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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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Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne fastest in first Cup practice at Loudon

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Kyle Larson was fastest in Friday’s lone NASCAR Cup practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Larson covered the 1.058-mile flat track at 135.714 mph, followed by Kyle Busch (135.342) and Kasey Kahne (135.198).

Points leader and Chicagoland winner Martin Truex Jr. was the early speed leader before the other three surpassed his speed, dropping him to fourth (135.188 mph).

Ryan Blaney was fifth (135.030 mph), followed by Denny Hamlin (134.973), Matt Kenseth (134.901), Erik Jones (134.606), Jamie McMurray (134.340) and Kurt Busch (134.240).

Jones was the only non-playoff driver in the top 10.

Two incidents occurred within minutes of each other and involved Hendrick Motorsports teammates.

About 21 minutes into the session, Jimmie Johnson hit the Turn 3 wall, his No. 48 Chevrolet suffering heavy right rear damage.

About 10 minutes later, Chase Elliott drifted up the track and couldn’t catch his No. 24 Chevy before it skimmed the wall.

Both drivers went to backup cars as a result.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott hit wall early in practice

Even in backup cars, both drivers struggled for speed.

Johnson was 22nd fastest (133.021 mph), while Elliott was 32nd (131.320 mph).

Other playoff drivers that struggled included Austin Dillon (23rd, 133.017) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (24th, 132.836).

The only other Cup related on-track action takes place late this afternoon at 5:15 p.m. ET with qualifying for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300.

The Cup cars have two additional practice sessions on Saturday.

Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott hit wall early in practice

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott each hit the Turn 3 wall within minutes of each other in Friday’s opening practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Both will go to backup cars.

Johnson slammed the wall on his second lap of practice. He had recorded what was the second-fastest lap of the session on the previous lap before drifting from the top lane and bouncing off the Turn 3 wall the next time by. Johnson drove the car back to the garage but his team quickly unloaded a backup car. Johnson’s incident happened 21 minutes into the 85-minute session.

“I just got in there with a lot of speed and anticipated it sticking and it didn’t quite stick,” Johnson told NBCSN. “Definitely not the way we wanted to start.”

Elliott hit the wall less than 10 minutes after Johnson. He also drove his car back to the garage.

Elliott is without crew chief Alan Gustafson and car chief Joshua Kirk this weekend. NASCAR suspended both one race, along with docking Elliott and the team 15 points each, for modifying components to affect aerodynamic properties of the car last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

“It’s not what we needed,” Elliott told NBCSN, adding his car also didn’t stick when he went into Turn 3. “We’re behind this weekend and that is never good.”

NBCSN’s Marty Snider reported that Elliott’s team did not plan to run the backup car in this session – the only session before qualifying today. Johnson made it on track in his backup car with less than 15 minutes left in the session.

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Cup playoff contenders docked practice time

Cup playoff contenders docked practice time
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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Playoff contenders Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray will each miss 30 minutes of practice in Saturday’s final session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for inspection issues last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Both are being docked practice time because each car failed inspection before the race three times at Chicagoland.

Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones each will miss 15 minutes of the 50-minute final practice session Saturday because their cars failed inspection twice before last weekend’s race at Chicagoland.

Final Cup practice will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. ET Saturday.

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Friday’s schedule for New Hampshire (Cup, Trucks) and Kentucky (Xfinity)

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In what will be a busy weekend,  on-track action starts today at both New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway.

The Cup Series will have one practice and qualifying in Loudon. The Truck Series will have two practices there.

At Kentucky, the Xfinity Series will have two practice sessions in preparation for Saturday’s race there.

Here is today’s schedule for both tracks:

(All times are Eastern):

At NEW HAMPSHIRE

9 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – 12:55 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN)

11:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Truck garage open

1:30 p.m. – 2:25 p.m. – First Truck practice (FoxSports1)

3:30 p.m. – 4:25 p.m. – Final Truck practice (FS1)

5:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network)

At KENTUCKY

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

4 – 4:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:30 p.m. – 7:25 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)