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Clint Bowyer fastest in first Cup practice; Corey LaJoie crashes

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Clint Bowyer paced Saturday morning’s practice at Martinsville Speedway, where he scored his first victory for Stewart-Haas Racing a year ago.

Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford turned a 97.673-mph lap on the 0.526-mile oval in the first session for Sunday’s STP 500. Teammate Daniel Suarez was second fastest, followed by Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.

“Our Ford is pretty fast,” Bowyer told FS1. “With more downforce, it enables you to roll the corner faster, but it’s still the same old Martinsville.”

Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott rounded out the top 10.

There were two incidents during 50-minute session. Corey LaJoie heavily damaged the right front of his No. 32 Ford with a hard impact in-between Turns 1 and 2 because of a brake problem.

LaJoie was OK after the crash but lamented losing a car. “There is no coffee strong enough that will wake you up like losing brakes into Turn 1 at Martinsville,” he told FS1. “It’s not a good feeling losing brakes. It’s unfortunate because small teams like ours, we don’t really bring a backup that’s fully ready to go, so my guys have a lot of work ahead of them.

“Obviously our backup’s not going to be as good as our primary. Hopefully, they can work on the backup and make it just as good.”

In the opening minutes of the practice, William Byron also hit the Turn 2 wall and damaged his right front of his No. 24 Chevrolet after suffering a punctured right-front tire.

His team was able to make repairs to put his primary car back on track.

The No. 34 Ford of Michael McDowell was held out for 15 minutes at the end of the first session because of multiple prerace inspection failures before the March 17 race at Auto Club Speedway.

Click here for speeds from the first practice at Martinsville.

NASCAR America: Will there be an upset at Talladega?

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Anything is possible when NASCAR visits its two superspeedways in Daytona and Talladega.

But that concept takes on more significance this weekend when the Cup Series debuts a new rules package at Talladega.

The package includes a tapered spacer to replace the restrictor plate and a taller spoiler.

Could those new factors help result in an upset winner on Sunday?

Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan discussed that possibility on NASCAR America presents MotorMouths.

“I don’t think so,” Ryan said. “Talladega, even though it has this arbitrary nature where you’re sometimes picking lottery balls out to determine a winner or whose going to be there at the end, I still think driver skill is extremely important. That’s why Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, they’re the best (superspeedway) drivers I think in Cup right now. They’ve won multiple times here in the last five years. … I think skill will still matter.”

Petty also believes even with the new variables the race will come down to the “best teams and the best drivers.”

“We’re not going to see a Front Row (Motorsports) blast through there,” Petty said. “We’re not going to see a Ron Bouchard catch two guys side-by-side and draft into the inside (in 1981). … Now we might see that the third or fourth time they run this package, but we’re not going to see it this time I don’t believe.”

Watch the above video for more.

Dale Jr. Download: ‘Are you $150,000 confident that this is the car?’

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Twitter
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. likes to collect racing memorabilia. Especially when it comes to items closely connected to the career of his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr.

He owns the No. 2 car his father won the 1980 Cup championship with, as well the Corvette they shared in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2001.

Dale Jr. recently added to his collection in the form of a No. 8 Goodwrench car that Dale Sr. won with a handful of times in the Busch Series (now the Xfinity Series) in the 1980s.

But his journey to claiming ownership of the car was a stressful and costly affair, which he recounted on this week’s “Dale Jr. Download.”

“I’ve seen this car … pop up for the last 15 years,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been to Monterey, it’s been raced as a vintage racer for many, many years. It’s been to Goodwood (Festival of Speed) twice. I’ve seen this car over and over and over. I’ve never seen it in person. I’ve always wondered is it the real car? They’re claiming it’s the real car, but how do you now?

“Obviously, the car came up for sale recently at Barrett Jackson. I’m getting all kinds of text messages from everybody, even my sister (Kelley). Talking about, ‘Man, you seen this car?’ …

“I wonder why, of course, it’s getting sold. We’ve seen in the past, especially recently, a lot of dad’s cars and my cars going on auction. Some real, some not real. It’s pretty easy to be honest with you to know what’s real and what’s not.”

Earnhardt explained his attachment to the car was due in part to where it was constructed.

“This one in particular is important because it was built in the shop next to (his grandmother’s) house,” he said. “This was before (Dale Earnhardt Inc). … I would beg dad to take me (to the shop).”

Earnhardt’s detective work began with a relative, Robert Gee Jr., an uncle on his mother’s side of the family who worked on the No. 8 car.

“Robert Gee Jr. had verified that this car was legit,” Earnhardt said. “This car was brought up to Robert Gee Jr. to be looked at (in the late 90s). And the reason they would bring it to him is because he put the body on the car. He did several things on the car and would go to the race track with the team as well. I’ve got him at the race track in a photo with the rest of the team standing next to this car. Robert Gee Jr., who works here at JR Motorsports, has worked on this car, put the body on it.”

When Earnhardt asked him if the car was the real deal, Gee said, “Yep, it is. I’m pretty confident this is the car.”

“Well, this car is probably going to go for $150,000,” Earnhardt said. “Are you $150,000 confident that this is the car?’

Gee was “pretty sure.”

Gee explained that when he first verified the car in the late 90s via the car’s drive shaft hoop.

Also of note: who had made the hoop.

“He watched my dad make that hoop,” Earnhardt said. “It’s unique because my dad made it and the way it was made. The way dad chose to make it, he heated it up with an acetylene torch and wrapped this thing around an oxygen tank, which is quite dangerous, and made it himself right there in front of Robert in the shop.”

It wasn’t enough for Earnhardt.

“He couldn’t give me enough confirmation to make me completely sure that this was the real car,” Earnhardt said. “I got some encouragement from within my family that I should purchase this car. I called Tony (Eury) Sr. and talked to him about it.”

Then Earnhardt “swung for the fences.”

He called his former owner Rick Hendrick, who was at the auction.

“I said ‘I got one I need you to get for me if you can and he goes, ‘Sure.’ It’s probably going to go for ($150,000). If it’s under ($200,000), try to stay in the fight.”

$190,000 later, the car was his. It eventually arrived at Earnhardt’s home and was unloaded.

“I have been climbing all over this car, alright? Trying to find some identification,” Earnhardt said. “Something, anything, that would make me feel confident 100% that this was the car.”

He first looked at the floorboard of the car. His father beat the floorboard of the car with a ball peen hammer to get his seat low.

“You can see the ball peen hammer marks in the bottom of the car,” Earnhardt said. “It’s obviously been hammered down a ton, all the way across the back to get his back of the seat lower.”

But it still wasn’t enough confirmation.

“Somebody else could have beat their seat down,” he said. “It’s a very Earnhardt thing. But I can’t find another picture of the car from 1986 of the bottom showing this exact same hammer marks. That doesn’t do it for me.

“I’m the one who has spent the money, I need more.”

Earnhardt turned to his phone, which has thousands of photos his father’s career.

“There’s a couple photos of me that I’ve collected as well and there’s one of me in 1986,” Earnhardt said. “I’m sitting in the car … That gives me a view of the driver’s window. Some of the interior of the car, as far as the rear sheet metal in the back interior of the car, the roll cage. One of the things I look at in this photo is how they hooked up the widow net at the top of the window. Back then, everybody would have done that differently. When you put the body on, you made that yourself, how you were going to hook up the window net. So when you see those mounts, they’re unique to the car. I would look at those mounts and go, ‘That’s exactly like the mounts on my car.’ That’s a pretty good confirmation, but … that’s 99% maybe, or 95% sure this is the car.”

But Earnhardt found another photo from the same day of him sitting in the car taken from the passenger window.

“I can see the seat, the seat belts, the steering wheel, the steering shaft, the dashboard,” Earnhardt said. “If you draw in, look closely, above the steering shaft there is a radio box. It’s riveted to a roll bar with two rivets and then to a piece of sheet metal by two rivets as well. If you look, it’s kind of cocked counter-clockwise just slightly. It’s not level with the roll cage or the car. So I go into the car quickly with my camera. … I dive into that car with my camera, alright? I take a picture of the car today. There’s the rivet holes and they’re off angle. That’s it.

“I don’t need anything else. That to me locks it down that I’m holding the real thing.”

Earnhardt ran up to his house to tell his wife the news.

“I was almost in tears getting that type of confirmation that I have the car,” Earnhardt said. “I was calling my sister, I was calling Rick. I called Robert Jr. I texted Tony Sr. I’m telling everyone, ‘I got it. I got what I needed.”

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 6 p.m. ET

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This week’s edition of NASCAR America present MotorMouths airs from 6-6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Marty Snider hosts with Kyle Petty as they take phone calls and answer fan questions.

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 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

The No. 1 pick in the (fictional) NASCAR draft is….

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The eyes of the sports world will be on Nashville, Tennessee, this weekend with the annual NFL Draft, with the first round getting underway Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET.

You can follow all of NBC Sports’ and Rotoworld’s draft coverage here.

With the draft in mind, the NASCAR on NBC writing staff has taken it upon ourselves to hold our own draft of NASCAR talent.

Each writer received five picks to put together a team. The parameters: Pick four active Cup drivers and one non-Cup driver for development.

Now, after months weeks a few days (hours?) of intense research and scouting combined with the knowledge of covering the sport for a living, here are the draft results. Let the second-guessing begin:

Round 1

Dustin LongKyle Busch: He’s won 16 of the last 61 Cup races and doesn’t turn 34 until May. Who else are you going to select when you have the No 1 pick?

Daniel McFadinJoey Logano: Basically Kyle Busch lite. The defending Cup champion, he’s in the midst of or on the verge of his prime at the age of 28. He’s good pretty much everywhere and a threat every week barring something unfortunate.

Nate RyanBrad Keselowski: As talented as the Team Penske driver is on the track, he is nearly as valuable in the shop as a leader who constantly pushes his teams conceptually.

Jerry BonkowskiKevin Harvick: While he’s struggled to reach victory lane this season, when it comes to clutch performances in his career, Harvick didn’t earn the nickname “The Closer” for nothing. Once he finally hits victory lane this season, look for many more visits to come.

 

Round 2

Jerry BonkowskiJimmie Johnson: How can any draft not include a guy who is tied for the most career Cup championships with NASCAR legends Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt? While he hasn’t won in his last 68 starts, many more wins are still to come.

Nate RyanChase Elliott. Along with his championship-caliber ability, there is big sponsor upside for a star who virtually is guaranteed to be NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver as long as he is behind the wheel in Cup.

Daniel McFadinKurt Busch. Every four-car team needs a grizzled veteran. He’d be instrumental in getting the team’s equipment fine-tuned.

Dustin LongRyan Blaney: His time is coming. The 25-year-old should be a force in this sport for many years.

 

Round 3 

Dustin LongChristopher Bell: Strong Xfinity career has expectations high for when he gets to Cup.

Daniel McFadinRoss Chastain: A driver’s driver. He’s proven he can get in top equipment and be good right off the bat.

Nate RyanDenny Hamlin. He is nearing the prime age for a NASCAR driver and is beyond motivated to win his first Cup championship to cement an already Hall of Fame career.

Jerry BonkowskiMartin Truex Jr.: Finally broke through with his first career short track win at Richmond. While there have been some growing pains since joining Joe Gibbs Racing this season, he’s on track to still be one of the favorites for this year’s championship.

 

Round 4

Jerry BonkowskiTyler Reddick: Much like Christopher Bell, how much longer can Reddick be held back like a student in grade school? He needs to be in the Cup series in 2020. The problem is NASCAR’s numbers game. Who picks him? Who has room? RCR? RPM? CGR? RFR?

Nate RyanKyle Larson. His stock has dropped slightly in a tough start to the 2019 season (perhaps related to adapting to the new rules), but his potential remains limitless.

Daniel McFadinErik Jones: Often seems like the forgotten member of the “Youth Movement,” but has lots of talent that’s waiting to get on a consistent winning run.

Dustin LongClint Bowyer: Can still wheel it and will make this a fun team!

 

Round 5

Dustin LongChris Buescher: Keeping with the unintended theme of every driver’s last name starting with B, I present Mr. Buescher, a former Xfinity champ who is showing what he can do.

Daniel McFadinBrett Moffitt: He’s young, he’s a veteran and he took a Truck Series team without top equipment and won a NASCAR title. But really, it’s the mustache.

Nate RyanJustin Haley. Proven winner in ARCA and Trucks. Showed at Daytona last July that he can win in Xfinity as well while mixing it up with Cup veterans.

Jerry BonkowskiRyan Newman: The “Rocket Man” is off to a good start with his new home, Roush Fenway Racing, particularly in his last two starts, both ninth-place finishes. I’m looking for even bigger and better things going forward, including at least one win this season (which would be his first win since 2017 and only his second win since 2013).