Dale Earnhardt Jr. grinds his way to second, says he needs to improve communication

1 Comment

Though Hendrick Motorsports has rebounded from a mostly disappointing 2015 season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said there is an internal theme of still needing to “grind a little bit.”

Earnhardt embodied that philosophy with his runner-up finish in Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

After being caught in the pits during a yellow flag and falling outside the top 10 with 100 laps to go, Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet zoomed into the top five for the final restart. He whizzed by Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. in the final 30 laps.

“We had a great car,” Earnhardt said after tying his best Texas finish since November 2013. “We didn’t really know we had that good a car, but when the race started, we were real tight.  We made some good adjustments to get the car handling well, and then really controlled the balance of the car the rest of the night with the track bar.  We had about a second‑ or third‑place car.

“We got lucky at the end to be able to restart on the inside.  The outside was kind of difficult, and we restarted fifth and were able to get up to third and raced (Logano) at the end.  It was fun.  I enjoyed driving the car tonight.  The car was very loose and very challenging but a lot of fun for me.”

It was the fourth consecutive top 10 finish at the 1.5-mile oval for Earnhardt, who had finished outside the top 10 in his previous two starts this season at Martinsville Speedway (14th) and Auto Club Speedway (11th).

Between Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson (fourth) Chase Elliott (fifth) and Kasey Kahne (eighth), Hendrick put all four of its Chevys in the top 10.

“I think the company as a whole is pushing real hard to improve, and there’s an impression within the company that we need to grind a little bit and make some gains going forward into the middle of the season here,” Earnhardt said. “Usually, we typically have a top‑10 or a top‑five car, but tonight we had one of the best two or three cars, and you can’t ask for anything better than that. That’s going to get you opportunities to win races. That’s a lot to ask when it really comes down to it. There’s so much competition out here.”

Earnhardt said if there is an opportunity for improvement, it might be in his feedback to crew chief Greg Ives. Before one pit stop, he gave a detailed explanation of the car’s handling after Ives suggested an adjustment.

“Sometimes we’re not quite where we need to be on communication as far as if I tell him the car is loose,” Earnhardt said. “I guess maybe I need to be more descriptive in giving him understanding how loose the car is. Usually, I got used to (former crew chief) Steve (Letarte) just listening to my tone and knowing exactly what kind of adjustment to make.

“I’ve got to be more descriptive to help (Ives) understand how loose or how tight the car is instead of assuming that he’s knowing what I’m thinking just by the tone of my voice, I guess. But we’ll get there. We’ve just got to spend more time together.”

Often by dining together, Earnhardt and Letarte became close by hanging out away from the track.

“I think that’s what me and Greg need to push ourselves to do more of, and we’ll get to know each other a lot better than what we’re seeing at the racetrack,” Earnhardt said. “We don’t really get to know each other at the track that much because we’re working so hard.”

Texas Truck race results: Carson Hocevar scores first series win

Texas Truck race results
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Carson Hocevar was in front after the leaders crashed in overtime and scored his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Texas Truck race results

Rookie Nick Sanchez, who led 168 of the 172-lap race, dueled reigning series champion Zane Smith on the last lap when Sanchez’s truck hit Smith’s. As Sanchez tried to regain control of his vehicle, he was hit from behind by Hocevar. That contact sent Sanchez into Smith. Christian Eckes also was collected.

Hocevar’s first win came in his 59th series start.

Chase Purdy placed second. Stewart Friesen finished third. Ty Majeski was fourth. Jake Garcia completed the top five.


Richmond Xfinity results, driver points


RICHMOND, Va. — Chandler Smith won a stage, led a race-high 83 laps and rallied late to score his first career Xfinity win Saturday at Richmond Raceway.

MORE: Richmond Xfinity results

MORE: Xfinity points after Richmond race

John Hunter Nemechek placed second. The rest of the top five featured Josh Berry, Kaz Grala and Cole Custer. Austin Hill, who had won three of the first six races of the season, placed ninth.

Hill continues to lead the points. He has a 12-point advantage on Riley Herbst and an 18-point lead on Nemechek heading into the next series race in two weeks at Martinsville.

Chandler Smith scores first career Xfinity win with Richmond victory


RICHMOND, Va. — Chandler Smith held off John Hunter Nemechek to win his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday at Richmond Raceway.

The 20-year-old Smith took the lead with 12 laps to go and withstood a restart with six laps to go to earn the victory for Kaulig Racing.

MORE: Richmond race results, driver points

His victory came about a month after being passed for the lead with two laps to go at Las Vegas and finishing third day.

“It obviously wasn’t in God’s works for me that and I was fine with that, I was good with that,” said Smith, who will make his Cup debut Sunday. “I knew there was something bigger and better that He was playing it out for me and I just had to be faithful and keep on trucking. Here’s proof of it.”

Nemechek was second. Josh Berry placed third and was followed by Kaz Grala and Cole Custer.

Justin Allgaier finished 13th to win the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

“Today was weird because of how we finished,” Allgaier said. “Given the same circumstances a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, 13th wasn’t going to win the Dash 4 Cash but today it did.”

Stage 1 winner: Chandler Smith

Stage 2 winner: Josh Berry

Who had a good race: A caution caught Justin Allgaier a lap down, ending his chances for a top-five finish but he was able to bounce back and win the Dash 4 Cash for a fifth time. … Derek Kraus finished 10th in his Xfinity debut. … Chris Hacker placed 14th in his Xfinity debut.

Who had a bad race: Riley Herbst had his career-long streak of top-10 finishes snapped after nine races. He placed 23rd after he was hit and spun late in the race.

Notable: This is the second time in the last four races that there has been a first-time series winner. Sammy Smith scored his first series win last month at Phoenix.

Next: The series is off until April 15 at Martinsville Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

Daniel Suarez, Ross Chastain move on from COTA incident


RICHMOND, Va. — Daniel Suarez says he’s been trying to “work on myself” after conflicts with teammate Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman last weekend at COTA but noted that if NASCAR doesn’t make adjustments with restarts on road courses, he’ll change his driving style.

NASCAR fined Suarez $50,000 on Wednesday for hitting another vehicle on pit road after the race. Suarez hit Chastain’s car at pit entrance and hit the back of Bowman’s car while they were both on pit road.

MORE: Cup starting lineup at Richmond 

“I’ve been trying to work on myself mostly during the week, trying to clear my mind and reset,” Suarez said Saturday at Richmond Raceway. “My team, we’re good. I think the issue wasn’t really with one driver. I feel like it’s more as an industry, how we are allowing to have those kind of bump-and-run restarts at the end of the races at road courses.

“I don’t think that’s right.”

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to go by. Suarez finished 27th.

Chastain said he and Suarez have moved on from last week’s incident after talking this week.

“Every household on this earth has their moments of arguments and we had ours,” Chastain said Saturday.

“We’re family. We’re in the same house, right. It’s in our name. It’s Trackhouse. No matter what, we all think we have to put that behind and know that moving forward we’re brothers. … We’re brothers at Trackhouse and we’re going to be stronger together.”

Suarez is among the number of drivers who have raised concerns about the rough driving in the series. The Next Gen car is more durable and can take more hits — as evident in the Clash at the Coliseum to start the year when drivers barreled into the back of cars in the corners to slow down.

Add the emphasis of winning, less respect for one another and the result is the type of racing on display at the end of the race at Circuit of the Americas, as drivers charged down a long straightaway before braking hard for a tight turn and making contact with one another.

So, what can be done?

“I don’t have the answers to that,” Suarez said. “All I know is that NASCAR is working toward trying to make a better solution for some of these restarts. It doesn’t look right. This sport looks embarrassing.

“That’s not real. Just go into the corner and bump three cars to push people out of that way, that’s not real. We know that. That’s how some people got top fives and top 10s last week and some of the guys that were fast, like myself, finished 27th.

“If NASCAR does something about it, that’s amazing. If they don’t I’ll just join the party.”