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Dale Jr. discusses flying again, how much he misses racing

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will wave the green flag for today’s Daytona 500, explained Sunday what he’s done to feel more comfortable flying since his plane crashed on landing last year.

Earnhardt, a NASCAR on NBC analyst, also discussed in a session with reporters if JR Motorsports would ever move to Cup and how much he misses driving a race car.

Earnhardt, wife Amy and daughter Isla survived when the plane they were in bounced twice on landing and continued off the runaway, went down a ditch, through a chain-link fence and came to rest on a nearby road and burned last August on a trip to Bristol Motor Speedway.

Here’s what Earnhardt said:

About flying since his plane crashed on landing last year in Tennessee:

“It’s really tough for me to get back in the plane and it will never be the same now that you know the real realities and dangers. It will never, ever be the same again. It’s something you’ll never be able to forget and never lock out no matter how many flights you take.

“The only thing I can do, I guess, that helps me, everybody is different, this isn’t advice for everybody, this is just what I’ve done that helps me feel better, is before I flew I didn’t inquire about the weather or any details, any technical information about the length of the runaway we’re flying into. I didn’t know the performance of my own plane as far as its ability to land and take off and what kind of airstrips that it could do and couldn’t do that. There’s a lot of things that I just didn’t even think about and I just left it up to our guys that were flying the plane, that if they were comfortable I was comfortable.

“I think that for me to be able to get back in there and go and do and travel like I want, the only way I could do it really is to get into the details. I’m not flying the plane, I’m not a pilot, but I have as much control as I possibly can and what I’m doing and the decisions we’re making without flying the plane.

“I believe in the two guys that I’ve got up there. I’ve known them for two decades and in kind of searching out and seeking out this information and understanding how to read, the pilots, the information that they have is so through and detailed. … Some of these stuff goes over my head. I’m diving into the deep end to learn everything I can about the plane’s ability and the decisions they make and why they make it.

“It’s been extremely educational as you can imagine. I’ve learned so much in such a short period fo time It’s kind of empowered me and give me more confidence in what we’re doing and that we are safe and that I am going to be safe. I don’t want to just quit flying. I don’t want to just quit getting into an airplane.

“I need to get over that fear and work hard to get through it. That’s the advice I got from the people that I sought out, they said just keep getting back into the plane. The only way I can do that is by knowing everything I can possibly know about the exact trip we’re going to take and so that’s helped me a lot.

“I’m learning so much every single time we take off and land. I’ve learned more about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and the decisions they make. Now I’m a bit more involved in the trips we take and what I’m willing to do and not do when it comes to weather and what airports we’re flying in and out of and I’m extremely overly safe on my some of those decisions and it’s been probably annoying to my pilots, they would never admit to that, but I have to sort of figure this out on my own and it’s working out pretty good so far.”

About if JR Motorsports would ever move to Cup:

“We’ll probably never go to Cup. It just takes so many more employees. It’s difficult to find funding to be in the Cup Series. This is just me, my sister, we would have to sever our relationship with Rick (Hendrick, who is a co-owner of JR Motorsports) because he couldn’t have a fifth (Cup) car as an owner. There’s just too many roadblocks and hurdles and challenges to get to the Cup level.

“We really like the business model that we have for our Xfinity program. We’ve really honed it and tuned it to where we can do it efficiently. We would have to really relearn an entirely new budget and what we can and what we can’t accomplish, what we can afford and can’t afford. Our guys will come up with five ways we can get faster and we can’t have all five. We have to look at it economically and what makes the most sense for us as a company to balance our budget.

“I also think that the things I enjoy about being in the Xfinity Series would go away. We enjoy working with young guys. We enjoy working with old veterans, giving people their first opportunity or second chance. We enjoy graduating mechanics, crew chiefs and engineers up to the Cup level. That’s as fun to me, even more fun than winning races. … That’s what we’re trying to accomplish to get these guys to the next level. I wouldn’t have that if you were racing in the Cup Series. I really like where we’re at and we’re successful in the Xfinity Series.”

About how excited he is to drive in the Xfinity race next month in Miami and how he prepares:

“That’s coming fast. Typically I have all year. I’m nervous. I’ll be honest, I’m a little nervous. Being out of the car for a year and jumping back in there and get right back into it and understand exactly where the limits are. Luckily, we’re riding on the fence at Homestead and the limit is right there. Those cars are pretty tough … you can get into the wall a little bit and not have to worry too much about hurting your car. I’m sure I’m going to probably tear off the right side of that thing after practice, qualifying and through the race, I’ll hit it several times. …

“I really missing racing. I really miss driving and it’s getting worse. I thought as I got out of the car and the further I got from my full-time career the less that would bother me but it actually is getting worse for some reason. I really look forward to getting some seat time and smelling the smells and hearing the nosies and just enjoying being in the car.”

If he will race more than once a year since he misses it:

“No, not really. It’s a healthy thing to miss it and want to do it. I think it helps me in the booth to have that energy as a fan. I think one is plenty, probably one is more than I should be doing. I’ve got my wife and Isla and all that, I should devote as much as I can to them. One is just perfect.

“I think that it really helps me remember what drivers are thinking about, so I’m going to get in that car and as much as it will be about having fun, it’s also going to be about reminding myself of all the things that goes through a driver’s mind when he’s out there in the car so when I’m in the booth I’m really able to explain and remember and recall some of the things that emotionally that the drivers are dealing with. It’s so helpful.

“If anything I would love to maybe get an opportunity to test a Cup car, and I’ve talked to a couple of teams when they’re out there testing about hoping in for a few laps. I just really want to know what this package feels like at a mile-and-a-half (track) and I’ve never driven the car with the current package.”

eNASCAR Pro Invitational Qualifier to be streamed online

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The qualifying race for Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway will be streamed on, NASCAR announced.

The qualifier features Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers looking to advance to the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race that will be at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox, FS1 and the Fox Sports App. At this time, four drivers from the qualifier will advance. That number could change depending on any late additions or drops to the race featuring Cup drivers.

MORE: Roush, Greg Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

MORE: North Wilkesboro to make its comeback on iRacing 

MORE: eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series reminds Clint Bowyer of being a rookie

The qualifier is scheduled to take place at 11:02 a.m. ET and have 34 drivers battling for those four transfer spots.

The qualifier will be 30 laps at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway. The race will have no cautions.

Practice begins at 10:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying begins at 10:55 a.m., lasting five minutes, followed by the race.

Last week, six drivers advanced from the qualifier to the main event. They were: Anthony Alfredo, Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ty Majeski and Ryan Truex.

Drivers scheduled to compete in Sunday’s qualifier at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway are (with car number):

02 – Spencer Boyd

7 – Justin Allgaier

08 – Jeb Burton

15 – Brennan Poole

16 – Justin Haley

22 – Austin Cindric

23 – Sam Mayer

26 – Tyler Ankrum

27 – Ruben Garcia

29  – Kaz Grala

29a – Trevor Bayne

33 – Anthony Alfredo

35 – Todd Gilliland

36 – Jesse Iwuji

40 – Ryan Truex

45 – Ty Majeski

46 – Chandler Smith

50 – Jeffrey Earnhardt

52 – Stewart Friesen

53 – Joey Gase

54 – Kyle Weatherman

63 – Scott Stenzel

68 – Brandon Brown

74 – Sheldon Creed

78 – Ryan Ellis

80 – Joe Graf Jr.

81 – Christian Eckes

90 – Alex Labbe

93 – Myatt Snider

98 – Chase Briscoe

99 – Harrison Burton

TBD – Derek Kraus

TBD – Drew Dollar

TBD – JJ Yeley

March 28 in NASCAR history: Texas Terry Labonte gets a home win

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Terry Labonte’s last two Cup Series wins were anything but forgettable.

The last one, in 2003, came in the Southern 500. That was the same race he earned his first Cup win in way back in 1980.

But four years earlier, the two-time champion got a home win.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the driver nicknamed “Texas Terry” claimed a victory in the 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was just the third Cup race held at the facility after it opened in 1997.

Labonte started fourth and would lead 124 of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, including the final 12 after he passed Dale Jarrett on the outside going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Jarrett wouldn’t get a chance to fight for the lead again. With four laps to go, Jimmy Spencer crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the caution. Labonte took the checkered and yellow flags together for his 21st Cup win.

“We picked places to go test this year and I said ‘I want to go here cause this is a race I want to win,” Labonte told CBS. “Besides Daytona, coming here to Texas is awesome.”

Making the day even better for the Labonte family was Terry’s younger brother, Bobby, placing third.

Also on this day:

1954: The premier series held two races on different sides of the country. Dick Rathmann won a 125-mile race at Oakland Speedway in California after starting last. In Georgia, Al Keller won his first career race at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway.

1982: Sam Ard claimed his first career Xfinity Series win in a race at Martinsville Speedway. Ard would go on to win 22 Xfinity races and the championships in 1983 and 1984.

1992: Robert Pressley passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

1993: Dale Earnhardt came back from a lap down to win at Darlington Raceway. It was his first win since the Coca-Cola 600 10 months earlier. Alan Kulwicki finished sixth in what would be his last race before his death in a plane crash on April 1.

2004: Kurt Busch won at Bristol for his third consecutive victory on the half-mile track.

Roush, Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

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After four years, Roush Fenway Racing and Greg Biffle are getting the band back together … digitally.

Roush Fenway Racing announced its former driver will compete in Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event on a digital Texas Motor Speedway.

Like he did in the Cup Series from 2003-2016, Biffle will pilot a No. 16 Ford in the race (1 p.m. ET on Fox and FS1).

“How exciting is it to get back behind the wheel of the No. 16,” Biffle said in a press release. “I watched the iRace last week on TV and I was really impressed with the overall quality of the broadcast and the racing. It was just a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to being a part of the show this weekend.

“We are running a really cool Castrol scheme on the car. I think it’s going to show up really well. My plan is to log a ton of practice time leading up to the race, so hopefully we can have a strong showing and you’ll see a lot of the Castrol green and red on the broadcast.”

This will be Biffle’s iRacing event debut.

After parting ways with Roush Fenway Racing after the 2016 season, Biffle returned to NASCAR last year for a one-off Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway with Kyle Busch Motorsports, which he won.

NASCAR teams impacted by North Carolina stay at home order

Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced a stay at home order for the entire state of North Carolina, beginning at 5 p.m. ET Monday because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order is for 30 days.

The move impacts all NASCAR teams based in North Carolina.

“These are tough directives, but I need you to take them seriously,” Gov. Cooper said in afternoon news briefing.

MORE: N.C. Governor enlists Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson for COVID-19 PSA

MORE: North Carolina stay at home order

The order bans gatherings of more than 10 people and directs everyone to stay at least six feet away from each other. The order requires all residents to stay at home except for essential activities. The order states: “non-essential business and operations must cease.”

The order also states that among the definitions for an essential business and operation is “Businesses that meet Social Distancing Requirements. Businesses, not-for-profit organizations or educational institutions that conduct operations while maintaining Social Distancing Requirements:

a. Between and among its employees; and

b. Between and among employees and customers except at the point of sale or purchase.”

Mecklenburg County and Cabarrus County, which are home to such race teams as Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing, were already under a stay at home order through April 16.

By the end of the week, more than 20 states will have issued stay at home orders, including California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Ohio.