Podcast: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte go deep on hot-button topics

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In the debut of a new post-“Wednesdays with Dale” podcast, NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte had extended discussions about topics on Wednesday’s show.

You can hear the podcast by clicking on the audio embed below, but here are some snippets from what the former crew chief-driver tandem said during the freewheeling conversation:


On the postrace dash to the airport that began with Earnhardt’s late father and others from that generation …

Earnhardt on the trend’s origins: “There was a bit of a hurry just to be home quicker, but there also was a huge element at play with their egos, with Rusty (Wallace) and Dad particularly. Dad and Rusty competed on everything. They literally were like racing home in their planes the same way they ran the race all day. It was always who could get in the air first.”

Letarte: “My man Jeff Burton can get out of a sportcoat like Superman. In the phone booth, out of the phone booth, he’s gone.”

Earnhardt: “I remember going to races with (his father) before I started driving and seeing him start to drive home in his driver’s suit. It’s like that first 15 miles within the circumference of the racetrack, if you can break out of that traffic bubble sooner than anyone else … once you’re beyond that bubble, you’re good to go.”

Letarte: “If you’re first out of the bubble, you’re first to the airport, and once you’re the leader, you’re the leader all day.”


On an Xfinity race they ran together at Texas Motor Speedway (probably in 2014) in which they started off horrendously slow …

Earnhardt on Letarte being his crew chief in two series the same weekend: “That says a lot about me as a driver that you were not so tired of me on the Cup side that you were like, ‘You know what? I don’t think I’ll do that. I’m really getting enough of you on the Cup side.’ You said, ‘Yes! Yes, Dale! More racing with Dale? Of course!’”

Letarte: “We were getting our teeth kicked in in practice.”

Earnhardt: “We realized it quickly in the first 15 minutes. I’m like, ‘Hey, driving OK! Feels pretty good!’ He’s like, ‘Well I got some bad news. You’re half a second slow! Not a little bit! We’re in trouble!’  … We were starting to panic. I made this uncharacteristically low entry into Turn 3, and it chopped a half-second off the lap.”

Letarte: “And instantly, I was like, ‘Hey, that’s way better.’ And the response was, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re pretty good, I’ve been driving it all wrong.’ We went from throwing up slow to one good lap to let’s go back to the Cup garage, we’ll be fine.”


On Brad Keselowski’s comments about the need for drivers to be outspoken

Letarte on whether a crew chief would prefer a driver toe the line: “I’ve only had two (drivers). I had Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. Both spoke their mind, both were very transparent, they endorsed products that endorsed them and matched their brands and personalities. It all worked. I enjoyed it because both also would have a conversation where it’s more than just the fans. I guess the short answer is yes. I enjoy a driver who is speaking their mind because if you’re always you, all the time, even though it’s sometimes rockier, you’re going to get in less major issues because you are who you are. People don’t think you’re two-faced or saying something behind your back. I will qualify that by saying both drivers I worked with who were that way, I could call on the phone and say hey, I know you think this, but I just want to paint the picture of what could be perceived of internally in our family while we try to go race, and both of them would say oh man, I never thought of that. They were both very supportive.”

Earnhardt on whether sponsorship can hinder drivers speaking freely compared with other sports: “NBA players do have to consider the partnerships that they have, but when you’re LeBron James, you have so much strength. Your brand is so freaking strong, it doesn’t affect him as much.

“I think that with drivers, I think they’re a little more concerned not so much with how the fans may react, but they probably do think more about, ‘Oh man, my sponsor may not like this, how much job security do I have? Am I willing to risk my career on making a statement?’

“Brad doesn’t seem to care. I might be wrong. This might not be true every driver. But I think if you adopt that approach, a lot of people buy in, a lot of people buy in to who Brad is, that’s Brad. Nobody’s shocked. His sponsors aren’t going to wake up and say, ‘Wait a minute!’ They know who they’re getting. That’s who Brad is. Him being that way has gotten to become what we expect from Brad, so it’s not so shocking to see his owner or corporate partners see him get into those situations.”

Click on the embed above to hear the podcast.

It also is available on Apple Podcasts.

 

NASCAR America: Daytona 500 ‘Turning Point’ came on Stage 2 pit stop

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The moment that set up Denny Hamlin‘s Daytona 500 win on Sunday came on Lap 108, according to NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte.

That’s when Hamlin made a pit stop near the end of Stage 2.

“(Crew chief Chris) Gabehart calls his car to pit road,” Letarte said. “He doesn’t care about stage points. He cares about four fresh tires on a hot, slick Daytona track.”

Then on Lap 122, during the stage break pit stop, Gabehart decided to put only fuel in the No. 11 Toyota when he was 21st.

“On Lap 163 he got 6 seconds of gas, that’s it, no tires,” Letarte said. “That gave him track position (eighth) in front of all of those accidents. The turning points to this race was before Stage 2 even ended.”

Watch the above video for more.

Garrett Smithley in Spire Motorsports car at Atlanta as entry lists released

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Garrett Smithley is listed as the driver of Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet for Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Smithley, a native of Peachtree City, Georgia, competes in the Xfinity Series with JD Motorsports and made three Cup starts last year.

Spire purchased Furniture Row Racing’s charter after the team closed at the end of last season. It fielded Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500 in the No. 40 in a partnership of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Quin Houff also will compete for Spire this season.

Click here for the preliminary Cup entry list.

Click here for the preliminary Xfinity entry list.

Click here for the preliminary Truck Series entry list.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Daytona 500 recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and recaps all the action from Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett will discuss all the major storylines from the race that saw Denny Hamlin claim his second 500 win.

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.

‘Bizarre’ Daytona 500 marks Jamie McMurray’s likely final Cup start

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If Sunday’s Daytona 500 turns out to be Jamie McMurray‘s 583rd and final Cup start, then the race threw all it could at him as a going away present.

McMurray finished 22nd in what the Chip Ganassi Racing driver called a “bizarre” Daytona 500.

The 43-year-old driver had to start his 17th “Great American Race” at the rear due to a rear gear change. By Lap 19 in he was in 19th.

His day was complicated on Lap 50 when he was caught up in a six-car wreck, which damaged his right front fender. With repairs made to his No. 40 Chevrolet, the 2010 Daytona 500 winner continued.

Even with the damage, McMurray managed to navigate his way up to 10th by Lap 84.

He then led the field from Laps 164-169, with just the last two laps under green.

Then chaos reigned.

The final 20 laps saw three multi-car wrecks, but McMurray managed to avoid the ones that caught 21 and seven cars.

“Certainly, a bizarre 500 to have so much green-flag racing and then so many wrecks at the end,” McMurray said. “It’s incredible to me how many times we were able to crash in the last 10 laps. It’s part of it. You were able to get big runs. It seemed like as the sun went down those runs happened more often. When the Daytona 500 is on the line, people are willing to take big risks. They just all waited to the end.”

But McMurray couldn’t avoid the last major wreck. While running eighth he was ensnared in a nine-car melee that resulted in the overtime finish. 

“I’m thrilled I made it as long as I did,” said McMurray. “I made it through two or three wrecks I should have been in and didn’t get torn up. It is just part of it. It is what it is and I’m just thankful I’m safe. This is just one of those places you come to that there are a lot of unknowns and certainly after flipping at Talladega (last April), speedway racing was a little different in my mind.”

McMurray will now transition to an analyst role for Fox Sports.

Should the native of Joplin, Missouri, never make another Cup start, he ends his career with seven wins, 63 top fives and 168 top 10s.

He exits the NASCAR stage after 581 consecutive Cup starts.

Next week’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be the first without McMurray since the Oct. 20, 2002 event at Martinsville Speedway. That was the race after McMurray scored a surprise first career win at Charlotte Motor Speedway driving Ganassi’s No. 40 Dodge in substitution of an injured Sterling Marlin.

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