Dale Earnhardt Jr.: ‘I was near tears … It’s an awful feeling’


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Crossing the finish line at Daytona International Speedway at 2:42 a.m. Monday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hardly felt like celebrating his second Sprint Cup victory of the season.

In his rear-view mirror immediately after taking the checkered flag, he watched Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet sail into the catchfence in a violent deceleration that caused an explosion of steel and smoke on the final lap of the rain-delayed Coke Zero 400.

WATCH: Full replay of Coke Zero 400

Dillon’s car, whose number was made famous by Earnhardt’s late seven-time champion father (killed in a last-lap wreck of the 2001 Daytona 500), skidded to a stop on its roof. Members from Earnhardt’s No. 88 crew and other teams scrambled to the wreckage to check on the status of the driver while Earnhardt and the rest of the Sprint Cup Series held its collective breath.

“It scared the shit out of me,” Earnhardt said. “I was near tears.  I don’t even know who it is, but you just don’t want to see nobody get hurt.  It’s awful.  It’s an awful feeling.

“I mean, we sit in those (motor home) lots together, we all have become closer friends  because of the environment.  It ain’t like the old days where you never saw each other, and you come to the track and run over each other and fight and not like each other.  We all sort of live in this community, and you may not like everybody, but you damn sure grow to respect them and don’t want to see anybody get hurt.”

After finishing second to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson expressed shock that Dillon had lived through the crash.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Johnson said. “Just a scary, scary moment. I saw it in the mirror, and it hit me hard. I thought something really, really bad happened.”

So had Earnhardt based on the communications with his team.

“Holy shit, that looked awful,” Earnhardt radioed. “Oh my … God. Oh my God. Hope he’s OK. Oh no.”

“He’s alright buddy,” spotter TJ Majors replied. “He’s already out of the car.”

“Everyone in the grandstands OK?” Earnhardt asked.

The news eventually was relayed that drivers seemed unhurt, and there didn’t appear to be major injuries in the grandstands.

“Damn,” Earnhardt radioed quietly.

Five people, one at nearby Halifax Health Medical Center, were treated for minor injuries and released.

It was the second time in the past three years that fans were injured after a car went airborne and injured fans during a NASCAR race at Daytona. In the Feb. 23, 2013 season opener of the Xfinity Series, Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet sent debris raining on the grandstands, hurting more than two dozen fans.

Earnhardt also competed in that event, and Dillon’s crash initially seemed even more devastating.

“I’ve never seen a car stop that fast,” he said. “He just had a little contact and took off like an airplane.”

The height of the crash worried Earnhardt the most because of the potential for injuring spectators.

“I didn’t know exactly where he hit the fence as far as how far down the straightaway, so I didn’t know if he was in range of the few seats that we’ve got here tonight,” he said. “But it was just real scary.

“I didn’t care about anything except for just figuring out who was OK … My crew were at the car helping Dillon, and they said that Dillon was good, and then you imagine the news from the grandstands is going to come in a little slower, so you start thinking about that, waiting on that, seeing if everybody is okay there.

“The racing doesn’t matter anymore.”

COTA Xfinity starting lineup: AJ Allmendinger takes pole


AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Xfinity starting lineup

He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.

Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.

Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at goprn.com. …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.