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.”

Results, point standings after Truck race at Las Vegas

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second win of 2020.

He beat Sheldon Creed for the victory.

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly finished 18th and Travis Pastrana was 21st.

Click here for the race results.

Check back for the point standings.

Austin Hill wins Las Vegas Truck race

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading the final 39 laps to score the victory.

Hill took the lead on a restart and held off charges from Sheldon Creed over the final 20 laps.

Creed’s progress was slowed with 11 laps to go when he got loose and scraped the wall in Turn 1. He was never able to get close enough to Hill to make a challenge.

Creed dominated the early portion of the race, leading 89 laps before he struggled to get going on the final restart and briefly fell to seventh.

The win is the second of the year for Hill. He’s the first playoff driver to win in the postseason and it come after he finished 25th at Bristol.

“We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means,” Hill told FS1. “Pit crew did a hell of job on that last pit stop getting me into the position I needed to. I just had to go out there and get it. … Sheldon was definitely way faster than me. … I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was our front. I knew he was better than we were.”

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

More: Race results and point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith all matched their best results of the season … While he was the first driver to finish one lap down, IndyCar driver Conor Daly placed 18th in his first career Truck Series start … Travis Pastrana placed 21st in his second start of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Rachael Lessard finished 20th after he had to pit early in the race following contact with the wall … Ben Rhodes finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Stewart Friesen and hit the inside wall on Lap 84 … Jordan Anderson’s engine expired on the ensuing restart. He finished 32nd.

NOTABLE: Natalie Decker, who was not medically cleared to compete Friday night, was treated and released from the infield care center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. ET Oct. 3 on FS1


Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)