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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Cup season could lead to greater ticket sales

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Tuesday that he will retire from the NASCAR Cup Series after this season could help minimize attendance declines that have become common at tracks.

Asked about the impact Earnhardt could have in the final 28 races of the season, Marcus Smith, chief executive officer and president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., likened Earnhardt to another famous athlete.

“Dale Jr.’s announcement yesterday is significant, it’s similar to when Michael Jordan decided it was time for him to retire from basketball,’’ Smith said Wednesday in a conference call with investor analysts. “The opportunity for fans to see Dale Jr. race one more time is certainly special and something we expect will be inspiring to a lot of fans to come to races.’’

Speedway Motorsports Inc. reported that admissions revenue was down 4.5 percent in the first quarter this year compared to the same time last season. The first quarter covered race weekends for Atlanta and Las Vegas. SMI reported that attendance at Atlanta was “up a little bit” and attendance at Las Vegas was “down a little bit” but did not provide numbers.

Earnhardt will be the fourth major NASCAR driver to leave the Cup series since last year Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart ran their final races last season. Carl Edwards announced before the season that he would not race this year.

International Speedway Corp., which owns tracks such as Daytona, Talladega, Darlington and Homestead-Miami Speedway, cited the absence of Gordon, Stewart and Earnhardt (when he missed the last 18 races of last year) as impacting admission revenue last season.

ISC reported its fourth-quarter admissions revenue was down 9.3 percent last year from the previous season. The company hosted Cup races at Darlington, Richmond, Chicagoland, Kansas, Talladega, Martinsville, Phoenix and Homestead during that quarter.

“The impact of Jeff Gordon’s retirement was underestimated, which was compounded with Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing races throughout the season,’’ said John Saunders, ISC president, in January about one of the reasons for the decline.

Earnhardt’s announcement that this will be his last Cup series already has some fans purchasing or looking to purchase tickets.

Richmond International Raceway reported an increase in interest for this weekend’s race after Earnhardt’s announcement. Richmond also is selling tickets to its fall race weekend. Earnhardt is scheduled to compete in both the Xfinity and Cup races there Sept. 8-9.

The series heads to Talladega next weekend and Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway, anticipates more Earnhardt fans showing up.

“If you’re going to go see him one more time, why wouldn’t you go to the track where he runs the best,’’ Lynch said. “We think that’s the a positive for Talladega. He’s always been great at Talladega. It’s an Earnhardt track. I hope folks will take the attitude that ‘Wow, I’ll get two more chances to see him,’ see him next weekend and come see us again in October.’’

The greatest demands for tickets likely will come for races at the end of the season.

Earnhardt’s final Cup race will be Nov. 19 at Homestead. The track is selling three-day weekend packages. Deposits for single-day tickets, which go on sale May 5, are being taken. That race sold out last year.

The week before Homestead, the series races at Phoenix Raceway. The track is in the renewal process for the Nov. 12 race with fall race ticket holders. The track is selling tickets to its new Club 64 section above Turn 1 now. Grandstand tickets and camping go on sale June 2.

The week before Phoenix, the series races at Texas Motor Speedway. The track is selling weekend ticket packages only at this point. The track will sell individual tickets to its fall Cup race in June. A date has yet to be determined but it will come after the June 10 IndyCar race there.

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Tyler Reddick wins Charlotte Xfinity race

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CONCORD, N.C. —  Tyler Reddick won Saturday’s Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, earning his second Xfinity Series win of the season.

Reddick led the final 16 laps after he took advantage of Cole Custer spinning his tires on a restart.

Reddick beat Justin Allgaier, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Noah Gragson and Justin Haley.

The Richard Childress Racing driver led 110 of 200 laps on the way to his fifth career Xfinity win. The victory follows his Talladega win last month. Reddick has finished in the top four in the last eight races.

Pole-sitter Christopher Bell finished 31st after he made contact with the wall and cut down his right front tire with two laps to go in Stage 2. He attempted to finish out the stage, but the tire shredded and caused significant damage to his car. It’s his second DNF of the season.

Bell’s teammate, Brandon Jones, also got into the wall and cut a tire within a lap of Bell. Jones opted to pit immediately and was able to continue and finished ninth.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell

STAGE 2 WINNER: Tyler Reddick

WHAT’S NEXT: Pocono Green 250 at Pocono Raceway at 1 p.m. ET on June 1 on FS1

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Daniel Suarez fastest in final Coca-Cola 600 practice

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CONCORD, N.C. — Daniel Suarez completed a sweep of Saturday’s two Cup practice sessions by posting the top speed in final practice for the Coca-Cola 600.

Suarez recorded a speed of 180.704 mph around Charlotte Motor Speedway. He made 51 laps in the session.

“I will say one of the best (cars of his Cup career) for sure,” Suarez said. “I feel like this year I’ve had some good race cars with an opportunity to finish in the top five and top 10, but I feel like this car has been pretty solid.  It’s fast and it’s not comfortable to drive 100 percent, but I don’t feel like anyone out there is comfortable right now, so it’s been sunny and hot and slick and that makes things a little bit more difficult, but overall my team has been doing a very good job with Stewart-Haas Racing and Ford Performance.  We have a good piece and hopefully we can take advantage of it tomorrow.”

The top five was completed by Daniel Hemric (180.686 mph), Denny Hamlin (180.553), Ryan Preece (180.469) and Kyle Busch (180.276).

“I felt pretty good with our practice there,” said Hamlin, who will start 20th Sunday. “It was one of our better practices of the year. We’re going to have to start from deep in the field, which is going to be a challenge with traffic, but we’ve got a long race to get it done. Pretty happy with where we’re at.”

Busch has the best 10-lap average at 179.485 mph

Chase Elliott recorded the most laps in the session with 62. He was 18th on the speed chart.

Click here for the speed chart.

Christopher Bell wins pole for Xfinity Charlotte race

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CONCORD, N.C. —  Christopher Bell will start first in today’s Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Bell won his third pole of the season with a speed of 184.313 mph. His previous poles were at Texas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway.

The top five is completed by Cole Custer (183.187 mph), Tyler Reddick (182.192), Austin Dillon (181.659) and Brandon Jones (181.610).

Justin Haley will start 35th after an axle broke on his No. 11 Chevrolet in the middle of his qualifying run.

Ross Chastain did not finish his qualifying run after experiencing an electrical problem in the ignition on his No. 4 Chevrolet. He will start 37th out of 38 cars.

The Alsco 300 is scheduled to start at 1:16 p.m. ET on FS1.

Click here for the starting lineup.

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Today’s Xfinity race at Charlotte: Start time, lineup and more

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After a two-week break, the Xfinity Series returns to action today for the Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: North Carolina Basketball Legend Phil Ford will give the command to start engines at 1:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 1:16 p.m.

PRERACE: Driver/crew chief meeting is at 10:45 a.m. Driver introductions begin at 12:30 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1 p.m. by Billy Mauldin, CEO and President of Motor Racing Outreach. U. S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Marc Wilka will perform the National Anthem at 1:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. The Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 12:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 90 degrees and a 20% percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Brad Keselowski won this race over Cole Custer and Christopher Bell.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.