Behind the scenes in TV booth with Dale Jr.
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- An NBC assistant in the broadcast booth had an urgent message to deliver, one of huge importance. As 40 drivers barreled around Talladega Superspeedway at 200 mph a few hundred feet below him, he grabbed a marker and started writing on a dry erase board. "17-13," he wrote. "Final 5th straight win." He showed this to Dale Earnhardt Jr ., a guest analyst for NBC's coverage of the race. Upon reading it, Earnhardt Jr. turned around, away from the track, and smiled broadly at Tyler Overstreet, his road manager, and pumped his fist. The handwritten note purported to report the score of the Washington Redskins, of whom Earnhardt Jr. is a big fan. Alas, that news was premature. A few minutes later, the same assistant showed him another dry erase board, this one apologizing for the first and reporting that the Lions had come back to win the game. Junior half smiled, half grimaced and turned his attention back to the race track, where he wished he could be on this sun-kissed fall day. Earnhardt Jr. has missed the last 14 races, and he will miss the rest of the season, with concussion-related symptoms. But talking about the race was the next best thing, and the hour-plus he spent in the booth was vintage Earnhardt -- funny, insightful and candid. Wearing dark-framed glasses, sneakers, jeans and a blue and gray plaid shirt, he sat atop a stool between NBC analysts Steve Letarte, his former crew chief, and Jeff Burton , against whom he raced hundreds of times. They lapsed into a conversation like old friends. His eyes darted from the track to the TV screen in front of him to Letarte to Burton. His body language was almost exuberant. He smiled often and at one point raised his hand excitedly when he wanted to interject a point. He seemed relaxed and at ease with Letarte, Burton, play- by -play announcer Rick Allen and the race's producers. "Has he got in the top 10 yet?" Earnhardt Jr. joked off camera about his replacement, Alex Bowman . "Damn, I told him everything I know." As his appearance wound down, NBC announced Junior would return to the booth at next week's race at Martinsville Speedway . Producer Matt Marvin, who was just outside the track in the production truck, keyed the microphone that allows him to talk with the broadcasters off air and told Junior what a great job he had done. He paused for just a second and said, "Next time, if you're not as good, we'll kick you out early." Junior laughed at that. This was the Earnhardt Jr. that fans have loved for more than a decade -- living and dying with the Redskins, offering transparent insight into his life and breaking down racing like few others. Consider this exchange with Burton at Lap 68, when Earnhardt Jr. discussed his drafting philosophy: "I look at the air coming off of the front of the car as a boat wake. And it's very dense coming off of around the headlights of that car that you're trying to side draft. So you don't want to continue to be beside that guy as you get toward the front, or pretty much dead even, because you run into that dense air coming off of the lead car. So you have to 'jump' that wake, much like if you were water skiing. You also have to get away from him so that he cannot side-draft you, because then you're both sort of bouncing back and forth. That's why it's so much easier to side-draft on the outside, because you can pin the guy on the bottom, side-draft him, drive up the race track and take the lead." Burton: "Now, you know all the drivers are going to play this race back and listen to all of this, right?" Earnhardt Jr.: "From what I've seen, these guys have got it all figured out." After months of his public appearances being focused almost exclusively on his health, it was refreshing to see him confident and comfortable. At least for this hour, the pensiveness that saturated so much of what he has said lately was gone. And on the topic of his health, he sounded upbeat. The simple fact he was able to make the appearance was a sign of improvement. In previous comments he has said large crowds sometimes trigger his symptoms, and it's hard to imagine a larger crowd than Talladega. His doctors have encouraged him to challenge himself, and certainly being on live TV would accomplish that. "I'm feeling great and all of the progress that we've made over the last several months has been really good," he said. "Obviously, I'm able to get out and do things. I'm having so much fun at the race track, and to be able to come up to the booth has been a lot of fun for me." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
The 'Big One' strikes at Talladega
Ben Rhodes gets loose and makes contact with the wall before collecting multiple drivers at Talladega Superspeedway.
No. 78 part confiscated in pre-qualifying inspection at Talladega
RELATED: Truex scores pole for Talladega TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Martin Truex Jr . will start on the pole in Sunday’s Hellmann’s 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway . It was clear sailing around the 2.66-mile track for the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota on Saturday. Meanwhile, dark clouds had gathered elsewhere. NASCAR officials confiscated the left-front jack bolt from the team during pre-qualifying inspection, and will take the piece back to the sanctioning body’s Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina . "They had a jack bolt that we didn’t feel like met specifications that we have in the rule book," Scott Miller, Senior Vice President of Competition for NASCAR, said. "Not a real competitive advantage. We will take it back … analyze everything and decide what we are going to do. "It's no different than … cars that fail the templates and have to go back through. It's our job to officiate the sport and this part and the rest of today’s activities are no different than what we do every weekend." RELATED: JGR cars have to go back through inspection Crew chief Cole Pearn said the bolt was the wrong size, not hollow as was initially reported. "It was a mistake," he said. "We fixed it; we found another one and moved on. Stuff like that happens all the time. We're not perfect. I know people like to think that we’re brilliant geniuses that have malicious plans to cheat the system somehow, but sometimes we're just stupid and make mistakes. "That's really just what happened and hopefully it doesn't turn into anything more than that." Miller said such a violation could result in a points penalty, impacting the team’s Chase status, but that it wasn't always the case. "I would say it would be unlikely but it has to go through our process," he said. "We don't typically do that on a weekend. Because this is the playoffs everybody has a heightened sense of everything but this is no different than things we have done all year and we will treat this one just like we do all year long." Both Pearn and NASCAR said that the issue was only with one bolt. "All other three corners were fine," Pearn said. "We're at Talladega; maybe if you're at Martinsville, and you have all four hollowed out …" Truex edged fellow Chase driver Brad Keselowski ( Team Penske No. 2 Ford) for the top spot. Matt Kenseth ( Joe Gibbs Racing ), Chase Elliott ( Hendrick Motorsports ) and Greg Biffle ( Roush Fenway Racing ) completed the top five as the lineup for the 40-car field was set. "All the crazy talk going on today is nonsense," Truex said. "I think people speculate on things and don't really know what they are. " The jack bolt issues is really not a big issue. It's not hollow like what was reported. (NASCAR) didn't take both, they just took the left front so it's not a big issue." The 78 team did lose its pit stall selection for a fourth warning related to inspections.
Logano: Skill, preparation outweigh luck at Talladega
RELATED: Weekend schedule " Chase Grid TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Joey Logano smiled a little and didn't waste any time with his answer. "No." No, the defending race winner will not race any differently at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday afternoon despite needing an overwhelmingly positive result to advance to the next round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Eight drivers will move on to challenge for the title. Logano is currently ranked eighth -- owning a tiebreaker over ninth-place Austin Dillon . But the eight-year veteran insisted Friday before opening practice at Talladega that his approach and demeanor this weekend would remain the same as it was last year, when he carried a two-race winning streak onto Dega's high banks and ultimately hoisted that trophy, too. "Honestly, (it's) not much different, which is a good thing,'' said Logano, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford. "I feel like our team is in a good spot. We had a great run last weekend in Kansas. We did make up some points. We're in a great spot with having a really bad Charlotte, so our team has a lot of confidence in themselves. "We know we can do this. We're coming into a race track that we know we're good at . We know we can win here. Is the situation different? Obviously, it is. Last year, we were locked in. There was nothing to worry about. This year, we're not, but we still have the same goal, so why should we approach the race any different?" Logano opened this second round of the Chase with a 36th-place finish at Charlotte and rebounded with a third-place effort at Kansas Speedway last weekend. Interestingly, when asked if he felt any pressure racing for his championship life at perhaps the most unpredictable venue in the Chase, the 26-year-old reminded that his approach is full throttle. Never defensive. "I don't really think about how people are trying to knock me out, I think about how I'm gonna knock other people out,'' Logano said. "That's my attitude. If I'm on defense, we're not gonna win. We better stay on offense. That's what this 22 team does. We're gonna go out there and race hard because that's what we know how to do when we come to speedways. "Some guys can do it good the other way but, for us, we're gonna go out there and race hard and try to stay up front, try to keep making our car better for the end of the race and to be there at the end." There is reason to believe Logano could solidify a Chase position. He has had solid, if inconsistent, results here outside his victory. And Logano's Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski won at Talladega this spring and at Daytona this summer. RELATED: Keselowski unfazed by Talladega pressure When asked what matters more, skill and preparation or just plain luck -- as many have suggested -- Logano didn't hesitate. "I think it's all skill and preparation -- 100 percent in my opinion,'' Logano said. "You create your own luck. That's what I think. There might be a chance you run over something or something happens, but some things are just meant to be and some things aren't. But if you can work and do everything you can do and prepare yourself to go out there and be the best, then that's all you can do. I feel like that makes it, in my opinion, a lot about preparation." As for Logano, he seemed completely optimistic, perhaps even confident about his chances Sunday afternoon. "Speedway racing isn't as much of a crapshoot as a lot of people like to believe it is,'' Logano said. "It sounds like it's just an excuse to me. I think there is a lot of strategy and a lot of knowledge that has to go into playing this game. "We've had a good, solid speedway program at Team Penske the last couple years and when you come to Talladega you get excited about it. It's not quite like that for everybody, but for us, we get excited about speedway racing and the opportunity that presents itself this weekend, so we're ready to get on the race track and see what we've got.''
Chase cutoff in Talladega means drivers swinging for the fences
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Put into a position with nothing to lose and everything to gain, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek have a simple plan for this weekend. Swing for the fences, they both said. Saturday's fred's 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega Superspeedway is the final race of the opening round of the inaugural Camping World Truck Series Chase. Only one Chase participant, William Byron, scored a win in the previous two races, thus earning an automatic berth in the Round of 6 that begins next weekend at Martinsville Speedway . Hemric, driver of the No. 19 Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing, is seventh in points, 15 points outside Johnny Sauter in sixth. Nemechek, driver of the No. 8 Nemco Motorsports Chevrolet, is eighth, tied with Hemric for points and also 15 points outside the cutoff. "Everything here is kind of out of your hands," Nemechek, twice a winner this season, said Friday. "Being at Talladega in the spot that we're in … being 15 points out, I think it's way better for me to be able to come here … where anything can happen. "If we finish top five and someone else got caught up in somebody else's wreck and we didn't, we'd have a shot to make it compared to a mile-and-a-half track or short track where they can ride around all day and kind of salvage a finish where they make sure they make it. "I haven't quite called in any favors or anything like that. If we were able to qualify up front and run up front all day, as long as we put ourselves in a position to be top four in, where you can make a move coming to the start/finish line, I think you'll be all right. But who knows?" Christopher Bell , two-time series champion Matt Crafton , Ben Kennedy and Timothy Peters are second through fifth in points. All have won at least once this year, except for Peters. But he's won here at Talladega the last two times the series visited the 2.66-mile track. "In order to win now, we've just got to keep doing what we're doing and not change anything at this point," Hemric said. "All we can do here is control what we can control, go into it approaching every situation that way, whether it's practice, qualifying or the race. If we execute on all ends, I see no reason why we shouldn't have a shot at it. " At the end of the day … I think I would rather be on the end we're on. Obviously if you've won, that's even better. But the situation where we can go down swinging and not playing defense all day, I think, is going to be a good thing for (Nemechek) and I, both."
North Carolina Education Lottery 200 lineup
Kyle Busch will lead off the start of the North Carolina Education Lottery 200
Harvick, Kurt Busch have post-race skirmish at Talladega
RELATED: Race results " Chase Grid TALLADEGA, Ala. -- A misunderstanding between Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch ended with a confrontation on Talladega Superspeedway pit road following Sunday's Hellmann's 500. Busch finished fourth and Harvick finished seventh. After they parked their cars on pit road, Harvick walked over to Busch, who was still sitting in his race car, leaned inside and had words with his teammate after delivering a jab inside the window. "He [Busch] cleaned the side of our car out after the checkered flag," Harvick said afterward. "I don't understand that." Harvick said his car "didn't have a scratch on it" until the cool-down lap contact with Busch. Asked if Busch gave Harvick an explanation for the incident, Harvick said only, "Not really." Busch was also asked his view of the situation during a pit-road interview with NBCSN later. "He has a misunderstanding of the call at the end of the race," Busch said. "He'll understand it and I'm sure he'll clear it up in his interview. For us, we're great teammates, we're doing good together and we have to work together to beat all these other teams out there. And he knows that." &lt;/p&gt;
Junior breaks down the art of drafting
From the broadcast booth at Talladega Sueprspeedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. breaks down the art of drafting.
Ready for the long haul, Kennedy set for championship run
Ben Kennedy's fifth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway advances him into the Round of 6 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase, leaving him optimistic about his chances to be a part of the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Dale Jr. backs Bowman, will tackle Talladega on the air
RELATED: Alex Bowman's time to shine TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Talladega's favorite son, Dale Earnhardt Jr ., won't be racing this weekend but much to the pleasure of his massive fandom, he will be trackside helping his Hendrick Motorsports team and even working in the MRN radio and NBCSN television booth during Sunday's Hellmann's 500. Earnhardt, who is sidelined for the remainder of the season while he recovers from concussion-like symptoms, was a popular sight in Talladega's garage Friday afternoon. He shared his thoughts in an impromptu interview outside his team's hauler just before opening Sprint Cup Series practice. Earnhardt seemed eager to return to the announcing booth during the race -- something he'll do on both radio and television. "It gives me an opportunity to see the racing from a different perspective and that's an opportunity to learn something about the sport," Earnhardt said. "It'll be fun. It'll be a neat experience. "I've been in the booth before and had a great time at Michigan this year for the XFINITY race. I won't be doing the whole race [Sunday], but … I'm glad I have the opportunity and to be able to still kinda be around and be a witness to what's happening at the race track. It's better than sitting at home. "I don't really get nervous any more," Earnhardt added with a smile. " The only thing that ever made me nervous was driving race cars. I don't feel nervous. I feel good about going up there. What's the worst thing that could happen, right?" Earnhardt was very complimentary of Alex Bowman , who along with veteran Jeff Gordon , has been filling in for him in the No. 88 Mountain Dew Chevrolet. In six starts for Earnhardt, Bowman has a pair of top-10 finishes. He scored his best showing of seventh place last week at Kansas -- while suffering from a stomach bug that made him so sick, the 23-year-old was on a stretcher getting an IV after the race. " The night before [ the race] was a terrible evening as far as how he felt even getting a good night's sleep," Earnhardt said. "I was very surprised he was as competitive as he was, as bad as he felt. He was very nauseous throughout the race. He was a real trouper. Most of those guys on track have that grit and determination. "But he can do it. And he's capable and belongs out there." This weekend's race at Talladega will be a new challenge for Bowman. However, Earnhardt has high expectations. "I think he's going to do great," Earnhardt said. "He's going to have fun and he's going to really enjoy the car because it's going to be competitive. We'll sit down and talk a lot and give him all the opportunities and understanding he can. He's already had some experience so some of the things we'll talk about will already make sense to him. "I'm looking forward to sharing what I can throughout the weekend to help him. I've told him from the start, now that's he's getting more opportunities and I'm out of the car for the rest of the year, he's able to kind of relax and realize he doesn't have to bottle up lightning for one particular weekend. He'll have a lot of opportunities this year to show what he can do. "He did that last weekend and pretty much every time he's been in the car he's shown he's fast and very capable and I expect that this weekend."