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The Ragged Edge: ‘Days of Thunder’ celebrates 27 years

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Back in the yesteryear of 1986, Paramount Pictures released a little movie called Top Gun.

Directed by Tony Scott and starring a young actor named Tom Cruise, the movie depicted a hot-shot, hard-headed fighter pilot named Pete “Maverick” Mitchell who competed for supremacy at an aviation school against a rival nicknamed “Ice Man.”

Backed by the sounds of Kenny Loggins, the Righteous Brothers and Cheap Trick, the two rivals clashed in the skies and on volleyball courts, all while Maverick flirted with a his female instructor, ‎Kelly McGillis’ “Charlie.”

The movie made a lot of money.

Three years later, they made the same movie … sort of. This time, Cruise was piloting stock cars in the world of NASCAR.

Twenty-seven years ago today, Days of Thunder roared into theaters on matched perfect and staggered special tires.

Once again directed by Scott and with the same golden color palate from Top Gun, Cruise portrayed Cole Trickle as he faced off with Michael Rooker’s Rowdy Burns, clashed egos with Robert Duvall’s Harry Hogge and did some more flirting, this time with his doctor, played by Nicole Kidman.

It didn’t make a lot of money, grossing $82 million domestically to Top Gun‘s $176 million.

But who cares?

Almost 30 years later, it’s still the closest fictional representation of NASCAR that’s ever graced the silver screen (we don’t need to mention a certain Will Farrell movie).

Was it completely faithful to stock-car racing?

Of course not, especially since there’s nothin’ stock about a stock car.

Did it have a have bizarre editing that made it look like a race was taking place at Daytona, Darlington and another track at the same time?

You betcha’.

Did the late Bobby Hamilton make his first Cup start driving a car used in the movie?

It’s true! Hamilton qualified third at Phoenix in the No. 51 Chevrolet owned by Hendrick Motorsports and even led five laps.

As absurd as the move could get, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel gave the movie a positive review. Decades later, Days of Thunder had enough authenticity to have an impact on those in the sport today.

“Makes you feel old, doesn’t it?” Dale Earnhardt Jr. told the New York Times in 2010, the movie’s 20th anniversary. “It was interesting to see our sport be put into the mainstream and be a part of that. I think it did a lot for our sport to be honest with you even though the critics weren’t solid on the movie and lot of people had different opinions about it. It got our sport a lot of exposure. The movie was fun to watch, regardless of whether it’s good or not.”

 (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

Four years ago, Kurt Busch paid tribute to the movie by racing one of the paint scheme’s from the movie in the July Xfinity race at Daytona.

Then there’s his brother, Kyle.

Kyle Busch goes by the nickname “Rowdy,” which was the name of Rooker’s character in the movie.

Two years ago, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, his crew chief Adam Stevens, Joe Gibbs and Busch’s wife, Samantha, put their best foot forward for a recreation of the Days of Thunder trailer to promote the Crispy line of M&M’s.

Though in this video, Busch assumed the Cole Trickle role.

He’s no Tom Cruise.

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Bump & Run: Is Daytona last true shot for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make playoffs?

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Kyle Petty, Slugger Labbe and Dale Jarrett join Leigh Diffey from 5:30 – 7 p.m. ET today on NASCAR America on NBCSN. Petty, Labbe, Jarrett, Nate Ryan and Dustin Long discuss this week’s hot topics.

Does Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway mark Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last true shot to win and make the playoffs?

Dale Jarrett: Certainly by what we’ve seen to this point, it would take something extraordinary for it to happen somewhere else. Even though they’ve run better. There’s nothing telling me that they’re at that point that they can go win one of these other races without pulling some type of strategy. Yes, I think that this is it. It’s going to take a win for him to make the playoffs. He’s going to have to make that push Saturday night.

Kyle Petty: I don’t believe it’s his last shot, but it may be his best shot. I say that not because he’s run well enough to win anywhere this year, they just seem to be a step behind everywhere. I say “best shot” because throughout his career he’s always stepped up at the “storybook, Hollywood script” moments to win. Can his last Daytona be another one of those moments? Yes. Will it? Only the Racing Gods know.

Slugger Labbe: Unfortunately I believe Daytona is the last opportunity (which a win at Daytona would be AWESOME) for Dale Jr. and the 88 team. We just haven’t seen the performance and confidence in this team to be perfect and on the same page on a given race weekend and being perfect is about what it takes to win.

Nate Ryan: The answer seemed yes … until Michigan and Sonoma. Those are Earnhardt’s first consecutive top 10s this season, and that is meaningful for a streaky driver who always has thrived on confidence and momentum. If he doesn’t break through at Daytona, don’t expect a win at Kentucky, New Hampshire or Indianapolis … but if the No. 88 can continue a string of solid finishes, it doesn’t seem out of the question that Earnhardt still could sneak into victory lane at Pocono, Michigan or Bristol.

Dustin Long: I agree with Kyle that a win by Dale Jr. this weekend would mark another one of those “storybook’’ triumphs, but I think he can win elsewhere. It just keeps popping into my head that a storybook moment would be for Dale Jr. to win at Indianapolis, a track Hendrick Motorsports has had much success. After Indy, though, his chances will be limited to a maybe a couple of tracks.

What has been the biggest surprise this season?

Dale Jarrett: How intense the racing is in the early and middle parts of these races. I knew that the stage racing was going to change things, but it’s really opened up something totally different to me. To sit and watch an entire race now and see drivers pressing hard and the crew chiefs making decisions at times to gather playoff or more points, whatever it is that they are looking for there, and then putting themselves in a position that they have to try to find their way back to the front to try to win the race. That’s something more from teams that have the luxury of doing that that have won races, but it’s pretty entertaining.

Kyle Petty: Too many surprises to name only one. First-time winners, drivers that haven’t won, Kurt Busch at Daytona, how much stage racing has changed how teams/crew chiefs/drivers race. After this coming weekend, I may have to add “see answer to question #1.”

Slugger Labbe: How stage racing has changed our sport for the better, between known cautions (stage ends) that require different strategies and limited tire allotments. There have been races that have been just downright hard to predict, what is right or wrong, until they throw the checkers, and also the effects of the playoff points that are rewarded for stage victories!!

Nate Ryan: That there are 11 winners representing eight teams through the first 16 races – and that none is from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Dustin Long: I wouldn’t have guessed that Richard Childress Racing would have two wins and Roush Fenway Racing would have one victory while Joe Gibbs Racing remained winless with its driver lineup.

Kyle Busch is winless in his last 32 races, a streak that dates back to his win last year at Indianapolis. Does he win before next month’s race at Indy?

Dale Jarrett: I have to believe he will. There’s not a track that we will be going to between now and then that he doesn’t perform at a high level at. They continue to put themselves in position. I think at some point in time things will work out. Could be this weekend. I really believe it will happen certainly within the next four races.

Kyle Petty: Yes! Kyle wins before Indy. Honestly he should/could have won two or three races already this year. Driver, crew and pit call mistakes have kept them out of victory lane. They’ve beaten themselves. I believe with the tracks that are coming up that Kyle’s frustration ends.

Slugger Labbe: YES!! KB and the 18 team have been to me one of the best performers so far in 2017. They just need to seal the deal. Speed is not an issue, but they need to clean up a few things. I think it would be great for the garage to see KB win Daytona with a third-string crew chief. This team has had a shot at seven victories so far in 2017: Phoenix, Martinsville, Talladega, Charlotte, Dover, Pocono and Michigan. For KB to have a mic drop and a few F-bombs, I think he has done a remarkable job so far. Amazing that we are halfway through season and NO JGR team has been to victory lane yet!

Nate Ryan: He has three top fives in the past six restrictor-plate races between Daytona and Talladega, so I’ll be picking him Saturday night.

Dustin Long: Yes. The drought ends at Kentucky.

Stewart-Haas Racing enjoys best race since winning Daytona 500

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It’s hard to believe, but Stewart-Haas Racing went winless between the first and 16th NASCAR Cup races of the year.

The team co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas bookended the first half of the season by winning the Daytona 500 and Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

Though the day was highlighted by Kevin Harvick winning at Sonoma for the first time, it was improved upon by Clint Bowyer finishing second in a car that looked like a diecast that had been manhandled by a 3-year-old.

It was just the third time SHR cars had finished 1-2 in a Cup race.

For Stewart, a year removed from his final Cup win at the same track, it made for an “awesome day” in the middle of a tough year that started with Kurt Busch‘s Daytona 500 triumph.

“I think the important thing is with the way our series is laid down, having two of the drivers get their wins already at this point of the year and solidly in the Chase, that’s a very important deal for our company, especially from the sponsorship side,” Stewart said. “Got great partners, obviously, and to get Mobil 1 in Victory Lane this weekend was great. That’s big, and our first year with Ford now and we’ve won two races already this season, so I think that’s a really solid effort and shows how good a partnership we have with Ford right now.”

Though there’s been bumps in the team’s transition from Chevy to Ford this season, the team has had off-track issues finding sponsors for its four-car team and legal problems with existing sponsor, Nature’s Bakery. A four-month legal battle resulted in the company sponsoring Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer in two races each later this year.

Bowyer has had Haas-owned companies as his primary sponsor in 12 of 16 races. Busch has had them as a co-primary sponsor in 15 of 16 races.

“For two of the four teams right now, they can start worrying about what to do to get ready for the (playoffs) and having the ability to try different things to prepare for that,” Stewart said of the next 10 races before the playoffs start. “That’s a really important thing for our company right now, and I think we all expected that Kevin would have got it sooner than this, but there’s just been some bad luck, some different venues that he’s been really, really strong at that we just had some weird and bad luck that have crept in to his program.”

Entering Sonoma, Harvick had five top fives, with his best result a runner-up finish at Pocono. He still has three stage wins, tying him for second most with Kyle Larson.

Bowyer left the road course with his second runner-up finish of the year and his third top five, his most since 2014. His rebound comes while he works with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, who was paired with Stewart in his final year of competition.

“Clint and Buga, to be having the season they’ve had as a fresh driver and crew chief combination, I think they’ve had a really good start to their season, as well,” Stewart said. “I think there’s a lot of positive things in the company, and the results haven’t obviously always shown that, but at the same time, being able to sit on the pit box and see it a lot more clearly from the pit box than I could from my own car last year, I think there’s a lot of things that we’re excited about.”

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Cup Series playoff grid following Sonoma

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With the Coke Zero 400 set for 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC, the race will mark the start of a 10-race sprint to the playoffs in September.

Only 16 Cup drivers can make the playoffs and following Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway, Kevin Harvick made it 10 drivers locked in based on wins. It could have been 11 if not for Joey Logano‘s encumbered finish for his win at Richmond in April.

Kyle Larson leads the way with his two wins – Auto Club, Michigan – and 13 payoff points. Martin Truex Jr. is second and leads all drivers with 11 stage wins and 21 playoff points.

With 10 races left until the playoffs begin at Richmond, all 10 qualified drivers are in the top 20 in points. But six of the top 12 on the playoff grid don’t have wins. That group is led by Kyle Busch, who is fourth in points but has not won since last July’s Brickyard 400.

Jamie McMurray is in eighth and is the highest driver on the grid who has not earned any playoff points through 16 races.

Below is the full playoff grid.

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What drivers said after Sonoma race

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Drivers had plenty to say after Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway. Here’s what they said:

Kevin Harvick — Winner: “To finally check this one off the list. I feel like we have been close a couple times but never put it all together. Being so close to home and having raced here so much, this was one that was on the top of the list and today we were able to check that box.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 2nd: “You get there back in traffic and you’re so much faster than them, you have to check up to save a mistake. You run over them and you don’t mean to; you get frustrated and get a little bit farther behind and a little bit farther behind. I saw (Kyle Larson) check up and I get into him and I was thinking, ‘Well, we’ll both survive this’. And then all of a sudden (AJ Allmendinger) was coming through and I smoked him and hurt the left front. We were fast all weekend. With clean air and an long run, that’s always my strong suit. We got the long run, we just hard to start dead last to get it.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 3rd: “We didn’t have the qualifying fun we wanted. We had amazing race pace. That’s a credit to everyone at Team Penske. It felt really good. I just wish I could run this race again I think I might have had better car than driver today and I learned a lot. Just an amazing fun day.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “It was good, definitely had a great car. We didn’t have quite enough at the end. We did have real short run speed. We didn’t’ really have great long run speed. We had just had good middle speed and that worked out for us. We had good pit strategy and really passed a lot of cars today and that’s about what we had.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 7th: “I had a left-rear question, if it was going down or not. I went through four righthanders trying to make the call on if the left-rear was going to go down. I might have messed up a Stewart-Haas 1-2-3. I am happy for Kevin and Bowyer. We were about a third-place car. We were hanging with Denny (Hamlin) and Kyle (Busch) most of the day. I had to pit just to make sure with the tire. We went from 17th back up to seventh. It was a good charge at the end, just didn’t get that top five we wanted.’’

Chase Elliott – Finished 8th: “Just solid day. Good execution on pit road. Guys called great strategy and got us a decent finish.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 9th: “It was pretty physical out there. We had a long green-flag run there at the end. There were some different strategies and we kind of played to the side of if there was a caution at the end we would be in a good spot. That is why we had some of the oldest tires out there. We were still able to make moves and pass some cars. I think we ended up ninth, so that is a good day for us. It is good to end up about where we should have. Where we deserved. A big improvement from last year so that is nice.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 10th: “I thought we were going to be fourth or fifth and some of those guys pitted and actually ran us back down with tires, which you normally don’t see. We normally don’t have that long of a green flag run, but overall really good day.”

Paul Menard – Finished 11th: “The guys on this Tarkett/Menards Chevrolet did a solid job working on our car all weekend. It handled well all day and we battled inside the top 10 for much of the race. We knew pit strategy would come into play today and Matt Borland called a great race from the drop of the green flag. We gambled by coming to pit road late and hoping on a caution, but never got one. If we had about three more laps with those fresh tires, we probably could have fought our way into the top 10.”

Joey Logano — Finished 12th: “We had a pretty good car and made adjustments to make it better, probably a top-five car once we had it going but I sped down pit road. We had the winning strategy and scored a lot of stage points. With a little more speed we maybe could have won the thing. I just sped down pit road and lost so much track position after that. That one stings a little bit.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 13th: “I had no earthly idea what was going on. I passed so many cars. I don’t even know what strategy won.  It was very difficult to know what was going on from inside the car. I would assume that caused a lot of great viewing and entertainment that was fun to watch, but I had no clue what was going on out there.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 15th: “It was good to see us run up in the top 10 and earn valuable stage points today in our Chevrolet Accessories car. We started off really loose in Turn 10 and lost some ground but once we had a chance to fine-tune it, we were pretty decent. We thought there might be a chance to gain spots at the end by just staying out because we were good on fuel, but it didn’t work out in our favor. With about 20 to go, our tires were pretty much cooked so we just stayed the course and hoped for the best. I had a lot of fun road course racing. I just wish we could have had a better finish. This 31 team did a good job for me and I appreciate Chevrolet coming along for the ride.”

Danica Patrick – Finished 17th: “It definitely wasn’t the day the Code 3 Associates team was expecting, but we were able to battle back to a decent finish. The car was just awful in the final laps of the last two runs, but we made the most of it at the end.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 18th: “The team gave me a great Dow Coatings Material Chevy all weekend and I feel bad for what happened there in the closing laps. We qualified 19th, which was my career-best start at Sonoma Raceway. We raced our way into the top 10 and collected stage points in the first two stages.  After the spin in Turn 11, I had no rear grip the rest of the way. I’m bummed that it happened but I can’t say enough about this entire No. 3 team. It was a lot of fun out there.”

Kasey Kahne — Finished 24th: “It was a hard hit. No. 15 (Kevin O’Connell), no clue who he is, I saw him a lot today lapping him, but he went low down the front stretch and then just, I was going to his outside and he just turned right and just hit me, put me straight in the wall getting the white flag there. No clue what he was thinking. You obviously don’t know what he’s doing either. But we had a better car the longer the day went. Just really tight early and the guys kept working on it and we got better and better. I have no clue where we were running, but we were definitely much better at the end than we were at the start and passed some cars later on.”

Erik Jones — Finished 25th: “It was a long day. You know, learning all day and come home with a top 25 is all we really wanted to do.’’

Trevor Bayne – Finished 27th: “We showed we had speed with our AdvoCare Ford today. Every time we could really get going the temps would unfortunately keep getting hotter and hotter which is why we had to come down pit road during that final stage. I hate that we didn’t get the result we deserved but we will rebound form this next week at Daytona where anything can happen and I hope to be out front when it’s all said and done.”

AJ ALLMENDINGER — Finished 35th: “I don’t know what happened there. I just noticed what was going to be our final pit stop I kind of looked down and just noticed the battery starting to die. From there that was it. Shutting all the switches off and everything wasn’t going to work. I’m mad at myself for not driving very well. The car was pretty good.  That first stint was good. The No. 78 (Martin Truex) was pretty good, but thought we were going to be okay. I just didn’t drive very well and just bad luck again.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR — Finished 37th: “After we made that last pit stop, when we lost the lead to (Kevin) Harvick, soon as I left pit road, I lost a cylinder. I was surprised we were able to keep up with them as well as we could on seven, but just shows how strong the car was. Just wasn’t meant to be today.”

RICKY STENHOUSE JR — Finished 38th: “They were three-wide in front of us trying to go through Turn 4 which never works. They were all dive-bombing each other and then (Danica Patrick) got spinning and I tried to go low and she just kept coming down the track. We just clipped it a little bit and tore the left front up too bad to continue. It is a bummer for our day. We felt like we had probably a decent Sonoma car for us. Really just wanted to get out there and make laps. I thought we were decent on the long run, just trying to get there.”