Dale Earnhardt Jr.: End of final Martinsville Cup race ‘a big deal’ for NASCAR


MARTINSVILLE, Virginia – The last Martinsville race of Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Cup career left the driver “jacked up.”

And he didn’t even finish in the top 10.

Fresh off a 11th-place finish in the First Data 500 in his special “Gray Ghost” paint scheme, the 14-time most popular driver took to Periscope with a big grin on his face and a simple message.

“That’s what NASCAR needs every week.”

The racing, cheering, booing and the anger. All of it going on seemingly non-stop for 15 minutes after the race’s chaotic finish.

“I was so jacked up when I got out of the car I felt like I had drank a pot of coffee with everything going on at the end at the finish,” Earnhardt said.

It started when Joey Logano spun 13 laps from the overtime finish because of a cut tire he received after contact with Kyle Busch and continued when Chase Elliott forced Brad Keselowski out of the racing groove to take the lead during the ensuing restart.

It escalated when Denny Hamlin turned race leader Elliott into the outside wall with two laps to go in the original 500-lap distance. Hamlin then lost the lead on the last lap of the overtime finish when Busch, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, forced  him out of the way in Turn 1. It all concluded after a Talladega-like crash at the checkered flag with a shower of jeers and cheers as Elliott and Hamlin exchanged words on the track.

“That was a wiiiild finish, man!” Earnhardt said. “I ain’t seen nothing like that ever. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a short track finish that was so crazy.”

At the time of his Periscope, Earnhardt didn’t even know where he had finished. But he was sure of something else after the first Cup race at Martinsville to finish under the lights.

“That’s what NASCAR needs every week,” Earnhardt said. “NASCAR needs short track racing, particularly and preferably under the lights. If that was going on more often than not in the sport, you wouldn’t have enough tickets. You’d have to build tracks just like Bristol with all the grandstands you can find.

“That’s so much better than a lot of the things that we do. I don’t really know how to put it into words. But that kind of action and drama, that’s what grows the sport and gets people talking. My God. We don’t need guys getting turned around and wrecked every week. I guess what I’m saying is, drama and exciting finishes, the fans in the grandstands cheering like crazy and booing and cheering and booing and cheering after every interview for 15, 20 minutes after the race.

“We need that every weekend.”

Earnhardt, who has three races left as a full-time Cup driver, also was excited about the discussions the race will prompt in the week leading up to this coming weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Woo, that was a big deal for the sport,” Earnhardt said. “We’ll be talking about that a lot this week. Man, is it going to be dominating the headlines and storylines. We won’t be talking about PJ1 and all that mess.

“Martinsville under the lights sure did deliver.”

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)