Dale Earnhardt Jr. begins final phase of career in a full-contact collision with teammate

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RICHMOND, Va. – This wasn’t the bang Dale Earnhardt Jr. anticipated going out on as he began the final 28-race stretch of his Cup career.

Earnhardt was hugging the Turn 2 wall in the outside lane with 43 laps remaining at Richmond International Raceway, stretching out his pit cycle and staying out of traffic in hopes of catching a caution on an aggressive pit strategy.

And on the exit of the corner … BOOM!

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet had slammed into Earnhardt’s No. 88 at full speed – or somewhere roughly around 130 mph.

“(Spotter) TJ (Majors) was giving me pretty good warning about guys getting on my inside, but otherwise when you are running the top you don’t have to worry about it (because) everybody kind of takes care of you,” said Earnhardt, who announced last Tuesday that the 2017 season would be his last in Cup. “But Jimmie didn’t know we were there.

“It was an explosion, but the car held up pretty well.  It knocked the sway bar arm off of it, so we ran the last bit of the race without a sway bar hooked up.  It wasn’t a great day.”

Earnhardt still managed to finish 30th despite the heavy damage. Johnson actually salvaged an 11th but wasn’t pleased with the result.

“I’m trying to figure out if I just didn’t hear it being told to me or if it wasn’t told to me,” said the seven-time series champion, who later chatted with spotter Earl Barban after relaying his apologies to Earnhardt. “It’s still terrible, obviously.

“Man, I’m surprised our cars kept rolling after that because I just body-slammed him into the wall. And I could have easily not heard the clear or something else happened. I don’t know. But that’s the last thing you want to happen with a teammate.”

At least Earnhardt found some humor in the situation, sharing a text from his mother, Brenda after the race.

But the 14-time most popular driver is facing an uphill climb to make the playoffs in his final season on NASCAR’s premier circuit. After his fifth finish of 30th or worse, Earnhardt is 24th in the points standings.

It’s approaching a win-or-else situation, which might be why his team was “aggressive” with its pit speed monitor (which contributed to him speeding on Lap 67.

“This luck is awful,” he said. “I don’t know what else we need to do. Something seems to always bite us.

“Racing is more frustrating than joy. The joy is worth hanging around for, and lot of frustration, it mounts up, I don’t want to cruise and not give a damn, I want to win a couple of races this year. Whatever happens, happens. We’re not helping with these finishes. We’re just getting issues that are taking away reasonable finishes that we need to get. When the car isn’t great, we need to finish top 15.”

Though Johnson had won the past two races entering Richmond, none of the Hendrick Chevys were great Sunday. Kasey Kahne was 22nd, and Chase Elliott was 24th.

“It’s a competitive sport,” Earnhardt said. “You get written off one week, you’re back in the conversation the next.

“None of our cars were really that fast. We’ll probably come back here with a different idea, different direction on our setups and see if we can figure something out. We have the equipment and resources to run in top five. It’s shocks and springs and setups that just didn’t pay off today.”

NASCAR America: Bubba Wallace on qualifying: ‘It’s our job to cheat the system’

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Much of the talk in NASCAR this week has been around the controversial final round of Cup qualifying at Auto Club Speedway, which saw no drivers make a qualifying run after they left pit road too late to make a lap.

Bubba Wallace didn’t advance to the final round, but he’s been in a similar situation. In 2014 at Michigan, Wallace was in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at ACS’ sister track. Qualifying for that event ended with only one truck, driven by Ryan Blaney, reaching the start-finish line in time to make a lap.

“It’s our job to cheat the system,” Wallace said on NASCAR America presents Motormouths. “In today’s world, with the package and how it works out, if you’re the front car, you’re the tow. You’re the tow truck. You’re towing everybody else behind you. You’re at a disadvantage. No one wants to be at a disadvantage.

“So we’re going to cheat the system until they do something about it. Then we’re going to find a new way to cheat the new system.”

Watch the above video to see Wallace discuss more about how he fared during the West Coast Swing.

Updated entry lists for Cup, Truck at Martinsville

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Here are the entry lists for this weekend’s races.

Cup – STP 500 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox Sports 1)

Thirty-six cars are entered for the sixth Cup race of the year. D.J. Kennington is listed in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports entry.

Jeb Burton is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 52 Ford.

Click here for the entry list.

Gander Outdoors Truck – Martinsville 250 (2 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox Sports 1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered. Those also entered in the Cup race are Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Ross Chastain. Bubba Wallace is entered in AM Racing’s No. 22 truck.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR America Motormouths at 5 p.m. ET with Bubba Wallace

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America presents Motormouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Rutledge Wood hosts with Kyle Petty and they’ll be joined by special guest Bubba Wallace.

Fans will have the chance to call into the show to ask questions.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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