Dale Jr. Download: Pranks in the NASCAR garage have a long history

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Martin Truex Jr.‘s crew chief, Cole Pearn, told Jimmie Johnson that one way to make up for the accident on the last lap at the Charlotte Roval was to buy the No. 78 crew road bikes. When a crew member saw Johnson returning to Dover on Friday, he jokingly inquired if Johnson was on one of the bikes that the No. 78 would receive.

That got Johnson and his team thinking.

Johnson had his motorhome driver go to Walmart and buy bikes for the No. 78 team – but not the ones they might have expected. He filled the lift gate on the back of Truex’s hauler with kids’ bikes.

That led Dale Earnhardt Jr. to send out a request for memories of special pranks throughout the history of NASCAR, which he shared on this week’s edition of the Dale Jr. Download.

Richard Petty’s legendary crew chief and cousin Dale Inman factored heavily in the memories.

“Chocolate Myers from (Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s) team bungie-corded a port-a-john closed at North Wilkesboro with Dale Inman in it,” Earnhardt said. “Chocolate had to hide from Inman for about a month. And Dale Inman was genuinely upset – like wanted to cause physical harm.”

On another occasion, car owner and Hollywood producer Hal Needham got into the act.

“Hal Needham got a Shakespearian actor-friend to walk around the Charlotte garage dressed as a voodoo doctor placing curses on cars,” Earnhardt said. “Dad thought it was a trip, Dale Inman freaked the hell out. Dale Inman went to NASCAR to have the guy ejected out of the garage.”

For more, watch the video above.

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Long: Kasey Kahne’s exit robs NASCAR fans of one last cheer for their driver

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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The end was coming. Kasey Kahne foretold that when he said in August this would be his last full-time season in NASCAR.

But Tuesday’s announcement that Kahne has not been medically cleared to run the rest of the Cup season ends a career that began with such allure and promise that some of his memorabilia had to be flown in from overseas to satisfy demand.

A career that should be celebrated ends muted and abbreviated. His time in NASCAR will be recalled as not working out the way it was supposed to — from the courtroom drama over where he would race in Cup as a rookie to near-misses on the track, changing rides, being lent to a team and his departure from the series.

It has been quite a journey.

Even before he competed in his first Cup race, two manufacturers signed him. A federal court settled the matter.  He could drive for Ray Evernham’s Dodge team

When Kahne finished second in two of his first three Cup races in 2004 (he lost at Rockingham to Matt Kenseth by one-hundredth of a second), his popularity soared. Crowds left little in his souvenir hauler. One company flew his die-cast cars from China — instead of shipping them by boat.

With penetrating blue eyes, he became one of NASCAR’s heartthrobs. Kahne was selected to People magazine’s “America’s Top 50 Bachelors” at the height of NASCAR’s popularity in the mid-2000s and had women fawn over him in those Allstate commercials.

His support grew as he came close to winning but didn’t his rookie season. Newer fans might call that a Kyle Larson-type season, noting how close Larson came to winning as a rookie without doing so.

Kahne scored his first Cup win in May 2005 at Richmond. He held off Tony Stewart in the closing laps, a point Stewart noted when he congratulated Kahne.

“I just told Kasey that down the road when they talk about his first win that I got the honor of being the guy they mentioned that he had to race for the win,” Stewart said that night.

The victories came more often. Kahne won a season-high six races in 2006, including the Coca-Cola 600 for the first of three times.

He was so popular that he replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Budweiser’s driver after Earnhardt moved from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. While Kahne did not have the party reputation Earnhardt had, Kahne’s youth and good looks matched the image Budweiser sought to promote.

Kahne’s win at Sonoma in 2009 for Richard Petty Motorsports marked Petty’s first time in Victory Lane as an owner in a decade.

Kahne had so much promise that car owner Rick Hendrick signed him in 2010 even though Hendrick did not have a ride available until the 2012 season. Kahne spent that in-between year with Red Bull Racing and won a race.

In his first season at Hendrick, Kahne finished a career-high fourth in the standings. It would be the high point of his six years there. Kahne won six races for the organization, including last year’s Brickyard 400 that ended a 102-race winless streak.

“I’m going to treasure this forever,’’ Kahne told NBC Sports after the win.

But that race foreshadowed the problems that plagued Kahne this season. Kahne battled severe cramping and went to the infield care center for IV fluids before he completed his duties as winner that day.

Those issues worsened this year. Darlington proved almost too much. Kahne said “it was really hard to keep my eyes open and see” during the last 100 laps of the Southern 500 as he battled extreme dehydration. 

“I was trying to control my heart rate because it was so high,” he said. “I basically just kind of laid in the car and drove around the corners. At that point all I’m doing is focusing on my body and my health, not on what I should be actually focusing on, and that’s racing.”

He tested last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway and in less than two hours of track time could not ease doctor concerns he’d be well enough to run any Cup race this year.

So, any farewell fans wished to have these final weeks of the season will have to take place on social media or a dirt track where Kahne will race his sprint car.

That might be the best place to appreciate Kahne — back in the type of racing that led him to NASCAR, his car sliding through the corners with a rooster tail of dirt trailing.

Ryan: Challenging NASCAR is last-lap lesson from Roval

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CONCORD, N.C. – Dissect and relish every tantalizing aspect in that beguiling finish Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, because – hopefully — it’s likely the last time we’ll see the race unfold that way.

Oh, we again will see the last-lap wildness that is guaranteed by myriad zones of mayhem in a hybridized layout perfectly cast as a playoff cutoff race, which was as much an ingenious masterstroke as turning the 1.5-mile oval into a quasi-street course.

With any luck, we will see another delightfully punch-drunk circuit as memorable as the final one completed by the comically wounded car of Kyle Larson, who passed muster for playoff advancement but would have failed any driver’s ed road test for a license.

And surely Sunday will be the first of many times that we see world-class talents such as Larson, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch cook their tires beyond the limits of even their sublime ability in trying to navigate the intractably narrow path through Turn 1. (Runoff area? Please. It’s perfect! Don’t change a thing!)

No, the reason the Roval’s debut will be unique is it should be the last time that we see drivers being so observant of NASCAR’s Byzantine rules with a last-lap victory at stake.

It might have been hard to recognize in the clouds of tire smoke enveloping the frontstretch in chaos, but Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. – two champions revered for their morally upstanding character and generally clean styles – both tried to be extraordinarily good citizens during and after their memorable battle for the lead.

Johnson penalized himself for spinning on entry to the final chicane. And by dutifully adhering to NASCAR’s chicane policy, Truex essentially left himself in the vulnerable position of being clipped by Johnson’s spin, which took him out of the win.

This is easy to say absent the heat of the moment and the necessary split-second decisions made while decelerating at more than 100 mph, but Johnson and Truex might have chosen differently if given another chance.

Both could have demonstrated chicane disobedience that would have benefited themselves and forced NASCAR into facing difficult judgment calls.

As soon as Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet lost traction entering the penultimate turn, Truex could have skipped the final left-hand turn and run his No. 78 Toyota directly through the grass – avoiding the contact with Johnson, capturing the checkered flag and challenging the stewards to disqualify him.

He would have had an outstanding case to keep the win.

In the prerace drivers meeting, Cup director Richard Buck said if a driver was judged to have missed the chicane because of an accident, “NASCAR may, in its discretion, forgo the penalties and adjust the lineup based on the running position prior to the avoidance maneuver.”

If NASCAR still had stripped Truex of a precious victory – worth five extra points through the next two rounds – for trying to miss a wreck, the defending series champion would have been well within his rights to raise holy hell about it.

Johnson’s option is a little more nuanced but still worth taking the risk for the rewards.

By self-policing and stopping in the penalty box a hundred feet before the finish line, Johnson gave up the exact number of spots that would have secured his playoff advancement. If he would have floored it instead, he would have retained the necessary points – but NASCAR claims Johnson still would have been hit with a 30-second penalty for a last-lap violation and eliminated from the playoffs.

Oh, really.

It would have been that simple, huh?

After a seven-time champion made one of the most indelible and swashbuckling moves in his illustrious career, NASCAR would have shamed him a la Gargamel stomping down the mountain to smash the newest beautiful creation in Smurf Village to pieces?

In win-at-all-costs modern-day NASCAR, which has spent the better part of a decade (justifiably) restructuring its championship to emphasize victories while mostly declining to punish drivers who intentionally wreck leaders to get them (see: the 2018 Daytona 500), what message would that have sent?

Mostly, that the scoring tower sometimes feels haunted by the ghosts of busybody Bill Lumberghs who are more obsessed with making sure an obnoxiously thick rulebook is being followed without regard for the ways in which it potentially can disincentivize and hamper the delivery of maximum entertainment.

Though Johnson was kicking himself postrace Sunday for being “so focused on a race win,” NASCAR should at the least be sending him a fruit basket for self-imposing the penalty after throwing caution to the wind despite the circumstances, which lest we need reminding, can be hazy at best.

Why did Busch get away with intentionally straight-lining the Turn 1 corner on an earlier restart? Because he didn’t gain any positions. Why were all the chicane penalties in races Saturday and Sunday administered to drivers who didn’t gain any positions after losing control of their cars without any apparent intent?

Uhhh …

There are good reasons for officiating chicanes, which are designed to slow down cars and need to be respected within reason. But Sunday also exposed there is plenty of wiggle room in interpreting how to apply the policies and what precisely constitutes a violation.

A perfect example is Truex’s race. Though he also spun through the chicane with Johnson, NASCAR officials said Truex wasn’t made to stop because his four tires didn’t fully cross the red-and-white curbs. But curiously, Truex was required to stop in Stage 2 when he missed Turn 17 … because he was knocked off course by Keselowski’s spinning Ford.

In neither instance did he gain an advantage by purposefully trying to short-cut the chicane, which should be the only justification for issuing a penalty. There is a clear distinction between spinning through a chicane and straight-lining or avoiding it entirely.

Surely in such a future instance of a win or playoff spot at stake, drivers should try to put the onus on NASCAR in making those determinations.

The repercussions could make the next Roval finish even more entertaining — or controversial — than Sunday’s.

Aric Almirola advances in playoffs after ‘wild and crazy’ Roval experience

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CONCORD, N.C — Aric Almirola thought his day and his playoff hopes were destroyed.

Being in a 15-car pileup with six laps left in a race can do that to a person.

Almirola believed he had avoided the wreck in Turn 1 of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. Then Bubba Wallace plowed into the back of his No. 10 Ford and sent him into a group of cars that had appeared in front of him.

Even before the crash, Almirola’s maiden voyage on the 17-turn, 2.28-mile course, and the weekend leading up to it had been a nightmare. Or as Almirola called it, “adversity.”

In practice Friday and Saturday, he spun in Turn 3, backing his car into the same area of the wall.

“I was really anxious all week leading into it, and I’ll be honest, I prayed a lot just for ‑‑ just hoping that everything would work out,” Almirola said. “I kept telling myself to quit making mistakes like I did in practice. … It was just one of those weekends. It was just wild and crazy and out of control.”

On Sunday, Almirola hit the frontstretch wall with five laps to go in Stage 1 while trying to avoid William Byron as he lost his right front tire. He then brought out the caution on Lap 70 after being forced off track in Turn 6 by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and running through a Bojangles’ advertisement.

After all that and the Turn 1 pileup, his team was able to make his car raceable for the final three laps.

“That last restart they told me I was ‑6 points and that I needed to go,” said Almirola, who “rifled” his car into Turn 1 and passed three cars even after wheel-hopping.

“Then we came back to the start‑finish line and they told me I needed three more spots, and those last couple laps I was able to get those three spots,” said Almirola, who passed Daniel Suarez for 19th entering Turn 1 on the last lap. “I had one more in my sights, and somebody spun off of the infield Turn 4, and it was just a cloud of smoke. I couldn’t see where I was going, so I checked up because the last thing I needed to do was wreck.”

When he came across the finish line in 19th, Almirola was told he was in a tie with Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson with 2,097 points.

Johnson was eliminated after finishing eighth due to his last-lap incident with Martin Truex Jr. Larson advanced after passing a stalled Jeffrey Earnhardt right before the start-finish line.

Thanks to his finish at Richmond (fifth), Almirola advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time.

“I told (crew chief) Johnny Klausmeier going into this weekend all I really cared about was leaving here +1,” said Almirola. “It turns out +0 is good enough.”

 

Today’s Bank of America Roval 400: Start time, lineup and more

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The Roval has arrived.

The Cup Series will hold its inaugural race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course today. It is also the first elimination race of the playoffs, cutting the field from 16 to 12 drivers.

Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger start on the front row.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera will give the command to start engines at 1:52 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:04 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 248.52 miles (109 Laps) around the 2.28-mile course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 25. Stage 2 ends on Lap 50.

PRE-RACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 8:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at noon. Driver introductions are at 1:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Jordan Smith will perform the anthem at 1:49 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBC will broadcast the race beginning at 2 p.m. Coverage begins with NASCAR America at 1 p.m. on NBC, followed by Countdown to Green at 1:30 p.m. on NBC. Performance Racing Network’s broadcast begins at 1 p.m. and can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 78 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

TO THE REAR: Denny Hamlin (backup car), Brad Keselowski (backup), Erik Jones, (backup), Bubba Wallace (backup) and Regan Smith (engine).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the full starting lineup.