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Dale Earnhardt Jr. enjoys staying ‘visible and relevant’ while planning Daytona 500 return

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – It seems the only place you won’t find Dale Earnhardt Jr. these days is in the cockpit of a Sprint Cup car.

That could change soon – Earnhardt told USA TODAY Sports’ For The Win site this week that he is as confident as ever he will return in the 2017 Daytona 500 – but NASCAR’s most popular driver has been spotted virtually everywhere recently.

From football sidelines to hockey games to racetracks, Earnhardt has stayed quite visible since being sidelined for the final 18 races this season while recovering from the effects of a concussion. He said it’s “not only good therapy, but I need to be doing something.  I love being around the sport and I want to feel like I’m an asset to something.

“Absolutely, it has been a great time,” he said before Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, where he helped unveil a new limited edition trading card. “I wasn’t really sure exactly how that was going to feel being around and coming to the track and stuff.  I was very apprehensive and real nervous.

“I talked to (car owner) Rick (Hendrick), and I tell him all the time I feel like being in the car is what I’m supposed to do and not being in the car brings on a sense of guilt that I’m not doing my responsibilities. So, maybe I’m actively seeking out these opportunities to be visible and be relevant and work with my partners and handle all the responsibilities that we have and have planned before all this happened.”

Earnhardt has one year remaining on his contract to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, and he said he has begun planning next season with sponsors under the presumption he will be racing.

“That is the plan that we have going forward, so we are booking things as normal per usual,” he said. “We are doing all our photo shoots and everything with anticipation of our sponsors marketing me as the driver of the No. 88 car.

“I think that is perfectly on track and a reasonable goal to be in the car and be competing in Daytona.  We can’t sort of sit and wait.  We’ve got to make a decision. Those types of things have to be decided quite early.  So, we are moving forward with the plan to be in the car and I don’t see anything that says that is not going to happen. Things are good.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

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Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings