Dale Earnhardt Jr.: End of final Martinsville Cup race ‘a big deal’ for NASCAR

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia – The last Martinsville race of Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Cup career left the driver “jacked up.”

And he didn’t even finish in the top 10.

Fresh off a 11th-place finish in the First Data 500 in his special “Gray Ghost” paint scheme, the 14-time most popular driver took to Periscope with a big grin on his face and a simple message.

“That’s what NASCAR needs every week.”

The racing, cheering, booing and the anger. All of it going on seemingly non-stop for 15 minutes after the race’s chaotic finish.

“I was so jacked up when I got out of the car I felt like I had drank a pot of coffee with everything going on at the end at the finish,” Earnhardt said.

It started when Joey Logano spun 13 laps from the overtime finish because of a cut tire he received after contact with Kyle Busch and continued when Chase Elliott forced Brad Keselowski out of the racing groove to take the lead during the ensuing restart.

It escalated when Denny Hamlin turned race leader Elliott into the outside wall with two laps to go in the original 500-lap distance. Hamlin then lost the lead on the last lap of the overtime finish when Busch, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, forced  him out of the way in Turn 1. It all concluded after a Talladega-like crash at the checkered flag with a shower of jeers and cheers as Elliott and Hamlin exchanged words on the track.

“That was a wiiiild finish, man!” Earnhardt said. “I ain’t seen nothing like that ever. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a short track finish that was so crazy.”

At the time of his Periscope, Earnhardt didn’t even know where he had finished. But he was sure of something else after the first Cup race at Martinsville to finish under the lights.

“That’s what NASCAR needs every week,” Earnhardt said. “NASCAR needs short track racing, particularly and preferably under the lights. If that was going on more often than not in the sport, you wouldn’t have enough tickets. You’d have to build tracks just like Bristol with all the grandstands you can find.

“That’s so much better than a lot of the things that we do. I don’t really know how to put it into words. But that kind of action and drama, that’s what grows the sport and gets people talking. My God. We don’t need guys getting turned around and wrecked every week. I guess what I’m saying is, drama and exciting finishes, the fans in the grandstands cheering like crazy and booing and cheering and booing and cheering after every interview for 15, 20 minutes after the race.

“We need that every weekend.”

Earnhardt, who has three races left as a full-time Cup driver, also was excited about the discussions the race will prompt in the week leading up to this coming weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Woo, that was a big deal for the sport,” Earnhardt said. “We’ll be talking about that a lot this week. Man, is it going to be dominating the headlines and storylines. We won’t be talking about PJ1 and all that mess.

“Martinsville under the lights sure did deliver.”

Denny Hamlin offers advice on how to deal with critics on social media

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Denny Hamlin, who has been fined by NASCAR for comments on Twitter, and was vocal toward critics after this year’s Daytona 500, says he’s found peace on how to deal with those on social media who don’t agree with him.

“I’ve been very good this year about not replying to mean people, and you all should do the same,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

“I’m making a (request) right now to every driver, every team owner, every NASCAR executive and every media member, stop replying to people who make nonsense comments. They have 16 followers. Don’t give them your 100,000. Do not give them your 100,000 as their stage. No one will ever see their comment, just brush it by, talk about the positives and I’m not a positive person.”

Asked how does one ignore such divisive comments, Hamlin said: “You just scroll by it. Forget it. That person doesn’t exit. They’re an admirer that has lost their way.’’

Hamlin has been better at doing so since the Daytona 500. He faced negative reaction on social media to the contact he and Bubba Wallace had at the end of the Daytona 500.

They engaged in a brief shouting match in the garage area after Hamlin learned that Wallace had taken a dig at him on national TV about a recent comment about drivers using Adderall.

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Clint Bowyer leads opening Cup practice at Sonoma

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Clint Bowyer was the fastest in the first of two Cup practices Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Bowyer, the winner of the most recent Cup race two weeks ago at Michigan, posted a lap of 93.590 mph. He was followed by Ryan Blaney (93.546 mph), Joey Logano (93.172), Jamie McMurray (93.049) and Daniel Suarez (92.746).

Sixth was Jimmie Johnson (92.661). He was followed by Michael McDowell (92.650), Martin Truex Jr. (92.614), AJ Allmendinger (92.596) and Ryan Newman (92.595).

Click here for full practice report

Final Cup practice will be from 5:40 – 6:55 p.m. ET. Qualifying will take place Saturday.

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Kyle Larson: ‘I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love NASCAR racing’

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Kyle Larson‘s comment on Twitter earlier this week that he would like to run full-time in the World of Outlaws sprint car series “before I’m 40” might have riled some fans, but Larson says it was not meant as anything bad toward NASCAR.

“I don’t know, I think maybe some people aren’t quite as open-minded, maybe,” the 26-year-old Larson said Friday at Sonoma Raceway. “It’s like they read it as if I said in two years from now I wanted to do it. I mean 15 years from now that would put me 20 years in Cup. So, that is a long time. 

“I think Jeff Gordon spent about that much time in the sport (Gordon raced in Cup 23 full-time seasons), but I don’t know, maybe I don’t do the best job in the world of talking about how much I love NASCAR as much as I do sprint cars, but I do. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love NASCAR racing.

“I enjoy sprint cars, and I feel like I talk about sprint cars a lot just to open people’s eyes to that style of racing because it’s a great form or racing and so is NASCAR. So, I don’t know, I just want fans to be fans of motorsports not just NASCAR and not just sprint cars. I would like to see everybody just enjoy all of racing and I think that is what I do. Maybe I don’t do a good job at it sometimes, but you know, I enjoy racing all types of vehicles. Most fans get it, but some fans aren’t quite open-minded enough.”

It was on the official World of Outlaws podcast in December where Larson expressed his desire to eventually transition to the World of Outlaws.

“NASCAR is where I wanted to make it, but I would have been perfectly fine if I didn’t make it either,” Larson said on that podcast in the offseason. “I’d probably be on the Outlaw (sprint car) tour probably right now, racing and loving life … I would say racing on the World of Outlaws tour full-time is my main goal.”

Larson just finished running five nights of Ohio Sprint Speedweek. He won two of those nights. Rain postponed a sixth event before the feature that Larson was to have run. Larson said he has the dirt track race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on his schedule. Indianapolis is building a quarter-mile dirt track inside Turn 3 to run during the NASCAR weekend there in September.

Larson is in his fifth full Cup season. He has five career series wins. Although winless this season, Larson has finished runner-up three times (Auto Club Speedway, Bristol and Pocono).

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Four Cup cars to be docked practice time at Sonoma

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Four cars will miss time in today’s opening practice at Sonoma Raceway for violations, NASCAR announced Friday.

David Ragan will miss 30 minutes for failing inspection before the race at Michigan three times.

Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne each will be docked 15 minutes for failing inspection twice before the Michigan race.

Today’s opening Cup practice goes from 2:40 – 3:55 p.m. ET.

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