Tag Archives: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Harrowing Daytona finish highlights safety, sportsmanship

(Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. crossed the finish line, Austin Dillon hurled into the catchfence.

Daytona International Speedway—a restrictor plate track—is as prestigious and dangerous as they come. The mix creates an allure one can’t ignore. The high speeds and close racing make for the type of weaving and cutting a skilled seamstress would take pride in.  The historic venue has been a stage for the most prideful moments in the sport of racing.

It’s also been the platform for the fiercest ones as well.

Sunday night was one of those moments.

The start of the Coke Zero 400 was late. Excruciatingly late. Weather shoved the sort into late-night infomercial territory, and many knew that peculiar things tend to happen in that realm. With the green flag waving around 11:45 p.m. ET, the masses settled in for a night full of adrenaline, speed, and nail biting.

In some way, they all hoped this would be worth the all-nighter. Drivers and crews desired a trophy and Chase berth by dawn. Spectators wanted their money’s worth, unsure of what that might entail.

Regardless of all wishful thinking, the festivities began.

Earnhardt was the clear favorite; starting from the pole, the No. 88 shot out front every possibly chance. His fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammates were also fast, yet no one was in the two-time Daytona 500 winner’s zip code. As the race progressed, he leaned on Denny Hamlin to draft him. Hamlin—who made risky moves work all night—obliged, and the two led a six- to seven-car breakaway in the race’s last 50 laps.

Slicing and dicing is a crucial part of restrictor plate racing, and it must be done with precision. A driver has to get it right, or things will get messy. That happened multiple times throughout the night, with two large wrecks taking out various contenders. Smaller incidents paused the action, giving everyone the opportunity to breathe and regroup.

As the laps dwindled away, urgency intensified. Minutes and hours ticked away. Time was running out—for the competitors who wanted to make a move and for the supporters who needed to clock in.

It came down to a green-white-checkered finish. The field restarted side-by-side, and they remained that way until the width expanded. As Earnhardt pulled away, followers scrambled to gain positions.

The white flag waved. At any other track, it was half past “go time,” but this was the moment Daytona—and the GWC rule—was designed to create. Its result, however, was not part of that plan.

Hamlin got loose and spun next to the finish line. The No. 11 came back and tapped Dillon, who proceeded to go airborne. More cars collected underneath the No. 3 as it flew into the catchfence. Debris rained into the stands as the machine bounced back onto the racing surface. Brad Keselowski’s car was skidding sideway down the frontstretch and slammed into Dillon’s side, putting the Richard Childress Racing car on its hood.

The mangled machine stopped at the end of pit road. Earnhardt’s pit crew rushed to the damage, falling to the ground and peering into the cockpit. The entire NASCAR community held their breath as more people flocked to the scene.

The sight of every crew member standing and giving a thumbs up filled every viewer with relief and emotion—and then fear.

Four fans sought treatment in the infield care center, while one went to the hospital in stable condition. There are two reasons no one was injured more seriously—the catchfence and the Daytona rising project. The tall, reinforced barrier did its job, keeping Dillon’s car inside the track. The expensive reconstruction plan pushed the grandstands away from the fence, placing a wide walkway between the fans and the action.

Praise is necessary. So is action.

There will be outrage over the incident; columns about danger will come out of the woodwork, and some mainstream media will broadcast this in a crooked way. A lot of good can come out of this accident if logic prevails.

The image of Earnhardt’s crew members rushing to Dillon’s side is the personification of sportsmanship. While their driver claimed victory, they chose to provide aid. Fellow competitors are thankful he survived such a terrifying accident.

Sunday night serves as a reminder to those who drive and those who observe. This is a dangerous sport. These athletes put their lives on the line to do what they love, and fans seek enjoyment from their risky lifestyle.

There is much to take away from that night, yet one is quite prevalent—there is always room from humanity and improvement in sports.

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Earnhardt’s emotional victory overshadows final laps at Talladega

Everyone has that complex. You know, where you see the trashcan overflowing and say to yourself, “Oh, someone else will take care of that, so I won’t.” In psychology, it’s referred to as the Bystander Effect (although it’s technically about aiding victims of crimes).

And if you doubted that racing was psychological, Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway proved otherwise.

The 2.666-mile track is one of two restrictor plate layouts, and a specific standard is in place when NASCAR heads to these venues. Fans expect to see pack racing, where the cars are three-wide and the tension is tangible. That’s what makes Talladega and Daytona International Speedway special.

Unfortunately, Sunday’s event was only special for one reason. I’ll get to that later on.

The fact that weather didn’t threaten the action got the day off to a good start. Hendrick Motorsports claimed the front row, with Jeff Gordon on the pole and Kasey Kahne in second. Intensity mounted as the race began, cars going three wide to make up for bad qualifying efforts. Various drivers were in the mix, including Tony Stewart and rookie Ryan Blaney.

Around 15 drivers fell victim to “The Big One” and ended their afternoon early. Trevor Bayne got loose, and that’s all she wrote. A red flag allowed crews to clean up the damage. Drivers regrouped and refocused.

The rest of the race shifted between pack racing and single-file, and the latter prevailed in the last 15 laps. Twitter was alive, fans ranting about how drivers needed to make their moves. Everyone—fans, commentators, and drivers alike—began feeling antsy and waited for the big breakaway.

Laps dwindled down. Ten, nine, eight…nothing. The cars raced next to the outside wall, a long train just chugging along. Nobody went for it, they didn’t want to be first. Drivers figured someone would stick their neck out, and everyone would follow.

The white flag flew, and Denny Hamlin was that someone. The field immediately fanned out. Chaos swallowed up the back half, wrecking on the backstretch. As the race kept green, the fan favorite led like he did the majority of the event. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag and claimed his first victory of 2015.

Now, there are a few things that made this race disappointing. The lack of breakaway and caution for wreckage are the big two. However, that all washed away as Earnhardt emerged from his car in victory lane.

Overcome with emotion, the HMS driver could barely speak. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt, would’ve celebrated his 64th birthday a few days ago, yet that wasn’t the only reason he was nearly crying.

“I’m in such a good place right now, with my personal life…I’m so blessed, I really am.”

When NASCAR’s “Most Popular Driver” is overwhelmed and humbled, it’s a great day.

Genuine emotion is hard to come by today, and it’s refreshing to see one of the most famous and richest athletes let his guard down. On a day that lacked the “true racing” that’s expected at restrictor plate tracks, his interview and humility were needed.

There’s no real explanation as to why drivers kept to themselves the final 15 laps. Maybe it’s the Bystander Effect. Maybe everyone simply wanted to play it safe. Either way, it was everything Talladega is not.

Earnhardt Jr.’s Pocono win paints a championship picture

(Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
(Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Someone better get a broom. And the championship trophy.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. visited victory lane again at Pocono Raceway, winning both events at the track this year. The Hendrick Motorsports driver led the final fourteen laps on his way to his third checkered flag of 2014. Crew chief Steve Letarte’s slight fuel strategy gamble ended up earning the No. 88 team the jackpot.

The win comes after a vital announcement; team owner Rick Hendrick and Earnhardt Jr. made known that Greg Ives will crew chief in 2015. Letarte will aid NBC in the booth when their NASCAR coverage kicks up. The Farewell Tour was already in full-swing, and now it has full intentions to go out with a bang.

If the team keeps it up, it’s Earnhardt Jr.’s year. Why? Because it’s finally different. His personal life, the team dynamic, the HMS power have all changed for the better. Letarte leaving only adds fuel to the fire.

There’s no stopping Earnhardt Jr.; he’s racing toward his first championship.

The race in general was a thrill ride, kicking Pocono’s dull stereotype to the curb. It all peaked when a thirteen-car wreck occurred, taking out Chase hopefuls Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, along with Brian Vickers, Aric Almirola, and many other notables. The backwards day continued with reigning champ Jimmie Johnson hitting the wall twice and ending his day in the garage.

Many contenders tried to win. Jeff Gordon was running high off his Brickyard victory. Joey Logano, stout as well. Heck, even Kevin Harvick came back with a vengeance from multiple issues.

Nobody could run down the No. 88. They should get use to that once the playoffs come around.

Point Standings after the GoBowling.com 400 (asterisk indicates number of wins)

1. Jeff Gordon (–)**
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-17)***
3. Brad Keselowski (-70)***
4. Matt Kenseth (-89)
5. Ryan Newman (-115)
6. Jimmie Johnson (-124)***
6. Joey Logano (-124)**
8. Carl Edwards (-139)**
9. Clint Bowyer (-140)
10. Kyle Busch (-146)*
12. Kyle Larson (-162)
13. Greg Biffle (-167)
14. Kasey Kahne (-168)
15. Austin Dillon (-169)
16. Paul Menard (-195)

Ives to move into Cup slot, while Wheeler fills in for Grubb

Wednesday is a crazy day to be a crew chief.

An afternoon press conference with Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and former Jimmie Johnson engineer Greg Ives revealed the crew chief plans for 2015; Ives will replace Steve Letarte on the pit box as the later goes into a broadcasting role at NBC. Ives, who currently crew chiefs for JR Motorsports driver Chase Elliott in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, was the lead engineer on the No. 48 car for five of its six championship seasons. This now leaves a spot on the JRM side to be filled.

This move shows that HMS isn’t messing around; Ives was the right-hand man to Chad Knaus and is an intelligent force. With him making the calls, the No. 88 team will be set to upstage the fantastic run they’re having in 2014.

Just after this reveal, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that engineer Mike Wheeler will fill-in for Darian Grubb for the next six weeks. This comes a day after NASCAR announced harsh penalties to Grubb and the No. 11 team following the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Post-race inspection found that the team had messed with block-off plates that are used in rear firewalls.

The violation fell within the definition of a P5-level penalty, which is defined in the rule book as: “Approved parts that fail or are improperly installed to fail in their intended use of great importance (e.g.; rear wheel well panels that fail and allow air evacuation in the trunk area; oil box cover that fails and allows air evacuation in the driver compartment; shifter boot cover that fails and allows air evacuation through the floor pan).

Not only is Grubb suspended for six races, he has been fined $125,000 and is on probation for the next six months. A loss of 75 driver and owner points was also involved.

The turn of events gives Wheeler a great opportunity, and it will be interesting to see what results follow.

For both situations, it seems like a lot of spotlight goes along with the role of being a crew chief. Happy Wednesday.

Pocono produces an Earnhardt Jr. victory as TNT takes over coverage

The Tricky Triangle’s nickname comes from the need to shift and its unique layout, of course. It’s been known to shake things up. This time around, it didn’t disappoint. An excited day ended with a fan favorite capturing the win.

“I’ve lost some [races] in some strange ways, so it’s nice to win one this way,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. in victory lane Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway.

The No. 88 took the checkered flag first after Brad Keselowski fumbled on-track. Keselowski, who was the dominant car of the day, collected some debris and suffered. He went behind a lapped Danica Patrick to get it loose, but she was going too slow. By the time the No. 2 realized this, Earnhardt Jr. soared past and didn’t look back. This is Earnhardt Jr.’s second win of 2014 and the first time in ten years he’s won multiple times in a season. It also secures his bid into The Chase.

About his controversial decision, Keselowski explained, “I just got a big piece of debris on the grille, and I had to do something . . .it was starting to blow up, and it was all I could do.” He was searching for his second win, hoping to top a beautiful day off with a cherry.

Other notable finishes: Kurt Busch (3rd), Denny Hamlin (4th/race polesitter), Kyle Larson (5th/top rookie), and Jimmie Johnson (6th/early issues on pit road).

There were multiple cautions throughout the day, yet only one was for a wreck. The incident involved Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne. Busch’s spotter failed to call him clear, and he came up into Kahne. Kahne smacked the wall and then ran nose-first into the barrier once he tried to drive off, seemingly having no brakes. Carl Edwards also got a piece of the mess.

Over the past few seasons, Busch and Kahne have squabbled various times, the No. 5 car on the receiving end. In a post-wreck interview with MRN, Kahne stated, “That’s just Kyle [Busch] being Kyle. He’s probably pissed off because his car was slow.” His upset is understood; he was running thirteenth and gaining at the time of the wreck, a bright spot during a horrific 2014. It seems like the driver is about to snap, and that is a rarity.

Speaking of rarities, TNT brought its A-game when it came to the pre-race, creating high expectations for the broadcast. It was okay for the first race of their summer stint, although they failed to have a reporter on-scene when Kahne came out of the care center. That, along with audio issues and eighteen commercial breaks during racing action, made for a shaky debut. They have five more races to work out the kinks.

Earnhardt Jr.’s win was weird, as was the race in its entirety; there was no rain, things were exciting, and everything had anticipation surrounding it. As the Summer Series kicks off, it’s looking like things are getting spicy. Who knew Pocono would create such flare.

Point Standings after the Pocono 400

1. Jeff Gordon (-)
2. Matt Kenseth (-16)
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-22)
4. Jimmie Johnson (-23)
5. Brad Keselowski (-50)
6. Kyle Busch (-55)
7. Carl Edwards (-57)
8. Denny Hamlin (-78)
9. Joey Logano (-80)
10. Kyle Larson (-81)
11. Ryan Newman (-87)
12. Kevin Harvick (-95)
13. Brian Vickers (-106)
14. Greg Biffle (-113)
14. Austin Dillon (-113)
16. Clint Bowyer (-115)

Crown Jewels: Harvick continues to win, impress competitors

Kevin Harvick wins the 65th annual Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Credit: 297377NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick wins the 65th annual Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Credit: 297377NASCAR Via Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick doesn’t win poles.

Qualifying has never been his forte. Winning, yes, but logging laps for a starting position wasn’t that big of a big priority.

That’s why sitting on the pole for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway caused so much (necessary) buzz.

Harvick remained dominant throughout Saturday’s race and won, leading a total of 238 laps. After a horrific weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, the win was nothing short of a boost. His second win of the season, the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet was the first driver to win from the pole since Dale Jarrett did it in 1997. The mystic air around Darlington isn’t lost on him, either.

“To come here each year and know you only have one shot to win, it’s pretty phenomenal to be a part of. It’s one of the crown jewel races. I told [Rodney Childers, Harvick’s crew chief] that, if we win one, let’s win Darlington.”

“To be able to celebrate all these wins is more than some get to celebrate in their careers, yet to celebrate them is phenomenal.”

Saturday also marked a comeback for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also faltered in Texas. He finished second after two hectic restarts. On the first, the race winner gave him a push, yet he knew things wouldn’t be friendly for long.

“We really weren’t a top two car,” Earnhardt Jr. said post-race, “I was pretty sure [Harvick] was going to get around us somehow.”

He also knew that Harvick would be a major factor. “The performance of the 4 car, I saw it coming because I know how good Rodney [Childers, Harvick’s crew chief] is, and I know how good [Harvick] is, and pairing them together, that’s one of the best pairings in the garage.”

Rounding out a Chevy-filled top three was Jimmie Johnson, the reigning champion that has went surprisingly winless in the first eight races. The finish came after falling to 31st early in the race. At that point, crew chief Chad Knaus had “no idea” for a solution.

“Yeah, I’m just happy to finish there in the top three. I thought we had a shot at a win. I think if things stayed green after our last pit stop, we had a good chance at it.”

Harvick’s results during his first year with SHR and Childers have impressed everyone, including his fellow competitors. As the teams head to Richmond International Raceway in two weeks, the drivers are breathing a sigh of relief after dealing with The Lady in Black, a temptress with a new agenda every lap.

Point Standings after the Bojangles’ Southern 500

1. Jeff Gordon (–)
2. Matt Kenseth (-1)
3. Carl Edwards (-19)
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-26)
5. Jimmie Johnson (-27)
6. Kyle Busch (-28)
7. Brad Keselowski (-51)
8. Joey Logano (-52)
9. Ryan Newman (-61)
10. Austin Dillon (-62)
11. Greg Biffle (-70)
12. Tony Stewart (-73)
12. Brian Vickers (-73)
14. Kyle Larson (-74)
14. Denny Hamlin (-74)
16. Clint Bowyer (-78)

A Force to be Reckoned with: Elliott wins in devious date with Lady in Black

The horn in Dawsonville will be screaming for the second week in a row.

In dramatic fashion, Chase Elliott toyed with Elliott Sadler to secure his second win in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The win came after the two battled and roughed each other up on the final lap, and it was the perfect ending for an event at Darlington Raceway.

Elliott became the first rookie to win the NNS race at Darlington, making an already-impressive win more astounding. In addition to running with veteran Sadler, the driver of the No. 9 also fending off the likes of Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick.

In the post-race conference, Sadler wasn’t sure if he could’ve held the rookie off. “I got really lose, but he didn’t touch me.” Despite the loss, the veteran’s spirit remained intact.

The duo was set up by a caution with seven laps to go. Sadler gambled, taking two tires on the final stop. By the time the field went green, two laps remained, and the stakes were high.

At eighteen-years-old, Elliott has become the youngest driver in NNS history to win two races. The record was previously held by Joey Logano. This victory comes in his first start at Darlington, and it propels him to the top of the points. He holds court in the NNS standings, thirteen points above Regan Smith.

Kenseth, who finished third, was happy for the young winner. He talked about watching him grow up and likened the feeling to watching the success of his own son, racer Ross Kenseth.

It’s obvious that fans are not the only ones who are impressed. Even owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was shocked, but in a great way.

“[The No. 9 team] are well put together. [Chase Elliott] came into [Darlington Raceway] unassuming, and he took what he got….Everything he’s doing makes sense.”

The boss also commented on his driver’s progression, saying with a laugh, “We like to think we’re going to keep him, but it looks like he’s ahead of schedule.”

When it came to the race winner himself, things were simple: “I’m not really sure how I did that. [Elliott Sadler] got loose in two, and I got pretty close to him.”

“I haven’t thought about [moving into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series] at all. I’m focused on what I’m doing now,” he stated, showing his levelheadedness about his position in the sport of racing itself.

Under the lights at Darlington Raceway, Chase Elliott won for the second week in a row, bringing the total to two wins in seven NASCAR Nationwide Series starts. As the horn screamed in Dawsonville, it served as a reminder that the eighteen-year-old is a force to be reckoned with, especially if The Lady in Black is on his side.

Point Standings after the 32nd Annual VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200

1. Chase Elliott (–)
2. Regan Smith (-13)
3. Elliott Sadler (-20)
4. Ty Dillon (-23)
5. Trevor Bayne (-30)
6. Brian Scott (-46)
7. Brendan Gaughan (-56)
8. Dylan Kwasniewski (-71)
9. James Buescher (-76)
10. Ryan Reed (-99)
11. Mike Bliss (-106)
12. Dakoda Armstrong (-111)