Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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Charlotte weekend schedule: NASCAR Cup, Xfinity action

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Make sure you have plenty of coffee and energy drinks this weekend, as Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is the season’s longest race on the NASCAR Cup circuit.

The 400-lap, 600-mile race begins just before dusk and continues late into the evening on the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Martin Truex Jr. won last year’s 600 in record-setting, dominating form, leading 392 of the scheduled 400 laps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has never won a 600 – let alone never won a Cup race – at CMS, is looking to win in what will be his second-to-last Cup race at his home track before he retires at season’s end.

Charlotte has been a tough track for Earnhardt. In 33 previous starts, he has zero wins, just six top-5 and 12 top-10 finishes. His best finishes to date have been a pair of third-place showings (fall 2004 and spring 2015).

Kyle Larson comes into the race still atop the points lead and is looking for his first win at Charlotte. So, too, are guys like Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and others.

Here’s the complete weekend schedule (all times are Eastern):

Thursday, May 25

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. – First Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (FS1)

6 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

Friday, May 27

Track and garages are closed

Saturday, May 27

6:30 a.m. – Xfinity garage open

7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Cup garage open

9 – 9:55 a.m. – Second Cup practice (FS1)

10:05 a.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1)

11:15 a.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

11:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. – Cup final practice (FS1)

12:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

1 p.m. – Xfinity Hisense 4K TV 300 (200 laps, 300 miles) (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, May 28

12:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

4 p.m. – Driver/crew chief meeting

5:20 p.m. – Driver introductions

6 p.m. – Coca-Cola 600 (400 laps, 600 miles) (FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s playoff chances may rely on if he can win a race

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CONCORD, N.C. — Even with 15 races remaining before the playoffs begin, car owner Rick Hendrick says he thinks Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have to win a race if the retiring driver hopes to have one last shot at a Cup championship.

Earnhardt is 25th in the points heading into this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He’s 77 points behind Trevor Bayne, who holds the final playoff spot at this time. Drivers can earn up to 70 points this weekend with an extra stage. The maximum number of points is 60 for all other Cup races.

A win before the playoffs begin in September grants a driver, who starts every race, a chance to compete for the title. If there aren’t 16 winners by then, the rest of the playoff field is filled based on points.

Through the first 11 races, eight different drivers have won at least once. Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski each have two wins, while five others have single victories: Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman and Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch.

Stage points could play a key role in who fills the final playoff spots and that might not be good for Earnhardt. He has 19 stage points (teammate Chase Elliott has 94) but none in the last four races.

“I think we’ve got to win now,’’ Hendrick said last week. “A lot of people can start having problems. We’ve got to do the best we can and let it take care of itself. The cars are fast enough to win. I’m hopeful we can pull it off.’’

Said Earnhardt: “That makes it a lot easier when the boss man tells you what you’ve got to do.’’

Earnhardt wasn’t as confident after Saturday night’s All-Star Race. He finished 18th in the 20-car field and apologized to fans on Periscope after the race.

“It’s hard not to get down,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve been racing a long time and it’s hard not to get down. Right after that, it’s hard to keep your chin up, really hard. I’ll get my chin up again in a couple days.’’

That’s kind of how his season has been.

He was leading the Daytona 500 when Kyle Busch’s tire blew and Busch wrecked in front of Earnhardt, collecting him. Earnhardt finished 37th.

A pit road speeding penalty, flat tire and loose wheel contributed to a 30th-place finish at Atlanta.

A pit road speeding penalty dropped him to the rear at Martinsville and then he was collected in a crash. He finished 34th.

An oil cooler issue contributed to his crash at Bristol and a 38th-place finish.

Teammate Jimmie Johnson didn’t know Earnhardt was to his outside and slammed him into the wall at Richmond. Earnhardt finished 30th

A loose wheel forced him to pit late at Talladega. He finished 22nd.

He thought he had a loose wheel and pitted late at Kansas, giving up a top-10 spot. He finished 20th.

“I just know that in our notes over the last four years there we have tires that shake,’’ Earnhardt said. “Why there and why not other places? Don’t know. But at Kansas every third set might shake. It’s just something that I needed to remember before the race so when that happened, I didn’t freak out because we’ve had so many loose wheels so it’s in the back of my mind.

“I jumped the gun. It was my mistake. Full responsibility for costing us a lap and whatever else it costs us. Could have finished in the top 10. Car was real fast. It’s frustrating. If I had just talked to myself and said, ‘Be aware of those vibrations, it’s just what you have at that particular racetrack for some reason,’ then I might not have been so quick to jump on the loose wheel bandwagon like I was.’’

Even before the poor run in the All-Star Race, Hendrick said the team shouldn’t be overcome with dread.

“We just have to take a deep breath and do what we know how to do,’’ Hendrick said.

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See the characters NASCAR drivers will voice in ‘Cars 3’

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Last February it was announced that NASCAR drivers Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr. would lend their voices to Pixar’s new movie Cars 3.

Now it’s less than a month from the film’s June 16 release date.

While the character’s names were part of the February announcement, NASCAR revealed the character designs Monday afternoon on Twitter.

Blaney’s character is Ryan Inside Laney.

Wallace’s character is Bubba Wheelhouse

Elliott’s character is Chase Racelott

Suarez’s character is Danny Swervez.

The animated movie will also feature the voices of Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Kyle Petty, Ray Evernham, Humpy Wheeler, Mike Joy and Shannon Spake.

Richard Petty and and Waltrip were voices in the original Cars (2006) in addition to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mario Andretti.

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NASCAR executive defends rules package after lackluster All-Star Race

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After an All-Star race that featured three lead changes in 70 laps, a senior NASCAR executive defended the rules package but conceded that the option tire “didn’t make a huge impact.’’

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that one race isn’t going to lead to significant rule changes.

“I think we’ve got to keep it in context,’’ O’Donnell said Monday. “I find it ironic that you can go from one week of everyone saying this is the greatest rules package and then you walk into one race with a bit of a different format (and opinions not as high). We feel still really bullish on the rules package we have, the work we’ve done with the industry to get where we’re at. Certainly you want every race to be the best it possibly can be.

“We’ve got to look at the facts and the facts are a lot of different organizations winning this year, the (manufacturers) having an ability to win, Kyle (Busch) his first win ever (in Cup) at Charlotte, which is surprising to me, and a lot of young drivers really putting their names out there competing out front. Really like where we’re at right now.

“Our job is to look at the whole year. If I reacted to every comment you had on Twitter, it would be very different. It’s one of those things we’ve got to look at the overall picture, we’ve got to take the input from everybody in the industry and we do that. I think from a rules package standpoint we continue to see the sport moving in the right direction in terms of what we’re seeing in competitiveness from different organizations. That’s really how we judge it from an overall standpoint and not just one race.’’

Heading into this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, there have been eight different winners in the first 11 races. There have been at least eight different winners in the first 11 races in three of the last four years.

Among organizations, seven different teams have scored victories this season: Chip Ganassi Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Four organizations had won a race in the first 11 events last year and in 2015.

In the five races run on 1.5-mile tracks this season — Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas and the All-Star Race — lead changes are down compared to the same events last year. There have been 63 lead changes in those five events this year compared to 94 in those same events a year ago and 99 two years ago.

The three lead changes in the All-Star race were the fewest since 2007, although Saturday’s race had the fewest laps (70) since that 2007 race, which was 80 laps.

Still, the hope was that there could be plenty of cars moving forward and backward with the use of a second tire compound, a softer compound. The goal was for the tire to be a few tenths quicker at the onset but wear more quickly than the regular tire.

“Goodyear delivered on exactly what we had asked,’’ O’Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We wanted three to four-tenths on a tire and by the practice times and the early part of the race we saw that. Kudos to Goodyear. I think what you saw Saturday night was really the difference probably in the car versus the tire and maybe a need to go even further if you were going to pursue that avenue in terms of difference in speed. That’s something we could look at for the future. Obviously you guys saw what I saw, it didn’t make a huge impact.’’

Asked if the option tire is something still on the table for future events, O’Donnell said: “I think so. I think you look at what may be the impact versus the car. I think the bigger thing is, when you look at tires in general, continuing to focus on rain tire, what should be our priority. There’s talk, I don’t want to tip the hand, but way down the future could you ever run Martinsville if the track was damp because Goodyear is able to, in terms of the speed, put something together.

“It’s a balance for us of where do we put their focus. Obviously they’re capable of doing all things. I think something we’d look at All-Star for sure, not sure in terms of a points race.’’

Another question was about the splitter after Erik Jones’ bid for the lead in the final laps of the Monster Energy Open was foiled when he ran below the apron and through grass on the frontstretch. He damaged his splitter in the incident.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was critical of the splitter on Twitter.

O’Donnell defended the splitter’s purpose on the car.

“Why we have it, I think everybody, including the drivers and the industry wanted to look at going toward the lower downforce package,’’ O’Donnell said. “That’s part of the package. It’s part of what we worked on with the (manufacturers). We’re actually very happy with the product we’ve had.

“If you look back to Kansas, one of the better mile-and-a-half races we’ve had. It’s always interesting with one incident and everybody jumps on, ‘Hey, why do we have this on the car?’ Certainly something down the road you can always look at, but it’s part of the overall aerodynamics of the car. It all fits in.

“For now, we continue to like the direction of lower downforce and going to continue down that and see if there are certain tweaks we can make. We absolutely would do that but that’s where we’re at today.’’

O’Donnell also said that the 2018 schedule is expected to be released this week.

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Dale Jr. gives last rites to Danica Patrick’s ‘Wonder Woman’ car

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The self-professed “retired automotive service mechanic” has added yet another trophy to his automotive graveyard.

It’s last rites for Danica Patrick’s “Wonder Woman” Ford Fusion at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car cemetery. Patrick, who was in a huge wreck with Joey Logano and Aric Almirola a week ago at Kansas Speedway, didn’t have much left of her car afterward.

And the car had even less when it arrived at Earnhardt’s farm near Mooresville, North Carolina, missing the entire front end, including the engine.

One of Patrick’s team members approached Earnhardt to see if he’d be interested in giving Wonder Woman a proper burial. The next thing you know, the body was on an old pickup truck heading to its final resting ground.

Earnhardt boasted about the newest addition to his collection on Twitter, which then prompted a reply from NASCAR Hall of Famer and former teammate Mark Martin, which led to another reply from Junior.

Check out the exchange:

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