Photo courtesy Dale Earnhardt Jr. Twitter account

The one and only time Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced in a Ford and not a Chevy

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In addition to being a great race car driver – well, now-retired, that is – one of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s best attributes is he’s one of the best storytellers in NASCAR.

He could easily write several books – and still have plenty of material left over for more, his tales are so numerous and prolific — and enjoyable.

We awoke Sunday morning to Earnhardt taking to Periscope to remember the late Bobby Hamilton, who passed away 11 years ago today.

And Junior told one of the best stories we’ve ever heard from him.

As he related, back in 1996 Earnhardt was racing Late Models at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. Even though his crew chief said to bring the car into the pits, Earnhardt wanted to make one final practice lap when all hell broke loose: a wreck occurred in front of him and as Earnhardt tried to avoid it by going low, he was rear-ended by another car, with both his and the other car bursting into flame.

The Speedway had a fire truck that responded to the scene, but it didn’t have any water or foam to put the fire out! As a result, both Earnhardt’s and the other driver’s cars “burned to the ground,” Earnhardt said. “Our cars were ruined. I had to haul that thing home, and we were done.”

Junior was uninjured, but still wanted to race. The problem was, he didn’t have a spare car.

Enter Hamilton, who offered Earnhardt a ride – in a Ford, decked out in Petty blue color and with the No. 43 on the door.

Earnhardt was in a major quandary. He never had driven a Ford before.

“I’m thinking, ‘I can’t drive it, because it’s a Ford,’” Earnhardt related on the Periscope video. “But I want to race real bad.

“So I’m calling my dad trying to see if I can get a hold of him and try to ask him if I can drive this Ford. It’s a Petty blue, because Bobby at the time I think must have been driving for Richard in the Cup Series and it had No. 43 on it.

“I couldn’t get a hold of dad, but I got a hold of dad’s general manager. … He said, ‘Yeah, go ahead and drive it. Just don’t talk about it and try not to make too big of a deal about it.’”

Earnhardt had to do some cosmetic alterations before he climbed inside.

First, he used duct tape to cover all Ford emblems – although he left the huge STP emblem on the hood.

Then, he used additional blue tape to cover the 4 on the door, leaving it to be just a “3”, the same number that his father raced in the Cup series.

Even thought the car’s previous driver, Casey Atwood, didn’t care for it, Earnhardt fell in love with his new ride and quickly took the lead.

He appeared ready to cruise to a win. He had lapped all but one car in the field.

And then disaster struck.

The transmission broke with 30 laps to go and what could have been Junior’s only win ever in anything other than a Chevrolet, wound up on the back end of a tow truck.

Even though Junior wasn’t happy with how the day ended, he certainly helped Hamilton feel good, as he sold the car after the race “for quite a bit of money,” Earnhardt said.

And thus ended Earnhardt’s first and only race in anything but a Chevrolet.

But it has to make you wonder, what might have happened if the trans didn’t explode and Junior won — in a Ford. Could history have turned out different?

“Bobby was a good man, so that’s my story,” Dale Jr. said in conclusion.

Great story, Junior. Keep ‘em coming.

Saturday schedule for Cup at Sonoma, Trucks at Gateway

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Cup cars are only on the track for qualifying today at Sonoma Raceway, and Camping Work Truck teams will qualify and race at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Johnny Sauter has won three of the last five Truck races. Brett Moffitt won last weekend’s Truck race at Iowa.

Here’s today’s schedule at both tracks:

(ALL TIMES ARE EASTERN)

At SONOMA RACEWAY

10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. — Cup garage open

2:45 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-vehicle/two rounds (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

4:30 p.m. — K&N Pro Series West race; 64 laps, 127.36 miles (airs at 6 p.m. ET June 28 on NBCSN)

At GATEWAY MOTORSPORTS PARK

11 a.m. — Truck garage opens

Noon – 1 p.m. — Final Truck practice (No TV)

5:45 p.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (airs from 7-8 p.m. on FS1)

7 p.m. — Driver/crew chief meeting

8 p.m. — Driver introductions

8:30 p.m. — Villa Lighting delivers the Eaton 200; 160 laps/200 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Kurt Busch fastest in final Cup practice at Sonoma

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Kurt Busch posted the fastest single lap in the final practice for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway with a speed of 94.061 mph.

He beat second-place Denny Hamlin (94.012 mph) by .040 seconds.

Martin Truex Jr. (93.718) had the third fastest lap, but the team will have some work to do before Saturday’s qualification. With nine minutes remaining on the clock, he ran into the back of Bubba Wallace in the esses and did significant damage to his nose. Wallace landed 34th on the chart with a speed of 91.641 mph.

Jamie McMurray (93.549) and Kevin Harvick (93.441) rounded out the top five.

Harvick (91.468) had the quickest 10-lap average – leading a sweep of the top three by Stewart Haas Racing. Busch was second quickest at 91.452 mph with Clint Bowyer third quick at 91.443 mph.

William Byron broke an axle seal in final practice, but the team was able to get him back on track with 24 minutes remaining in the session. His speed of 92.279 mph was 25th fastest.

Click here for the full report from final practice.

Friday Truck Series practice report from Gateway

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Second practice

Last week’s winner, Brett Moffitt topped the speed chart in Friday evening’s practice session for the Eaton 200 with a speed of 137.191 mph.

He beat second-place Myatt Snider (136.658 mph) by .128 seconds.

Johnny Sauter (136.608), Riley Herbst (136.355), and Ben Rhodes (136.219) round out the top five.

Herbst is making his Truck Series debut this week.

Also making his Truck debut is Zane Smith, who posted a lap of 136.120 mph to land sixth on the chart.

Christian Eckes (135.906) failed to back up his series-leading speed from the first practice session and was only ninth fastest, but he had the quickest 10-lap average of 135.039 mph.

Click here for complete results from practice 2.

First practice

Rain canceled the practice session at Gateway that was scheduled to run from 3:35 – 4:25 p.m. Eastern time.

When they finally got on track, Eckes posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session with a speed of 134.360 mph. He is making his Truck series debut this week.

Eckes’ speed was .009 seconds faster than Noah Gragon (134.324), who landed second on the speed chart.

Rhodes (134.120), Moffitt (133.817) and Matt Crafton (133.706) rounded out the top five.

Rhodes had the quickest 10-lap average of 133.466 mph.

With the first practice canceled at Gateway, NASCAR added a final practice session scheduled for Noon – 1 p.m.

Click here for complete results from practice one.

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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