Bump & Run: Is Daytona last true shot for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make playoffs?


Kyle Petty, Slugger Labbe and Dale Jarrett join Leigh Diffey from 5:30 – 7 p.m. ET today on NASCAR America on NBCSN. Petty, Labbe, Jarrett, Nate Ryan and Dustin Long discuss this week’s hot topics.

Does Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway mark Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last true shot to win and make the playoffs?

Dale Jarrett: Certainly by what we’ve seen to this point, it would take something extraordinary for it to happen somewhere else. Even though they’ve run better. There’s nothing telling me that they’re at that point that they can go win one of these other races without pulling some type of strategy. Yes, I think that this is it. It’s going to take a win for him to make the playoffs. He’s going to have to make that push Saturday night.

Kyle Petty: I don’t believe it’s his last shot, but it may be his best shot. I say that not because he’s run well enough to win anywhere this year, they just seem to be a step behind everywhere. I say “best shot” because throughout his career he’s always stepped up at the “storybook, Hollywood script” moments to win. Can his last Daytona be another one of those moments? Yes. Will it? Only the Racing Gods know.

Slugger Labbe: Unfortunately I believe Daytona is the last opportunity (which a win at Daytona would be AWESOME) for Dale Jr. and the 88 team. We just haven’t seen the performance and confidence in this team to be perfect and on the same page on a given race weekend and being perfect is about what it takes to win.

Nate Ryan: The answer seemed yes … until Michigan and Sonoma. Those are Earnhardt’s first consecutive top 10s this season, and that is meaningful for a streaky driver who always has thrived on confidence and momentum. If he doesn’t break through at Daytona, don’t expect a win at Kentucky, New Hampshire or Indianapolis … but if the No. 88 can continue a string of solid finishes, it doesn’t seem out of the question that Earnhardt still could sneak into victory lane at Pocono, Michigan or Bristol.

Dustin Long: I agree with Kyle that a win by Dale Jr. this weekend would mark another one of those “storybook’’ triumphs, but I think he can win elsewhere. It just keeps popping into my head that a storybook moment would be for Dale Jr. to win at Indianapolis, a track Hendrick Motorsports has had much success. After Indy, though, his chances will be limited to a maybe a couple of tracks.

What has been the biggest surprise this season?

Dale Jarrett: How intense the racing is in the early and middle parts of these races. I knew that the stage racing was going to change things, but it’s really opened up something totally different to me. To sit and watch an entire race now and see drivers pressing hard and the crew chiefs making decisions at times to gather playoff or more points, whatever it is that they are looking for there, and then putting themselves in a position that they have to try to find their way back to the front to try to win the race. That’s something more from teams that have the luxury of doing that that have won races, but it’s pretty entertaining.

Kyle Petty: Too many surprises to name only one. First-time winners, drivers that haven’t won, Kurt Busch at Daytona, how much stage racing has changed how teams/crew chiefs/drivers race. After this coming weekend, I may have to add “see answer to question #1.”

Slugger Labbe: How stage racing has changed our sport for the better, between known cautions (stage ends) that require different strategies and limited tire allotments. There have been races that have been just downright hard to predict, what is right or wrong, until they throw the checkers, and also the effects of the playoff points that are rewarded for stage victories!!

Nate Ryan: That there are 11 winners representing eight teams through the first 16 races – and that none is from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Dustin Long: I wouldn’t have guessed that Richard Childress Racing would have two wins and Roush Fenway Racing would have one victory while Joe Gibbs Racing remained winless with its driver lineup.

Kyle Busch is winless in his last 32 races, a streak that dates back to his win last year at Indianapolis. Does he win before next month’s race at Indy?

Dale Jarrett: I have to believe he will. There’s not a track that we will be going to between now and then that he doesn’t perform at a high level at. They continue to put themselves in position. I think at some point in time things will work out. Could be this weekend. I really believe it will happen certainly within the next four races.

Kyle Petty: Yes! Kyle wins before Indy. Honestly he should/could have won two or three races already this year. Driver, crew and pit call mistakes have kept them out of victory lane. They’ve beaten themselves. I believe with the tracks that are coming up that Kyle’s frustration ends.

Slugger Labbe: YES!! KB and the 18 team have been to me one of the best performers so far in 2017. They just need to seal the deal. Speed is not an issue, but they need to clean up a few things. I think it would be great for the garage to see KB win Daytona with a third-string crew chief. This team has had a shot at seven victories so far in 2017: Phoenix, Martinsville, Talladega, Charlotte, Dover, Pocono and Michigan. For KB to have a mic drop and a few F-bombs, I think he has done a remarkable job so far. Amazing that we are halfway through season and NO JGR team has been to victory lane yet!

Nate Ryan: He has three top fives in the past six restrictor-plate races between Daytona and Talladega, so I’ll be picking him Saturday night.

Dustin Long: Yes. The drought ends at Kentucky.

NASCAR America: The challenges of Martinsville Speedway

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What Martinsville Speedway lacks in size compared to other tracks it makes up in difficulty say drivers and NASCAR America’s analysts.

Landon Cassill joined Carolyn Manno, Parker Kligerman and Jeff Burton on Thursday’s show and discussed the challenges of the half-mile paperclip track.

“It can be fun when it’s going well,’’ said Cassill, who will make his Cup season debut this weekend in the No. 00 for StarCom Racing. “That place, if you’re car is not handling well, you can end up going backwards and just by the time you’ve got some clear race track the leader is right behind you. So it can be frustration. I tend to like Martinsville.’’

Kligerman calls racing in the pack at Martinsville Speedway “the most aggressive racing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.’’

Jeff Burton said: “It’s … one of the hardest race tracks we go to period because you have to do it lap after lap after lap and it’s so easy to get, quite simply, just really, really mad at the guy you’re racing with because he’s hitting you and he’s banging on you.’’

Cup drivers have their description of the track. See what NASCAR America’s analysts and Cup drivers have to say about the track that hosts Sunday’s Cup race in the video above.

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Richard Childress Racing reinstates Xfinity crew chief Nick Harrison

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Richard Childress Racing has reinstated Nick Harrison to crew chief  of the No. 3 Xfinity team after he served a five-race suspension for a violation at Daytona International Speedway. 

Harrison’s first race back will be April 8 at Texas.

Harrison was suspended after the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon had a rear suspension violation in pre-qualifying inspection. Harrison and the team’s car chief were ejected by NASCAR after the violation. RCR imposed the suspension.

“I’m looking forward to being back with my team and winning races after my five-race suspension,” Harrison said in a statement from the team.

Brandon Thomas served as the interim crew chief while Harrison was out. Austin Dillon finished a season-best fourth for the team last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Martinsville breakdown, Aric Almirola and Bubba Wallace

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features host Carolyn Manno and Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut, and Jeff Burton and Landon Cassill from Burton’s Garage.

Among the topics today:

  •  Prepare for paint swapping, bent fenders, and bruised egos. It’s time to go short-track racing at Martinsville Speedway! Jeff, Parker and Landon will tell you what to expect this weekend at the famous half-mile. We’ll also see what it takes to succeed there, as Parker takes us for some quick laps in the NBCSN iRacing Simulator.
  • After making the switch to Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason, Aric Almirola is off to the best start of his Cup Series career. Currently 10th in the standings, he’ll tell Marty Snider about his early season success.
  • Since finishing second at the Daytona 500, rookie driver Bubba Wallace has cooled off. Now he faces his first Cup Series start at Martinsville in the iconic No. 43 car, and he’s feeling confident — it’s where Wallace scored his first truck series win nearly five years ago. We’ll examine the struggles he might have to work through this season and also hear his reflections on his early years of racing in the latest edition of “A Driver’s Drive.”

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Weekend schedule for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway

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NASCAR returns to its backyard this weekend after the three week West Coast swing.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series visit Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia.

The weekend is capped off by Sunday’s STP 500. It will be the first Cup race broadcast on Fox Sports 1 this year.

Here’s the full weekend schedule complete with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, March 23

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck garage opens

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Truck practice (No TV)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Truck practice (Fox Sports 1)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Final Truck practice (FS1)

Saturday, March 24

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 25

9:30 a.m. — Cup garage opens

Noon — Driver-crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. — Driver introductions

2 p.m. — STP 500; 500 laps/263 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)