JOLIET, Illinois — While the Cup playoffs begin this weekend for 16 teams, there are still goals for other teams to accomplish.
Count Dale Earnhardt Jr. among those with revised goals after failing to qualify for the playoffs.
Earnhardt enters Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway 22nd in the points. He is winless with one top-five and four top-10 finishes this season. Earnhardt qualified 20th for Sunday’s Cup race.
MORE: Cup starting lineup for Sunday’s race
“There is a concern, I guess, that you could get sort of complacent and go through these races and maybe some of the urgency or importance falls away a little bit because there is no ultimate carrot about there like that championship trophy,’’ Earnhardt said Friday at Chicagoland Speedway. “We will consciously all kind of remind each other as a team to keep pushing hard and to keep working hard. I’m done at the end of the year, but they go on.’’
Alex Bowman will take over the No. 88 ride after this season. Earnhardt wants to help build momentum for Bowman and the team.
“How the team sort of ends the season is a catalyst for how it begins the next one,’’ Earnhardt said. “So, it’s important that we try to be as successful and find and learn and study and improve for the betterment of next season.
“One thing we talked about, as silly as it is, is to try to get ourselves into the top 20 in points. We have the opportunity to beat a few guys, so it sucks that is our goal, but we are going to put little goals out there for ourselves that are personal achievements to push ourselves to keep working. You take pride in that.”
Daniel Suarez ranks 20th in the standings with 568 points. Trevor Bayne is next at 484 points and then Earnhardt at 459 points.
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Things have been going relatively well for Denny Hamlin on the track in 2018.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver enters this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway sixth in points. Through five races, he’s finished outside the top six once (17th, Las Vegas).
NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan discussed his season so far in addition to Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.
Letarte said Hamlin has displayed “remarkable consistency.”
“Denny Hamlin is in my mind a super star driver that I know I am guilty of leaving him out of super star conversations,” Letarte said.
Ryan pointed to mistakes on pit road that have prevented Hamlin from enjoying more success this season and in his career overall. His result at Las Vegas was the result of a speeding penalty.
“Five races this season, four pit mistakes,” Ryan said. “He overshot his box at Daytona, he did that at Fontana, he sped in the pits at Phoenix. While I think they’ve had speed, I think that team is still stumbling in the same ways it has in the past. Unless they correct that, I don’t know if they’re championship level yet.”
Hamlin heads to Martinsville where he has won a career-best five races.
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Rain washed out the second day of Goodyear tire testing Wednesday on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval. Goodyear has tentatively scheduled May 1 as a make-up test date.
Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Kyle Larson took part in the test Tuesday.
“I just took some slow pace laps and got a feel for the race track,” Bayne said in a statement from Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I was nervous, but I wasn’t anxious because I was never going to go out there and make qualifying laps. We worked our pace in and our plan, we stuck to it. I felt really good by the end of the day.
“You have to be on your game, that’s for sure. You can’t really let your guard down anywhere. There’s no room to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, you’re going to pay for it pretty quickly. If you try to do something and it doesn’t work, you’ll pay the price. It’s going to be a survival race. … If you’re smart, you take care of your car and you don’t make mistakes, you’ll have a really good shot at the end for a good finish. I enjoyed it. It was a challenge for me – something new – and I enjoyed that part of it.”
Organizational tests at Charlotte will be in July. There will be two different sessions. Each team is allowed to test at one of the two sessions, which will be July 10 (rain date of July 11) and July 17 (rain date of July 18).
The Charlotte Roval hosts the final race of the first round of the Cup playoffs on Sept. 30 on NBC.
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NASCAR announced two crew chief fines for unsecured lug nuts last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.
Adam Stevens, crew chief on Kyle Busch‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.
In the Xfinity Series, Eric Phillips, the crew chief for Ryan Preece‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.
No other penalties were announced.
Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and begins to look forward to this weekend’s racing at Martinsville Speedway.
Marty Snider hosts with Dale Jarrett, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan from the “Big Oak Table” in Charlotte.
What to expect from today’s show.
- The same names have been dominating the headlines in the first five races in the 2018 season. We will take a look at some of the other drivers to be on the lookout for as the season rolls on.
- One of NASCAR’s most historic tracks is up this weekend – Martinsville! We’ll check out some of the recent drama “The Paperclip” has provided ahead of the race.
- In the spirit of March Madness, our panel will tell us about their most memorable sports moments, as well as some of NASCAR’s biggest upsets.
- Plus, The Indianapolis 500 will have a new home in 2019. We’ll have all the details on NASCAR America.
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.