NASCAR America: Time for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team to gamble to make playoffs

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After being eliminated by a crash last weekend at Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has nine races left to make the playoffs or he won’t have a chance to win the Monster Energy Cup title in his last full season driving in the series.

NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte says that Pocono, Michigan and Indianapolis provide the best chance for Earnhardt to win and make the playoffs before the they begin in September.

“That’s the type of tracks that over the last three or four years that Dale Jr has seemed to find a way to succeed at,” Letarte said. “Last year, unfortunately, with him being out with a concussion, he didn’t get to run Indianapolis, but his car showed some speed with Jeff Gordon behind the wheel.

“Overall, I think that Hendrick Motorsports is a huge company that has great success where horsepower and aerodynamics makes the biggest difference. When you go to these bigger tracks, that’s what these teams lean back on.”

With more drivers likely to win and qualify for the playoffs – leaving fewer spots via points – Letarte says the plan is easy for Earnhardt and crew chief Greg Ives.

“I think this team now needs to think that win is the only option to make the playoffs,” Letarte said. “For that, they can gamble, whether it is a fuel strategy or limited tires, I would consistently try to put Dale Jr. up front on the offensive and give him a chance to showcase his talent in his final season.”

For more on what Letarte and Kyle Petty say, watch the video above.

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Silly Season scorecard features many drivers still looking for rides

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Image
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Kasey Kahne is off the job market after signing to drive next season with Leavine Family Racing. His arrival means that Michael McDowell, the current driver of the No. 95 car, will be gone after the season.

Leavine Family Racing, which has never won a Cup race, gets an 18-time Cup winner in Kahne, who won the Brickyard 400 in July.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as Cup teams head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s playoff race.

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

— Kasey Kahne to join Leavine Family Racing and drive the No. 95 car. (announcement made Sept. 19)

Ty Dillon signs a multi-year contract to remain at Germain Racing and drive the No. 13 car. Sponsor Geico also extends its deal with the team (announcement made Sept. 5)

Chris Buescher signs a multi-year contract to remain at JTG Daugherty and drive the No. 37 car. (announcement made Aug. 18)

Matt DiBenedetto will remain with Go Fas Racing in the team’s No. 32 car (announcement made Aug. 12)

William Byron will drive the No. 24 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kasey Kahne (announcement made Aug. 9)

Paul Menard moves to Wood Brothers Racing to drive the No. 21 car (announcement made July 26)

Ryan Blaney moves to Team Penske to drive the No. 12 car and signs a multi-year contract extension (announcement made July 26)

Brad Keselowski agrees to contract extension to drive the No. 2 car for Team Penske (announcement made July 25

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. (announcement made July 20)

Erik Jones will drive the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Matt Kenseth (announcement made July 11)

OPEN/POSSIBLY OPEN RIDES

— No. 10: Danica Patrick is out after this season at Stewart-Haas Racing. No replacement has been announced. 

— No. 27: Richard Childress Racing states it will announce plans for a third Cup team at a later date with Paul Menard joining the Wood Brothers for next season.

— No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up the option on Kurt Busch’s contract for next year on Aug. 1. Even so, the team tweeted that it expected Busch back with sponsor Monster Energy for next year. Busch told reporters Aug. 5 at Watkins Glen that “there are a couple of offers already, so we’ll see how things work out.’’  

— No. 43: Richard Petty Motorsports announced Sept. 12 that Aric Almirola will not return to the team. Smithfield also is not returning. Smithfield and Richard Petty Motorsports exchanged terse statements about their parting. RPM is selling Darrell Wallace Jr. to prospective sponsors.  

— No. 77: Furniture Row Racing has sold the charter to this team. Although the team is still looking for sponsorship for the team, Joe Garone, team president, said the chances of the organization running only one car next year is “high.’’

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth: Out of the No. 20 after this season. Doesn’t have anything announced for next year. At Bristol, Kenseth was asked about his plans for 2018. He said: “I’m not worried about (2018) even really one percent anymore to be honest with you. I’m just not concerned about it.’’  

Kurt Busch: With Stewart-Haas Racing declining to pick up his option for next year, Busch is a free agent. Even with Stewart-Haas Racing’s action, there’s still a good chance Busch signs a deal to remain with the organization.

Danica Patrick: She will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing after this season. Patrick has not announced any plans for next season. She’s not looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series. “Cup only,’’ she said.  

Aric Almirola: Won’t return to Richard Petty Motorsports, team announced Sept. 12.

Michael McDowell: Will not return to Leavine Family Racing with Kasey Kahne joining the team next season.

Darrell Wallace Jr.: Richard Petty Motorsports is selling Wallace to prospective sponsors for the No. 43 car for next season. He gained interest from RPM after driving in four races for the team while Aric Almirola was injured.

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NASCAR America: Top Xfinity contenders break down playoffs

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Forget being called NASCAR’s junior league, it’s time for Xfinity Series drivers to shine as their own playoffs, a seven-race series, begin Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

During Tuesday’s Xfinity Series media day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, several of the top contenders for the Xfinity championship — No. 1 seed William Byron, regular-season champion Elliott Sadler, Brendan Gaughan and series rookie Cole Custer — talked about their hopes and how they feel they stack up against the competition in the playoffs.

Let’s hear what some of those drivers said — and check out the full video of interviews above:

Sadler: “We’re as prepared as any race team as I’ve ever been on to make a run in the playoffs, and I can’t wait to get started. … I want to be that champion.”

Byron: “You have to make sure you don’t make any mistakes and really put yourself in a good position. … I feel it’s a big goal for me. And knowing how it felt to lose (a championship) last year (in the Truck Series), I definitely want to win one.”

Gaughan: “Right now, we’re back to racing hard. Round 1, race hard. We have a brand new Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, so we want to see how fast it can be, that’s the goal this week, and then we’ll see what Round 2 and Round 3 will be.”

Custer: “It would be awesome, especially for a first-year team, it would be unreal to get a championship. I think we have the speed to do it, I think we can definitely accomplish that and that’s our goal. So, I think we’ll definitely have a shot at it.”

NASCAR America: Tony Stewart on Stewart-Haas Racing, Danica Patrick’s future, Cole Custer (video)

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Tony Stewart was our special in-studio guest during Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

The former three-time NASCAR Cup champ spent the entire hour with Carolyn Manno, Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton, giving his unique take on all things NASCAR.

Among the things Stewart talked about were:

The future of Stewart-Haas Racing: “We don’t know exactly who’s going to be in the 10 car, but we’re working on it. We’re excited about the partnership with Smithfield. The 41 car is still up in the air. We fully intend on having (Kurt Busch) there next year, but it’s dictated on sponsorship. We need to make sponsorship for that car before we commit to him next year.”

What will Danica Patrick do after she leaves SHR: “I see a lot of options, really. Danica is one of the few people that has the ability to stay in NASCAR if she wants, go back to IndyCar, or go road racing. There’s not a lot of drivers that have been released this year that have the option to go do so many things. It shows how versatile and talented she is, to have that many options. It’s a matter of  what does she want to do, where her heart and mind is and what does she want to do for the next five, 10, 15 years.”

The potential of SHR Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer: “I’m really proud of Cole. For the first two years I knew Cole, he never spoke to me. For about 75 percent of the time he was in front of me, he couldn’t look me in the eyes, that’s how shy of a kid he is. When he puts that helmet on, it’s amazing the transformation. This kid is a talented race car driver.”

Check out the full video above to get more of Stewart’s observations.

 

 

 

NASCAR America: Josef Newgarden celebrates IndyCar championship (video)

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On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, we checked in with the new king of IndyCar racing, 2017 season Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden.

Among the things the Knoxville, Tennessee native spoke about was the help he got in his amazing first season with Team Penske from all his teammates.

“My teammates were great, letting me just being part of that group right from the beginning and trying to contribute and help me learn so I could contribute and help us be stronger overall,” Newgarden said.

He also talked about the surge in U.S. drivers in the series, much like NASCAR is enjoying with several young drivers including another teammate, Ryan Blaney, who texted Newgarden at length to offer him congratulations and compared the youth movement in both racing series.

“We’ve got a lot of young talent that’s trying to show the way and prove themselves against the already proven people in the sport,” Newgarden said. “It’s a fascinating thing to watch.”