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Dale Jr ., Kyle Busch win Can-Am Duels at Daytona
MORE: Full starting lineup for 500 RELATED: Can-Am Duel 1 results " Can-Am Duel 2 results DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Retaking the lead with five laps left in the first of Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel 150-mile qualifying races, Dale Earnhardt Jr . cruised to a dominating victory and grabbed the third staring spot for Sunday’s Daytona 500 . RELATED: See the best photos from the Can-Am Duels In the second Duel, reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch took the checkered flag under caution after a wild last-lap wreck took out the cars of Jimmie Johnson , Martin Truex Jr ., Matt Kenseth , AJ Allmendinger and Danica Patrick and damaged the No. 41 Chevrolet of Kurt Busch . Kenseth will go to a backup car and start from the rear in the Daytona 500 , surrendering the second starting spot he earned during last Sunday’s time trials. "I guess it was quiet and calm there for a long time, and the last lap just went kind of crazy," Busch said. "Great car. These guys at Joe Gibbs Racing did a phenomenal job this winter building some new pieces for us to come down here with and have some fun. "Looking forward to starting the Daytona 500 in the fourth spot, but I think I will actually get the outside front row now that Kenseth got caught up in that mess and tore up his car." RELATED: Dale Jr . wins on 15-year anniversary of dad's death Driving a chassis nicknamed "Amelia" for famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, Earnhardt won his Duel for the second straight year and for the fifth time overall. The two-time Daytona 500 winner drove Amelia in all four restrictor-plate races and the Duel last year, winning two points races as well as the Daytona qualifier. Earnhardt held off 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano and rookie Ryan Blaney , who drove their Fords to second and third, respectively. Kevin Harvick finished fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin and Daytona 500 pole winner Chase Elliott . With Blaney finishing highest in the first Duel among the four "open" drivers who had to race into the field, Michael McDowell earned a spot in the Daytona 500 based on his qualifying speed from last Thursday, the third fastest among the "open" drivers. Blaney was already locked into the field as the fastest qualifier among the "open" drivers. RELATED: Which Open drivers are in, out of Daytona 500 ? "You all know what it means to be in the 500," McDowell said. I've been on the other side, too, where I've been loading up, too, and going home on a Thursday night. I definitely appreciate it when we make the races. "It's definitely a big thing for our team, Circle Sport and Leavine Family Racing . We're going to have two cars in the Daytona 500 , especially for a small team. To really start out the year well, it's very important. This is such a huge race." Earnhardt got the lead on Lap 55 of 60, diving to the inside and pulling up beside Hamlin, who was leading at the time. Earnhardt stayed out front for the final five laps, bringing his total for the race to 43. "Denny is such a great plate racer," Earnhardt said. "There are a lot of guys that are really good at it these days. I knew he was going to be real tough to get around. When he got the lead (during a sequence of green-flag pit stops), I didn’t know if we were going to be able to get around him. He’s got a great car and he’s real smart. "For whatever reason, I was able to get to his quarter-panel, (and) he saw we had a pretty good run. I don’t know, I didn’t think I was going to clear him. We got away from him so he couldn’t side draft us, I guess. I was really surprised as anybody that we got by him. He’ll be tough on Sunday." With Brian Scott spinning off Turn 4 and slamming into the inside wall on the final lap, Earnhardt crossed the finish line .183 seconds ahead of Logano, who also finished second to Hamlin in last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race. The first Duel sets the inside lane for the Daytona 500 . Hence, Earnhardt, Logano, Blaney, Harvick and Hamlin will line up third, fifth, seventh, ninth and 11th behind Elliott on Sunday. Jamie McMurray , Kurt Busch , Carl Edwards and Ty Dillon finished second through fifth in the second Duel and will line up behind Kyle Busch in the outside lane on Sunday, provided none of those drivers has to go to a backup car, and provided Elliott chooses the inside lane for the start of the race (the pole winner has lane choice). With Matt DiBenedetto finishing highest among the "open" drivers in the second Duel, Robert Richardson Jr . earned the last starting spot in the Daytona 500 on speed, given that DiBenedetto already was locked into the field as the second fastest "open" qualifier during time trials. With Richardson and DiBenedetto in the race, BK Racing has all four of its cars in the field. The cars of David Ragan and Michael Waltrip are chartered and therefore guaranteed starting spots. "Two weeks ago I was at home working on my ranch, got a phone call from Lane Segerstrom from (sponsor) StalkIt, saying he was trying to put a deal together trying to run the Daytona 500 ," Richardson said. "This was two weeks ago. A lot of guys start preparing for this race as soon as the season ends from last year. "I'm very, very honored to be a part of BK Racing , having another opportunity to run here at the Daytona 500 . I've been in it once before, but this one is very, very special to me. My wife and I welcomed our brand new baby boy who was born in early December. Every bit of the earnings we get from this race are going to go into a college fund for him." Failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 were Cole Whitt , Josh Wise , David Gilliland and Reed Sorenson .
Issues for Pastrana, Richardson Jr ., Hamlin early
Travis Pastrana spins twice, Robert Richardson Jr .'s engine goes up in a fireball and Denny Hamlin has to change his carburetor.
Dale Earnhardt Jr . leads final practice at Daytona
Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s No. 88 Chevrolet -- now affectionately dubbed "Amelia" -- showed no signs of slowing down in Saturday's final Sprint Cup practice at Daytona International Speedway . The Hendrick Motorsports driver topped the leaderboard with a fast lap of 197.131 mph around The World Center of Racing, bookending Daytona 500 practice sessions as he led opening practice earlier in this week. Earnhardt will start third in Sunday's Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio) beside teammate and pole-sitter Chase Elliott . RELATED: Earnhardt's 'Amelia' taking flight again at Daytona Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski and Wood Brothers Racing 's Ryan Blaney -- whose team has a technical alliance with Penske -- drafted together throughout the session, putting them at the top of the leaderboard behind Earnhardt. Logano was second-fastest in his No. 22 ride (196.369 mph), while Blaney came up third in the No. 21 (196.288 mph). Keselowski rounded out the Ford trio with a fast lap of 196.262 mph from his No. 2 machine. A pair of Stewart-Haas Racing cars -- Kurt Busch (196.061 mph) and Kevin Harvick (196.014 mph) -- completed the top six, respectively. Bush's No. 41 team made extensive repairs to his car after incurring damage during the last-lap wreck of Thursday's Duel No. 2. Jimmie Johnson (18th-fastest), Matt Kenseth (21st-fastest) and Brian Scott (23rd-fastest) were the drivers in today's practice now wheeling backup cars after wrecking in the Duels. Martin Truex Jr . and AJ Allmendinger , who did not turn a lap in the final session, will also come from the rear in backup rides. Only 25 of the 40-car field participated in Saturday's final practice. FULL PRACTICE RESULTS Pos Car Driver Speed 1 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr . 197.131 2 22 Joey Logano 196.369 3 *21 Ryan Blaney # 196.288 4 2 Brad Keselowski 196.262 5 41 Kurt Busch 196.061 6 4 Kevin Harvick 196.014 7 16 Greg Biffle 195.959 8 24 Chase Elliott # 195.839 9 14 Brian Vickers 195.814 10 15 Clint Bowyer 195.763 11 38 Landon Cassill 195.236 12 7 Regan Smith 195.135 13 5 Kasey Kahne 194.397 14 23 David Ragan 194.384 15 *26 Robert Richardson Jr . 194.342 16 6 Trevor Bayne 194.280 17 46 Michael Annett 194.221 18 48 Jimmie Johnson 193.719 19 1 Jamie McMurray 193.075 20 95 Ty Dillon (i) 192.951 21 20 Matt Kenseth 192.806 22 43 Aric Almirola 192.201 23 44 Brian Scott # 192.160 24 31 Ryan Newman 191.111 25 34 Chris Buescher # 190.392
Dale Jr . emerges from concussion rehab stronger, centered and ready to win
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Dale Jr .'s complete Daytona 500 history NEW YORK CITY -- A production assistant pins a lavalier microphone to the lapel of Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s suit jacket in a newsroom studio inside FOX News on Sixth Avenue. "One, two, three, four, five. Hello, hello," the 14-time NMPA Most Popular Driver says instinctively, without instruction from the PA. You can tell this -- the sound test, the back-to-back-to-back-to-back (and then some) interviews, the traipsing around the "Big Apple" to promote the 2017 Daytona 500 , everything -- feels normal to him, like second-nature. Not long ago, there was no such thing as normal for Earnhardt. The Hendrick Motorsports driver will make his return to points-paying competition in Sunday's "Great American Race" (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) after missing the second half of last season following concussion-like symptoms from wrecks at Michigan International Speedway in June and at Daytona International Speedway in July. The road back was a lengthy, arduous, winding trail filled with uncertainty and confusion. "You'd be doing something during the day and something would happen and you'd go 'Whoa, what was that? That was weird,' " Earnhardt told NASCAR.com, who tagged along with him for the day. "Just these little moments when you might get dizzy or you might forget about something that you think you shouldn't forget about. That used to happen all the time." Dale Earnhardt Jr . gets mic'd up. Earnhardt was cleared to race in December after months of rehabilitation and doctor appointments. He says he's fully healthy and recovered from his concussion, but don't hold your breath on him throwing out that cliché preseason line about being in the best shape of his life. RELATED: Watch Dale Jr .'s full interview from Daytona Media Day "I think I was probably at my peak physical condition at … 1? But since then it's all been downhill," Earnhardt joked. "I feel healthy. Mentally, I'm always sort of self-analyzing so I'm not having these things that would bring (the concussion) to my attention anymore. "The further you get removed from that stuff, the less you even remember it happening, or the less you think about it. When you go a day or a week never even thinking about the injury or the past, you're free from it. I feel great. Like I said, the doctors have given me a lot of confidence, just talking to them. They're like, 'Man, you're good. We feel good about this. We feel good about you racing. We feel good about you crashing.' You've got to have those." To get a sign-off from his doctors on crashing -- a near-certainty to happen over the course of a 36-race season -- is massive. The risk of another concussion will always be in the back of Earnhardt's mind after this most recent one kept him sidelined for so long. But he can't let that apprehension occupy him behind the wheel. "The wrecks and stuff are inevitable and I do worry. There's been crashes that I haven't had issues with, but there's been a few wrecks that I have had issues," Earnhardt said. "I don’t know … my doctors told me basically that I was healthy and if they thought I shouldn't race, they would let me know. They said, 'Look, we feel good about you racing. We feel like anything that happens … it's a dangerous sport and you're going to be at risk no more than you were before. Anything that happens to you, we can fix.' " Dale Earnhardt Jr . signs autographs for fans on the streets of New York. Talking to Earnhardt, it's clear 2016 was a year that challenged on many levels. It was also a year of tremendous growth and reflection that culminated -- quite literally -- with a marriage to longtime girlfriend Amy Earnhardt (née Reimann) on New Year's Eve, a topic that took center stage throughout his media tour at the "TODAY Show," FOX News, "The Dan Patrick Show," Inc. Magazine and "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen." RELATED: Dale Jr ., Amy Reimann get married on New Year's Eve Even if she did miss a question or two on the unofficially official " Dale Earnhardt Jr ." quiz on The Dan Patrick Show ( watch it here ), Earnhardt touts Amy's support and gives her nearly all the credit for his transformation. "I think I feel like a stronger, more complete person thanks to her. I hope that this isn't just a mood, that it's more permanent. I think we'll find out as we just get into the grit of the season, week-to-week and going from track to track and being tugged in all kinds of different directions by my responsibilities. Hopefully this sticks." With health in hand and a family life starting to come together at 42 years old, nobody would have blamed the 26-time winner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for walking away before the start of his 18th full-time season. RELATED: Dale Jr . regals listeners with family storytime Dale Earnhardt Jr . with Andy Cohen of 'Watch What Happens Live' But the big news of the past week was Earnhardt's looming contract extension, with his current deal set to expire at year's end and a talented replacement champing at the bit for a full-time opportunity in Alex Bowman . RELATED: Dale Jr . discusses contract status Earnhardt won't walk away "until the gas tank is on empty," but he can't quite pinpoint when that'll be. He says any extension would be "no less than two, no more than three" years, but has put off negotiations with team owner Rick Hendrick until he knows he can commit, health-wise, long term. "I don't know (how much gas is left in the tank.) If I told you, 'Man, I've got three years,' I don’t know if I'd be telling you the full truth," said Earnhardt, a two-time Daytona 500 winner. "I can't see, I can't feel it. I know I want to finish this year and if I finish … everybody keeps asking me about my goals for a successful season, and that's to finish every race. If I'm in every race, and not injured and not missing races, then that's a successful season. "I think that will propel me into a new extension. The only thing holding me up, really, is knowing that I can do it, health-wise. Knowing that I can be there every week. If I'm going to sign a deal to be there and work for my owner … I love this man like a father. And I don't want to tell him I can be there for three more years if I can't. I'm going to get a few months under my belt and get the confidence that we can start working on the extension and I think if we get there, I'm signing that extension with the intent of doing that contract. "Now, that might be the last one but I don't know. You just don't know these things. I mean, I know drivers -- and I won't say names -- but I know very, very successful drivers in this sport that five years ago were ready to hang it up, just fed up. And they're happier today than they've ever been." Earnhardt mentioned that he nearly walked away from the sport earlier this decade, but credited his support system for pulling him back. And he's thankful it did. "I've been down, down in the dumps," he said. "Hell, if I didn't have the right support system around me, I probably would've quit in 2010, 2011. I'm glad I didn't. We got this ship righted and got to winning some races and I've had the best time behind the wheel that I've ever had in my career for three or four years now. "So who says that if I stick around that it can't get even better? I want to see, I want to wait." RELATED: Dale Jr . on front row for Sunday's Daytona 500 &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;span _rtetemp=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;spchk&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; style=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;background-color: #ffffaa;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; _rtespchksugg=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;Lt"alt"ult"flt"let"lit"lat"lot"ltd"t&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;am&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/span&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;p;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Goodyear hands Earnhardt Jr . keys to Goodyear Blimp
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! In celebration of his return to racing at this Sunday's Daytona 500 , Dale Earnhardt Jr . donned a Goodyear Blimp pilot uniform and took a different kind of lap in the Goodyear Blimp on Wednesday, surprising a U.S. military veteran with the experience of a lifetime. Earnhardt Jr ., who missed 18 races last season while recovering from a concussion, will get behind the familiar wheel of his No. 88 car Sunday seeking his third Daytona 500 victory on the confidence of Goodyear tires. But it was an altogether different experience sitting at the controls of the iconic Goodyear Blimp. "This was such a cool day -- being able to co-pilot the Goodyear Blimp and connect with a fan who has so honorably served our country," said Earnhardt Jr . "I'm proud to be involved with Goodyear. Ever since we started working together, I've wanted to ride in the blimp, so this was a great experience I will never forget." With weather less than ideal in the Daytona Beach area Wednesday, the blimp was limited in flight and only got off the ground for a few minutes. But the day was all about Paul Siverson, a Vietnam and Gulf War veteran who served in the military for 30 years. Siverson describes Earnhardt as his "first, second and third favorite NASCAR driver." Coupled with his Earnhardt Jr . fandom, it was Siverson's dedication to NCServes, a charitable organization that provides comprehensive services to veterans, service members and their families, that made Siverson the perfect candidate for the surprise ride with NASCAR's most popular driver. In honor of soldiers like Siverson, Goodyear donated $10,000 to NCServes with Earnhardt Jr . on hand for the check presentation. In addition to the blimp flight, Siverson will receive access at Daytona Speedweeks including tickets to the Great American Race on Sunday.
Truex Jr ., Allmendinger, Buescher fail post-race inspection
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! Three cars failed post-race inspection following Thursday's Can-Am Duels at Daytona International Speedway , disallowing their finishing positions and forcing them to the rear of Sunday's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The No. 37 and 47 Chevrolets of Chris Buescher and AJ Allmendinger , both of JTG Daugherty Racing , and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota of Martin Truex Jr . all failed at the height station. Truex Jr . finished seventh in Duel 1 initially, with Buescher coming in 16th in that event; Allmendinger finished fourth in Duel 2. Truex Jr . and Allmendinger also forfeited their respective stage points for finishing their races in the top 10. Initially, Allmendinger earned seven points and Truex Jr . earned four. &lt;/p&gt;
Dale Jr . talks emotional return to racing
Dale Earnhardt Jr . talks about his emotional return and the support shown from all racing fans at Daytona International Speedway.
Richardson's rough day continues
Robert Richardson Jr . spins in an early wreck causing Johanna Long to lose control on the front stretch in the History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Take a ride: Earnhardt Jr . surprises fan in Goodyear blimp
Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr . put on a uniform of a different kind this week to surprise a longtime fan and U.S. military veteran.
Logano, Dale Jr . lead Saturday Daytona 500 practices
RELATED: See at-track photos from Saturday's practice Practice 2 recap " Full results Team Penske showed its strength in Saturday's final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice in preparation for next Sunday's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway as both Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski jumped to the top of the leaderboard in the closing seconds of the two-hour session. Claiming the fastest speed of 195.933 mph, Logano led a draft involving Keselowski and Ryan Blaney on his last run of 29 laps. Logano is the reigning Daytona 500 winner and was second-fastest in opening practice. Keselowski was packed in the middle of the draft and came out second-fastest at 195.848 mph. Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Blaney tagged along in the Ford-only draft and was third-fastest with a speed of 195.797 mph. The trio got together to ensure Blaney put down a fast practice time in case rain threatens Daytona 500 qualifying and the Can-Am Duels -- Blaney drives for Wood Brothers Racing , which does not have a Charter and must qualify into the race. Kurt Busch sat atop the leaderboard for a majority of practice, but was knocked off late and was fourth-fastest at 194.877 mph. Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was fifth-fastest in the closing session at 194.696 mph. Dale Earnhardt Jr . led Saturday's opening session, but came up 11th-fastest in the final practice round with a speed of 193.823 mph. Follow Daytona 500 qualifying Sunday, Feb. 14 at 1:15 p.m. ET (FOX). The Daytona 500 will run Sunday, Feb. 21 at 1 p.m. ET (FOX). Practice 1 recap " Full results Dale Earnhardt Jr . led Saturday's opening Sprint Cup Series practice session in preparation for next Sunday's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . The Hendrick Motorsports driver laid down his fastest speed of 194.116 mph on Lap 11, the No. 88 driver's final run of the practice round. Earnhardt has won the Daytona 500 twice in his 16 attempts. Second-fastest to Junior was last year's Daytona 500 winner, Joey Logano , at 193.853 mph. Matt Kenseth (193.782 mph), Chase Elliott (193.586 mph) and Kasey Kahne (193.582 mph) completed the top-five fastest on the leaderboard. This is rookie Elliott's first Daytona 500 showing and his first practice behind the wheel of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was 11th-fastest in the opening session at 193.087 mph. Tune-in at 1:30 p.m. ET for the final Daytona 500 practice of Saturday. The Daytona 500 will run Sunday, Feb. 21 at 1 p.m. ET (FOX).