Bruce Martin

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Bruce Martin Photo

Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes Indy 500 should never have guaranteed starting positions

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INDIANAPOLIS – Like many viewers watching last weekend’s Indianapolis 500 “Bump Day” on NBC, former NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was captivated by the drama.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedule

He also believes INDYCAR should not follow NASCAR’s path of “Chartered Teams” locking up positions in the major races; such as the Daytona 500. That has taken away the excitement and drama of the Daytona Duels.

“Not trying to get myself in the weeds here, but I think Indy could look at the history of NASCAR and how it has changed the excitement for some of the Duels and qualifying,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports.com. “I would not go in that direction. If I was in control of things, I would not pull those levers to have guaranteed spots. The thrill of Bump Day and the battle for the final row, increased the value of Sunday and viewership for Sunday. It taught people about other drivers and teams. We don’t learn those things if you don’t see them going through that battle and experience.

“I thought it was a tremendous win for the people that want to keep things at Indy as they are.”

Earnhardt, who is part of NBC’s crew for Sunday’s telecast of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, believes the way it all played out created a storyline that enhances the interest in the 500-Mile Race.

“I experienced the drama before with Bump Day that has happened here in this race in the past, but I thought it was symbolic with the conversation going on about guaranteed spots,” Earnhardt said. “For the folks who are the traditionalists who believe you have to earn your way in, it was a great day for those folks and their argument. Fernando Alonso and how that story played out and his reaction to not making it, I thought he handled it like the champion he is. All of that was interesting.

“The little teams beating the big teams was pretty cool. It created some really exciting stuff and did nothing but build excitement in the race.

“Even though Alonso is not in the race, I’m just as interested, or more interested, than I was before. Them not being in the race didn’t change it for me. If anything, that whole drama and how it played out made me more excited to see the event.”

Earnhardt is attending his first Indianapolis 500 in person. He will be part of NBC’s Indianapolis 500 Pre-race show along with Mike Tirico and 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick.

Earnhardt will also drive the Pace Car to lead the 33-car starting lineup to the green flag to start the 103rdIndianapolis 500. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time.

Defending Indy 500 winner Will Power talks about the ‘Dale Jr. Download’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power of Team Penske was NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s guest on the most recent “Dale Jr. Download.”

“I liked it a lot, it was great, a lot of fun, and we got along really well,” Power told NBC Sports.com at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before Wednesday’s rain-abbreviated Indy 500 “Open Test.”

It was the first time Power got to know Earnhardt, though the two live just 7 miles apart from each other in the Lake Norman area north of Charlotte, North Carolina.

“We did an appearance for Chevrolet up in Detroit once, that had a bunch of drivers, but I never knew him other than shaking his hand at that appearance,” Power said. “It was cool to be on his show. I’ve watched Dale, and he is massively popular in the motorsports community. I was really honored that he asked me to be on his show.

“We talked about everything from driving an Indy car to fighting in Toowoomba (Power’s hometown in Australia) to karaoke machines to everything.”

Power has his own unique personality that can often be described as “quirky.” Earnhardt, a former NASCAR star and two-time Daytona 500 winner, remains one of the most popular figures in NASCAR and is currently part of NBC Sports broadcast crew of NASCAR on NBC.

“He is very charismatic,” Power said. “I always thought when I saw him do commercials, that guy could be an actor as good as he is in front of the camera.”

In May, Earnhardt will get to attend the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in his life and will be part of NBC’s inaugural telecast of the Indy 500.

“Dale asked me a lot about the 500 and asked me what the first thing he should do when I get to the Speedway,” Power said. “I told him to stand on the pit wall near Turn 1 and see what it looks like. It’s a pretty cool experience.

“Dale told me he watched the Indy 500 since 1982. It’s pretty cool to have him commentating on it this year.”

Wednesday’s “Open Test” was the first time this year Power has returned to the track where he won the 102ndIndianapolis 500 in 2018.

“I drove into the Speedway today with a big smile on my face and very proud to have that banner of my win up there at the main entrance to the Speedway,” Power said. “I was super proud to win the race. But, you reset. You want to do it again. You understand what a great feeling it is, what an accomplishment it is to win this race and how special the place is.

“It’s such an amazing event with so much history.

“I can’t wait to come out there and see where you stack up. It makes me more determined to win it again. There is no better place in the world than to win it here. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.”

Power and the 29 drivers who hit the track on Wednesday had to dodge several rain delays that limited track activity. That gave Power time to absorb the “Dale Jr. Download” podcast as the track was drying.

“I certainly enjoyed it and would enjoy doing it again,” Power said. “There was plenty of random thought about different things, and it’s not all about motorsports.

“He was shocked that we live so close to each other in North Carolina. Maybe we will go cycling now.”

When the ‘Alabama Gang’ took on the Indy 500

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Times have changed in these parts. In a state known for college football and NASCAR, it’s college basketball and IndyCar racing that will be the main attraction this weekend in this state that takes pride in its Southern culture.

Nearly 50 years ago, it was much different.

There were stock car tracks all over the state of Alabama and the most famous of all stock car racers were known as “The Alabama Gang.”

It consisted of Red Farmer, a local stock car hero who continued to race well into his 80s. He’s still a legend at the disputed age of 91. Nobody knows for sure, how old Farmer is, but the International Motorsports Hall of Fame lists his birth year as 1928.

But it was Bobby Allison and his younger brother Donnie (pictured above), along with Hueytown, Alabama neighbor and NASCAR protégé Neil Bonnett that made “The Alabama Gang” something to fear.

When these drivers weren’t winning the Daytona 500 or the Southern 500 or the Talladega 500 or any of the other big-time races on the NASCAR schedule in the 1960s, ‘70s and ’80s, they were racing Late Model stock cars at Birmingham International Raceway and other tracks in the South and around the United States.

So as the NTT IndyCar Series takes over Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham for the 10th Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, let’s look back to when “The Alabama Gang” took on the Indianapolis 500.

To read the rest of Bruce Martin’s story, go to MotorSportsTalk