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Gordon: SHR reached out before Daytona 500
RELATED: Full schedule for Indianapolis " Gordon through the years SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Jeff Gordon 's "un-retirement" from competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series began in earnest Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion is filling in for Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Indianapolis and next weekend at Pocono Raceway while Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Almost as surprising as Gordon's return to the driver's seat -- he retired from full-time competition after the 2015 season -- was his disclosure that he had been approached about filling in for the injured Tony Stewart in this year's Daytona 500 . Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet and co-owner of the four-car organization, missed the first eight races after suffering a broken back in an off-road driving incident prior to the start of the 2016 season. Gordon's role as a FOX NASCAR analyst (the network provides coverage of the season's first 16 points races) prohibited him from returning to competition. "The crazy thing about all of this (is) I was asked to drive Tony Stewart 's car in Daytona to start the season," Gordon said Friday. "I wasn't able to do it because of my commitments to FOX. Now Rick (Hendrick, team owner) has some amazing ways to convince people into things that the average person might not be able to. I don't know, maybe he could have called Eric Shanks or something, but no, I don't think so." Shanks is President, COO and Executive Producer of FOX Sports. Stewart is competing in his final season as a driver. Sunday's Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard will be his final appearance at the famed 2.5-mile track, where he has earned two of his 49 career victories. That Gordon was asked about filling in earlier this season was news to Stewart. "I wasn't (aware)," Stewart said, "but that would have been awesome. That probably would have been one of the coolest things to happen this season. If that happened, I would have been all for it. … "I wasn't aware of that, but that would have been a really cool deal for us." MORE: Dale Jr. out, Gordon in No. 88 at Indianapolis, Pocono
Gordon: 'I was asked to drive Tony Stewart's car in Daytona'
Jeff Gordon talks to the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway about being asked to fill-in for an injured Tony Stewart for the DAYTONA 500 .
Menard's Darlington scheme gives honor to Al Unser Jr.
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes CONCORD, N.C. -- When Valvoline officials queried NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Paul Menard about his racing heroes, the first name on the list was Al Unser Jr. So Menard couldn't be more pleased that the Valvoline-themed throwback paint scheme he will run in this year's Bojangles' Southern 500 pays tribute to Unser Jr.'s lone NASCAR premier series start. Menard's Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet will carry the gray, orange and black color scheme used by Unser Jr. for the 1993 Daytona 500 with sponsor Valvoline featured on the hood when the series travels to Darlington Raceway for the annual Labor Day weekend classic. "Little Al's first NASCAR race was the Daytona 500 in 1993," Menard said earlier this week as preparations for the unveiling of the paint scheme got underway. "The partnership with Valvoline this year -- we got to talking earlier about who some of my racing heroes were and Al Jr. was right away, even without the Valvoline relationship. I've always been a huge fan of his. He was the guy in IndyCar that I always pulled for." Menard said he met the former open-wheel champion and two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 "when I was probably 12." "I remember; he probably doesn't," Menard continued. "But I pulled up (this morning) … and he was standing out in the parking lot. We were out there talking probably 10 or 15 minutes, just about the '93 ( Daytona ) 500 , his autocross stuff that he's doing now, just talking about a little bit of racing." Unser Jr. was carrying the Valvoline colors in 1992 when he won his first Indy 500 title. Already a NASCAR sponsor, Valvoline wanted additional branding in '93 to promote its line of synthetic products, particularly for that year's Daytona 500 . And the Daytona 500 just happened to be on Unser Jr.'s bucket list. "There were special races that I wanted to race in my career," Unser Jr. said. "The Indy 500 , the Daytona 500 , the Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans. Those are the ones that I really wanted to run as a kid. "The Indy 500 is really where my heart is so we'd been doing that. But yeah, I wanted to run the Daytona 500 sometime during my career and it was just a blessing when Valvoline called me up and said, 'You know, we'd like to do this down in Daytona . Would you like to do it?' "I said, 'Of course I would. It's got to be with a great team.' "They said, 'We've contacted Hendrick Motorsports,' and I go, 'Awesome.' " At that time, the Hendrick organization consisted of three teams with drivers Ken Schrader, Ricky Rudd and rookie Jeff Gordon. The addition of Unser Jr. made it a four-team effort for the series' most notable race. A crash during the second of two twin qualifying races three days before the 500 , however, cost Unser Jr. his primary entry and he wound up racing Schrader's backup Chevrolet Lumina. Instead of a gray, orange and black paint scheme, Unser Jr.'s race-day car was white with the Valvoline branding on the hood and across the rear quarter panels. A crash with less that 50 laps remaining took Unser Jr. out of contention, and he finished 36th. When told that Menard and Valvoline were bringing the original paint scheme back to the track for the Darlington throwback weekend, Unser said he was "just overwhelmed." "Mainly because this was just a one off," he said, "not a traditional kind of car with a lot of running behind it, a lot of heritage to it. So when they contacted me and said they were thinking about doing this throwback at Darlington … it was a true blessing." Menard praised Valvoline for not only bringing back the paint scheme, but for the company's long involvement in auto racing. "The brand is iconic in our sport," he said. "You pick out right away where that Valvoline car is on the race track, whether it's a stock car race or IndyCar races, NHRA. They're always around the sport. They have a huge racing legacy and I'm proud to be a part of it." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
NASCAR reveals start times for 2017 races
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR, along with FOX Sports and NBC Sports, today announced 2017 race start times and network coverage for the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series -- based on the previously released schedule dates . Through collaborative efforts with its broadcast partners, race teams and tracks, NASCAR was able to finalize full 2017 start times for all three national series almost six months earlier than in recent seasons. Seventeen national series events will start closer to primetime, helping to bring NASCAR's photo finishes and close, side-by-side racing to larger audiences. Seventeen NASCAR Cup Series points races will air on broadcast television next year, including the DAYTONA 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on FOX; and the Brickyard 400 and the NASCAR Cup Series championship race, the Ford EcoBoost 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway, on NBC. "It's our responsibility, collectively as an industry, to ensure the sport is healthy, strong and growing by delivering great racing in a way that best meets the needs of our fans," said Steve Herbst, senior vice president, broadcasting and production at NASCAR. "Earlier insight on start times benefits not only fans, but also our teams and tracks, as it provides more opportunities to plan travel and to purchase race tickets." Since the initial release of the 2017 schedule, NASCAR and its partners have shifted two dates for the NASCAR XFINITY Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Road America will move to Sunday, August 27, on NBC. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park will now take place on Sunday, September 3, airing on FS1 prior to the NASCAR Cup Series event at Darlington Raceway on NBCSN. Looking ahead to the 2018 season, the DAYTONA 500 will move to Sunday, February 18, during Presidents Day weekend. NASCAR and its partners are working collaboratively on the remainder of the 2018 schedule, which will be finalized and released at a later date. In addition to watching the live broadcast, fans can catch all the on-track action by visiting NASCAR.com, downloading the NASCAR Mobile app or live streaming on FOX Sports Go and the NBC Sports app. Fans can also listen to Motor Racing Network (MRN), Performance Racing Network (PRN), IMS Radio Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90, throughout the season. 2017 NASCAR Cup Series Schedule Date Location Network Race Start Radio 2/18 The Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway FS1 8 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2/19 DAYTONA 500 Qualifying at Daytona International Speedway FOX 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2/23 Can-Am Duel at Daytona International Speedway FS1 7 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2/26 DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway FOX 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/5 Atlanta Motor Speedway FOX 2:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/12 Las Vegas Motor Speedway FOX 3:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/19 Phoenix International Raceway FOX 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/26 Auto Club Speedway FOX 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/2 Martinsville Speedway FS1 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/9 Texas Motor Speedway FOX 1:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/23 Bristol Motor Speedway FOX 2 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/30 Richmond International Raceway FOX 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/7 Talladega Superspeedway FOX 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/13 Kansas Speedway FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/20 NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway FS1 6 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/28 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway FOX 6 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 6/4 Dover International Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/11 Pocono Raceway FS1 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/18 Michigan International Speedway FS1 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/25 Sonoma Raceway FS1 3 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/1 Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway NBC 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/8 Kentucky Speedway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/16 New Hampshire Motor Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/23 Indianapolis Motor Speedway NBC 3 p.m. IMS / SiriusXM 7/30 Pocono Raceway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/6 Watkins Glen International NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/13 Michigan International Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/19 Bristol Motor Speedway NBC 7:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 9/3 Darlington Raceway NBCSN 6 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/9 Richmond International Raceway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/17 Chicagoland Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/24 New Hampshire Motor Speedway NBCSN 2 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 10/1 Dover International Speedway NBCSN 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/7 Charlotte Motor Speedway NBCSN 7 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 10/15 Talladega Superspeedway NBC 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/22 Kansas Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/29 Martinsville Speedway NBCSN 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/5 Texas Motor Speedway NBC 2 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 11/12 Phoenix International Raceway NBC 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/19 Homestead-Miami Speedway NBC 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series Schedule Date Location Network Race Start Radio 2/25 Daytona International Speedway FS1 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/4 Atlanta Motor Speedway FS1 1:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/11 Las Vegas Motor Speedway FS1 4 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/18 Phoenix International Raceway FOX 4 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/25 Auto Club Speedway FS1 4 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/8 Texas Motor Speedway FOX 1:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/22 Bristol Motor Speedway FS1 12:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/29 Richmond International Raceway FS1 12:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/6 Talladega Superspeedway FOX 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/27 Charlotte Motor Speedway FS1 1 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 6/3 Dover International Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/10 Pocono Raceway FOX 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/17 Michigan International Speedway FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/24 Iowa Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/30 Daytona International Speedway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/7 Kentucky Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/15 New Hampshire Motor Speedway NBCSN 4 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/22 Indianapolis Motor Speedway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. IMS / SiriusXM 7/29 Iowa Speedway NBC 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/5 Watkins Glen International NBCSN 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/12 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/18 Bristol Motor Speedway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 8/27 Road America NBC 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/2 Darlington Raceway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/8 Richmond International Raceway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/16 Chicagoland Speedway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/23 Kentucky Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 9/30 Dover International Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/6 Charlotte Motor Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 10/21 Kansas Speedway NBC 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/4 Texas Motor Speedway NBCSN 8:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 11/11 Phoenix International Raceway NBC 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/18 Homestead-Miami Speedway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Schedule Date Location Network Race Start Radio 2/24 Daytona International Speedway FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/4 Atlanta Motor Speedway FS1 4:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/1 Martinsville Speedway FS1 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/12 Kansas Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/19 Charlotte Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/2 Dover International Speedway FS1 5:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/9 Texas Motor Speedway FS1 8 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/17 Gateway Motorsports Park FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/23 Iowa Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/6 Kentucky Speedway FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/19 Eldora Speedway FS1 9 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/29 Pocono Raceway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/12 Michigan International Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/16 Bristol Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/3 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park FS1 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/15 Chicagoland Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/23 New Hampshire Motor Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/30 Las Vegas Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/14 Talladega Superspeedway FOX 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/28 Martinsville Speedway FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/3 Texas Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/10 Phoenix International Raceway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/17 Homestead-Miami Speedway FS1 8 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM All times eastern. Subject to change.
Almirola reflects on career, heritage as he makes 200th start
Aric Almirola insists he was absolutely prepared to climb into his No. 43 Smithfield Ford this Sunday for the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway completely focused on nothing other than scoring a victory and working toward earning a position in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But his public relations team brought up an important milestone that even he conceded was definitely worth noting, if not celebrating. This Sunday's race marks the 32-year old Almirola's 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start -- a significant measure of his staying power and a testament to how far he's come. Literally. He is the son of a Cuban immigrant on his dad's side of the family and the grandson of one of Florida's most celebrated and accomplished racers -- Sam Rodriguez -- on his mom's side. That has created a unique background dynamic that gives Almirola motivation and pride. And makes this weekend a heartfelt measure of success. "I think here I am and my dad came over from Cuba and 50 years later I'm making my 200th start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Petty," Almirola said. "It's so crazy to me, what living in this country affords you and allows you to be able to do, and my grandparents made that decision to come over here and take this chance." The sheer number of starts represents a mark of opportunity for Almirola. Making it into NASCAR's big league was always the harder path, the road less travelled. But he has made it. And that's only the beginning. "I don't think anybody dreams about running two hundred races, they dream about 'a' race," Almirola said. "So as a kid I dreamed about driving 'a' Cup car, running 'a' race. So, now the fact I've had the opportunity to do it two hundred times, when you realize that, and the marketing department brings to your attention that, 'Hey, Pocono is going to be your 200th start,' it really makes you kind of reflect on everything that's led up to this. "From being a kid racing go-karts all the way up to all the opportunities I've had. I realize by reflecting on all that stuff how fortunate and blessed I am." The thing is, Almirola could have just as easily been a star baseball player as a winning NASCAR driver. His native city of Tampa, Florida is a ballplayer's town. It produced Wade Boggs and Lou Piniella. Both Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield graduated from Almirola's Hillsborough High School. A calendar year in this part of the country has traditionally been delineated by baseball and football seasons. That just makes Almirola's success climbing the NASCAR ranks even more impressive. "I was in somewhat of a hot bed there for athletes," Almirola said smiling. "But I had a really strong passion for racing and I know that made me somewhat of an outsider at school growing up. When friends would ask, 'Hey what are you doing this weekend?' I'd say, I was going racing. "That kind of separated me from a lot of kids at school -- not in a bad way, I wasn't an outcast in a negative way, but I didn't have as close a relationship with kids at school because I didn't go parties at their house Friday night after football games. I was always working on my race cars or go-karts and racing on the weekends. "I wasn't looking for something to do on the weekend. I already had it." "I was always going to be a NASCAR guy. My grandfather raced sprint cars, so obviously the open wheel path was there, too. He'd race at East Bay every Saturday night and occasionally travel around the country going to races. But every Sunday it was normal, to get up, eat breakfast, hang around the house and then watch the Cup race. That was routine around my parents and my grandparents. We love NASCAR." The result for Almirola has been a starring role driving his sport's most iconic car -- the No. 43 -- for the sport's biggest legend, Petty. NASCAR's crown jewel, Daytona International Speedway, is also Almirola's "home track" and fittingly the venue he won his first Sprint Cup Series race in 2014, the Coke Zero 400 -- exactly 30 years after his boss Petty scored his historic 200th victory at the track. Consider this: Petty's win total would be equivalent to Almirola winning every start he's made. RELATED: Almirola's Darlington scheme honors Petty " Darlington schemes Though that remains the only Cup victory so far for Almirola, it was enough to propel him into the 2014 Chase and make him only more eager to return. His team's best finish this year is a 12th-place in the season-opening Daytona 500 . He's had four top-15 showings -- three in the season's opening four races. He ranks 25th in points entering Pocono, hopeful to score a win in one of the remaining six races to set the 16-driver Chase field. "I think the reality is we have struggled this season and you can tell by watching the race and looking at our results," Almirola said. "This year has been a struggle and we can't really put our finger on what's wrong. People often ask what's wrong and it sounds like a smart-aleck answer, but if I knew, we'd fix it. "There are a couple places looking ahead that have been strong for us. Bristol comes to top of mind. We had a chance to win there a couple years ago battling with Carl Edwards. And then there's (regular season finale) Richmond. Last year we went there kinda do or die to make the Chase and finished fourth, but had a really strong car and a legitimate chance to win that race, too. Those are kind of top of mind to me where we might go in and get a win." Listening to Almirola reflect on his first 200 races, there is both a fond memory of what it took to get to this point and a distinct urgency in his voice to succeed in a way worthy of the hard work already put in. "Making my 200th start really forces me to reflect and when I do that and think about doing it for Richard Petty, who is very much an American icon. And I can't help but reflect on my family, which has done so much and sacrificed so much to get me where I'm at," Almirola said. "It really is amazing."
Menard's Darlington throwback honors Al Unser Jr.
Paul Menard and Valvoline teamed up to pay tribute to Al Unser Jr., two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, for their Darlington Raceway throwback paint scheme. Catch the Bojangles' Southern 500 on Sunday, September 4th.
Hamlin returns to site of Daytona 500 win, eyes sweep
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Since Denny Hamlin first arrived in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full time in 2006 he had an immediate positive relationship with Daytona International Speedway winning his first-ever Budweiser Shootout as a rookie in the days leading up to the season-opening Daytona 500 . Since then, Hamlin has won that event two more times including this February -- just 8 days before he pulled off an amazing last lap pass to claim his maiden Daytona 500 victory in the closest finish in the race's great 58-year history. A win in Saturday's Coke Zero 400 would give Hamlin another unique claim to Daytona fame -- a season sweep of the Sprint Cup events plus a win in the Shootout giving him three victories (including both points races) at the track in a single season. Only Bobby Allison (1982) and Fireball Roberts (1962) have swept both Daytona premier series races and won an exhibition event too. Jimmie Johnson (2013), Cale Yarborough (1968) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969) are the other drivers to win both Sprint Cup races in a year. "It was about five years ago that something happened on the restrictor plate race tracks where I just -- it clicked and I got it," Hamlin said Thursday. "I can name a few instances it's really helped me, but I don't want to necessarily say that, but I just feel comfortable. I feel like I know what I'm doing and the results have showed it." The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota hasn't finished worse than sixth in his last five Daytona starts, including a runner-up in the 2014 Daytona 500 and a third place showing in last year's Coke Zero 400 -- a streak of success even better than one of the track's true superstars, Dale Earnhardt Jr . Earnhardt has a pair of Cup race wins during that same five-race span -- including the 2014 Daytona 500 and this race last year -- but finished 36th in this year's Daytona 500 and 14th in this race in 2014. Despite the impressive numbers, Hamlin is well aware that his current success streak is a rare outcome at a restrictor plate track. "Eventually, we're going to get in a wreck," Hamlin allowed with a slight smile. "I think we did at -- yeah, we did at Talladega, but I've just been very fortunate on superspeedways and the bad finishes that I've had it's not because something I feel like I did. It was something that I could caught up in, so I've been fortunate. "It's been a great battle with the 88 ( Dale Earnhardt Jr .) probably the last four years with me and him. There's been a lot of one-two finishes with us and hopefully I'd love to complete the sweep winning the Unlimited, the 500 and the July race. I feel like I gift basket-ed him that dual win on Thursday this year, so I'd like to get him back here in July." A win this weekend would be key not just in Daytona historical context. Other than a fantastic runner-up finish to Tony Stewart on the Sonoma Raceway road course last week, Hamlin hasn't posted the kind of consistently good showings he might have liked. Especially with the way the season began. In the last seven races, Hamlin has three top-10s and three finishes of 30th or worse -- two of those sub-par finishes, a result of crashes. But just looking at Hamlin's face and his demeanor, it's easy to tell he brings an unmistakable confidence to Daytona Beach. And he's earned it honestly. He'll start ninth in the Coke Zero 400 -- surrounded by all his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates who qualified second ( Carl Edwards ), third ( Kyle Busch ) and seventh ( Matt Kenseth ). Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr ., who Hamlin edged for the Daytona win in February, will start 15th. "Anytime we can work together, I try for sure," Hamlin said of his Toyota teammates. "I don't know that it was a plot to take out one car by any means. I thought we showed a lot of speed with just our cars in practice looking at lap times with what we would run as a group of five. Simple math says what the pack was going to run and I knew that if we could stay in a line and commit to each other, it would be tough for others to pass us. It worked out well. "Legitimately there were five Toyotas out to win on the final lap and that's really all we could have asked for. It was something that was in the works for a long time and it was executed perfectly by our whole organization and it worked out. Obviously any time you are successful like that you try to repeat it, but the competitors have a lot of say in that, so there are others who are going to have issue with what our plan is." "Really this track has been very good to me throughout my career," Hamlin said. "We hope to complete the sweep this weekend."
Larson: 'I would love to run the Indy 500'
Kyle Larson talks about the potential of running the Indianapolis 500 in the future.
Junior savors NBCSN's re-air of special Daytona win
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr . broke into a big smile and sat up in his seat when discussing his interaction on Twitter during NBC's Wednesday night re-broadcast of his emotional 2001 win in Daytona International Speedway 's annual summer race. Earnhardt won that July 400-miler in the series' first return to the Daytona high banks a mere five months after his father, Dale Earnhardt, was killed on the final lap of that year's season-opening Daytona 500 . And according to NBC Sports, Wednesday's night’s replay of Earnhardt Jr.'s victory in the NASCAR summer classic was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter during the broadcast. "A lot of those races when we won, Twitter and social media wasn't around yet," Earnhardt said from Daytona International Speedway , where he is – again – the defending winner of Saturday's Coke Zero 400 here. "It was pretty fun having that instant communication and dialogue. With social media platforms we have today, it felt like we were in a big room with everybody watching it together. "It was good. I love the old stuff. The fans enjoy those iconic races in the sport and there are so many to choose from." And, Earnhardt conceded, it was actually a spontaneous viewing situation for himself. "I really didn't plan on watching the race, it just so happened I was sitting in the house with nothing to do," Earnhardt said, grinning and suggesting the whole experience might be a positive precedent for the sport. "If they get those drivers involved in these events to join in on social media, I think it adds to the experience of people watching. And in my case, if you won the race, it certainly was exciting to be a part of that experience. "I thought it was great and a super-great treat for me. I was super humbled at how everybody plugged in. It's great to be reminded of stuff like that. It was a special night and I'm glad people think it's cool." RELATED: Junior live tweets watching July 2001 Daytona win Earnhardt's famously huge fan base certainly found it a treat -- especially the continual interaction with the two-time Daytona 500 winner as he commented via Twitter throughout the telecast. "It's funny, even after all these years I'm still nervous watching, still leaning one way or another, telling my young self how to drive," Earnhardt tweeted during Wednesday's replay. Just thinking about the whole experience was clearly positive for Earnhardt. And he'd love a rerun this weekend – the victory would essentially punch his ticket to the 2016 Chase for the NASACAR Sprint Cup . "The throwback was a neat treat and I was really humbled by the idea of the network showing the race and appreciating what we accomplished," he said. "It was fun to think about and talk about what happened and see the comments. I appreciated it and I know a lot of the guys involved in that victory were watching and communicating with me. It was a special night."
For Junior, confidence is key to winning at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The speed has been there. The results, in terms of wins, have not. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., considered perhaps the best restrictor-plate racer competing in NASCAR today, is 12th in points as drivers and teams arrived this week at Daytona International Speedway , site of Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola (7:45 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). His last victory came last November in Phoenix, 17 races ago. Not an extraordinarily long time, but notable just the same. Notable, in part, because Saturday's race kicks off a 10-race run leading up to this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Earnhardt Jr. plans on being one of the 16 drivers competing for the title. "Obviously we need to get a win to put all that to bed but nothing is guaranteed," Earnhardt said Thursday at DIS. "If we don't get a win going into the Chase we're going to have to do well in these next 10 races and just be real consistent." Consistency has been something of an issue for the No. 88 team, one of four fielded by Hendrick Motorsports , this season. And his involvement in on-track incidents has been more frequent. Sixth in points after back-to-back runnerup up finishes earlier this year, Earnhardt has scored just one in the eight races that followed. The month of May, he said, was both disappointing and frustrating. "We're a little frustrated with how we ran through the month of May," Earnhardt said. "We've seen more speed out of our cars (but) had some bad finishes, wrecks … tore up a lot of cars this year, uncharacteristic, I think, for us to be in so many accidents. "So where we are in points is very frustrating. It creates a lot of anxiety between me and Greg (Ives, crew chief). I think we are both not happy with where we are in the points. "Wondering and worrying about trying to make the Chase shouldn't be something that we're concerned with. I think we're way better than where we are. In the past several years, we've sat around the top five in points throughout the season. Things just came easier for us. They're not coming so easy today and we've just got to keep working." Earnhardt has qualified for the Chase for five consecutive years and eight times since he made the move to Sprint Cup full-time in 2000. Recent efforts have been promising, in spite of the end result. He was 11th at Sonoma , "a place that I really don't like to race and don't really think I'm very good at," he said. He finished 39th a week earlier at Michigan, where he said the car was fast, but "we just didn't get a chance to see it and get up there and see where we could go with it. "So I'm not real worried about our speed because I feel like we've had good speed over the last couple of weeks; certainly in May we didn't and that was hard to do and frustrating. Hopefully we just get to Richmond and we don't have a lot of pressure about trying to make the Chase. We've just got to put a string of races together that will give us a cushion between us and the next guys fighting for those last few spots." That string could start this weekend. Ten of his 26 career victories in Sprint Cup have come in restrictor-plate races (four here at Daytona and six at Talladega Superspeedway ), making him a favorite anytime the series visits the two mega-facilities. He's the defending winner of this weekend's race. But this year it was rival Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) scoring the win in the season-opening Daytona 500 and some two months later Brad Keselowski ( Team Penske ) was celebrating in the Winner's Circle at Talladega. Both races ended long after Earnhardt had exited the scene. In order to contend for the win here, Earnhardt said, a driver needs a car that is nearly perfect in all aspects. With rain delaying the majority of Thursday's practice sessions, just how good his No. 88 entry is this weekend remains an unknown. "That really makes the driver's job a lot easier when the car is a dominant car," he said. "I've had plenty of dominant race cars down here. And when you're out on the race track and you have such a good car, you gain more and more confidence as the weekend goes and your confidence really starts to create more opportunities. "When you're confident about your car, you're trying more passes and trying to do more things. If you don't feel confident in your car, you might second-guess a decision or not do something. Every little move you make out there sort of puts you in position to win."