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.”

William Byron focused on Talladega, not upcoming appeal

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — William Byron enters today’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway not knowing if he truly is above the cutline or below it.

He’s listed as eight points outside the final transfer spot after NASCAR penalized him 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal will be heard this week. Should the team win, Byron could get those 25 points back. 

But that doesn’t matter to Byron this weekend. He views himself outside a playoff spot.

“I race eight behind,” said Byron, who starts ninth in today’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC).  “I don’t think about the hypotheticals.

“Obviously, I feel like we’ve got a good case and a good amount of evidence that we put together, but I race (as the points are). So just move forward with it. Go after the stage points and feel like we’re capable of running really well at superspeedways.”

If he wins today to advance to the next round, the points he was penalized won’t matter, but if he doesn’t win, those could prove valuable. 

The points deducted are an element of the Hendrick appeal. 

“The severity of the penalty, that’s what we were opposed to and that’s what the appeal is about,” Byron said.

His point is that being docked a similar amount of points in a three-race round as during a 26-race regular season is too severe. The suggestion being that point penalties should be modified for the playoffs because drivers have fewer races to make up those points before the playoff field is cut. 

That will be up to the appeal panel to determine. Should Hendrick lose, the team could further appeal that decision. 

Byron is in this situation after being upset with how Hamlin squeezed him into the wall last week at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. crashed to bring out the caution a few laps later. As Hamlin, running second, slowed, Byron ran up to Hamlin’s car and hit it in the back, sending Hamlin spinning through the infield grass. 

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said series officials in the control tower didn’t see the contact. Series officials did not penalize Byron during the event but announced a penalty two days later. 

Hamlin had wanted to be placed back in his original spot after the contact but series officials put him back in the field where he blended in. Asked if he was satisfied with the penalty to Bryon, Hamlin said: “It didn’t help my finish. … It didn’t change the fact that I could have won the race instead of finishing 10th.”

Byron said he and Hamlin spoke this week.

“It was a good conversation, learned a lot from him,” Byron said of Hamlin. “Got a better understanding of what he was thinking.”

Byron’s incident shares similarities to what happened to him at Darlington in May. Joey Logano was upset with Byron for crowding him into the wall with 26 laps left. Logano caught Byron and hit the back of Byron’s car, knocking it out of the way with two laps left. Logano won. Byron finished 13th. NASCAR did not penalize Logano.

That incident was under green and in the final laps — when NASCAR is more likely to allow drivers to settle the race between themselves within reason. Byron’s contact of Hamlin last week was under caution and NASCAR typically frowns upon such action.

Earlier this season in the Xfinity Series, NASCAR did not penalize Noah Gragson for wrecking Sage Karam and triggering a 13-car crash at Road America. Four days later, NASCAR penalized Gragson 30 points and $35,000.

Dr. Diandra: Is Talladega really the biggest, fastest, fiercest track?

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Talladega Superspeedway has a reputation as one of the wildest tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

Is it hype? Or do the numbers prove the point?

The biggest

Talladega is the longest oval track in the NASCAR circuit. At 2.66 miles (14,045 feet), one Talladega lap is the length of about 468 football fields. Talladega is longer than Mauna Kea is tall.

If we measure lengths in terms of Talladega:

  • The distance from Charlotte to Nashville (the location of the NASCAR awards ceremony) is 339 Talladegas.
  • If you flew direct from Los Angeles to New York City, you would cover 2500 Talladegas.
  • Martinsville is just 0.20 Talladegas.

Talladega also holds the record for banking in current Cup Series tracks with 33 degrees. Talladega’s banking is so high that the outside lane of the 48-foot wide racing surface is 26.1 feet higher than the inside lane. That difference is about the height of a two-story house.

Talladega is a tri-oval. Think of it as three straight lines connected by three curves.

A graphic showing the tri-oval shape and how it got its name

 

While tri-oval describes the track shape, it is also used to refer to the frontstretch — the most triangular part of the track.

And Talladega’s frontstretch is formidable. The 4,300-foot segment is banked at 16.5 degrees. Talladega’s frontstretch has more banking than all three of Pocono’s turns.

The backstretch, known as the Alabama Gang Superstretch, isn’t too shabby, either. It’s 1,000 feet longer than Daytona’s backstretch. If you were to unroll Richmond, its entire 0.75-mile length would just cover Talladega’s backstretch.

Talladega’s infield is so large that it could hold the L.A. Coliseum, Martinsville, Bristol, Dover, Richmond and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

A graphic showing that it's possible to pack five smaller tracks, plus the NASCAR Hall of Fame into Talladega's infield

The Fastest

Bill France Sr. originally envisioned Talladega as Indianapolis Motor Speedway with higher banking. At a time when raw speed was the big attraction, higher banking would allow Talladega to wrest away the closed-track speed record from Indy.

In 1970, just six months after Talladega hosted its first race, Buddy Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph mark on a closed course.

Baker’s breakthrough happened at a testing session. It wasn’t until 1982 that Benny Parsons became the first Cup Series driver to qualify over 200 mph. Just four years later, all but one of the 42 drivers starting the spring race qualified over 200 mph.

In May 1987, Bill Elliott set the all-time Cup Series qualifying record at 212.809 mph. That record will likely never be broken. During the race, Bobby Allison got airborne and crashed into the catchfence. NASCAR subsequently mandated restrictor plates (and now tapered spacers) to keep speeds down and cars on the ground.

Restricting airflow to the engine makes drafting even more important. That, in turn, leads to large packs of cars racing within inches of each other. That’s why four of the top-10 closest finishes in the Cup Series happened at Talladega.

In the spring 2011 race, Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer by just two-thousandths (0.002) of a second. That ties the famous 2003 Ricky Craven/Kurt Busch Darlington finish for the smallest margin of victory in Cup Series history.

Of all Talladega races run after NASCAR introduced electronic scoring in May 1993, 44 ended under a green flag. Of those races:

  • Seven (15.9%) were won by less than 25 thousandths of a second.
  • Fifteen (34.1%) were won by less than one-tenth of a second.
  • Thirty-nine (88.6%) were won by less than two-tenths of a second.
  • The largest margin of victory was 0.388 seconds.

The Fiercest

Pack racing leads to more contact. Out of 35 Talladega races run under the current green-white-checkered rule, 14 (40%) ended under caution. Rain caused one of those yellow/checkered finishes. The rest were due to accidents.

In 64 races since 1990, Talladega has seen 228 caution-causing spins or accidents, which involved 1,120 cars.

Almost half (49.2%) of these incidents involved only one or two cars. A one- or two-car accident is no less problematic for the drivers involved than a larger crash. But the more cars involved in accidents, the more likely a driver is to be knocked out of the race.

  • 3.5% of all accidents since 1990 involved 20 or more cars.
  • 5.7% of accidents collected 15 or more cars.
  • 16.7% were 10-car or larger crashes.
  • 38.2% involved five or more cars.

While probable, the Big One is by no means inevitable.

Neither are accidents in general. Three races since 1990 finished with no cautions, but all three of these races took place before 2003. The lowest number of cautions in a Talladega race since 2003 is three. That happened at the fall races in 2013 and 2015.

The average number of caution-causing accidents and spins in a Talladega race is 3.5.

  • Seven races (10.9%) had a single caution-causing accident or spin.
  • 14 out of 64 races (21.9%) had four caution-causing accidents or spins
  • 13 of 64 races (20.3%) had three caution-causing incidents.

Races with four or fewer accidents make up 71.9% of all Talladega races — which means that races with five or more accidents only account for 28.1%.

The numbers definitely uphold Talladega’s reputation. Although the track itself remains the same, the racing varies. Tune in to NBC (2 p.m. ET) to see whether this fall’s bout is accident-filled or accident-free.

Talladega Xfinity results: AJ Allmendinger edges Sam Mayer

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AJ Allmendinger, who had had several close calls in Xfinity Series superspeedway races, finally broke through to Victory Lane Saturday, edging Sam Mayer to win at Talladega Superspeedway.

Allmendinger’s margin of victory was .015 of a second. Mayer finished second by a few feet.

Following in the top five were Landon Cassill (Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate and his drafting partner at the end), Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson, who had won four straight Xfinity races entering Saturday, was 10th. Austin Hill dominated the race but finished 14th.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

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Veteran driver AJ Allmendinger slipped past youngster Sam Mayer in the final seconds and won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

As drivers in the lead pack scrambled for position approaching the finish line, Allmendinger moved to the outside and, getting a push from Kaulig Racing teammate Landon Cassill, edged Mayer by a few feet. The win ended frustration for Allmendinger on superspeedways.

Following Allmendinger, 40, at the finish were Mayer (who is 19 years old), Cassill, Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson and Allmendinger have qualified for the next playoff round. The other six drivers above the cutline are Ty Gibbs, Austin Hill, Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier, Mayer and Sieg. Below the cutline are Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

“This is Talladega,” a wildly happy Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “Yes, I hate superspeedway racing, but it’s awesome to win in front of the Talladega crowd.”

Austin Hill dominated the race but dropped out of the lead to 14th place  in the closing five laps as drivers moved up and down the track in search of the best drafting line.

The first half of the race featured two and sometimes three drafting lines with a lot of movement and blocking near the front. In the final stage, the leaders ran lap after lap in single file, with Hill, Allmendinger and Gragson in the top three.

MORE: Safety key topic as drivers meet at Talladega

Hill led 60 laps and won the first two stages but finished 14th.

Gragson was in pursuit of a fifth straight Xfinity Series win. He finished 10th.

Remarkably for a Talladega race, the entire 38-car field finished. The race was the 1,300th in Xfinity history, marking only the third time the entire field had been running at the finish. The other two races were at Michigan in 1998 and Langley Speedway in Virginia in 1988.

Stage 1 winner: Austin Hill

Stage 2 winner: Austin Hill

Who had a good race: AJ Allmendinger got the “can’t win on superspeedways” monkey off his back with a great final lap. … Sam Mayer made all the right moves but was passed in the madness of the final run down the trioval. … Landon Cassill finished a strong third and gave Allmendinger, his teammate, the winning push.

Who had a bad race: The race had to be disappointing for Austin Hill, who ran the show for most of the afternoon, winning two stages and leading 60 laps, more than twice as many as any other driver. While blocking to try to maintain the lead late in the race, he fell to 14th. … Playoff driver Jeremy Clements finished a sour 20th and is 47 points below the cutline.

Next: The Xfinity Series’ next playoff race is scheduled Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. (ET) on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. The race will be broadcast by NBC.