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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is buzzing about the Charlotte Hornets’ playoff run

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. was contemplating the impact of a Super Bowl win on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s profile when his mind suddenly turned to another Charlotte franchise.

“If (Newton) wins in the Super Bowl, without a doubt, it’d be one of the biggest things in this city in a long, long time,” Earnhardt said. “So … don’t forget about the Hornets! We’ve got some good Hornets. Don’t forget about the Hornets.”

NASCAR’s 13-time most popular driver never does.

When Game 2 of the Hornets’ first-round playoff series with the Miami Heat begins tonight, it’s a certainty Earnhardt will be paying rapt attention.

His Twitter timeline is filled with updates about Charlotte’s NBA franchise, and he spent much of a media availability last week offering an unprompted and detailed analysis of the team’s prospects of winning its first playoff game in 14 years.

“The Heat lost a lot of good guys,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said, referring to a team without star Chris Bosh. “I like our team if we can be healthy and stay healthy. If Marvin (Williams) can just keep playing and shooting 3s, it should be a lot of fun to watch them compete.

“They played well enough this year to get into a series they legitimately have a shot at winning, instead of being the eighth seed and getting swept. They haven’t won a playoff game since ’01-02, so it’d be great for them to be in the series and win it. It would give them a lot of excitement about the future, not just the rest of the playoffs but next year.”

Earnhardt, who frequently attends games at Time Warner Cable Arena, has been complimentary of the team’s chemistry under third-year coach Steve Clifford but worries about maintaining its core by keeping players such as impending free agent wingman Nicolas Batum.

“I know all those guys really like playing for Clifford,” Earnhardt said. “I hope they stick around. Batum, he’s real important. You don’t hear much about contract talks. You don’t hear much about his interest in staying with the city.

“But if they can keep the guys they’ve got, I love to watch them play. We don’t have to have a big guy, five-star player. I like the group we’ve got. They have a lot of fun playing together. And they’re fun to watch.”

Earnhardt, isn’t the only NASCAR driver with a strong affinity for the Hornets. Ty Dillon’s wife, Haley, is a member of The Honey Bees, the Hornets’ dance team, making the Richard Childress Racing driver a frequent attendee at games.

Coca-Cola 600 resumes after rain delay

Coca-Cola 600
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The Coca-Cola 600 is back under way following a rain delay.

The caution was issued on Lap 49 for rain and the field was brought to pit road. The red flag was issued at 7:07 p.m. ET and lifted at 8:16 p.m. ET.

The top five at the time of the stoppage was Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick and Joey Logano.

Check back for updates.


Denny Hamlin team faces potential penalty after ballast falls off car

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Denny Hamlin was involved in an incident even before Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 got underway that could result in a hefty penalty.

A chunk of tungsten ballast — which teams use to bring Cup cars up to minimum weight standards — fell off Hamlin’s car on a parade lap.

The incident puts Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart and several others on the team in violation of the NASCAR rule book, which means a hefty penalty could be in the offing.

According to the NASCAR rule book, the penalty is Minimum safety penalty options — “Loss or separation of added ballast from the vehicle will result in a four Race suspension of the crew chief, car chief, and head engineer. If NASCAR cannot identify which series or vehicle the lost ballast originated from, all vehicles entered for that Event from and associated with the team organization identified on the lost ballast may receive the suspensions.”

If NASCAR implements the potential penalty, Gabehart and others could miss the following four races: May 27 at Charlotte, May 31 at Bristol, June 7 at Atlanta and June 10 at Martinsville.

Several of those tracks are good for Hamlin, including winning the Bristol summer night race last year, as well as was fourth at the Martinsville playoff race last fall and 11th at Atlanta.

NASCAR ordered Hamlin back to pit road where the No. 11 crew added a new chunk of ballast to Hamlin’s car. He returned to the race eight laps down.

Here’s what a fabricator from rival team Stewart-Haas Racing tweeted about the incident:

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

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Chevrolet drivers swept the top three rows for tonight’s Coca-Cola 600, led by Kurt Busch‘s pole-winning lap of 181.269 mph.

Jimmie Johnson was next with a lap of 181.214 mph. He was followed by Chase Elliott (181.002 mph), Matt Kenseth (180.923), rookie Tyler Reddick (180.905) and Austin Dillon (180.741).

Ford driver Joey Logano, who starts seventh after a lap of 180.451 mph, was the top qualifier not driving a Chevrolet.

TO THE REAR: Matt DiBenedetto (backup car), Brad Keselowski (unapproved adjustment), Aric Almirola (unapproved adjustment), JJ Yeley (unapproved adjustment) and Timmy Hill (unapproved adjustment)

Click here for Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

Kurt Busch on pole for Coca-Cola 600

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Kurt Busch will lead the field to the green flag for tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 after claiming the pole Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It is Busch’s 28th career pole and first at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch is joined on the front row by Jimmie Johnson. Chase Elliott qualified third and is followed by Matt Kenseth and rookie Tyler Reddick. Austin Dillon was sixth, as Chevrolet drivers took the top six spots.

Click here for qualifying results

Aric Almirola spun coming to take the green flag to begin his qualifying lap. He grazed the wall with his rear bumper.

Matt DiBenedetto slapped the wall off Turn 4 during his qualifying lap and will go to a backup car and start at the rear of the field.