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.

 

Preliminary entry lists for playoff races at Martinsville Speedway

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It’s time for the last short track races of the NASCAR season as the playoffs roll on at Martinsville Speedway.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series will be in action this weekend at the .526-mile track in Virginia.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the weekend.

Cup – First Data 500 (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

There are 40 entries for the race.

Matt Kenseth is back in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 Ford.

Hermie Sadler is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 7 Chevrolet for his first start of the year. Five of his last six Cup starts have been at Martinsville.

There is no driver listed for Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Ford.

Clint Bowyer won the March race at Martinsville. He beat Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Busch is the defending winner of this race. He beat Martin Truex Jr. and Bowyer.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Texas Roadhouse 200 (1 p.m. ET Saturday)

There are 35 entries for the race. Three trucks will not make the field.

Kyle Benjamin, Jeb Burton and Timothy Peters are entered in the race.

Harrison Burton is entered in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota.

John Hunter Nemechek won the March Martinsville race over Benjamin and Brett Moffitt. Noah Gragson won this race last year over Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter.

Click here for the entry list.

Scott Graves to be Ryan Newman’s crew chief at Roush Fenway Racing

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Roush Fenway Racing confirmed Tuesday that Scott Graves will be Ryan Newman‘s crew chief next season on the No. 6 Cup team.

Graves had been the crew chief for Daniel Suarez this season until leaving Joe Gibbs Racing Oct. 9.

Graves joined Roush Fenway Racing as an engineer in 2006. He was a crew chief there from 2012-15. He did four races as an Xfinity crew chief in 2012, working with a variety of drivers. In 2013, he served as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s crew chief for three Cup races late in the season. Graves was Stenhouse’s crew chief in Cup for the 2013 season. Graves returned to the Xfinity Series and was the crew chief for Chris Buescher in 2014-15. They won the championship in 2015.

Graves left Roush for Joe Gibbs Racing and was Suarez’s crew chief in Xfinity in 2016 when he won the championship. Graves started 2017 with JGR’s Xfintiy program before moving up to be Suarez’s Cup crew chief early in the season.

“We are very pleased to bring Scott back to the fold,” said team co-owner Jack Roush in a statement from the team. “Scott is an exceptional talent atop the pit box and he has done an outstanding job throughout his career – with multiple championship campaigns attesting to that.

“He brings a strong engineering background to the table and we are excited about the opportunity to pair him with Ryan Newman going into the 2019 season.”

Roush Fenway Racing announced Sept. 22 that Newman would join the team in 2019.

Matt Puccia is the crew chief on the No. 6 car this season. Roush Fenway Racing stated that details on Puccia’s role are being worked out.

 

 

Bump & Run: Martinsville hot dogs, looking ahead to Round 3

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What’s your career high of Martinsville hot dogs in a weekend?

Nate Ryan: Maybe one or two? It’s been roughly 18 years since I consumed one. My career high of turkey sandwiches from the Sheetz near the 58/220 intersection is about six, though.

Dustin Long: One. Not my thing.

Daniel McFadin: In my four visits I’ve never had more than two in a race day.

Dan Beaver: I’m ashamed to say only two.

What percentage do you put it that the Big 3 all advance to the championship race in Miami?

Nate Ryan: More than 80 percent. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch likely are safe on playoff points, and Martin Truex Jr. could either win at Texas or be consistent enough over the next three races to advance. The only scenario in which one of the trio won’t race for the championship involves two other playoff drivers winning in this round; Busch, Harvick and Truex will post the finishes to garner the necessary points.

Dustin Long: 95 percent. Forget recent struggles, they will be there in Miami racing for a championship.

Daniel McFadin: 60 percent. I think Martin Truex Jr. is going to be in danger once Phoenix rolls around. The 78 team has lost its fire over the last four races, despite finishing fifth in Kansas. Kyle Busch can be expected to be a threat in all three races and Harvick should be the man to beat at Texas and Phoenix, if he can keep from making mistakes.

Dan Beaver: 50 percent: One of the non-Big 3 will win a race in this round and that means Martin Truex Jr. is going to need to seriously improve his performance to advance.

What’s stood out to you so far with the Cup playoffs?

Nate Ryan: The emergence of Chase Elliott and the cohesiveness, the competitiveness of Stewart-Haas Racing and the lone win among Busch, Harvick and Truex. It’s difficult to pin down an overall narrative.

Dustin Long: There there have been no upsets or surprises so far in who has been eliminated. Even when Brad Keselowski won three in a row he was saying they needed more speed. They won by execution. Running out of fuel at Talladega hurt him and then they didn’t have the speed at Kansas to make up for all those lost points at Talladega. The strongest teams are left. 

Daniel McFadin: The late-race success of teams that didn’t dominate in the regular season. Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola each earned their first wins of the year in the playoffs and Chase Elliott earned wins No. 2 and 3. The competition has finally evened out, though some of that has been through help from late mistakes and cars running out of gas.

Dan Beaver: Chase Elliott with his pair of victories in Round 2. Along with his Watkins Glen win in August, he has won on three very distinct tracks.

What track in this round — Martinsville, Texas or Phoenix — do you think will have the most impact in the playoffs?

Nate Ryan: Phoenix because of the fresh layout and because the points scenarios always lend themselves to the Round of 8 cutoff race playing a major factor on the championship.

Dustin Long: Phoenix. Last chance to advance to Miami. Desperate times call for desperate actions.

Daniel McFadin: Martinsville. Teams will view it as the biggest equalizer in the round and with the possibility of a wild race, a non-playoff driver could win putting even more emphasis on the next two races for non-Big 3 drivers.

Dan Beaver: Every playoff driver will be trying to get off to a strong start at Martinsville and that will create some chaos.

NASCAR America: Will Martin Truex Jr. make the championship race?

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There are just three races left to decide who will compete for the Cup title.

On NASCAR America, Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton discussed Martin Truex Jr.‘s chances of getting a shot to repeat as champion.

Letarte believes Furniture Row Racing is hurt by the fact that it will close down at the end of the season.

“The way I look at it is there’s going to be four drivers that race for a championship in Miami and two heavyweights are already in,” said Letarte, referring to Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. “I don’t think Martin Truex makes it. I just don’t. I think that they’ve done a great job of trying to protect their team from the news, but the simple fact is we are four weeks from a championship and we are four weeks from an entire shop of people losing their job. That’s fact. That’s life. That’s what they’re trying to deal with out there in Colorado.”

Burton believe’s “no one’s a lock” for the championship four but admits it would “take special circumstances” for Harvick and Busch to not make it. He also thinks Truex is in a better position to advance compared to those he’s fighting for the final two spots in Miami.

“Who is trying to take him out of the Big 3?” Burton asked. “I haven’t seen it from (Clint) Bowyer. (Aric) Almirola’s been running pretty well lately. But you’re going to have to be better than just run with him. He has more points than you have.”

Watch the above video for more. Below is the playoff standings entering Martinsville and the Round of 8.