Ryan: A good decision but tough choices remain for Dale Earnhardt Jr.


Dale Earnhardt Jr. got a dose of good medicine Friday.

A dose of harsh reality, though, still might await Hendrick Motorsports, Junior Nation and a NASCAR industry largely predicated on his starpower for 15 years.

For those constituencies intertwined in Earnhardt’s uncertain future, Friday brought some clarity – and surely a huge relief for an injured driver whose team firmly decreed that getting healthy is all that matters.

There will be no more looming and portentous updates this year about Earnhardt’s potential return to the No. 88 Chevrolet. No more anxiety-ridden doctor visits fraught with “what if” questions, hazy timelines and exasperating hypotheticals. No more worries about rushing back to mollify a fervent and massive fan base that has fretted over its hero’s status for several weeks.

Earnhardt has said stress impedes his healing process from a head injury.

What is more stressful than biweekly checkups conducted under the pressing pretense of whether you suddenly have regained the mental and physical faculties to wheel a race car again at 200 mph?

Declaring Earnhardt out for the season will strip away a layer of angst while adding an open-ended coating of comfort to his rehabilitation for at least a few months.

Earnhardt bravely and candidly has chronicled his comeback by telling fans on his podcast and showing them through his Instagram account that he is dedicated to getting well. But what he shares should be motivated only by catharsis or personal preference. He shouldn’t feel obligated or pressured in any way to provide evidence of his rehab.

Hendrick Motorsports deserves immense credit for helping remove that weight from NASCAR’s 13-time most popular driver, whose name recognition and marketability have brought in a sponsorship haul that probably approaches a quarter-billion dollars over his nine seasons with the team.

It’s easy to pay lip service to putting an athlete’s health first. It takes gumption to shelve your most bankable star for an indeterminate length of time because it’s the best decision for his long-term well-being.

Without the distraction of whether he will return in 2016, the focus solely shifts to getting Earnhardt healthy, and it only helps improve the odds – however slightly — that he might be cleared for the 2017 Daytona 500.

It was a smart move, but a difficult question lingers.

What will happen when Earnhardt is deemed healthy?

He admirably has said he intends to honor his contract with Hendrick through next season and reiterated his desire to race at Daytona in a Friday release.

But it won’t be as simple as hopping into a car again once his symptoms dissipate. There are many ramifications to weigh about whether it still remains worth it.

Research shows that those who sustain a concussion are four to six times more likely to sustain another, and Earnhardt has suffered at least five since 2002.

Just as troubling, concussion experts also believe that subconcussive impacts – hits that don’t cause major trauma – are cumulative. The next four mild knocks might not sideline Earnhardt from a race, but they could ensure that a fifth impact of greater severity is twice as devastating.

And there will be more impacts. This is NASCAR, which Chairman Brian France famously has proclaimed a contact sport.

If you race, you will wreck.

That’s a sobering fact for a two-time Daytona 500 winner who has reached a new station in life after 26 victories in NASCAR’s premier series.

At 41 years old, Earnhardt is expected to marry by next year. He seems eager to start a family. He eloquently has spoken about the quality of life he desires decades from now.

An intellectually curious soul, his experience with concussions has led him to become educated about the dozens of NFL players who suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that can plunge its victims into dementia, depression and suicide.

If he chose to hang up his helmet, nothing should be held against him.

At least one national publication already called on Earnhardt to retire Friday, and those rumblings likely will linger until Speedweeks 2017, or an announcement that Earnhardt is fit to return.

The speculation will bring high-risk stakes that make Hendrick’s unwavering support of its star impressive.

As with any elite pro sports franchise faced with an integral attraction in doubt, the team indisputably is considering contingency plans to account for worst-case scenarios in which Earnhardt couldn’t return.

If a replacement were needed, there don’t seem many good options available.

There aren’t any obvious impending free-agent veterans (a la Clint Bowyer sliding in for a retiring Tony Stewart next season), and the glut of promising youth doesn’t offer any guarantees. The signing of William Byron was a coup for Hendrick, but fast-tracking a teenager to Sprint Cup is a gamble at best even for a powerhouse organization.

Harsh realities? Yes — and possibly for down the road.

But Friday’s news showed only one reality truly counts.

Earnhardt’s health.

NASCAR weekend schedule at World Wide Technology Raceway, Portland


NASCAR’s top three series are racing this weekend in two different locations. Cup and Craftsman Truck teams will compete at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and the Xfinity Series will compete at Portland International Raceway.

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Cup and Trucks)

Weekend weather

Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 87 degrees during Truck qualifying.

Saturday: Sunny. Temperatures will be around 80 degrees for the start of Cup practice and climb to 88 degrees by the end of Cup qualifying. Forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 93 degrees around the start of the Truck race.

Sunday: Mostly sunny with a high of 92 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 1 – 8 p.m. Craftsman Truck Series
  • 4 – 9 p.m. Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 6:30 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:45 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 10:45 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (160 laps, 200 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, June 4

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (240 laps, 300 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


Portland International Raceway (Xfinity Series)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 77 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly sunny with a high of 73 degrees and no chance of rain around the start of the Xfinity race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 6-11 p.m. Xfinity Series

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 10 a.m.  — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Xfinity practice (No TV)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 4:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (75 laps, 147.75 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.