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Back in the saddle: Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks to this season and beyond

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. understands that it could take time to return to an elite level after a concussion forced him to miss half of last season.

“You can’t take six months off and come right back and expect to be right there where you were like you hadn’t missed a step,’’ the two-time Daytona 500 winner told NBC Sports in a recent interview.

“The sport has changed, the cars have changed and any week you’re not in the car you’re getting behind. So if there is some learning curve, I won’t be shocked. Hopefully, it doesn’t last very long. I expect to be able to adapt very quickly.’’

Earnhardt will be back in a car Tuesday for only the second time since July when he takes part in a NASCAR organizational test at Phoenix International Raceway. The session continues Wednesday.

The only other time Earnhardt has been on track since the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway was a one-day test at Darlington Raceway that doctors and NASCAR used to determine if he was ready to return to competition.

Now that he’s back, Earnhardt has much work ahead of him. That’s why he is doing the Phoenix test for Hendrick Motorsports. Each organization is allowed to have one team at the test.

Earnhardt admits that the beginning of the season will be important as he seeks to catch up to his competitors. He seeks more than moral victories.

“I feed off statistics,’’ Earnhardt told NBC Sports when asked what he wants to see early in the season. “Top fives, wins. Obviously, we want to win every race. If we can go get some good runs and supplant ourselves in the top 15 in points really well early in the season, that would relieve some stress and concern about what the learning curve is for me having been out of the car.

“Also, every race you put in the bank gives you the confidence in your health. I’ve got to rebuild sort of the confidence in myself and my health as well as my performance, my ability to go out there and do the best job I can.’’

While every driver and situation is different, Kyle Busch won in his fifth race back after missing the first 11 races of the 2015 season because of injuries suffered in a crash in an Xfinity race at Daytona. Busch returned for the All-Star race and then ran four points races before winning at Sonoma — the first of five victories in his championship season.

If things go as well as his Darlington test, Earnhardt figures he’ll be in good shape when he competes in his first event, which will be will be a qualifying race Feb. 23 at Daytona International Speedway (Earnhardt won’t compete in the Feb. 18 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona even though he is eligible). It didn’t take Earnhardt long to feel comfortable in the car during that Darlington test.

“I was a little bit apprehensive for sure, wondering how I was going to feel and how the car was going to feel and what was going to happen,’’ Earnhardt said. “We ran about three of four laps and it felt pretty comfortable and pretty familiar. After about 15 or 20 laps, it was like me and the car were one piece.’’

Earnhardt, who is 42 years old, said the time out of the car gave last year him a glimpse of what retirement could be like. 

“I never thought that the transition from driving a car to retirement would be a difficult one for me, but it certainly answered some questions and made me lot more comfortable with that prospect,’’ he said. “There’s going to be some opportunities for me beyond driving that will be fun and interesting. I have some businesses that can be successful if I pull the right levers, so I’m not too worried about it. It was interesting to see the sport from the angle I did and to sort of get what being out of the car is like.’’

While he was out of the car, Earnhardt also did some broadcasting. Could that be a part of his future once he’s no longer driving?

“I would certainly entertain the opportunity to be in broadcasting, but … I just know there’s a lot of guys that want to do that,’’ Earnhardt said. “(Kevin) Harvick has talked about that. There’s just going to be more people interested in filling those small, select positions, and I don’t know if that is a competitive field I want to get involved in. It will just have to come naturally. I really did love being in there.

“I could certainly have a lot of fun trying to describe the action to the fans. I could see myself doing that. We’ll just have to see how it works out. I’m not sure what those opportunities will be. … but I’d love to be a part of the sport one way or the other.’’

He’s clear on one thing about his future, though.

“I’m pretty sure that (Cup) ownership is not one of those options,’’ he said of post-driving plans. “It’s not a way that I want to be connected to the sport, going down the road on the Cup level. But I’d love to be at the track and at the races and have a purpose to be there.’’

And once he’s done racing in NASCAR, he still might compete.

“If my health allows me to race Late Models and do all that stuff,’’ he said. “I would do it.’’

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Daytona road course trophy: Handle with care

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A word of warning for the Cup Series driver who wins Sunday’s inaugural race on the Daytona road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

When you’re celebrating the victory, don’t get too excited with the trophy.

It could wind up all over Victory Lane.

That’s because the trophy waiting at the end of the 65-lap/234.65-mile-race is made out of glass.

More: Will chaos (and rain) reign on the Daytona road course?

Via: NASCAR

The 18” tall/4.5” wide trophy for the Daytona road course race was produced by the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. It’s the same institution that’s been responsible for designing the Watkins Glen International trophy since 2012.

Sunday’s race is being held in the place of the Cup Series’ annual visit to Watkins Glen.

Incorporating a blown glass cup, the trophy is inspired by the history of NASCAR and racing at Daytona.

“Thinking about the history of the track and long-held traditions, I was reminded that historically, trophies used to be cups and have evolved into sculptural forms,” said Eric Meek, Sr. Manager of Hot Glass Programs at The Corning Museum of Glass, said in a media release. “We took this trophy back to a more traditional shape. Daytona is the most historical track, and in thinking about a trophy design for a race held in this storied location, I was transported back to the golden age of speed. I wanted to design something that felt like a bit of a throwback – like it belonged in the era of streamline racers and the quest to go faster.”

NASCAR Pinty’s Series 2020 TV schedule released

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The NASCAR Pinty’s Series, which competes in Canada, will get its season under way this weekend after it was postponed back in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shortened season will consist of three doubleheaders with twin 125-mile races.

The races will be held at Sunset Speedway (Aug. 15), Flamboro Speedway (Aug. 29) and Jukasa Speedway (Sept. 12).

More: Xfinity Series start time for Daytona road course

No NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion or Rookie of the Year will be crowned in 2020 due to the shortened schedule. There will be special recognition for the overall winner of the shortened season.

All races will air delayed on TSN and RDS in Canada and MAVTV in the United States. Fans in the United States can stream races after they air on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

Here is the full schedule with TV information.

 

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Daytona road course: Start time, forecast and more

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Saturday’s Xfinity race at Daytona will mark the first time the series has competed in the track’s road course circuit.

Austin Cindric, who has won four of the last five races, is on the pole. He is joined on the front row by fellow Ford driver Chase Briscoe.

Here are the details for the Xfinity race at the Daytona road course (all times ET):

START: The command to start engines will be given at 3:07 p.m by Dr. Jeff Jarvis, president of UNOH. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 8:30 a.m. Drivers report to their cars at 2:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3 p.m. by Chaplain Farzad Nourian. The national anthem will be performed at 3:01 p.m. by Temecula Road.

DISTANCE: The race is 52 laps (187.72 miles) around the 3.61-mile road course

PACE LAP: At the direction of race control, the entire field will go down pit road during a pace lap for pit road speed verification. If a driver stops in the pit box for any reason, pulls over or slows down, they will start at the rear of the field.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 15. Stage 2 ends on Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green followed by the race broadcast at 3 p.m. ET. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast will begin at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for cloudy skies, a high of 88 degrees and a 70% chance of rain and thunderstorms at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Austin Cindric beat AJ Allmendinger and Chase Briscoe to win at Road America.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Xfinity starting lineup

Justin Marks planning to start new Cup team

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Former NASCAR driver Justin Marks is in the process of starting a new Cup Series team and competing as early as 2021, Marks detailed to the Sports Business Journal.

Marks, who has 80 NASCAR starts and last competed in 2018, is building a team called Trackhouse that would have a “cause-marketing focus around promoting STEM education” according to SBJ.

More: Bubba Wallace lands multi-year deal with DoorDash

Marks, who once was a co-owner of an ARCA Menards West team with the late Harry Scott, said a goal of the team is to “serve America’s minorities and underrepresented youth population”

Marks told SBJ he is in negotiations to acquire a charter for the team, that his family foundation will use investment capital to fund 50% of the team’s budget and that a “nationwide family entertainment business” will be a sponsor.

One of Marks’ partners will be Ty Norris, a former executive at Michael Waltrip Racing.

Click here for more from Sports Business Journal.