Veteran: Saturday at Chicagoland 'was awful,' must improve as Chase goes on RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota Dale Earnhardt Jr . got off to a solid, but not spectacular start in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup's Challenger Round at Chicagoland Speedway . Earnhardt spent most of the afternoon in the top 10, ran some of the day in the top five but came away with an 11th-place finish. The finish itself may have left a little to be desired, but what bugged Junior was the No. 88 team's struggles in practice. Talking on "The Dale Jr . Download" as part of Dirty Mo Radio , Earnhardt lamented the fact the team couldn't find a rhythm in practice. "To be honest, Saturday was awful," Earnhardt said. "We weren't anywhere we needed to be. We were about two-tenths off of the guys that I thought were going to run well. Two-tenths is a chunk of time, so I was getting very worried." Junior finished in ninth in the second practice, but dropped to 26th in final practice. "The third and final practice we had all kinds of problems with the engine and the spark plug. And then we went out there and preceded to stink it up and run all kinds of terrible laps." For the owner of three wins in 2014, Earnhardt sounded a bit frustrated with the practice struggles. "We don't practice well. We never do but we always race well. Even if we practice decent, I know it's going to be a great race. Because we always race just fine. We just don't practice, don't qualify well. I don't know why that is. Wish I had an answer for you but trust me, it's an unpleasant experience to have to struggle through practice and worry whether that's a reflection of how the race is going to go." Earnhardt praised crew chief Steve Letarte and the team's engineers for the work they did from the end of Saturday's final practice to the start of Sunday's MyAFibStory.com 400 and is hopeful he can have a good feeling all weekend long next time out. "I want it to be good on Saturday. I want to run Saturday and go, 'Man we got a nice car, we got a good car.' " Earnhardt will enter this weekend's second race of the Challenger Round, the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET, ESPN), in fifth place in the standings. In 30 starts at the Magic Mile, Earnhardt has seven top-five finishes and 13 top-10 finishes. In the summer race at Loudon, Earnhardt earned a 10th-place finish. That type of result would serve Junior well in the Challenger Round, but he knows more is needed as the Chase goes on. "Maybe this first round we can get by with finishing 11th, but Round 2 you are not going to make it. I know that. We need to improve a little bit there." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
NASCAR.com's Lesley Robins talks with Michael Waltrip about his first performance on "Dancing with the Stars" as he calls out Dale Earnhardt Jr . Robins also talks with Alfonso Ribeiro.
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Cain: Don't expect these guys to lay off in the postseason RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota As Kyle Larson juked and jived his No. 42 Target Chevrolet to a near victory at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday afternoon, his ultra-determined effort served as NASCAR's ultimate spoiler alert. Even in a season featuring 16 title contenders -- the largest Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship field ever -- it should surprise no one if one of the super talented, highly motivated non-Chase drivers hoists a trophy in the remaining nine races, stealing a Chaser's fast pass to the title round. After all, non-Chase drivers have won races in four of the last five postseasons. And not only is the rookie Larson a leading candidate to win before the season winds down, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray has earned his late season television time, too. His No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet has led 180 total laps in the last four races and is keeping the Chasers honest. A couple other veterans, Clint Bowyer and three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart , boast resumes that absolutely make them favorites in the season's final races as well. For the 22-year-old Larson, it's been simply about "when" he'll score his maiden Sprint Cup victory. His third-place effort in a back-up car that started last in the Chicago field is proof of how driven he and that team are to win. Far from backing off and letting the Chase drivers settle the checkered flag in Chicago, Larson demonstrated exactly the kind of grit and gumption that makes this Chase portion of the season so exciting and potentially the most competitive in history. Nearly half the field has something to prove, whether it be a championship run or scoring a season- or career-first victory. There are sponsors to attract and scores to settle. No one is backing off or playing it safe. It's go time from the front to back of the grid. "(People might think) those guys might be a little bit more cautious, won't race you as hard,'' Larson said. "I didn't feel that way at all. I felt everybody was racing as hard as they do all season long. "We definitely have to be a little bit more careful around those guys, too, because we don't want to hurt their chances of advancing. "(But) like I said, I had a lot of fun racing Kev (Harvick), Jeff (Gordon), Brad (Keselowski) and Junior ( Dale Earnhardt Jr .) at some points in the race. I didn't feel like anybody was holding back at all." As good as Larson was Sunday, his teammate McMurray also furthered his case as someone who will have to be dealt with each week. In fact, McMurray is definitively the champion Chase spoiler of the last five years -- winning more Chase races (three) than any non-Chase eligible driver during that time. Four of McMurray's seven career Cup wins have come at Chase tracks. He's won twice at Charlotte and twice at Talladega, where he is the defending winner of the upcoming Oct. 19 race at NASCAR's biggest track. Bowyer, a preseason Chase favorite who like Larson just missed making the field, is another driver who has proven himself a contender at the 10 Chase tracks, venues where he has recorded five of his eight career Cup victories. He has a pair of wins at this week's stop, New Hampshire Motor Speedway , a pair of wins at Talladega and also a victory at Charlotte . Perhaps the biggest unknown in all this is the most accomplished racer not to earn a Chase berth -- three-time champ Stewart, who may view the race track as a focus for his off-track distractions and heavy heart. He has won in all 15 previous seasons competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but is still looking for his first in 2014. He has victories at all nine of the remaining Chase venues and 19 of his 48 career wins have come at these venues. He has three victories apiece at New Hampshire, Dover , Martinsville, and Homestead. Certainly this week's venue -- the notoriously tight and tough 1.058-mile Loudon oval -- is a prime opportunity to shake up the Chase order. But it's not just the championship contenders that see the opportunity, which makes the 2014 version of the Chase that much more compelling in ways that weren't even anticipated. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Driver talks past, future in interview RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated AJ Allmendinger has seen his share of adversity during nearly a decade in NASCAR. Two years ago, he hit the lowest point in his career after a failed drug test led him out of Team Penske and into NASCAR's Road to Recovery program. Chastened, the 32-year-old driver kick-started the second chapter of his career by winning two Nationwide races last year for Roger Penske. Allmendinger is now back in the Cup Series trying to push JTG Daugherty's program and his career to the next level. We caught up with Allmendinger a day after the No. 47 was swept up in an early wreck at Daytona. Just two weeks earlier, he'd led a race-high 34 laps at Sonoma before contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr . derailed his shot at for a first Cup victory and the Chase berth that would've come with it. NI: You're known as a strong road racer but what are your thoughts on plate racing? Allmendinger: Out of all the racing we do, it's my least favorite. There's just so much that goes into it. A lot of it's luck, being in the right place at the right time and missing the "big one." The racing can be exciting at times for sure. As a driver, you definitely have to be at full concentration the whole time you're out there when you're in the pack just because one 2-inch mistake can be a big, big crash. Especially if you're the one making that mistake, you feel bad because you wrecked yourself and you've got a lot of competitors that you feel bad about because they're probably pissed off at you. NI: You had a car that could have won at Sonoma before you were taken out. Does it take long to get over that? Allmendinger: I don't know if you ever fully get over it. To a certain degree, in this sport, you gotta be ready to go the next weekend. You can't let a bad weekend carry over into the next weekend. It's tough because I thought we had a shot to win. We were up front, top two cars every practice session and qualifying, led the most laps, played the strategy to what ours was and we just got into an incident. It is what it is. You can't fix it. NI: If you can get that first win, you're all but in the Chase. No added pressure there? Allmendinger: Honestly, I look at it two different ways. The Chase would be great for the fact that our sponsors and this race team being such a small team, to be able to promote that we won a race and are in the Chase, that would be fantastic. But when it comes to, "Do we have to make the Chase for it to be a successful season?" No. We're not a championship-winning team right now. There's no doubt about it. We're a small team, we're trying to grow to that at some point and it's going to be a long process to get there and a lot of hard work. I think with the right effort we can actually get there. NI: It might sound like a strange question but are you almost glad things played out the way they did back in 2012? Allmendinger: Except for the mere fact of having to put Roger Penske through that. Other than that, I'm way happier now than I have ever been when it comes to a lot of things. I still put a lot of pressure on myself racing, so I still have those ups and downs, but it's a different kind of pressure now. The ownership just makes this team such a family. I want to take this team to a new level. That's the pressure I put on myself, to put this team on my back and take it to another level. I feel like they deserve it down from ownership and the team because they work so hard. NI: How has your perspective changed in the past couple of years? Allmendinger: It's a different perspective now. It's not the only thing in the world, you know? There are other things that are important and in the grand scheme probably a lot more important than racing. But obviously when you make your life and you put your heart and soul into it, it feels like the most important thing. I wouldn't change anything that I've had to go through for anything except for disappointing Roger Penske. Hopefully, last year, winning the Nationwide races and having a shot to win Indy made up for it. NI: It's our tailgate issue, so I have to ask about your abilities on the grill. Can we call you a grilling master? Allmendinger: No (laughs). We can lie to everybody and tell them I can grill anything up. Only problem is hopefully I won't get called out on it. I really enjoy grilling because it is so healthy to be able to do that and I'm real health conscious when it comes to what I eat. The sponsors we have on our team are great when it comes to all that. So it makes it a lot easier because we’re stocked with a lot of great things to eat. I live in an apartment right now so it's hard to grill in the corner without a balcony. My girlfriend is really good at grilling so she's shown me some stuff. Hopefully, in the near future, I can have a house and practice up but right now it'd be a stretch to say grilling master. I'd like to be. Let's put it that way. NI: It's hard to believe you've been in NASCAR for almost a decade now. What's been your personal highlight so far? Allmendinger: The Nationwide wins were something I'll never forget, especially with what led to those. I remember making my first race at Bristol -- it took me four tries to finally make a race -- back in 2007 when there were 50 or 60 cars trying to qualify each weekend. Making our first Daytona 500 in 2009 and almost winning the thing. (Allmendinger finished third in the No. 44 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge.) But I think the highlight is still being here really. This sport is tough. It will bring some guys in, especially with the open-wheel side of it, and spit them back out pretty quick. So to have the commitment level and just the do-or-die work ethic trying to stay in when things were bad and things got better and things got bad again, and keep coming back, I feel very fortunate that people believe in me. Whether it's the "King" or the "Captain" or Tad (Geschickter) to give me another shot to jump in this race car and feel like I can get the job done now. More than anything, just being able to still be a part of it through thick and thin is something that's probably the most special. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
Four-time series champion has his eyes on NASCAR's most coveted prize RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota The question, broached before the season even began, hasn't gone away and maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, if folks want to talk about winning the championship and potential retirement in the same breath, well, that's not all bad. Not when you're Jeff Gordon and you haven't really been in the title picture in more than a decade. There are far worse questions out there. What's wrong with your team? Why didn't you make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup? Will you be back with the team next year? Fortunately for the 43-year-old, such questions have rarely, if ever, been asked. But retirement? Yeah, it comes up from time to time. And with the Hendrick Motorsports driver back in the title picture, it makes for good copy. One of the sport's greatest drivers has chance to win title, and sail off into the sunset hoisting a fifth championship trophy. There's only one problem. Gordon isn't buying the retirement part. Or selling it, for that matter. "The majority of my focus is on winning the championship," Gordon said last week in Chicago, before this year's 10-race Chase got under way. Easing off the throttle? Not now. Not as long as his back holds out, his team continues to perform at its current level and Gordon keeps finding a way to get back to Victory Lane. "I was asked 'would you consider it?' and I said I would because I think it’'an exciting way to end a career – to go out on top," Gordon said. "But at the same time, I'm having too much fun. I'm enjoying myself too much. My back is doing well and I don't see any reason to quit anytime soon." One of the favorites in this year's championship run, Gordon admits it’s been "a long time, too long" since he won his fourth, and to date, last title. That was in 2001, 13 years ago. He turned 30 earlier that summer. No one expected the domination, which included 58 wins at that point, to slow anytime soon. But it did. That he's back in the title picture, and a legitimate contender, he said, has as much to do with those around him as the driver himself. "We haven't had a team like this since 2001," Gordon said. "In '07 we were close; '04 we were close but I don't think we ever really had this type of momentum, this kind of chemistry since we won our last championship. "And you know … that's what it takes to win the championship. Who we've been up against, they've had that. We've got that back this year and that's why I'm really excited about our chances." He's seen others go through similar circumstances. Former teammate Terry Labonte went 12 years in between winning championships in 1984 and 1996. In fact, Labonte's chief competition in his final title run was none other than Gordon. "He's one of my heroes," Gordon said. "I would love to do something similar to what Terry has done. I raced against him in that '96 season when he won that championship and his experience, his calmness, the Iceman (persona), he blew me away that year with his ability to really just stay so consistent and strong and pull off that win. "So I've got firsthand experience to see a guy that hasn’t done it in a long time get it done." Gordon has finished in the top five of the final standings on five occasions since his last championship, including the runner-up in '07. But as he noted, it's only been recently that he felt his team had the tools and the chemistry to be considered a legitimate threat. The key players from '01 are still around, although most of the support staff has scattered here and there. Steve Letarte, wrapping up a final year as crew chief with Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr . , was a part of Gordon’s title-winning efforts in '97 and '98 as the team’s tire specialist. In '01, he was a mechanic as well as the team’s rear-tire carrier. Chad Knaus, who would go on to lead Jimmie Johnson to six titles, was a part of the crew that won the title in '95 and '97 as well, but had departed by the time Gordon won No. 4 in '01. Johnson, Knaus and the 48 team are seen as one of Gordon's chief opponents for this year's crown. The wait for Johnson to try and add to his championship total has been brief. Barely 10 months ago he was celebrating a sixth title. For Gordon, it's been years. "That was a long time ago," Gordon said of his '01 title run. "The only thing I remember that reminds me of this year is having confidence in myself and the team, enjoying what we are doing and knowing we have a shot at winning races each and every weekend." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Late model champion will drive No. 5 at Homestead Josh Berry has picked up his second NASCAR Nationwide Series race for JR Motorsports, team co-owner Kelley Earnhardt Miller announced Wednesday on her podcast. On "Fast Lane Family," a radio show Earnhardt Miller hosts as part of Dirty Mo Radio, she announced that Berry would drive the No. 5 Ragu Chevrolet in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "We have worked really hard (for that sponsorship), and we're still working. We'd love to put Josh in more races," Earnhardt Miller said. Berry, who won the track championship at Hickory Motor Speedway this year driving a late model for JRM, finished 12th in his Nationwide Series debut at Iowa Speedway in August. "It's so exciting for me and I'm very thankful that Ragu came on board and everyone at JRM worked as hard as they did," Berry said on the radio show. "It's so cool to see happen." The No. 5 vehicle has been split among Berry, Kevin Harvick , Kasey Kahne and Austin Theriault this season. The team's two full-time drivers, Chase Elliott and Regan Smith , are currently first and second in the points standings. That's not lost on Berry. "I have a pretty good feeling it's going to be a real exciting weekend for all of JR Motorsports that weekend," he said. Click here to listen to this week's episode of Fast Lane Family. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Alan Cavanna talks with Dale Earnhardt Jr . about his start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase, fantasy football, his niece Karsyn Elledge, and much more.
Dale Earnhardt Jr . generates a landmark moment winning the Daytona 500 for the second time in his career.