Daytona International Speedway

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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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Aric Almirola driving Richard Petty’s 200th win paint scheme in Southern 500

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The paint scheme Aric Almirola will drive in the Sept. 3 Southern 500 will be very specific.

Almirola’s No. 43 Ford will have the paint scheme that Richard Petty had when he won his iconic 200th NASCAR Cup Series race in the 1984 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Driving a Pontiac, Petty won his 200th and final Cup race with President Ronald Reagan in attendance on July 4, 1984.

Richard Petty drives on pit road after driving on track to commemorate his 200th win in NASCAR history prior to the start of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2009. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Petty beat Cale Yarborough in a race back to the yellow flag with two laps to go in the race.

“All of the 200 wins were special but the 200th definitely stands out,” Petty said in a press release. “We needed every win before to get to 200 but to have the President there was pretty special. It was a story book win on the last lap, in Daytona, on the Fourth of July with the President of the United States there. I enjoy seeing the Throwback deals in Darlington, and this a great one to have on our car this year.”

Almirola, who was announced as returning to the No. 43 this weekend after missing eight weeks to recover from a T5 compression fracture, was born just four months before the race in March 1984.

Thirty years later in 2014, Almirola earned his first Cup win in the came race, a rain-shortened Coke Zero 400.

“When you think of Richard Petty, one of the first moments you think of is his 200th win at Daytona International Speedway,” Almirola said. “It was like a storybook being on the Fourth of July and with President Reagan there. That race is even more special to me with my first Cup Series win coming 30 years later to the weekend in the same Victory Lane.

“I really enjoy the throwback weekend, and it will be very special to throwback to such a substantial moment in NASCAR history. I always like to have a little fun with it off the track. Although, I’m not sure I’ll be able to top the Fu Manchu this year. We’ll work on it though (Almirola sported a facial hair design Petty once had in the 1970s) .”

Almirola’s paint scheme won’t be the only way Petty is recognized at the Southern 500.

Petty, who just turned 80, will pace the field prior to the green flag driving a 1967 Plymouth like the one he drove to victory in the 1967 Southern 500.

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Michael McDowell offers rebuttal to Chase Elliott’s criticism

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Michael McDowell struck back on Twitter to comments Chase Elliott made about him after an incident in Saturday night’s Cup race at Daytona International Speedway.

Elliott spun into the backstretch grass to bring out the caution on Lap 99. On the radio, he told his team: “That damn 95 (McDowell) wrecks me one more time, man, damn it! What in the hell is (his) problem?”

McDowell went on to finish a career-high fourth Saturday.

After the race, McDowell was asked about the incident that sent Elliott spinning.

“Really hard to tell what happened with the 24 down the back straightaway,” McDowell said. “I was getting shoved, getting shoved down the racetrack, and he was coming up the racetrack, so I would hate to say anything because until I see a replay it’s hard to tell. I can tell you that everybody was pushing really hard. It definitely was one of those racing things that happened. Without seeing (a replay), I wouldn’t really want to comment too much on it.”

McDowell offered an additional comment Wednesday on Twitter:

Elliott wasn’t the only Hendrick driver who had an incident with McDowell during the race. Jimmie Johnson also mentioned McDowell after the race, saying: “I really thought we were in a great position and I got smashed into the wall by the No. 95  (McDowell) off of two.”

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NASCAR looking to move overtime line in 2018 to start/finish line

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NASCAR is looking to move the overtime line to the start/finish line next year, a senior executive told NBC Sports.

Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer, made the comment during the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan.

“We’re going to take a hard look for 2018 of making (the overtime line at) the start/finish line,’’ O’Donnell told Ryan.

A point that has been made from tracks, O’Donnell said, is that many don’t have seats where the overtime line is — typically located on the backstretch or near the entrance of Turn 3.

“All those things, if you take the time and you put it up on a board and say what are the positives to this, there are not a ton of them,’’ O’Donnell said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “So I think if we get it back to the start/finish line and make sure the fans at least get that one full lap, that’s a direction we want to go.’’

The overtime line was added before the 2016 season. It stemmed from a controversial finish at Talladega in Oct. 2015. As the field approached to take the green flag during overtime, there was an incident. NASCAR ruled that the attempt didn’t count because the green flag hadn’t waved. On the ensuring attempt, Kevin Harvick made contact with Trevor Bayne’s car after the green waved, causing a crash that ended the race.

Drivers came up with the overtime line with NASCAR. If the leader gets to the line before a caution comes out on the first lap of an overtime restart, no further attempts at a green-flag finish is made. If the leader does not make it to the line before a caution, another attempt at a green-flag finish is made.

Last month, Dale Earnhardt Jr. voiced his displeasure with the rule.

“I kind of helped come up with that idea, so this is going to be kind of strange, but I think they should get rid of the overtime line at all the racetracks except for Daytona and Talladega,” Earnhardt said on Periscope after the June 4 Dover race.

“I think we should race it out everywhere. And no overtime line, just keep on doing green-white-checkereds until you get it right everywhere. And then at Daytona and Talladega, you probably can do something different.”

Earnhardt said the solution at Daytona and Talladega might be to “keep the overtime line or don’t have a green-white-checkered finish.

“Oh well. It’s a damn shame. It’s the way they did it for 50 years, so I think that people would be OK with it. It’s just green-white-checkered at those places are kind of crazy.”

Saturday’s Xfinity race ended under caution after NASCAR threw a caution for a crash on the first lap of overtime after winner William Byron crossed the overtime line.

Elliott Sadler, who finished second and was denied another attempt to win the race, didn’t fault NASCAR for the decision.

“I was good,’’ Sadler told the media after the race. “I’m not going to nickel and dime that to death. I’m in the race car. It’s probably easy for you to sit in here and judge what kind of call NASCAR makes, but we’ve got a lot of people out there and a lot of equipment and we’re running 190 mph side by side. If there is a reason to throw a caution because somebody has wrecked, I’m all for it because it could be the next time. I say safety first because my butt is in the seat.

“It’s a tough question. The rule is the rule, and the rule is put in a place for a couple of different reasons. But if you’re asking me a driver that has been doing this for 20 years, I’m going to err on the side of safety every time. It might have cost me a chance today, might not, I don’t know if could have got up there or not. You just don’t know when cars start wrecking and hitting and if somebody got hurt or if they didn’t or anything like that.’’

O’Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday: “We waited a second to see if the cars that were involved in the incident would roll off like you saw Saturday night, and unfortunately there were some impacts there where we had to throw the caution flag and ultimately end the race.’’

The full episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast with O’Donnell is expected to debut shortly after midnight Wednesday. During the podcast, O’Donnell discussed a variety of topics, including stage racing, the Gen-7 car that could debut in two to four years, technology NASCAR is looking to use to help monitor lug nut checks, debris cautions and more.

You can listen and subscribe to the podcast on AudioBoom here. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

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Front Row Motorsports makes personnel changes

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Front Row Motorsports has promoted Donnie Wingo to be the organization’s competition director and brought in Seth Barbour to take over for Wingo as Landon Cassill‘s crew chief, the team announced Monday morning.

Barbour had been the crew chief for Darrell Wallace Jr.‘s Xfinity team at Roush Fenway Racing before that team was sidelined by lack of sponsorship. Barbour won two Xfinity titles as an engineer for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s team.

Wingo will lead Front Row Motorsports’ efforts to improve its cars and serve as the primary liaison in the organization’s technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

David Ragan and Cassill both drive for Front Row Motorsports. Ragan finished sixth in Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway. Cassill finished 19th.

Ragan is 28th in the points; Cassill is 33rd.

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