North Wilkesboro Speedway

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North Wilkesboro Speedway gets makeover for ‘date’ with iRacing

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North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina hasn’t hosted a NASCAR national series event since September 1996 and it’s not about to anytime soon.

But, thanks to the efforts of Dale Earnhardt Jr., the historic short track may soon have a second digital-based life on the iRacing simulator.

Earnhardt posted images on social media Monday showing the track’s aging surface cleared of debris that had grown up on it over the years.

With the images, Earnhardt said the track is “getting a trim for an important date with @iRacing.”

This comes a few months after Earnhardt discussed the subject of cleaning the racing surface and scanning it for use on iRacing with Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith on an episode of “The Dale Jr. Download.”

Friday 5: Bowman Gray’s Madhouse represents what NASCAR’s future could be

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As the NASCAR community caravans to Martinsville Speedway this weekend, many will drive by Winston-Salem, North Carolina on the way to the Cup Series’ shortest track.

Although one can’t see Bowman Gray Stadium from the roads that many teams, media and fans will take to Martinsville, its impact on the sport can’t be overlooked.

Bowman Gray Stadium, which recently completed its 71st season of racing, could be the most important track to NASCAR.

As the sport looks to 2020 and beyond, NASCAR is carving a schedule that increases the chance for conflict and controversy — exactly what made Bowman Gray Stadium a must-see for fans, inspired the TV show “Madhouse” and stocks Google searches with stories and videos of altercations and cars ramming each other.

This could be the future of the Cup Series.

Call it a return to its past.

Beating and banging is nothing new in NASCAR. It’s part of Dale Earnhardt’s legacy. It’s why fans long for North Wilkesboro. It’s how some measure the present.

But NASCAR is putting in motion a plan that could increase the likelihood that the chaos often seen at Bowman Gray could become more common in Cup.

While next year’s Cup schedule features the same six short track races as this year, those tracks will have greater significance in the playoffs.

The Bristol night race moves into the playoffs for the first time and is the opening round’s elimination race. It will be held the week after Richmond, marking back-to-back short track playoff events for the first time. Don’t think there won’t be some contact and tempers?

And to raise the intensity, NASCAR moved Martinsville Speedway to the final race before the championship race next year.

Look at what Joey Logano did last year at Martinsville when it was the opening race in the Round of 8. Knocking Martin Truex Jr. out of the lead on the final lap to win guaranteed Logano a spot in the championship race in Miami. Logano went on to win at Miami to claim his first Cup title.

Aric Almirola said on NASCAR America’s MotorMouths this week that “Martinsville is always kind of a place where you have to get rough when you need, but I do feel like that Joey opened Pandora’s box there. … I think anybody else that is in the Round of 8 that saw that and sees that if they have an opportunity to win at Martinsville, don’t be nice. You have to take that opportunity.”

Imagine what it will be like next year when Martinsville is the last chance to get into championship race (which will be held at ISM Raceway, a track more conducive to beating and banging than Homestead-Miami Speedway).

Desperate times call for desperate measures. That could lead more contact on the track, which would could lead to an altercation with drivers and crew members on pit road after a race.

Isn’t that what many fans want to see? Drama, conflict and controversy.

Fans could see that again Sunday at Martinsville (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and even more likely next year with its place in the playoffs.

Yes, it could be just like a Saturday night at Bowman Gray Stadium.

“The first year moving here, I went to Bowman Gray,” AJ Allmendinger said on NASCAR America’s MotorMouths this week. “I was like what is this place? This is insanity … but this is awesome. I love this place.

“I love seeing the races there, the videos that go with it because it’s true passion and a little bit of craziness mixed in.”

And the future.

2. A faster approach

Although Corey LaJoie says he hasn’t signed anything with Go Fas Racing for next year — “we’re working toward making that happen,” he said last weekend at Kansas Speedway — he is seeking to add partners so the team can purchase better engines for some races next year.

Corey LaJoie (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

“Faster you can make that horse that I sit on every week run a little faster, it hopefully puts me in the conversation the next couple of years for a race-winning ride,” he said.

“It costs money to go fast. It’s a matter of trying to get more and more of that money, because upgrading the engine package is substantial, especially stretched out for majority of the year.”

LaJoie said the focus is on upgrading engines with plans for the team to purchase some cars from Stewart-Haas Racing.

The key will be money. As it is for any driver and team.

“Bringing funding is the name of the game,” LaJoie said. “You can act like it doesn’t exist, but it does. The first thing they say is, ‘We’d love for you to drive for us.’ The second question is ‘How much you got? Because I’ve talked to this guy and he’s got $2 million and this guy has a million and a half. What are you bringing to the table?’ Bringing helmets and seats isn’t what moves the needle. You have to have actual cash money.”

3. Chasing a record

Joe Gibbs Racing’s 16 wins this season are two short of the modern-era record of 18 set by Hendrick Motorsports in 2007. NASCAR’s modern era is from 1972.

It seems likely JGR will tie the mark with four races left. JGR drivers have won the past four short track races: Kyle Busch won at Bristol in April, Martin Truex Jr. swept the two Richmond races this year, and Denny Hamlin won the Bristol night race in August.

Also, consider Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance at short tracks since 2009.

JGR drivers have won 31 of the 65 races at short tracks since that time. The next three teams: Hendrick Motorsports (10 wins), Team Penske (10) and Stewart-Haas Racing (seven) combine for 27 wins in that stretch.

4. A new look

The Kannapolis Intimidators are no more. The minor league baseball team, which took its name from Dale Earnhardt, announced previously that this would be its last season with that name. A team official told NBC Sports in February why it was changing the name that it had used since 2001.

Kannapolis Cannon Ballers logo (Photo: Kannapolis Cannon Ballers)

“Dale’s always going to be the Intimidator, Vince Marcucci, assistant general manager of the team told NBC Sports in February. “We’re not trying to get away from (it). I don’t think that’s the right way to put it. But, like, own our own brand. Because we don’t own the Intimidators. (Earnhardt’s widow) Teresa has the rights to that.

“So for speed and flexibility as we try to do creative things in the future, we’re going to need something we own ourselves.”

The team will be known as the Cannon Ballers.

But there still be an homage to Earnhardt. The mascot will have a bushy mustache like Earnhardt did. Also, in the logo, the B in Ballers is shaped like a 3 for Earnhardt.

5. Streaking

Kyle Busch seeks to tie Jimmie Johnson this weekend for second on the all-time list of most consecutive top-five finishes at Martinsville Speedway.

Busch has placed in the top five in each of the past eight races at Martinsville. Johnson had a streak of nine top-five finishes in a row from Oct. 2005 – Oct. 2009.

Jeff Gordon holds the record at the track with 11 consecutive top-five finishes. The streak began in April 2005 and ended in March 2010.

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NASCAR America: Short track action is what ‘this sport was built on’

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NASCAR has changed a lot since Dale Earnhardt Jr. was born in 1974.

Through 1985 the series ran 10 short track races per year until the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway was taken off the schedule. From 1985-96 short track fans had eight weekends to anticipate.

In 1997, North Wilkesboro Speedway’s two dates were divvied up between Texas Motor Speedway and New Hampshire International Speedway.

Now there are only six short track dates and that has created a fundamental change in competition at the Cup level, according to Earnhardt.

Fan reaction after last week’s Martinsville finish when Joey Logano bumped Martin Truex Jr. out of the lead was electrifying. One has to go back to the 2017 edition of that same race and the contact between Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott for a comparison.

“(The finish at Martinsville) is something that I think I saw a lot when I was younger, even when I was a kid going to the races. This is something I felt was happening once a month,” Earnhardt said on Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

And he asked Dale Jarrett if that opinion was shared.

Jarrett agreed and credited the lack of short track racing as one of the causes.

“First off, we don’t have as many short tracks,” Jarrett said. “(Lower) speeds allow you to do things like (the bump and run at Martinsville). … You can’t go to Texas this weekend – and if you run into the back of somebody, they’re gonna crash hard and there’s the chance you might crash too.”

While not technically a short track – a course less than 1 mile in length – Rockingham Speedway featured the same style of racing, according to Jarrett.

“As the speeds get lower, you have those opportunities to make moments and have moments,” Jarrett added. “And quite honestly, that’s what this sport was built on.”

For more, watch the video above.

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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.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. offers advice to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. about Daytona

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After bearing most of the blame for multiple accidents at Daytona International Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has some bridges that need repair.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Petty had some advice for Stenhouse Wednesday on NASCAR America.

The first question posed to Earnhardt on Twitter (using the hashtag #WednesDale) in this episode concerned Stenhouse and the proper protocol for reaching out when a driver is involved in an incident.

“If he text messages any of these drivers, that just shows that he’s not truly remorseful.” Earnhardt said.

Before the age of cell phones, drivers would settle their differences at the end of race. Kyle Petty recalled a race in which he intentionally wrecked Dale Earnhardt Sr. after the Intimidator roughed him up at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Afterward, Earnhardt approached Petty and asked what that was all about.

“I just got tired of your (expletive),” Petty said.

“I thought so,” Petty recalls Earnhardt saying. And that was that.

But in today’s age when drivers tend to go their separate ways after a race, technology takes over.

“In today’s world with technology and all that – if you’re gonna call a guy, call him the next day,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.

“If you wait until the next race weekend, the guy thinks that you’re not going to bring it up,” allowing the incident to fester.

After initiating an accident in 2009 by spinning Brian Vickers at Daytona, Earnhardt knew that it would take a while to rebuild trust among the other drivers.

“For Ricky, going forward, he needs to try to eliminate this from his next plate race,” Earnhardt said. “When he goes to Talladega later in the season, try not to continue this trend. Put a little space between this race and the next time you want to do something stupid. That’s what I always tried to do. If I screwed up, I’d lay low for a while.”

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.