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Kelley Earnhardt Miller says Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s struggles have been ‘fairly depressing’

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — While this has been a challenging year for Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans, seeing him struggle and rarely contend for a victory in his final full-time Cup season, it has been more difficult for his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller.

“It’s been fairly depressing,’’ she said Friday at Darlington Raceway after the track named its Turn 3 towers the Earnhardt Towers. “It seems like it’s just some luck things that happen here and there, and things that are beyond his control. It’s certainly not the season of how I know that he would want this last season to be. It’s not a lot to write home about lately, so it’s been pretty depressing and disappointing.’’

Earnhardt is 22nd in the points entering Sunday night’s Southern 500. He must win either Sunday or the following weekend at Richmond to qualify for the playoffs or he won’t be among the 16 drivers racing for the title.

Earnhardt Miller says she’s continued to try to boost her brother’s spirits in this rough season.

“I usually just text him and tell him to keep his head up,’’ she said. “He doesn’t like anything mushy, so I try not to get too mushy. I try to just keep it just on the surface and not get too deep and let him know that we’re thinking about him.

“We’ve sat in a lot of meetings this year where I have to remind Dale that he’s a pretty special athlete.’’

While Earnhardt has revered Darlington for its history, the track has not been as kind to him. He never has won a Cup race at the 1.366-mile speedway.

“Unfortunately his history here he hasn’t been as successful as he would love it to be,’’ Earnhardt Miller said. “You never know what could happen. Maybe the angel above will look over him and maybe carry him to a victory or something.’’

Earnhardt hasn’t come close to winning many races this year. Earnhardt’s best finish this season is a fifth at Texas in April. He has four top-10 finishes but hasn’t had such a result in the last eight races.

“I knew that I was up against a pretty difficult challenge when I decided to come back,’’ Earnhardt told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan two weeks ago. “But I knew that the team was strong. If we could get it going, we’d get it going.’’

Earnhardt missed the final half of last season because of symptoms related to a concussion.

Earnhardt Miller says she she’s glad he came back even if this season has not been as rewarding as hoped at this point.

“I’m very glad he came back just to be able to race on his own terms and not have to sit out,’’ she said. “I think that’s good for his mental processing, too, and obviously good for the sport and the fans and everybody that benefits with him being out here.’’

Earnhardt Miller, co-owner of JR Motorsports, says she’d like to find more races for Earnhardt to run next season in the Xfinity Series. The team has one race for Earnhardt with sponsor Goody’s at this point. The race has not been picked.

Earnhardt Miller said that the team isn’t sure if it will run a fifth car for Earnhardt in select Xfinity races next year or he’ll fill out the team’s fourth car with William Byron moving up to Cup in 2018. If that fourth car is for one driver or a multitude of drivers will depend on sponsorship, she said.

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Driver-to-Driver with Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’ve got a lot to prove still’

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Jimmie Johnson is in his 17th year of full-time Cup racing and is in the midst the longest winless streak of his career at 42 races.

But the seven-time champion’s competitive drive is as strong as ever.

Johnson sat down with NBC Sports’ Dale Jarrett to discuss his career at this point in the latest edition of Driver-to-Driver.

“I can honestly say I spend more time now than I did my rookie year focusing on my job,” Johnson said. “I think that the support I have from my wife (Chandra), my kids are 7 and 4, to have them watch me be passionate about something has another meaning I didn’t anticipate coming. I’m lovin’ what I’m doing. I wish the results were a little better than what we have right now, but the process of what I’m going through is really fun.”

Hendrick Motorsports as a whole is in a slump. The team is in the middle of the second longest winless streak in its history at 35 races.

Johnson admits it’s hard to know when the right time will be for him to retire.

“The thing I can pull out of it is, don’t pick a number, make sure that fire’s gone out and that fire hasn’t gone out,” Johnson said. “The other thing that’s weighing on me, I don’t want to go out not at my fullest potential and not on my terms. The last thought that’s going to run through my mind is to walk away or, ‘Oh, it’s not going right, time to stop.’ Uh uh. I know I still got it. I’m going to go down swinging. I’ve got a lot to prove still.”

Watch the above video for more.

 

New Hampshire Cup race underway after rain delay

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The Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is underway after a three hour and 24 minute rain delay.

The race had been scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET. The green flag waved at 4:24 p.m. ET

Kurt Busch started from the pole and Martin Truex Jr. started second.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Denny Hamlin. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver rediscovers his magic here and locks into the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. wins back-to-back races for the first time in his career.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick earns a career-best sixth win of the season.

Dan Beaver

Martin Truex Jr. is getting into the same groove he had last year. This week he catches Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Next week, he starts to pull away,

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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The Cup Series holds its only race of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today with the Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301.

Kurt Busch starts on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. starts second.

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

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jean Swift, treasurer of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Counsel, at 12:51 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 35

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11 a.m. Driver introductions are at 12:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Vanessa Salvucci will perform the anthem at 12:45 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Kirk Young at 12:42 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at noon with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at noon p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 70 degrees and a 78 percent chance of rain and storms at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin won this race last year over Kyle Larson. Kyle Busch won the playoff race over Larson.

TO THE REAR: Landon Cassill (backup) and Michael McDowell (backup).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting lineup.