Indy 500

Bruce Martin Photo
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.

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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.

Jimmie Johnson: ‘Opportunity has passed for me’ to race in Indy 500

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When it comes to fulfilling a lifelong dream of running the Indianapolis 500, Jimmie Johnson – who was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday for the first time to watch an IndyCar practice – admits that ship has sailed for him.

I know that this oval is probably not going to happen for me ever,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “That opportunity has passed for me.”

But, Johnson isn’t totally ruling out a potential one-off in an Indy car – just not at Indianapolis.

I grew up watching Indy cars and some day down the road I’d love the chance to race in a road course event or something like that,” he said.

Johnson already knows what it’s like to be an Indianapolis winner: he has four victories there in the Brickyard 400.

Last November, the NASCAR Cup veteran fulfilled a dream of a different sort, trading rides with two-time Formula One champ Fernando Alonso at the International Circuit in Bahrain. No similar opportunity has been presented to him to trade cars with an IndyCar driver.

But Johnson certainly liked what he saw during Thursday’s practice.

It’s highly impressive, there’s no way around that,” Johnson said. “It’s been a neat experience and certainly to see these cars go by at 220-plus (mph).

I’m just really enjoying today. I’ve always watched on TV and said, ‘Man, I should go (to Indy).’ And I just made it happen today and I’m here.”

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Watch LIVE: NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Recapping Coke 600, Indy 500 and F1 in Monaco

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Today’s special Memorial Day holiday edition episode of NASCAR America airs from 5 – 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Carolyn Manno hosts, with Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett at NBC Sports Charlotte.

Here’s the lineup for today’s show:

* We recap Martin Truex Jr.’s win in the Coca-Cola 600, including an interview with the winner.

* We also reflect on rookie Verizon IndyCar Series driver Alexander Rossi’s Indianapolis 500 triumph

* We look at Lewis Hamilton’s outstanding F1 victory at Monaco.

* We also salute the military tributes from Sunday for today’s Memorial Day.

If you’re not near a TV, you can watch online at the NASCAR stream on NBC Sports.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.