Xfinity win boosts Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ego, confidence

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RICHMOND, Va. —All the accolades were nice for Dale Earnhardt Jr., but what mattered most Saturday was that he was back in victory lane.

While it’s only been two months since his last win — he won his duel at Daytona — Earnhardt has been close lately without taking the checkered flag first. He’s finished second three times this Sprint Cup season, including the last two races.

Earnhardt admits coming close and not winning weighs on a driver — especially when a victory all but guarantees a spot in the Chase.

“You get anxious and uptight,’’ he said. “You get frustrated and the patience in the hauler runs thin. You know everybody around you is pushing hard and trying to help. Everybody is trying to work hard. You want it to happen.’’

It did in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Richmond International Raceway. Earnhardt led 128 of 149 laps to score his first win in a points race since November’s Cup event at Phoenix. It also marked his first victory driving a JR Motorsports car.

“That’s something the entire shop is aware of every time we take him to the race track,’’ crew chief Dave Elenz said. “Everybody at JRM is very excited about winning with the boss.’’

Earnhardt just felt good winning again.

“It does a little something to your ego,’’ he said after his first Xfinity victory since 2010. “Ego and confidence is a bit of the same thing when you’re trying to get things done on the race track. Every time you kind of come close or you go a weekend without getting a win, it’s a bruise to your ego a little bit, maybe a little piece of your confidence chipped away.

“Any time you can get back to victory lane, even if it is in a Truck or an Xfinity car, it makes you feel like, ‘Hey, I know what I’m doing, I just need to keep calm, things are working well, we just need to stay the course, we’re going to make it happen.’

“It certainly feels good even though you know it’s not a Cup race, it’s not 400 laps, you didn’t achieve all the things that you achieve in a Cup race. It helps you understand that you can get the job done.’’

Later, Earnhardt added with a smile: “I know Kyle (Busch) wasn’t in the race. That’s one thing my dad would remind me of if he were here.’’

Now Earnhardt’s focus turns to sweeping the weekend. He will start Sunday’s Cup race 16th.

“A win in the Cup series is so critical to our season,’’ said Earnhardt, who has won seven Cup races in the past two seasons. “We had a winning car at Texas, we probably didn’t have one last week (at Bristol).

“It would be very frustrating to continue to get close and not be able to eventually get yourself in victory lane. Even though we know we’re a good enough team to make the Chase regardless of how many wins we’ve got, if any, just to get to victory circle, there’s so much pressure for teams to compete and win … and we’ve won multiple races over the last couple of years. We want to continue that trend.’’

Starting lineup for Texas Cup race: Brad Keselowski wins pole

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Brad Keselowski will be at the front of the field to start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 pm ET, USA Network).

Keselowski, who is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group, won the pole Saturday afternoon with a speed of 188.990, edging Joey Logano‘s 188.805.

MORE: Texas Cup starting lineup

The race is the first of three in the second round of the Cup playoffs. Round of 12 races will follow at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval Oct. 9.

MORE: Waffle House a headquarters for race winners

Also starting in the top five Sunday will be William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell.

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at Texas Motor Speedway

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Brad Keselowski, hoping to extend Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s turnaround, won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was the second piece of good news for RFK Racing in two weeks. Chris Buescher,  Keselowski’s teammate, won last week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first victory for the team under the RFK banner.

Keselowski, who ran 188.990 mph, is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group. Nine of the first 14 starting positions were filled by playoff drivers.

MORE: Texas Cup qualifying results

Following in the top five Saturday were Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. Playoff point leader Chase Elliott will start sixth.

“Texas is a really tough track,” Keselowski told NBC Sports. “As hot as it’s going to be, that will be even tougher.”

Race-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s Sunday.

The race (3:30 p.m. ET), the first event in the second round of the playoffs, will be televised by the USA Network.

Sunday Texas Cup race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The first race in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is scheduled Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Twelve drivers are racing for eight spots in the next round. Chase Elliott leads the standings by 15 over Joey Logano entering Sunday’s 500-mile event, the only Cup points race at TMS this year. Ryan Blaney, who is in the playoff group, won the All-Star Race at the track in May.

Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Austin Cindric are below the cutline entering the 3:30 p.m. ET (USA Network) race.

MORE: Big race celebration? Try Waffle House

The playoffs will continue at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9).

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway:

START: The command to start engines will be given by “Top Gun: Maverick” actors Jay Ellis and Lewis Pullman at 3:38 p.m. (ET) … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Bret Shisler of Texas Alliance Raceway Ministries at 3:30 p.m. … The 1st Cavalry Division Band will perform the anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 334 laps (501 miles) on the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 105. Stage 2 ends at Lap 210.

MORE: Ryan Blaney’s team to appeal penalty

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 2:30 p.m. on USA Network. The post-race show will air on USA Network. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy skies. High of 96 with a 5% chance of rain.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson won by .459 of a second over William Byron last October. Larson led 256 of the race’s 334 laps.

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Brandon Jones wins Xfinity pole at Texas Motor Speedway

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Playoff driver Brandon Jones won the pole position Saturday morning for Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Jones was clocked at 185.637 miles per hour. He has won three of the past four Xfinity poles.

MORE: Texas Xfinity qualifying results

MORE: Texas Xfinity starting lineup

Scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on the USA Network, the race is the opening event of the Xfinity playoffs.

Following Jones in the top five were Noah Gragson (winner of three consecutive Xfinity races), Daniel Hemric, John Hunter Nemechek and Sam Mayer.

MORE: Post-race celebration? Try the Waffle House

The race is 200 laps (300 miles) on the 1.5-mile track. Drivers will be battling heat in the mid-to-high 90s.