Darrell Waltrip on racing hurt: ‘NASCAR has to save us from ourselves’

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CHARLOTTE — With Dale Earnhardt Jr. set to miss his fifth Sprint Cup Series race this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, the concussion discussion continues around NASCAR.

Three-time champion Darrell Waltrip said he doesn’t know all the particulars around Earnhardt’s injury but noted how far the sport has come with making it easier for a driver to miss races while recovering from an injury.

“You got to remember something, our sport was so different not so terribly long ago,” Waltrip said Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame after helping reveal Matt Kenseth’s throwback paint scheme for the Southern 500. “If you missed a race, you were done. You couldn’t miss a race and win the championship because you’d miss one race and that’s 185 points, and it’s hard to make that up. So we got in those cars. I know I did, I know Dale (Earnhardt) did, Rusty (Wallace), Bill (Elliott), all of us got in those cars when we shouldn’t have been in them, but we had to. We didn’t have any choice.”

Ricky Rudd was one of the most famous drivers who raced injured. In 1984, Rudd was hurt in a wreck during the Busch Clash, but he would run the Daytona 500 with his eyes duct-taped open. Rudd was also in attendance on Tuesday and said, “No, not all,” when asked if there was any hesitation to running the Daytona 500 the way he did.

“It’s good to see they’ve caught up with the other sports now,” Rudd said of NASCAR. “A driver didn’t use to have the luxury or the option of sitting out a race. Your championship season was over if that happened, so the system wasn’t set up for it back in the day.”

The 2014 revamping of the playoffs tied Chase for the Sprint Cup berths to wins, allowing drivers to be granted waivers permitting them to compete for the title despite missing races with injuries in the regular season. Kyle Busch won the 2015 championship despite missing the first 11 races with a broken right leg and fractured left foot, and Tony Stewart will make this year’s playoff after being sidelined for the first eight races with a fractured back.

“The way things are set up today, they’re set up to take care of these guys,” Waltrip said. “NASCAR has to help keep us from hurting ourselves, because we’ll get back in the car no matter what. We’ll get back in the car with a broken leg, broken arm, concussion, whatever, because that’s how we think.

“NASCAR has to save us from ourselves a lot of times. As much as we don’t like it and sometimes you think, ‘Oh that’s not fair, I didn’t have it that way,’ but in all honesty, it’s the best it’s probably ever been.”

Jeff Gordon, Waltrip’s broadcast partner at Fox, has driven the No. 88 for Earnhardt in three of the last four races. He will back behind the wheel on Saturday night in Bristol. There is no telling how long Gordon will stay in the car, and Waltrip knows Earnhardt wants to return to racing when he’s able.

There is a concern, however, about a driver’s long-term health and wellness. Waltrip described Sprint Cup cars as “violent” because their handling relies more heavily on bump stops than the springs more commonly used in his era. That does have an impact on drivers, Waltrip believes.

Regardless, Waltrip said it’s not for anyone to speculate whether Earnhardt Jr. should or shouldn’t get back behind the wheel.

“You have to know everything there is to know to say (Earnhardt Jr.) should or shouldn’t consider driving in the future,” Waltrip said. “I don’t know what his situation is. I do know this, though: I watch those cars, and I know when you have a wreck and you hit the wall, you have an impact from that. But the way those cars are set up these days riding on the bump stops, basically all you have for springs are your tires, and you watch those cars go around the racetrack, any racetrack, even a smooth one, and the driver’s head is always bobbling a little bit. It’s always kind of moving around a little bit.

“You got those headrests right there, and you’re not violently hitting them, but you’re bumping your head back and forth. And if you’ve had concussions, and maybe it doesn’t take much to give you another one, that could be an issue. The cars ride rough … when they sit on those bump stops you’re basically riding on the tires, and all that comes right back to the driver, and he’s constantly being vibrated. It could take its toll.”

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Xfinity starting lineup at Portland: Sheldon Creed wins pole


Sheldon Creed scored his first career Xfinity Series pole by taking the top spot for Saturday’s race at Portland International Raceway.

Creed, making his 50th career series start, earned the pole with a lap of 95.694 mph on the 1.97-mile road course.

MORE: Portland Xfinity starting lineup

Cole Custer will start second with a lap of 95.398 mph. He is followed by Josh Berry (94.242 mph), John Hunter Nemechek (95.127) and Charlotte winner Justin Allgaier (94.897). Road racing specialist Jordan Taylor, driving for Kaulig Racing, qualified sixth at 94.772 mph.

The green flag is scheduled to wave 4:46 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Sunday Cup race at WWT Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


Twelve races remain until the playoffs begin in early September. Ten drivers have won races. The pressure to secure a playoff spot builds as the Cup Series heads into the summer months.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Six-time Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee will give the command to start engines at 3:32 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:40 p.m. … Driver intros are at 2:55 p.m. … Tim Bounds, pastor at The Crossing Church St. Louis, will give the invocation at 3:24 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by Bebe Winans and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at 3:25 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 240 laps (300 miles) on the 1.25-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 45. Stage 2 ends at Lap 140.

STARTING LINEUP: Cup starting lineup

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 90 degrees and a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Joey Logano won the inaugural Cup race at this track. Kyle Busch was second. Kurt Busch placed third.


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Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway

Cup starting lineup at World Wide Technology Raceway


Kyle Busch will lead the Cup starting lineup to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois.

Busch will be joined on the front row by Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

The second row will have Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. The third row has Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano.

Corey LaJoie, driving the No. 9 car in place of the suspended Chase Elliott, qualified 30th after hitting the wall on his lap.

The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1.

Kyle Busch wins Cup pole at WWT Raceway


Kyle Busch collected his first Cup pole of the season and will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Busch last won a Cup pole at Phoenix in November 2019. He earned his 33rd career Cup pole Saturday with a lap of 137.187 mph on the 1.25-mile speedway.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

“Being able to get a pole here with Richard Childress Racing, Team Chevy and everybody on this No. 8 team is good for us and just try to get some momentum rolling,” Busch said. “Our short track stuff hasn’t been the greatest this year so far, but this isn’t the short track aero package here this weekend, so that might pay dividends hopefully for us to just have a better day than what we anticipated. Just excited to have the guys pumped up and raring to go, and knowing that their hard work is paying off.”

Busch will be joined on the front row by Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney, who qualified at 137.153 mph. Blaney’s car failed inspection twice before qualifying. He will lose his pit selection for Sunday’s race. His car chief also was ejected. Brad Keselowski‘s car also failed inspection twice before qualifying. He loses pit selection and had the team’s car chief ejected. Keselowski qualified 19th with a lap of 135.743 mph.

Denny Hamlin (136.903 mph) starts third and is followed by Kevin Harvick (136.766) and Martin Truex Jr. (136.360). Harvick has two top-five starts this season and both have come in the last two events.

“I think we have a little bit of work to do on our car in race trim, but a lot of it is just getting into a rhythm I think – more than anything,” Harvick said. “Qualifying, we were just a little bit tight through Turns 1 and 2, and the car was good in 3 and 4. So, we have to have a better balance, and that’s what probably cost us a little bit of speed to get the pole. But, still a good day and a good starting spot.”

Corey LaJoie, subbing for the suspended Chase Elliott, will start 30th after hitting the wall on his qualifying lap. He qualified at 134.561 mph. Carson Hocevar, making in his Cup debut in LaJoie’s car, qualified 26th with a lap of 135.220 mph.

Green flag for Sunday’s race is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m. ET on FS1.