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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

Daniel Suarez trying to find his place in Silly Season

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
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RICHMOND, Va. — Daniel Suarez, expected to lose his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing after this season, says he has options but isn’t willing to reveal them.

Suarez is looking for a ride because reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn are expected to move to the No. 19 team with Furniture Row Racing closing operations after this season.

That leaves Suarez on the outside at JGR.

“I don’t really have anything good to say,” Suarez said after qualifying fifth Friday. “When you don’t have anything good to say, it is better not to say anything.”

Suarez removed a reference Joe Gibbs Racing from his Twitter profile this week. Asked about that Friday, Suarez laughed and said: “I’m a driver. I like my family. I like classic cars. That’s what I put in there.”

As for where he might race next year, Suarez said: “We’re talking to a lot of people. I’m sure good things will come our way.”

Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas said last week at Las Vegas that his team has talked to Suarez’s group about the No. 41 car. Kurt Busch’s contract expires after this season with the team, which creates the opening in the No. 41 car. 

Reports have stated Kurt Busch could be headed to the No. 1 team at Chip Ganassi Racing and replace Jamie McMurray.

Another option for Suarez could be Leavine Family Racing. Kasey Kahne won’t return to the No. 95 after this season and car owner Bob Leavine has expressed an interest in aligning with Toyota.

One place that doesn’t appear to be an option is Roush Fenway Racing, which is expected to announce Saturday that Ryan Newman will join the team to drive the No. 6 car next year. Newman’s departure would create a vacancy with the No. 31 car at Richard Childress Racing after this season.

Suarez was encouraged by his run Friday at Richmond Raceway and optimistic about Saturday night’s Cup race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“Definitely the best car I’ve ever had here at Richmond,” he said. “So hopefully I can take advantage of it (Saturday).”

If he can, he could score his first career Cup victory.

We know we can do it,” Suarez said. “Not making the playoffs wasn’t good for us. We had way, way higher expectations than the job that we have done. We have had a lot of different issues though the year. Sometimes things don’t work out.”

Tonight’s Xfinity race at Richmond: Start time, lineup and more

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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The Xfinity Series playoffs get underway tonight at Richmond Raceway. Justin Allgaier enters as the points leader with 2,039 points. Christopher Bell is next at 2,032. Allgaier has a series-high five wins this season. Bell has four victories.

Here is all the info for tonight’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: PWBA Tour Championship winner Maria Jose Rodriguez, PWBA finalists Liz Kuhlkin, Bryanna Cote and Shannon O’Keefe with Elliott Sadler‘s two children, will give the command to start engines at 7:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:43 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 250 laps (187.5 miles) around the 0.75-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opened at 7:30 a.m. Qualifying at 4:35 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:40 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: First Sergeant Stephanie Doehr, 392nd Army Band, Fort Lee, will perform the anthem at 7:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 7:30 p.m. Coverage begins with Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. on NBCSN. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 7 p.m. and can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 78 degrees and a 2 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Christopher Bell led 120 of 250 laps to win this event in April. He was followed by Noah Gragson and Elliott Sadler. Last September, Brad Keselowski won and was followed by Kyle Busch and Ty Dillon

STARTING LINEUP: Click here.

Lowe’s reaffirms it does not plan to return to NASCAR

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Lowe’s stated Friday that it still does not plan to return to NASCAR after this season despite recent questions to Jimmie Johnson about the company possibly sponsoring the seven-time champion in some races in 2019.

Lowe’s stated to NBC Sports: “Lowe’s has sincerely enjoyed our relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie Johnson. We announced early this year, however, that we will redirect our investment away from NASCAR after completion of this season, and that has not changed.”

Sports Business Journal first reported Lowe’s statement Friday.

Hendrick Motorsports announced March 14 that Lowe’s would not return to the team after this season. Lowe’s has been with Hendrick Motorsports since 2001. Johnson has won all seven of his championships with the company.

Marvin Ellison became Lowe’s new president and CEO in July. Within his first week, the company began restructuring and eliminated various executive positions.

Johnson was asked two weeks ago at Indianapolis and earlier this week about the possibility of Lowe’s returning. Johnson said this week he was unaware of such action even with the new executive team there.

Daniel McFadin contributed to this report.

 

 

NASCAR community helps those impacted by Hurricane Florence

Photo: Rescue Ranch
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RICHMOND, Va. — NASCAR and competitors are contributing to the relief effort from Hurricane Florence, which struck North and South Carolina and killed at least 41 people.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster estimated Friday that his state suffered $1.2 billion in “financial impact” from the storm, according to a letter he sent to the state’s representatives in Congress.

Brad Keselowski’s wife Paige is from Eastern North Carolina. Keselowski’s Checkered Flag Foundation is helping those affected by the storm.

An online campaign has been created to raise donations for hurricane relief efforts and first responders working in the affected areas.

T-shirts featuring a specially designed United 2Gether design will also be available for purchase for $25. For every T-shirt purchased, Brad and Paige Keselowski will purchase a T-shirt to send to a first responder in the impacted areas.

“We’re doing what we can, and I don’t think there’s any one person that can do everything but everybody can do a little bit of something,” Brad Keselowski, who has won the past three Cup races, said Friday at Richmond Raceway.

“Even though that hurricane hit that area you kind of think the worst is over but it’s actually getting worse. So with that in mind, with the flooding, everything, continuing to increase, those guys are in a lot of dire need and it’s nice to see some other people join in. Ryan Newman’s foundation (and his wife) Krissie Newman was out there and doing some things. We’ve got some stuff we’re doing to help them and then we have a number of programs from clothing to food trucks and gas to try to help those people out.

“Darlington (Raceway) helped out, Talladega Speedway has helped out a little bit. We have raised about $40,000 so far, which has been good. Paige and I are making some donations as well and matching some donations from our fans. So we’re really proud of that. We are hopeful that will make an impact and help some people that are really in a bad spot.’’

Newman’s wife, Krissie, has been in areas affected by the hurricane with Rescue Ranch (the non-profit animal welfare organization founded by the Newmans) rescuing animals.

The NASCAR Foundation announced Friday that it has partnered with Feed the Children to provide aid and relief to the victims of Hurricane Florence. Trucks filled with food, hygiene products and cleaning supplies are deployed in needed areas beginning with Belhaven, North Carolina.

The NASCAR Foundation also has launched a hurricane disaster relief donation page that provides NASCAR fans with one place to make donations to the many affected by Florence and its aftermath. All of the financial contributions made at www.nascarfoundation.org/hurricane will be used toward storm relief efforts.