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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;
NASCAR TV schedule: October 24-30
Heads up: Martinsville weekend
RELATED: Complete schedule for Martinsville Here are the hot topics, trending news and key story lines to get you ready for this weekend's races at Martinsville Speedway . WEATHER Another beautiful race weekend is forecasted for Martinsville. The National Weather Service says Friday will be sunny with a high near 70, and Saturday will be even warmer with a high of 77 and sunshine. Sunday is downgraded to only "mostly sunny," with a high of 74. Overall, it should be a perfect fall weekend. KEY TIMES Sprint Cup Series: The first practice will be Friday at 11 a.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App), with another pair of practices coming Saturday at 9 a.m. ET (CNBC) and noon ET (NBCSN). Coors Light Pole Qualifying is at 4:40 p.m. ET Friday (NBCSN). Aside from the Saturday morning practice, all race coverage will be broadcast on NBCSN and NBC SportsApp this weekend. Camping World Truck Series: The Camping World Truck Series has a pair of Friday practices, at 12:30 p.m. ET and 2:30 p.m. ET, both on FS1. The race is Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1 with Keystone Light Pole Qualifying just before at 10:15 a.m. ET (FS1). CATCH DRIVERS LIVE We'll stream every driver press conference in the Martinsville media center at NASCAR.com/presspass . Notably, Jimmie Johnson speaks at 10:15 a.m. ET Friday, followed by Denny Hamlin is at 1 p.m. ET and Jeff Gordon at 1:30 p.m. ET. Click here for a full schedule. LAST TIME Jeff Gordon punched his ticket to Homestead-Miami Speedway in style, outracing Jamie McMurray in the final two laps as darkness fell at Martinsville Speedway . "We're going to Homestead!" Gordon bellowed after the win gave him a chance at the Sprint Cup title in his final season of full-time driving. It was Gordon's only victory of 2015. The storyline that grabbed all the headlines, however, was Matt Kenseth nudging then-race leader Joey Logano into the wall on Lap 454 of 500. At the time, Kenseth was 10 laps down. The move was widely viewed as retaliation for Logano bumping Kenseth out of the lead at Kansas two weeks earlier, which effectively eliminated Kenseth from advancing in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Kenseth was suspended for two races, and Logano did not advance to the championship round. YOU SHOULD KNOW • Jeff Gordon returns to his best track on the circuit as he gets behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as a substitute driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who continues to recover from a concussion. Gordon won here a year ago, and has some of the best statistics among any driver at Martinsville: nine wins, highest average finish (6.8) and most laps led (3,779). Can the 45-year-old recreate that magic at his eighth subsitute race of this season? This is Gordon's final scheduled race of the season in place of Earnhardt Jr. • This is the first of three races in the Round of 8, before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is cut to the Championship 4 for the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale. • Somehow, this is the first time since the current format of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup began in 2014 that Jimmie Johnson has advanced to the Round of 8. He started the Round of 12 with a victory at Charlotte; can Six-Time repeat that feat with an opening-round win to punch his ticket to Homestead-Miami? He's an eight-time winner at Martinsville, so it's no stretch to imagine. • The addition of extra timing lines in the pits has added another layer to monitoring drivers for speeding penalties. In Martinsville's tight pits, if figures to have a big impact.
Paint Scheme Preview: Martinsville
RELATED: See all the schemes hitting the track at Martinsville
Driver Sober 200 postponed at Dover
The Drive Sober 200 at Dover International Speedway has been postponed and will be run prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, October 2nd.
Starting lineup for Zippo 200 at The Glen
See the full lineup for the XFINITY Series Zippo 200 at The Glen -- Watkins Glen International.
Talladega Chairman explains burn ban for race weekend
Open campfires, long a staple of fans attending NASCAR races at Talladega Superspeedway , will not be allowed on track property during next weekend's race events at the track featuring the Sprint Cup Series and the Camping World Truck Series. The ban is in conjunction with a Drought Emergency Declaration signed by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley that covers 46 counties, including Talladega County. "We're not going to allow any open fires," Grant Lynch, Chairman of the 2.66-mile track, told NASCAR.com Thursday. Campfires, fire pits, fireworks, flying lanterns and other similar outdoor activities or items will not be permitted. The use of grills for cooking will still be allowed "but you can't use it as a heat source (to stay warm)," he said. "We are probably just a couple of days ahead of the state putting the same (restrictions) on maybe all the counties that are currently under the burn ban. It's just really a tough situation in the fact that our parking lots, our campgrounds, everywhere is just bone dry and crunches under your feet. "I've been here 23 years and we've never had to do this. There are fires everywhere in Alabama right now. And it's depleting the resources. We are doing the thing that is safest for our fans and to protect the folks that are going to be here having to put out any potential issues we have anyway." While the Carolinas coastal region continues to recover from Hurricane Matthew's heavy rain and high winds, Lynch said last week's wet weather never made it far enough inland to impact his facility. "Not a drop. It never got this far," he said. "We would have taken all we could have gotten. There is no green grass on the property; it's all brown." Approximately 1, 200 acres of track property is used for parking and campgrounds. The infield alone accounts for nearly 250 acres. "People say, 'Well, you should water everything,'" Lynch said. "You can't water 1, 200 acres." If there's a bright side to the situation, it's the weather outlook for next weekend's doubleheader. Currently, the extended forecast calls for unseasonably warm temperatures. "It's not like we're telling fans you can't have a campfire and it's going to be 30 degrees at night," Lynch said. "A nice jacket and you should be fine all weekend. "If everyone cooperates, it will keep everyone safe here and we don't have unnecessary, runaway fires. We've already had a fire by the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. We put it out and about three hours later it came back. We put it out again. This stuff can go down into the ground and come up somewhere else. "We're not doing this without a lot of thought and a lot of concern for taking care of everybody that's going to come to our property in the best way we can and we have to enforce this. It's our duty to do that for our fans."
Wild Kansas race gives Chase contenders motivation for Texas
RELATED: Results " Chase Grid KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- It was, Elliott Sadler noted, "like Kentucky all over again." Sadler, driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, won that one. He didn't win Saturday's caution-filled Kansas Lottery 300 -- he finished second. But he was the highest-finishing XFINITY Series regular, trailing Kyle Busch under the checkered flag. The race was the first stop in the Round of 8, a trio of races that will determine which four teams will advance to Homestead-Miami Speedway -- in the Championship 4 -- next month to battle for the series title. Kentucky opened the first round, and "when you start with an even playing field," things can get intense, Sadler said. The intensity returned for Kansas. "Everybody wants to get the edge, you want to get the advantage," he said. "That creates hard racing and protecting your real estate and that creates closer racing. When you have closer racing you have mistakes and sometimes a lot of cautions." Fellow Chase hopeful Daniel Suarez ( Joe Gibbs Racing ), Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) and Kyle Larson ( Chip Ganassi Racing ) completed the top five. There were 10 cautions and plenty of mistakes on Saturday, which surprisingly wasn't a track record for either. Not all involved were Chase contenders, but enough did to promise the next few weeks will be interesting. Three Chase drivers, Justin Allgaier , Bubba Wallace and Ryan Reed , were part of a six-car incident on Lap 165 of the 200 -lap race. Reed ( Roush Fenway Racing ) had been battling troubles all day; Wallace, his teammate, had led briefly; Allgaier (JRM) had been solid. But the incident took Wallace out of the race and Allgaier out of contention. "I just got run over from behind," Allgaier said. "We were three wide so obviously there was a lot going on behind us, cars getting big runs, and I just kind of got run over." His car was mangled -- body damage and mechanical issues -- but Allgaier still managed a 15th-place finish. "I think more than anything, the fact that we rallied back and had a solid finish to what really was a catastrophic day," he said of the end result. "Yeah it's a little frustrating to not be better in points than we are but at the same time we battled through adversity today and lost as few points as we could lose. That's a big plus." Wallace, 33rd, said his No. 6 team wasn't "knocked out" of the title picture. "It is just motivation to go to Texas," he said. "We have all wrecked plenty of times in our careers, so we know how to use it as fuel. This is just a little dent. Nothing to be worried about. We just have to do our job in Texas and Phoenix and make up as much time as we can." Trouble also found pre-Chase favorite Erik Jones (JGR) and Brendan Gaughan ( Richard Childress Racing ). Jones was leading the race when contact from Kyle Larson resulted in damage and a tire issue, sending the winner of four races this year to pit road with less than 15 laps remaining. Jones, a four-time winner this season, even led for 11 circuits. Jones finished 16th, and if there's a silver lining, it's that he's been here before -- an accident at Kentucky put his No. 20 team in a hole it had to dig itself out of to advance out of the first round. "We really didn't want to be in that position again," Jones noted afterward. "We were in a good position not to be in that spot but we just got turned there on the restart. It's unfortunate. … "It's such a shame because we had such a fast car." The series is off until Nov. 5 at Texas Motor Speedway for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Sadler will reside as the points leader at least until then, with Daniel Suarez , Blake Koch , Allgaier and Jones second through fifth, respectively. Only 12 points separate those five. Reed (-14), Gaughan (-29) and Wallace (-30) complete the top eight.
Kyle Busch wins at Kansas; XFINITY Chase gets shake-up
RELATED: Race results " Standings " Chase Grid " Photos from the day SHOP: Busch gear KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Kyle Busch 's domination of Saturday's Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway was about the only predictable thing that happened in the first race of the Round of 8 in the inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase. In winning his fourth XFINITY race at the 1.5-mile track, his ninth of the season and the 85th of his career -- extending his own series record -- Busch led 150 of 200 laps, passing Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez after a restart with 13 circuits remaining. "It was a hard-fought battle," said Busch, who had surged to a lead of 7.961 seconds before the first caution slowed the field on Lap 57. "Seemed like it was going to be easy for us. We had a super-fast car, and when we were out front, I could take it easy on those long runs and we could drive away. "The car would turn so well. A lot of things were trying to work against us at the end of the race. We were able to persevere and do the right things and have lucky restarts and be in the right grooves and not get caught up in the melee that was happening." Suarez had reason to be elated with his eventual third-place finish. An unexplained "popping" sound in his No. 19 Toyota accompanied a loss of horsepower, and Suarez settled for a hard-won result after Elliott Sadler passed him in the closing laps for the runner-up spot. Because Suarez led laps and Sadler didn't, he and Sadler leave Kansas tied for the Chase lead, but Sadler owns the tie-breaker due to higher finishes. "I'm proud of my race team," Sadler said. "We just kept working on the car and getting it better and better. I've got to do a better job trying to outrun that 18 car (Busch). He's really good, and he knows how to manipulate the air. But I've got to keep trying." Blake Koch finished ninth -- third among Chase drivers -- despite a late flat tire, the adverse effect of which was diminished by a timely caution, one of 10 during the afternoon. Koch is seven points behind the two Chase leaders. Chaos gobbled up the remaining five Chase contenders. A tap from Brandon Jones turned Chaser Justin Allgaier sideways and ignited a six-car wreck that also eliminated Darrell Wallace Jr ., who crashed out in 33rd-place. In a severely damaged car, Allgaier soldiered to a 14th-place result and left Kansas tied with Erik Jones for the final transfer spot into the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Jones ran up front through the vast majority of the race, but his No. 20 Toyota was turned into the Chevrolet of Ty Dillon when NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular Kyle Larson made an aggressive move after a restart on Lap 183. Jones pitted with a cut tire and finished one position behind Allgaier, one lap down. "He (Larson) said it was his fault," Jones said after talking to Larson on pit road. "He owned up to it, got me ran over. It is what it is… He just said he got a good start and there was no hole there, nowhere to go with the run he had just got into my left rear and turned us. It's a shame, we both had fast cars." Ryan Reed salvaged a 16th-place finish despite a loose plug wire that kept him down on power until his team could troubleshoot the problem on pit road. After contact in heavy traffic on Lap 176, Brendan Gaughan took a wild spin through the infield grass and came home 31st, 18 laps down. Both Wallace and Gaughan will have yeoman work to do when the Chase resumes at Texas Motor Speedway after a two-week break for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge (Nov. 5, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
NASCAR, Charlotte keeping eye on Hurricane Matthew
RELATED: Truex discusses weather's impact on game plan " Weather updates NASCAR officials have postponed the XFINITY Series' Drive for the Cure 300 Presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC until 11 a.m ET Sunday as steady rain pelted Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday. Officials are continuing to closely monitor the track of Hurricane Matthew ahead of Saturday evening's Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway , as well. The Bank of America 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), is the fourth event in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs -- and the first race in the Round of 12. Thursday's on-track activity was not affected by weather, but rain is forecast throughout the afternoon and evening Friday and early Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. As of 8 a.m. ET Friday, Matthew was a Category 3 hurricane (downgraded from a Category 4 storm on Thursday) with the hurricane expected to move over the east coast of Florida Friday and over the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina on Saturday. Hurricane warnings stretched from just north of Miami to southern South Carolina. Charlotte Motor Speedway is located in Concord, North Carolina, roughly 200 miles inland. The latest proposed track for the storm projects a looping course away from North Carolina, which could spare the state from the brunt of its damage. "I feel like we're going to race Saturday night, but you never know with the weather," Martin Truex Jr . said. "We're definitely going to do a little race trim (Thursday), which is uncharacteristic for our group." Daytona International Speedway , located in the heart of the storm's potential route, faces a more imminent hurricane threat. The 2.5-mile track closed its track tour and ticketing operations Thursday and Friday in advance of the worsening weather in Daytona Beach, Florida. Atlanta Motor Speedway is doing its part to help with the relief efforts. The 1.54-mile Georgia track has opened its campgrounds as a free-of-charge refuge for storm evacuees.