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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.

NBC Sports Power Rankings heading to Dover

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There has not been a previous week this season that has seen so much upheaval in the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

While Kyle Busch unanimously remains No. 1 in the rankings, movement for the other nine positions – as well as others who received votes – was significant.

Chase Elliott made the biggest jump, going from outside the rankings last week to a tie for third place after claiming his Talladega win. The biggest drop was Clint Bowyer (fifth last week, out of this week’s rankings). One of the biggest surprises: after a career-best third-place finish at ‘Dega, Ryan Preece received five points, but it wasn’t enough to crack the top 10.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look:

1. Kyle Busch (40 points): First driver to finish in the top 10 in each of the first 10 races of the season since Morgan Shepherd in 1990. That’s enough to stay No. 1. Last week: 1st.

2. Joey Logano (36 points): Surrounded by Chevrolets at the end of the Talladega race but still scored a top-five result. Got shuffled from lead in no-win situation; still was outstanding. Last week: 3rd.

(tie) 3. Kurt Busch (24 points): Continues to have arguably the most consistent season of any driver, with the exception of younger brother Kyle. His first season at Chip Ganassi Racing remains Grade A. Last week: 8th.

(tie) 3. Chase Elliott (24 points): Normally, a race winner doesn’t make this big of a jump. But to do so at ‘Dega is definitely a feat that warrants Elliott’s placement in this week’s rankings. Last week: not ranked.

5. Denny Hamlin (20 points): No pit road speeding penalty this past weekend but was in wrong place at wrong time early in the race and his car was damaged in an incident. Last week: 2nd.

6. Ryan Newman (19 points): Finished seventh for his third consecutive top 10, greatly increasing his playoff viability. First time he’s done that since late summer 2017 when he earned four straight top 10s. Last week: 9th.

7. Brad Keselowski (17 points): Kudos to his pit crew for servicing his car as quickly as it did after he spun into his pit stall and his car was pointed backward. Last week: 7th.

8. Martin Truex Jr. (9 points): Best thing about Talladega? It’s over. On to his home track of Dover, where he got his first career Cup win in 2007. Last week: 4th.

9. Kevin Harvick (8 points): Early wreck not of his doing took him out. He thought he’d be safe starting from the back of the pack. He was wrong. Never got the chance to see what he had in season-worst finish at Talladega. Last week: 6th.

10. Alex Bowman (6 points): Enjoyed best career finish, second behind race winner and teammate Chase Elliott. Was one three drivers to get career-best finishes at Talladega. Last week: not ranked.

Others Receiving Votes: Ryan Preece (5 points), Aric Almirola (5 points), Tyler Reddick (4 points), Daniel Hemric (1 point), Ryan Blaney (1 point).

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Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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Danica Patrick to join NBC Sports for Indianapolis 500 broadcast

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Danica Patrick, one of motorsports’ most popular figures, will join NBC Sports’ inaugural coverage of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge when drivers start their engines for the 103rd iteration of the race on Sunday, May 26. This year marks the first time that the Greatest Spectacle in Racing has been broadcast on NBC.

The former IndyCar and NASCAR driver will serve as a studio analyst on race day, contributing to NBC Sports’ pre-race, in-race, and post-race coverage alongside host Mike Tirico. Patrick will also participate in NBC Sports’ coverage of Indy 500 Pole Day on Sunday, May 19.

A seven-year IndyCar veteran, Patrick immediately broke barriers and set numerous records when she joined the circuit in 2005. In just her first season, she became the first woman ever to lead a lap in the Indy 500 on her way to winning Rookie of the Year honors. In 2008, she became the first woman ever to win an open-wheel race in a major series when she finished first at the Indy Japan 300.

In 2013, Patrick pivoted to NASCAR and became the first woman ever to win the pole for the Daytona 500. Before retiring from driving at the end of last year’s season, she completed the “Danica Double,” racing in both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 in the same season.

“Danica has a perspective unlike any other driver in the history of motorsports and will be a great addition to our first-ever coverage of the Indy 500,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President, Production, NBC Sports & NBCSN. “She has proven to be as fearless with her opinions and analysis as she was in breaking barriers while racing in the most competitive motorsports circuits in the world.”

“The Indianapolis 500 holds a very special place in my heart,” said Patrick. “The moment I drive into the facility, I’m flooded with positive emotions. I have no doubt it’ll be the same this year when I come back as an analyst. To be on the NBC Sports team with Mike Tirico will be an honor and I look forward to adding my unique perspective. I’ve been in the race eight times, including last year, so I’m familiar with the dynamics within IndyCar after being away for seven years. To me, Indy feels like home!”

In addition to her analyst responsibilities, Patrick will help promote the Indy 500 by appearing across numerous NBCUniversal programs and platforms in the days and weeks leading up to the race.

This won’t be Patrick’s first time as a race analyst. While still an active driver in NASCAR, Patrick gained broadcasting experience by serving as a guest analyst for Fox Sports’ coverage of NASCAR Xfinity races in Michigan, Pocono and Talladega.

The 2019 IndyCar season is the first under a new media rights agreement that was announced in March 2018 in which NBC Sports Group acquired the exclusive rights to all NTT IndyCar Series races – including the Indianapolis 500 for the first time – qualifying and practice sessions, and Indy Lights races across its numerous platforms.

NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series continues March 24 with the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app.

A.J. Allmendinger joins NBC Sports as motorsports analyst

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A.J. Allmendinger has joined the NBC Sports Group in a multiyear deal as part of its motorsports coverage, the network announced Wednesday.

Allmendinger, who spent the last 12 years competing in the NASCAR Cup Series, will begin his work with NBC in January.

Allmendinger will work on the various properties across NBC Sports’ motorsports portfolio, including as a booth analyst for the network’s exclusive coverage of the IMSA SportsCar Championship. He also will contribute regularly to NBCSN’s NASCAR America.

Allmendinger will make his broadcast debut during NBC Sports’ coverage of the 57th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Saturday, Jan. 26, where he is also expected to race as part of Meyer Shank Racing (MSR).

“I couldn’t be more excited to begin this new chapter in my life alongside some of the most knowledgeable and influential voices in motorsports, and to be a part of NBC Sports’ second-to-none coverage,” Allmendinger said in a release.

During his NASCAR career, Allmendinger earned one Cup win and two Xfinity Series wins, all on road courses.

In addition to his years of NASCAR experience, Allmendinger brings knowledge from his time in sports cars and open-wheel racing.

In 2012, Allmendinger was part of the overall winning team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. In 2006, he earned five wins and placed third overall in the Champ Car World Series.

“A.J. loves to race and is passionate about IMSA,” Sam Flood, NBC Sports’ Executive Producer and President of Production, said in a release. “His career as a driver across IMSA, NASCAR and Open Wheel will bring a unique mix of experience and insight to the NBC Sports team.”