Picture Perfect: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s race topped only by family photo

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RICHMOND, Va. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. smiled when he walked to his Xfinity car for the first practice at 8:30 a.m., when he worked later in the day in the NBCSN booth, when he stood next to wife Amy and daughter Isla before the Xfinity race and when he climbed from his car after winning a stage, leading 96 laps and finishing fourth.

The last time Earnhardt had this much fun in a car?

“When I was racing late models in the ‘90s probably,” Earnhardt said on pit road. “I had a lot of fun in the late ‘90s running the Xfinity Series (but) I didn’t know how good I had it. (In) the Cup garage, it’s so damn cutthroat it’s hard to have fun in there.”

Friday, he oozed energy. Earnhardt spoke as quickly as his Chevrolet ran. He laughed. He bobbed. He raised his hands.

He took it all in just as the fans did at Richmond Raceway. They rejoiced when the No. 88 led. They roared when he was introduced before the race and exclaimed as he stood on pit road after running 250 laps. They followed their pied piper as he walked down pit road to the media center. Halfway there, he diverted his path so he could walk with them, sign autographs and take selfies.

Other than a win – which went to Christopher Bell – the day couldn’t have been much better. Especially since he sought to manage expectations by saying before practice began that he hoped to score a top-10 finish.

“You just can’t assume you can miss eight months, 10 months and come in and win, much less run in the top five,” he said.

As the day progressed, a top-10 finish would be almost a disappointment.

Earnhardt was fast during the day, qualified second and put himself in position for a strong run.

“Right around three-quarters of the way through that race, I’m like, ‘Man if I don’t win now I’m going to be disappointed,’ ” Earnhardt said. “I had backed myself into a corner with my expectations getting too high. It’s easy to be disappointed that we didn’t win because we should have, but I didn’t do a good job on that one restart. I just spun my tires.”

Even so, Earnhardt called it a “fun night” and noted the challenges for JR Motorsports to bring a fifth car to the track, especially with three of the organization’s drivers competing in the playoffs: Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Tyler Reddick.

Yet, the car for the boss proved to be the best. Earnhardt even won a stage, which he noted on the radio to his team after it happened.

“I never won a freaking stage before. It’s kind of embarrassing to be honest with you,” Earnhardt said with a smile. “It felt good. I had fun doing it.”

That feeling, though, couldn’t compare to what he felt before the race when he stood with Amy and Isla for pictures in front of his car.

“Being with Isla, that meant a lot to me,” Earnhardt said of his 4-month old daughter. “I don’t know what she’ll think of my racing career and how that will register with her since she won’t have experienced any of it. We got to have one race together. Pretty important moment for me.”

But it might not be the last. Earnhardt talked about running another race next year. He might return to Richmond or go to Atlanta.

That’s for another day.

On this day, after he had given his fan base and himself one more memory, there was still something else to do.

“I can’t wait to get back to the (motor home),” he said.

And celebrate his accomplishment with his wife and daughter.

 and on Facebook

Results, point standings after Xfinity playoff opener

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Christopher Bell punched his ticket to the second round of the Xfinity playoffs by winning Friday’s race at Richmond.

It’s Bell’s fifth win of the season.

He beat Ross Chastain, Daniel Hemric, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Tifft.

Earnhardt led a race-high 96 laps and won Stage 2 in his first NASCAR start since last year.

Click here for the results.

Points

With his win, Bell is the only driver who doesn’t have to worry about next weekend’s race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

He’s the first driver to lock a spot in the second round of the playoffs.

While Bell leads the standings, Hemric is second (-28 points).

The top five is completed by Justin Allgaier (-34), Chastain (-37) and Sadler (-38).

Austin Cindric (-62) and Ryan Reed (-63) are in the 11th and 12th spots.

Click here for the point standings.

Christopher Bell wins Richmond Xfinity race; Dale Jr. places fourth

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Christopher Bell opened the Xfinity Series playoffs with a win in Friday night’s race at Richmond Raceway.

Bell took the lead from Matt Tifft on a restart with 14 laps to go and didn’t look back, as he beat Ross Chastain, Daniel Hemric, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tifft.

The win is the fifth for Bell this year and the first in seven races. He completes a sweep of the season’s races at Richmond. It’s also his first win from the pole.

“It’s not very often that you get to win with a car that’s not a winning car, we’ll take it,” Bell told NBCSN. “Man, I’m just pumped.”

Earnhardt, who made his first NASCAR start since retiring from full-time Cup competition 10 months ago, led a race-high 96 laps and won Stage 2.

“It got my expectations all messed up,” Earnhardt told NBCSN. “I was like, ‘Dang, I got to win now.’ We didn’t have the car at the end. Restarting on the outside is kind of tough. … We’ll try to do another one next year and see where we go.”

Elliott Sadler finished sixth in his last start at his home track.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Daniel Hemric

STAGE 2 WINNER: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

MORE: Results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Ross Chastain placed second after having to start from the rear for unapproved adjustments. It was his third and final scheduled start for Chip Ganassi Racing … Ryan Reed placed 10th after also starting from the rear for unapproved adjustments. It’s his first top 10 in six races.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Ty Majeski wrecked with three laps left in Stage 2 following contact with Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ryan Reed. It’s the 11th DNF for the No. 60 team this season due to a wreck … Katherine Legge placed 28th after causing two cautions in the final stage … No. 1 seed Justin Allgaier wrecked out from contact with Cole Custer on a restart with 25 laps to go.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT No. 1: “That’s the first stage win of my career.” – Dale Earnhardt Jr. after winning Stage 2.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT No. 2: “To be the last time on this track, I don’t have a win, but I have a lot of great memories here.” – Elliott Sadler, who competed in his last race at his home track.

WHAT’S NEXT: Drive for the Cure 200 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval at 3 p.m. ET Sept. 29 on NBCSN.

Christopher Bell wins Xfinity Richmond pole; Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualifies 2nd

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Christopher Bell will start first for tonight’s Xfinity race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) after posting a top qualifying speed of 118.990 mph around the short track.

The pole is Bell’s fourth of the year.

“That was a very stressful qualifying session,” Bell told NBCSN. “Out of our four wins this year we haven’t won from the pole. Hopefully we can break that streak tonight.”

The rookie will be joined on the front row by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified second with a speed of 118.896 mph.

Earnhardt is making his first and only start of the year.

“Man, I almost got the pole, that would’ve been cool,” Earnhardt told NBCSN. “I was talking to my teammate up there in the booth, Jeff Burton, about watching these guys lay back in qualifying at some of these tracks like Darlington and so forth. I’m like, ‘I’ve never tried that before.’ I’d be too nervous, right? I might screw up. I thought I’ve got nothing to lose here, so I tried going easy in that first round. … Ran it just fast enough and maybe saved a little bit of our tire to be able to run better.”

The top five is completed by Ross Chastain, Cole Custer and Justin Allgaier.

Elliott Sadler qualified 13th for his last start at his home track.

He was followed by Tyler Reddick, Spencer Gallagher and Michael Annett.

Click here for results.

NASCAR Xfinity practice report at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. – Cole Custer posted the fastest lap in an abbreviated final Xfinity practice Friday at Richmond Raceway.

Teams were limited to seven minutes of practice because of morning rain.

Custer led the field with a lap of 119.798 mph. He was followed by Daniel Hemric (119.638 mph), Ross Chastain (118.707), Ryan Truex (118.593) and Shane Lee (118.535).

Hemric had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 118.251 mph. He was followed by Chastain (117.867) and Justin Allgaier (117.828).

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for final Xfinity practice report

OPENING PRACTICE

Christopher Bell posted the fastest lap in Friday’s opening Xfinity practice at Richmond Raceway.

Bell led the way with a lap of 120.854 mph. He was followed by Cole Custer (120.681 mph), Brandon Jones (120.460), Ty Majeski (120.353) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (120.283).

Las Vegas winner Ross Chastain was 15th on the speed chart with a top lap of 119.053 mph. This is his final scheduled race in the No. 42 car.

Austin Cindric has the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 118.686 mph. He was followed by Matt Tifft (118.574 mph) and Elliott Sadler (118.198).

Cody Lane crashed late in the session. He spun off Turn 2 in front of Ross Chastain and hit the SAFER barrier. Chastain ducked underneath Lane’s car and avoided contact.

The Xfinity Series’ opening playoff race is at 7:30 p.m. ET today on NBCSN.

Click here for Xfinity practice report