Dale Earnhardt Jr. has come to Daytona International Speedway looking for answers.
Arriving at one of his favorite tracks – where the Coke Zero 400 is scheduled for Saturday – Earnhardt continues to search for his first victory of the NASCAR season. That means that until he does, he will have to worry about something else: qualifying for the Chase. Sitting 12th in the standings, Earnhardt isn’t in danger – at least not yet – of not making the postseason. But that unsettling prospect is on his mind.
“Where we are in points is very frustrating,” Earnhardt said Thursday. “It creates a lot of anxiety between me and (crew chief) Greg (Ives). We both are not happy with where we are in the points. We are wondering and worrying about trying to make the Chase. It shouldn’t be something that this team is concerned with. I think we are way better than where we are.”
If there’s any place for those concerns to be vanquished, it’s Daytona. Earnhardt’s four Cup victories at Daytona lead all active drivers. He has 17 total victories on the 2.5-mile superspeedway, including Xfinity, Daytona 500 qualifying and Sprint Unlimited races.
“This is a great place for me to get a win,” he said. “I’ve got to come in there with that kind of confidence.”
But away from Daytona this season – he also finished 36th after wrecking in the season-opening Daytona 500 – the going has been rough. Although he has five top-five finishes, he’s also crashed out of three other races.
“In the past several years we have sat around the top five in points throughout the season,” Earnhardt said. “Things just came easier for us. They are not coming so easy today. We just have to keep working. I’m not worried about our speed. I don’t feel like we are missing anything.”
Something else for Earnhardt to consider: he is the only driver from the 2015 Chase who hasn’t won yet this season.
“Hopefully, we can put a string of races together that will give us a good cushion between us and the next guys fighting for those last few spots,” he said. “Obviously, we need to get a win to put all that to bed, but nothing is guaranteed. If we don’t get a win going into the Chase we are going to have to do well in these next 10 races and just be real consistent.”
▪ Much of Thursday’s Cup and Xfinity practices were rained out. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the fastest of eight Cup drivers who made it out on the track in the afternoon with a 191.014 mph lap. Cup qualifying is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. Friday.
▪ It didn’t take long for Matt Kenseth to find a new primary sponsor for his No. 20 Toyota. Joe Gibbs Racing announced Friday that DeWalt Tools has added four races this season and 15 more in 2015 on Kenseth’s car. Kenseth’s primary sponsor has been Dollar General, which announced in May it is leaving the sport after this season. DeWalt will also be the primary sponsor for six Xfinity races this season for JGR’s Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez.
▪ The NASCAR drivers council was scheduled to meet Thursday night at Daytona. Earnhardt, one of the group’s unofficial spokesmen, said there were no major issues on the table. He said drivers would discuss what they felt were unsafe conditions prior to last week’s race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, where he said fans crowded the garage area and pit road.
▪ Chevrolet unveiled the Camaro that will run in the Xfinity Series’ 2017 season. The sixth-generation Camaro will have a newly developed upper nose and hood. The fifth-generation Camaro has been raced since 2013. Chevy officials declined to say when the 2017 Cup Camaro would be announced.
▪ Kerry Tharp, a stalwart in NASCAR’s communications department since 2005, is Darlington (S.C.) Raceway’s president. Tharp replaces Chip Wile, who is now president of Daytona International Speedway. Tharp, most recently NASCAR’s senior director of communications, is a former associate athletics director for media relations at South Carolina. Matt Ciesluk will replace Tharp as NASCAR’s communications director.
▪ Drivers John Wes Townley and Spencer Gallagher were both fined and placed on probation through Dec. 31 for fighting on the track during a caution in Saturday’s Truck race at Gateway (Ill.) Motorsports Park. Townley was fined $15,000 and Gallagher $12,500. Gallagher said earlier this week he didn’t intentionally cause the wreck that sparked the fight and apologized for his part in it.
▪ Decals with the phrase #OrlandoUnited will be placed on Cup and Xfinity cars this weekend in support of the families and victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in nearby Orlando, Fla., two weeks ago. NASCAR also made a $25,000 donation to OneOrlando, an organization that provides support to the families.
“I’m glad the sport has stickers on all our cars,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. “It’s a great way to show our support.”
▪ The Xfinity Series’ Subway Firecracker 250 is set for Friday night. Daniel Suarez is the points leader and is one of three drivers (along with Erik Jones and Elliott Sadler) with at least one victory this season.