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Kelley Earnhardt Miller says Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s struggles have been ‘fairly depressing’

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — While this has been a challenging year for Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans, seeing him struggle and rarely contend for a victory in his final full-time Cup season, it has been more difficult for his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller.

“It’s been fairly depressing,’’ she said Friday at Darlington Raceway after the track named its Turn 3 towers the Earnhardt Towers. “It seems like it’s just some luck things that happen here and there, and things that are beyond his control. It’s certainly not the season of how I know that he would want this last season to be. It’s not a lot to write home about lately, so it’s been pretty depressing and disappointing.’’

Earnhardt is 22nd in the points entering Sunday night’s Southern 500. He must win either Sunday or the following weekend at Richmond to qualify for the playoffs or he won’t be among the 16 drivers racing for the title.

Earnhardt Miller says she’s continued to try to boost her brother’s spirits in this rough season.

“I usually just text him and tell him to keep his head up,’’ she said. “He doesn’t like anything mushy, so I try not to get too mushy. I try to just keep it just on the surface and not get too deep and let him know that we’re thinking about him.

“We’ve sat in a lot of meetings this year where I have to remind Dale that he’s a pretty special athlete.’’

While Earnhardt has revered Darlington for its history, the track has not been as kind to him. He never has won a Cup race at the 1.366-mile speedway.

“Unfortunately his history here he hasn’t been as successful as he would love it to be,’’ Earnhardt Miller said. “You never know what could happen. Maybe the angel above will look over him and maybe carry him to a victory or something.’’

Earnhardt hasn’t come close to winning many races this year. Earnhardt’s best finish this season is a fifth at Texas in April. He has four top-10 finishes but hasn’t had such a result in the last eight races.

“I knew that I was up against a pretty difficult challenge when I decided to come back,’’ Earnhardt told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan two weeks ago. “But I knew that the team was strong. If we could get it going, we’d get it going.’’

Earnhardt missed the final half of last season because of symptoms related to a concussion.

Earnhardt Miller says she she’s glad he came back even if this season has not been as rewarding as hoped at this point.

“I’m very glad he came back just to be able to race on his own terms and not have to sit out,’’ she said. “I think that’s good for his mental processing, too, and obviously good for the sport and the fans and everybody that benefits with him being out here.’’

Earnhardt Miller, co-owner of JR Motorsports, says she’d like to find more races for Earnhardt to run next season in the Xfinity Series. The team has one race for Earnhardt with sponsor Goody’s at this point. The race has not been picked.

Earnhardt Miller said that the team isn’t sure if it will run a fifth car for Earnhardt in select Xfinity races next year or he’ll fill out the team’s fourth car with William Byron moving up to Cup in 2018. If that fourth car is for one driver or a multitude of drivers will depend on sponsorship, she said.

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Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer tied at top of Xfinity playoff standings

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Justin Allgaier and Cole Custer are tied for the top spot in the Xfinity playoff standings after the playoff opener at Kentucky Speedway.

Each driver has 2,057 points.

Allgaier finished third after bouncing back from losing a tire on Lap 19 and going two laps down. He was two laps down for 27 laps and one lap down for 30 before getting back on the lead lap.

Custer, who finished fifth, won the first two stages of the race, earning two playoff points in the process.

The top five in points are Allgaier, Custer, Elliott Sadler (-2), Daniel Hemric (-5) and William Byron (-6).

Click here for the points standings.

Results from Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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Tyler Reddick scored his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win, leading a 1-2 finish for Chip Ganassi Racing on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Reddick beat teammate Brennan Poole by 14.5 seconds in the playoff opener.

Reddick is the seventh different winner in the last seven series races. He led twice for 66 laps. Reddick had not led any laps until Saturday night.

Playoff contender Justin Allgaier rallied from two laps down after a right front tire went down early in the 200-lap race to finish third. Ryan Preece placed fourth. Rookie Cole Custer, who won both stages, finished fifth.

Click here for race results

Tyler Reddick wins playoff opener at Kentucky for first career Xfinity victory

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Tyler Reddick, a part-time driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, led 66 laps to win the Xfinity Series playoff opener at Kentucky Speedway.

In his rookie year in the series, Reddick earned the win in his 15th start in the No. 42 Chevrolet.

The 21-year-old driver beat teammate Brennan Poole, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Preece and Cole Custer.

“I don’t know if it was necessarily me making a statement, it’s just Chip Ganassi Racing making a statement,” Reddick told NBCSN. “(Crew chief) Mike Shiplett has brought me from ground zero all the way to here. All the guys at Ganassi have gone above and beyond in helping me become a better driver. To be here today is surreal.”

Reddick, who had not led a lap before Saturday night, took the lead for the first time on Lap 126 of the 200-lap race.

Reddick is the fourth Xfinity driver to get his first win this season.

Saturday’s win comes after it was announced on Sept. 14 that Reddick would join JR Motorsports full-time in 2018.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Cole Custer

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

MORE: Race results

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Justin Allgaier bounced back from losing a tire and going two laps down to finish third. He leaves Kentucky tied with Cole Custer at the top of the playoff standings. … Brennan Poole’s runner-up finish is a career-best result in 77 starts … Ryan Preece has finished in the top four in all three of his starts for Joe Gibbs Racing. … Ryan Reed finished 10th, ending an eight-race streak without a top 10.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Sam Hornish Jr. finished 31st, nine laps down after contact with Brandon Jones on Lap 53 caused him to hit the wall at the exit of Turn 2, forcing him to pit for repairs. … William Byron finished 18th, two laps down after he was forced to pit on Lap 101 for a loose wheel.

NOTABLE: Reddick is the seventh different driver to win in the last seven races this season. … Reddick is the seventh different winner in the last eight races at Kentucky.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “I was about the color of my car (red) there for a little bit.” – Justin Allgaier after finishing third following a rebound from going two laps down early in the race.

NEXT: Drive Sober 200 at Dover International Speedway at 3 p.m. ET on Sept. 30 on NBCSN.

Social Roundup: Sights from first Martinsville night race

Marty Snider
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The wait is over.

Night racing at Martinsville Speedway is now a reality.

After tests and practice sessions, the half-mile track in Virginia is hosting the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 and its qualifying races tonight for the NASCAR Late Model Series.

In attendance at the race are Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Daniel Suarez, as well as NBCSN’s Marty Snider, who is watching his son Myatt compete in the race.

Here’s a look at some of the sights and sounds from the historic night for NASCAR’s oldest track.