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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has Chase, JR Motorsports’ future on his mind

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a man with a lot on his mind these days.

First and foremost, Earnhardt the driver worries about advancing through the Chase for the Sprint Cup and ultimately walking away with his first Cup championship.

But then there’s what Earnhardt the team owner faces. His three-car Xfinity Series operation – sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller runs the day-to-day part of the business – is facing a number of challenges going forward.

Earnhardt spoke to The Associated Press about where JR Motorsports is and where it potentially will go in the future. Much of the problems his organization – which started out more as a hobby – faces are financial- and sponsorship-based.

“We didn’t plan for it to get this big, but to keep up with everybody, we had to,” Earnhardt, who employs 139 workers, told the AP. “It’s way bigger than I ever thought it would be.”

Each team burns through about $6 million each per season, Earnhardt told the AP’s Jenna Fryer. If a car is unfunded for even one race during the course of the Xfinity Series season, it costs the organization about $150,000 to put the car on track.

“Instead of breaking even, we have been losing money on cars on the regular, and that’s the way it has been up until the last six months,” Earnhardt said. “We have the potential to have a profit next year.”

Earnhardt would love to give promising prospect Josh Berry a full-time ride, as well as nephew Jeffrey Earnhardt and even older brother Kerry – but JRM has a fixed budget that doesn’t allow much latitude.

“People say to me all the time ‘Why don’t you put him in a car?’ Well, I’m not a sponsor. I’m a car owner,” Earnhardt said. “I want to have Josh Berry racing for me and have Jeffery (Earnhardt) racing for me and not in the Cup Series in a start-and-park car.

“I’d have fun with Kerry at plate races, I’d be dragging Dale Jarrett out of retirement. I’d be doing all kinds of fun damn stuff if I had my way. But it’s just not that simple. It takes money, and it always has.”

Looking ahead to 2016, numerous changes are on the horizon:

* Chase Elliott, who won the Xfinity Series championship for JRM last season (and the team still failed to turn a profit), will move to Hendrick Motorsports to replace Jeff Gordon in the Sprint Cup Series. Elliott will also take primary sponsor NAPA with him. That creates a big financial hole to be filled.

* Even though he’s been excellent in his three seasons with the team, Regan Smith – who won the Xfinity Series race at Dover last week – doesn’t know if sponsorship will be found to keep him at JRM.

* Elliott Sadler announced recently that he’ll race for JRM, bringing with him sponsor One Main Financial.

“There’s not a lot of willing corporate sponsors that have a couple million dollars to risk or gamble on something they don’t know a lot about,” Earnhardt said. “We see the talent. But a guy who owns a company in middle America, he doesn’t see it. You can tell him all day long, ‘This kid has got it, I need you to pump some money in and let’s take him racing!’ It’s just not that easy to convince him.”

As Earnhardt the driver thinks not only about this season but also how many more seasons he has left in Sprint Cup, Earnhardt the owner knows what fellow team owners go through, as well.

“It’d be awesome if this thing made millions of dollars, but it doesn’t, but we have family and friends here and it’s really about the employees,” Earnhardt said. “It’s a place that we get to keep open and grow and build partnerships. And it’s part of my legacy.

“I want my legacy to be more than just being a driver when it’s all said and done. I don’t think anybody is ever going to go, ‘Man he put so much into this sport as an owner.’

“To have my name loosely tied to the beginnings of Chase Elliott’s career is a sense of pride. To have that same connection to (Brad) Keselowski is a huge feather in my cap. It’s special to me. Maybe other people wouldn’t get that return out of it, but I do.”

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NASCAR America Presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Kyle Busch

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America’s MotorMouths airs today from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features 2015 Cup champion Kyle Busch.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver joins Rutledge Wood and Kyle Petty to discuss this week’s news as well as take fan phone calls.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Chevrolet boss happy with three-race Cup winning streak but wants more

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Even with a three-race Cup winning streak, the head of Chevrolet’s NASCAR program wants more victories as the playoffs near.

Jim Campbell, vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet, made the comments Wednesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

In the last three races, Chevrolet has won with Alex Bowman (Chicagoland Speedway), Justin Haley (Daytona International Speedway) and Kurt Busch (Kentucky Speedway). Until that string, Chevrolet had won only once this year with Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last year, Chevrolet had four Cup wins, its fewest victories in Cup since scoring three wins in 1982.

“We have really, really, I think, increased the collaboration (among Chevrolet teams) to another level, and I think we need to because we’ve got to put more wins on the board,” Campbell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The Chevy camp is used to putting 10, 12, 15 wins on the board a year. Right now we’re at four. We expect more of ourselves. I know the teams are looking for more wins and I’ll call it top-five finishes. Talladega was kind of a turbocharger for us to get everyone really working at the next level.”

Chevrolet won at Talladega after an increased effort to have its teams work together throughout the weekend and during the race. Chevrolet made the effort after seeing how successful Toyota and Ford teams were at Daytona and Talladega by working together. Until then, Chevrolet had allowed its teams and drivers to go their own way at those tracks.

“Over the years, Chevy results were pretty doggone strong without a massive work-together effort,” Campbell said during the radio interview. “I think we go back to ’16 and Toyota put together an effort to get some of the (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) guys working together and I think in the fall, the Ford camp was doing that. So, it was time, it was time that we just pulled ourselves together and really worked across all of our teams.”

With seven races left until the Cup playoffs begin, Chevrolet has three drivers set for the playoffs via wins: Elliott, Bowman and Busch. Chevrolet also has three competitors who would qualify for the 16-driver playoffs as of today via points with William Byron 12th in the standings, Kyle Larson 13th and Jimmie Johnson 15th.

Johnson’s position is tenuous. He is 10 points ahead of Ford’s Ryan Newman, who holds the first spot outside a playoff position.

“I look at the trajectory,” Campbell said of Chevrolet’s progress. “Are we on the trajectory up or are we flat or are we down? I would say the momentum is going up, but it’s all performance based. We’ve got to put wins on the board, more top 10s.”

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AJ Allmendinger to drive in Watkins Glen Xfinity race for Kaulig Racing

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NASCAR On NBC analyst AJ Allmendinger will climb back behind the wheel for the August 3 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International.

Allmendinger will pilot the No. 10 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing for the second time this season.

Allmendinger is a past winner at Watkins Glen, having won the 2014 Cup race there. He has 10 prior Cup starts at the upstate New York road course, with the win, three top-five and six top-10 finishes, plus one pole.

He also has competed in one Xfinity race at Watkins Glen, starting fourth and finishing second for GMS Racing last year.

It’s an honor to be able to compete for Kaulig Racing at one of my favorite tracks, Watkins Glen International,” Allmendinger said in a team release. “I’ve been fortunate enough to win there in the Cup Series and had a strong run finishing second last season in my only Xfinity start there.

Matt Kaulig, Chris Rice and all of the guys made Daytona so enjoyable and fun, I can’t wait to get to The Glen.”

Allmendinger raced for Kaulig Racing two weeks ago in the Circle K Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway on July 5, leading 33 laps and finishing third before the car was disqualified for failing post-race inspection, leaving Allmendinger with a last-place finish in the 38-car field.

Allmendinger has three additional Xfinity road course races scheduled with Kaulig Racing this season: Mid-Ohio (August 10), Road America (August 24) and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval race (September 28).

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NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch back to No. 1; Kurt Busch to No. 3

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When it comes to this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, all we can say is, “Oh brother” … as in siblings Kyle and Kurt Busch.

Younger brother Kyle once again regained the top spot in this week’s rankings, knocking Joey Logano from the No. 1 perch after Logano held it the last two weeks.

And after not being ranked in the top 10 last week, older bro Kurt rockets up the rankings to No. 3 by virtue of his come-from-behind win last Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

Also making a big move is Erik Jones, who goes from unranked last week to No. 4 this week. By contrast, six drivers from last week’s rankings dropped out of this week’s tabulations.

Here’s how this week’s rankings shape up:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Tenacious performance at Kentucky puts him back atop the rankings. Last week: 2nd.

2. Joey Logano (36 points): Car wasn’t wide enough to block all those behind him on the final restart. In his last three races on a 1.5-mile speedway, he’s finished seventh (Kentucky), third (Chicagoland) and second (Charlotte). Last week: 1st.

3. Kurt Busch (32 points): What a difference a win makes. But Busch’s ranking isn’t a total surprise. He’s been knocking at the door all season. Had he not pitted at Daytona two weeks ago, he may be riding a two-race win streak now. Last week: Unranked.

4. Erik Jones (23 points): Returns to playoff territory and seems to have momentum for a finishing kick. Third-place finish was his fourth top 10 in the last five races on a 1.5-mile speedway. That includes a third at Kansas and Kentucky and a fourth at Texas. Last week: Unranked.

5. Denny Hamlin (22 points): His pit crew has been called for an uncontrolled tire violation five times this year, tying the series high. That’s unacceptable. Despite the penalty at Kentucky, Hamlin finished fifth. Last week: 7th.

6. Kyle Larson (20 points): Top 10s in three of last four races – including a second (Chicagoland) and fourth (Kentucky) – have solidified his standing for the playoffs. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Newman (16 points): Is in full grind-it-out mode for solid finishes exactly when he needs them. Finished ninth at Kentucky after starting at the rear because his car failed inspection. While he fell out of a playoff spot, he’s only two points away after scoring his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. Last week: 8th.

8. Cole Custer (9 points): Kentucky victory in the Xfinity Series was his series-high fifth win of the year. Last week: Unranked.

9. Clint Bowyer (7 points): Ends four-race tailspin but still needs to work on amassing stage points. Last week: Unranked.

10. Chris Buescher (5 points): If all the tracks on the circuit were 1.5-milers, he’d likely be ranked higher. All four of his top 10s this year have come at 1.5-mile tracks. He’s been sixth at Charlotte, ninth  at Atlanta and 10th at Kansas and Kentucky. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Christopher Bell (4 points), Martin Truex Jr. (4 points), Tyler Ankrum (3 points).