Earnhardt aims for top-12 finishes in next eight races after ‘weird’ Kentucky weekend

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 32 points above the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup and after a “borderline” finish last weekend at Kentucky Speedway will be aiming for top-12 finishes in the last eight races of the regular season.

That stretch begins this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where Earnhardt participated in a tire test earlier this year.

“Hopefully that helps us out and we get a good run this weekend,” Earnhardt said on his “Dale Jr. Download” podcast. “We need to keep up some consistency. I think top 12s is really the mark for the rest of the way to the Chase. I don’t want anything worse than that. This week was really borderline for getting our butts in the Chase, so we can’t do any worse than that.”

Earnhardt has 15 top-10 finishes at Loudon, including four of the last seven starts.

“Hardest thing to get in this sport is speed,” Earnhardt said. “We can fix the things we do ourselves, the errors we make personally, but finding that damn speed is hard and we have good speed. We’ll put together a good race here soon and maybe get our butts in victory lane.”

Earnhardt is in this position due to a rough weekend Kentucky Speedway and that’s not including the surprising bumps in the track’s newly repaved surface.

Earnhardt called the weekend at Kentucky a “weird” one that resulted in a 13th-place finish.

It started with Thursday’s practice devoted to scuffing tires at the suggestion of Goodyear. When rain hit the track on Friday, Earnhardt and his team feared they wouldn’t get enough proper practice time. But the No. 88 team was relieved when NASCAR canceled qualifying in order to give teams more track time on the new track surface.

“I’ll be honest with you, (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and I were talking about it after the race, we didn’t even have a run in practice Friday that we even liked,” Earnhardt said. “We did put up a lap that was fourth (fastest) on the board, but we didn’t like the car very much. The car wasn’t driving well. But when I thought about it, I don’t think anybody’s car was driving great.”

Earnhardt attributes it to the “conservative” tire Goodyear had brought to the track after the test at Kentucky earlier in the season produced blistering.

“It made the track slick and made the cars not drive well,” said Earnhardt. “So when the left side tire’s really hard, the cars tend to push real bad, especially in the throttle through the center and off the exit of the corner in the gas. So we have that at most of the tracks where the surface is relatively new because the tire’s still pretty conservative. So we get in the gas at places like Pocono and drag the left front off the corner. It sucks, you can’t turn and drive underneath anybody. It’s real frustrating.”

Adding to the frustration of Earnhardt and others was the surprising appearance of the infamous frontstretch bumps at Kentucky, which were supposed to be done away with in the repave.

“This is something the track isn’t going to want to hear, but the front straightaway is getting some bumps already,” Earnhardt said. “It’s incredible. I thought our car was just bad, as far as the set up or bumps or springs in the front. But I talked to other drivers and they were talking about how bad the front straightaway got on Friday. In just one day, it started bouncing like hell. I couldn’t believe it. Track’s not going to be happy about that.

“Then in the race with about 30 laps to go, my guts were hurting so bad from bouncing down the front straightaway. Literally, your guts are bouncing around your rib cage. It’s painful. So I could not wait to finish that race and get our of the car.”

After starting 13th, Earnhardt had an average running position of 12.93. With 27 laps left, while his guts were “bouncing around,” Earnhardt had the car in 15th. But the race turned into one based on fuel mileage. As the finish neared, cars in front of him began pitting.

Earnhardt was around seventh when he took the white flag.

“I saw (Tony Stewart) lifting early,” Earnhardt said. “He pretty much saved the entire last run and I didn’t. I started with 25 laps to go. I could have done a better job, should have done a better job. Next time I will. Or I’ll try.”

It resulted in the No. 88 running out of gas on the last lap and losing six spots.

“We were lucky to even finish I suppose; Beggars can’t be choosers,” Earnhardt said.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).