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A special night for Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains soured by competitor’s comments

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TALLADEGA, Alabama — Sixteen years later, the sting and anger remain with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The night of one of his greatest triumphs in NASCAR — if not his greatest — remains soured by questions that all was not legit when he won the July Daytona race, the first Cup race there since his father’s fatal crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

While Earnhardt celebrated his win that July night, Jimmy Spencer raised doubts about the legitimacy of the emotional victory.

“I knew going in that the 8 car (Earnhardt) was going to win this race,’’ Spencer said after the event. “Something was fictitious and he was really fast the other night. They were fast down here in February. It’s not ironic that the 8 car would win with what happened here in February.’’

A few days later, Earnhardt challenged those comments: “It’s really bothered me pretty bad. That’s like the biggest race of my career. That was my biggest win. Aside from the wins that I had when my father was there, that is going to be a day that I’ll always remember. For somebody to question its credibility, question my credibility, I feel like that’s a slap in my face, a slap in my father’s face and a slap in (crew chief) Tony Eury’s face.

“I never drove any harder in my life. I went out there and got the lead and I was blocking all night long.’’

Even now, Earnhardt can’t forget Spencer’s comments.

When Earnhardt sees Spencer’s diecast cars in the office of a JR Motorsports employee, Earnhardt’s thoughts return to what Spencer suggested.

“I see those diecasts, that’s the only thing that I think about,’’ Earnhardt said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. “So it bothers me today. A lot of times, myself included, you don’t think before you speak, but that was an incredible night for us in 2001 when we won that race. I just felt like even if he did feel that way, I was disappointed that he would do that and say that.

“For us to come back here the next race and win and have success over the next several years was sort of was like “Hey, it wasn’t a one-race fluke or illegal car, that’s just how good our program was at the plate tracks.’’

Earnhardt’s victory came during a three-plus season stretch of dominance by Dale Earnhardt Inc. The team won 10 of 13 restrictor-plate races between the 2001 Daytona 500 (won by DEI’s Michael Waltrip) and the 2004 Daytona 500 (won by Earnhardt).

Spencer wasn’t the only driver who seemed to raise questions about Earnhardt’s win in the July Daytona race. After the race, Johnny Benson said: “You don’t go by yourself on the outside and and make that kind of time up. But it’s OK. It was good that Junior won.’’

Earnhardt told the New York Times he received apologies from both Spencer and Benson shortly after the event.

“Johnny Benson came up to me, and he was really upset because some of what he said was taken out of context,” Earnhardt told the New York Times. “Spencer pretty much blatantly said what he said.’’

Nothing has changed for Earnhardt since.

“Of course, you know it’s Jimmy Spencer, it’s the kind of thing he does,’’ Earnhardt said. “I never really liked that too much and haven’t forgotten about. It’s hard to forget something like that.

“It was nice to keep winning and show people that that was legit. That was like for me, that’s the stuff movies are made of, to come back after you dad passes away and win that race was the greatest thing that I could imagine happening for me or anyone else, all his fans, all our family.’’

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Watch: Championship 4 drivers share thoughts on Miami outcome

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After 200 laps Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, William Byron claimed the Xfinity Series championship in his rookie year by finishing third in the Ford EcoBoost 300.

He finished ahead of his JR Motorsports teammates, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, and Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric.

Watch the above video for Byron’s first interview as a NASCAR champion.

Below are interviews with the remaining Championship 4 drivers.

Elliott Sadler

Sadler placed eighth in the race after contact with Ryan Preece with less than 10 laps to go cut a tire on his No. 1 Chevrolet. It Sadler’s fourth runner-up result in the points in his Xfinity career.

Justin Allgaier

Allgaier finished 12th in the race after struggling for most 300-mile event. He was competing without his primary crew chief, who had been suspended for the race. Chad Knaus, the seven-time champion crew chief in the Cup Series with Jimmie Johnson, helped out on the pit box for the No. 7 Chevrolet.

Daniel Hemric

Hemric finished last among the Championship 4 drivers in 34th after his No. 21 Chevrolet experienced battery problems early in Stage 2. Hemric spent 12 laps on pit road before returning to the race.

JR Motorsports sweeps top three in final Xfinity Series standings

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William Byron finished third in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 to give JR Motorsports its second Xfinity title.

The team, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., swept the top-three spots in the final standings with Elliott Sadler placing second and Justin Allgaier in third.

Daniel Hemric placed fourth after finishing last among the Championship 4 drivers in the race.

Race-winner Cole Custer ends the season in fifth.

Click here for the points results.

Results, stats for Xfinity season finale at Miami

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Cole Custer led 182 laps to win the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s his first Xfinity win and the first series win for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Custer swept all three stages of the race and beat Sam Hornish Jr., William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Ryan Preece.

Byron clinched the Xfinity title with his third-place finish.

Click here for results.

Devastated Elliott Sadler watches another title chance go away

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — Elliott Sadler’s fourth runner-up finish for the Xfinity title in the last seven years was a pain he had not felt before.

“I’d say tonight is the most devastating and down and out I’ve ever felt in my career,’’ Sadler said after finishing second to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron for the championship.

Sadler’s anger was directed at Ryan Preece, who slowed Sadler by challenging him for position and stalling Sadler’s momentum as Sadler tried to hold off Byron for the championship in the final 10 laps.

“We were in position to win this championship,’’ Sadler said. “We were there. He raced me hard and held me down and (Byron) got a run on us and he let (Byron) go. Very frustrating.’’

Byron took advantage by diving under Sadler and passing him. Sadler tried to get by Preece but made contact that caused his right front tire to go down. Sadler finished eighth, losing the championship to Byron, who placed third.

“To be that close and not win a championship is frustrating,’’ said the 42-year-old Sadler, who has not won a title in any of NASCAR’s top three national series. “I don’t have many years left, and I wanted to try to fulfill a childhood dream. I didn’t know it was going to come down to a guy that’s not even racing for anything to hold us down like that. No respect at all.’’

Preece said he was racing for something. He was in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing to compete for the car owner’s title.

“I’m just doing what I’m doing for Joe ,’’ Preece said. “They told me to race for the owners championship.’’

Sadler didn’t buy it when told what Preece said..

“He wasn’t because (Sam Hornish Jr.) was half a lap ahead of him,’’ Sadler said, referring to the Team Penske car that won the car owners title. “He wasn’t racing anybody.’’

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