Dale Earnhardt Jr.: ‘Intention … to get cleared and get back to racing’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday that he intends to “get back to racing” when his symptoms clear, but he noted no timetable has been set.

“Our intentions are to get cleared and get back to racing,” said Earnhardt, wearing a white Axalta T-shirt and red Axalta hat during a press conference at Watkins Glen International, his first comments to the media since being injured. “We’re just taking it one evaluation at the time. It’s frustrating to have to do it that way but that’s the process. We hope and expect when we go back to the next evaluation we’ll be symptom-free and see a timeline develop.

“The point right now is to get healthy. To get right. I’m not thinking about the ‘what ifs.’ We went into this with the intention of getting back into the car. I think that’s a possibility and so do my doctors. It’s frustrating that I’ve had to miss so many races.”

Earnhardt has not raced since July 9 at Kentucky Speedway, sitting out because of a concussion. He said Friday he has ocular imbalance issues.

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 05: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, speaks to the media before practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 5, 2016 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks to the media before practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images)

Earnhardt said Friday that he has not considered ending his career.

“When I first went to see my doctors on this particular incident, it was ‘I need to get right, I need to get back into the car as fast as I can,’ ” he said. “I’m surprised I’ve missed this many races. I didn’t think it would take this long. I didn’t have a massive accident. I didn’t have really crazy symptoms. This thing happened so awkward where we had the accident at Michigan and the symptoms crept in weeks later.

“I didn’t think this was that serious, but it had gotten to a point where I definitely didn’t need to be in the race car. From the very onset of this, it was ‘This will go away in a couple of weeks, I’ll miss a race or two and we’ll get back in the car.’ I’m thinking about well it’s going to put more pressure on me to win a race and get in the Chase and all that stuff.

“I have every intention of honor my current contract (which expires after next season). I sat with (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) before this happened a couple of months ago to talk about an extension. That’s the direction we are going. As soon as I can get healthy and get confident in how I feel and feel like I can drive a car and be great driving it, then I want to drive, I want to race. I miss the competition. I miss being here. I miss the people. As Rick likes to say, we’ve got unfinished business.

“I’m not ready to stop racing. I’m not ready to quit. It’s a slower process. I wish it wasn’t. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I’m not going to go into the car until the doctors clear me. The is not my decision. I trust what my doctors are telling me. When they say I’m good to go I believe them.’’

Alex Bowman drove for Earnhardt at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Jeff Gordon has driven the No. 88 car since at Indianapolis and Pocono and is in the car this weekend at Watkins Glen. Gordon also will drive the No. 88 in two weeks at Bristol.

Earnhardt said in the Dale Jr. Download podcast earlier this week that doctors believe his injury started with his June 12 crash at Michigan International Speedway, thought the effects didn’t emerge until weeks later.

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 05: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, speaks to the media before practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 5, 2016 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks to the media before practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images)

“I just want to get better,” Earnhardt said Friday at Watkins Glen. “Nothing else is a priority except for getting the symptoms to clear up and get back to feeling like yourself. That’s all I’m thinking about. The process isn’t as fast as you would like it to be. I talk to my doctor every other day, sometimes for an hour or two about the psychological side of it because it can become very frustrating and being a race car driver, we don’t have a lot of patience to begin with.

“It’s a challenge, but we’ve got some great doctors, and I really believe and trust what they’re telling me. I’m really confident and positive that they tell me without question we’re going to get back to normal. I just have to do what they tell me.”

Asked if he has considered ending his racing career because of this injury, Earnhardt said: “No. My doctor thinks that to get through the therapy and to get through the symptoms you don’t need to be adding stress to your life and stress will slow down the process.

“So going into those kind of conversations aren’t even necessary at this particular point. The point right now is just to get healthy, just to get right. When we first went into the doctor’s office we never anticipated being out this long, but unfortunately it’s a slower process. There’s no guidelines or rulebook, there’s no consistent history of how long this stuff really takes to clear up, so we’re just having to be patient.”

Earnhardt, though, said doctors are confident he’ll get better.

“My doctors feel great about the opportunity that I will not only be healthy again, but they can actually make my brain stronger to be able to withstand these common events,” he said. “The event that I had at Michigan that they tied this concussion to I shouldn’t have had a concussion from. I should be able to get through events like that without having any issues. So they’re not only working to get me healed up but working to make it to where I can compete and go through events like that without any concern.”

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report