signed with (talent agency) WME and that’s really sped up that process of being able to vet through some of these things. I think it’s just a natural curiosity for me to see really what those options are in broadcasting.’’

One thing is certain about next year for Earnhardt. The co-owner of JR Motorsports has said he would drive in at least two Xfinity races next year. Which races he will run have not been announced. As for this season, Earnhardt heads into Sunday’s race 23rd in the points. He likely needs a win to make the playoffs. He’s coming off a ninth-place finish last weekend at Michigan International Speedway, his best finish in the last eight races. 

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Martinsville Truck race postponed to Sunday after Cup race

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The Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck race at Martinsville has been postponed until Sunday afternoon, following the Cup race.

Ben Rhodes led the field to green 2:05 p.m. and held the lead until Mike Senica stalled on the track. Rhodes led the first 23 laps until precipitation red flagged the event at 2:17.

The Truck race will be televised on FS1.

Martin Truex Jr. sweeps Martinsville Cup practice

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After posting the fastest single lap and quickest 10-lap average in the first practice, Martin Truex. Jr. also topped the fastest lap chart in final practice for the STP 500 with a speed of 95.415 mph.

Also repeating his performance from the first practice, Brad Keselowski was second on the leaderboard. Keselowski was fast on long runs with the quickest 10-lap average of 94.579 mph.

Sophomore Daniel Suarez was notably fast. His lap of 95.588 mph was third on the chart.

Kyle Busch (95.122) and Ryan Newman (94.756) rounded out the top five.

Jimmie Johnson (93.831) was hoping to carry over momentum from last week’s top 1o at Auto Club, but struggled to find single lap speed. He landed 28th on the speed chart.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wheel hopped entering turn three with 33 minutes remaining. He rolled out a backup car and will start at the back regardless of where he qualifies.

Click here for the full final practice times.

History looms for the Wood Brothers

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Glen Wood first came to Martinsville, Virgina in November 1953, making the short 30-minute drive from Stuart for his NASCAR debut in a family owned car. Nearly 65 years later, the famed Woods Brothers are still racing the iconic No. 21 on the half-mile bullring.

The torch has since been passed to Glen’s sons, but the history remains.

“Our dad came here and raced,” Eddie Wood said in a press release before the STP 500. “He raced here in the fifties and it’s just a special, special place and knowing that the Ford Fusions ran really well last year here that gives you a lot of confidence. I’m sure it gives Paul (Menard) a lot of confidence, but it’s just a special, special place.”

Last fall, Ryan Blaney returned the 21 to the top 10 on the team’s home track for the first time in 12 years. He finished eighth in the First Data 400. This year, Blaney turned the car over to Menard and as the series comes to Martinsville for the first of two races this year, the legacy continues.

“The pressure is all what you make of it,” Menard said. “I know a couple things – I’ve got a great team behind me. We’re gonna have a fast Ford and we’re gonna have a lot of fans cheering on the 21 car, so you can think about that every waking second you’re up here, or you can go to work and do your business. It’s obviously an honor to drive this car and to be a part of the Wood family driving the 21 at Martinsville, and I’m really gonna think about that when I put my firesuit on, but once you get the helmet on it’s all business.”

The gravity of protecting the Wood Brothers’ legend at Martinsville is increased by the fact that this week marks NASCAR’s first short track race of the season and a return to its grassroots. It is easy to feel the history of racing on this little track nestled in rural Virginia—not only for the iconic team, but the entire field.

“It’s getting back to grassroots,” Menard said. “Over half the guys, probably more than that, started racing at short tracks with late models somewhere. We were running 25 laps back then versus 500 now, but the stage racing is kind of like a couple of heat races before the A Main, so you try to get your points when you can and be smart about things when you can and let it rip when you can.”

“You can race here year after year, race after race and there’s no way anybody can mess this race up,” Eddie Wood said. “This is just always a great race because it’s tight and it’s grassroots, it’s NASCAR roots.”

The STP 500 is not just another race for the Wood Brothers. On a track that puts a premium on mechanical grip and driver ability, as opposed to flat out horsepower, Menard has greater control over his fate. That is both good and bad news, because a milestone has been within reach for the past 27 races –  the team’s 100th win.

“It would be huge,” Menard said of the 100th win. “I’ll take it anywhere. We started at Daytona and didn’t get it there, and we’ll keep working until we get it. Martinsville would be a huge one for us, obviously, and if we do that, we’ll have another one for the museum down the road.”

Ben Rhodes grabs Martinsville Truck pole

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Ben Rhodes laid down a lap of 95.942 mph in the final round of qualification for the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck series at Martinsville to win his third career pole.

Teammate Matt Crafton will line up beside him on the outside of the front row with a lap of 95.704 mph.

Grant Enfinger qualified third to give ThorSports a clean sweep of the top spots.

Round two: Kyle Benjamin was fastest 95.830 mph. With time running off the clock, Myatt Snider (94.984) bumped Harrison Burton (94.770) out of the top 12.

Round one: Todd Gilliland topped the chart with a speed of 95.213 mph. He will have to drop to the back to start the race because of an engine change, so he did not attempt to post a time in the second round.

Click here for the race lineup.

Weather permitting, the green flag will wave over the field at 2 p.m.