Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s dramatic ride doesn’t end in victory, but he walked away

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TALLADEGA, Alabama — After driving through multiple wrecks, skidding through the grass, and charging through the field, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was left with the satisfaction he walked out of Talladega Superspeedway unharmed in a race that saw three red flags and 24 of the 40 cars eliminated because of accidents.

Earnhardt, who has a history of concussions and missed half of last season because of concussion symptoms, admitted that beneath his excitement of being at this track, he had concerns entering Sunday’s race — his final restrictor-plate Cup race.

“This was one I was worried about, in the back of my mind I was a little concerned,’’ said Earnhardt, who finished seventh after starting on the pole. “You can’t win the race if you race scared. I’ve raced scared here before and you don’t do well when that happens, so you have to block it out and take the risks and hope it’s not your day to get in one of those accidents and it wasn’t.’’

Earnhardt did take many risks during the race.

I think that anyone who questions our desire to be here and compete this year and our desire to run hard and face can look at the risks that we took this afternoon, knowing that any of those crashes would have probably given me a bit of an injury that would have held me out of the rest of the season,’’ he said.

Earnhardt avoided several accidents on the way to scoring his second top-10 finish in the last 15 races. After exiting his car, he had blades of grass and dirt on the back of his uniform from one of his excursions to avoid an accident.

“Just got lucky on those wrecks,’’ Earnhardt said. “Ain’t nothing I’m doing. I’m just not getting hit … and not losing control of my car. Just really luck.’’

The last incident, though, damaged Earnhardt’s right front and knocked the splitter down, all but ending his hopes of winning before the final three laps.

“When we got going on that last restart, it just wouldn’t go in the corners especially,’’ Earnhardt said. “Everybody around us was just wasting their time pushing us and they sort figured it it out after a lap of two and decided to leave us alone.

“I thought the car had enough to win before we bent the splitter down.’’

Winner Brad Keselowski didn’t know about Earnhardt’s damage, so when he had Earnhardt behind him on the final restart, he felt he was in the best position.

“I thought when I had Dale Jr. lined up behind me, with the strength of his car and his ability, that we would just take off on the restart and clear them and it would be us racing for the win,’’ Keselowski told NBC Sports. “We came off of Turn 2 and didn’t really have a lot of momentum and the outside lane passed us and the next thing you knew we were running third with only two laps left to get to the lead.’’

Even though Earnhardt didn’t challenge for the win at the end, he will end his career as one of NASCAR’s most successful restrictor-plate drivers. His six wins at Talladega tie him with Jeff Gordon and ranks second only behind his father. Earnhardt finishes his Cup career with 10 restrictor-plate victories, including two Daytona 500 triumphs.

“Anytime anybody says you’re the best at anything it’s an awesome feeling,’’ Earnhardt said. “I can’t deny that it feels awesome to hear that, that people consider you good at anything. I knew that I wasn’t going to win 200 races and seven championships and do all those great things. I just wanted to come in here and be considered talented.

“To be great at anything was beyond my imagination. I appreciate people’s compliments on my plate driving and the success we’ve had at all the plate races.’’

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Brad Keselowski wins Xfinity race at Charlotte in overtime finish

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CONCORD, N.C. — Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his second win in as many starts this season.

Keselowski, who started on the pole, led 77 laps and won over Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler.

Keselowski also won at Phoenix.

The overtime finish was setup by a debris caution with two laps left in the original 200-lap distance.

The final 28 laps were ran following a one hour rain delay.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Cole Custer started and finished second after also leading 29 laps. It’s his second top five of the season … Ty Dillon placed fourth for his first top five in nine Charlotte starts. It’s also his first top five and top 10 of the season .. Elliott Sadler is the only driver with top 10s in all 11 races this season. Heplaced fifth after battling mechanical issues – including a faulty cooling unit – and a speeding penalty.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: After winning the first two stages, Kyle Busch finished eighth after he spun on a restart with 39 laps to go. He had restarted 10th after pitting and got loose trying to pass Dylan Lupton into Turn 1 … Lupton was then eliminated in a wreck with Ty Majeski on the following restart … Chase Elliott placed 37th after experiencing transmission issues on the Stage 3 restart … Tyler Reddck finished 23rd after begin involved in two wrecks, including one during the overtime restart … Justin Allgaier and Jamie McMurray were eliminated in a wreck with 20 to go.

NOTABLE: Kaz Grala placed 10th in his first start for Fury Race Cars, a team co-owned by his father. It’s his best result since placing fourth at Daytona for JGL Racing.

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What’s next for Danica Patrick after the Indy 500? Dreams, downtime and waffles

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INDIANAPOLIS – When Danica Patrick was a 14-year-old growing up in Roscoe, Illinois, she had a firm idea of what she’d be doing 20 years later.

A reporter from her hometown newspaper recently reminded her of that in a recent interview when he brought a prescient artifact from those teenage years – an essay that she crafted as an up and coming go-kart driver about her racing accomplishments.

“I’m breezing through it, and then at the end, it said, ‘I wanted to race Indy cars,” Patrick, 36, said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I was 14. I told him, ‘See? If this isn’t an example of “Write that shit down,” nothing is.’

“This is manifesting. You have write it down and you have to imagine what you want. So I do that as much as I can.”

Heading into the final start of her career in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, Patrick already seems to have a solid idea of the next 20 years — in part, because of having some glimpses into her post-racing life.

There has been plenty of downtime since her final NASCAR start in the Daytona 500 three months ago. She has taken vacations (including an India trip to meet the Dalai Lama with boyfriend Aaron Rodgers) and created several new routines on her suddenly free from racing weekends.

“I make waffles on Sundays now,” she said. “That’s pretty fun.  In the summer, there’s like farmers market.  I can’t wait for that.  I mean, there’s going to be probably some new stuff that I don’t know yet.

“The one thing that I am definitely looking forward to less of is less stress.  Last weekend was awesome at the end of it all because it went well with qualifying, but I was nervous for 95% of that weekend. That’s uncomfortable.”

But testing her comfort zone is appealing to Patrick, who has spent most of her adult life testing the boundaries of gender norms in her profession. Though the pressure of race weekends might disappear, her incessant quest for challenges probably will remain.

Now that racing is over, Patrick still has a winery, a clothing line, a cookbook and a fitness manual to promote – and more is on the way.

“I just have a habit for pushing myself to uncomfortable spaces, making them comfortable for me,” she said. “At least just making them comfortable enough to be able to manage.

“As an example, I went bungee jumping a long while back, like 10 years.  I’m super scared of heights.  I’m still scared of heights.  But I just like to know that if I want to do something, I am brave enough and confident enough to do it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not still scared.  That doesn’t mean it’s not still something that’s easy to me afterward. I just like to know I can get past the fear if I have to.

“I’m OK with transitioning into other things, finding a little bit of happiness and joy each day, less colorization of emotions. I’m ready for that.”

So what specifically is on tap? Talk shows? Another book?

Patrick demurs when pressed.

“I think I have definitely big dreams and aspirations for myself, for all my companies, for the kind of emotion I want to have on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a good, easy, happy, calm, joyful, exciting, adventurous life.  If I say I want it, there’s a very good chance that’s what I’ll get.”

In the short-term, there’s hosting an ESPN awards show that will keep her busy through July.

And after that, her schedule will free up just as Green Bay Packers training camp begins for Rodgers, the two-time MVP quarterback.

“I’m thinking I’m going to have plenty of time to write a cookbook in Green Bay,” she said.

Xfinity race at Charlotte resumes after rain delay

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CONCORD, N.C. — The Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway has resumed after a one hour rain delay. 28 laps remain in the 200-lap event.

Brad Keselowski is the leader.

The top five is completed by Daniel Hemric, Ryan Truex, Brandon Jones and Ryan Sieg.

Erik Jones fastest in final Coke 600 practice

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Erik Jones topped the final one-hour practice session for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver posted a top speed of 187.045 mph.

Jones was followed by Kyle Larson (186.664 mph), Ryan Blaney (186.104), Joey Logano (186.047) and Denny Hamlin (185.938).

Logano recorded the most laps in the session with 55.

Jones had the best 10-lap average at 184.579 mph.

The final practice session came after rain forced the cancellation of a morning session.

Click here for the practice report.