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Friday, September 27, 2013
NASCAR: Live from Dover

ESPN.com

Earnhardt wins Dover pole

DOVER, Del. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn't like concrete surfaces such as the one at Dover International Speedway. He compares the bumpy surface to the way Interstate 77 between Charlotte, N.C., and Statesville, N.C., was before being resurfaced.

"Like the Pennsylvania Turnpike," a reporter told NASCAR's most popular driver.

Said Earnhardt, "Never run that."

But Earnhardt did run a good lap at Dover on Friday, earning his first pole at the Monster Mile with a track-record 162.169 mph.

He hopes to turn that into a good finish that will get him back into Chase contention. Earnhardt is 11th in the standings, 62 points behind Matt Kenseth, who will start second. He's buried because of a 35th-place finish in the Chase opener at Chicago in which a blown engine spoiled a solid run.

History tells us most drivers have at least one bad finish during the 10-race Chase, so there's time to rebound. Earnhardt looks at it another way.

"When I read that, I think people are trying to say even though we've had our failure at Chicago that we still mathematically have a good run and a good shot at it," said Earnhardt, coming off a sixth-place finish at New Hampshire. "The way I think about it is we've used our mulligan and that's unfortunate [because] a couple of other guys have one in their pocket still."

But only one has the pole at Dover on Sunday, and that is Earnhardt. He also has won here -- in 2001 -- despite his dislike for concrete.

-- David Newton

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"We set things up well, hopefully we can finish it off on Sunday." - #DaleJr on @ESPNNASCAR #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/MaOhytN1H6

— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) September 27, 2013

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"The things we learned in race trim, we can apply tomorrow. ... This can be a really great race for us," says #InRaceReporter Carl Edwards.

— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) September 27, 2013

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EarnhardtJr on Dover pole w/track record 161.849 then Kenseth Newman Almirola Edwards Keselowski McMurray Johnson KuBusch & TruexJr #NASCAR

— Jayski (@jayski_nascar) September 27, 2013

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#DaleJr wins pole at Dover. #nascar

— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) September 27, 2013

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A Monster weekend ahead

The biggest news on Friday at Dover International Speedway hasn't been whether this is a three-man race for the championship, but how Clint Bowyer will look wearing Danica Patrick's yoga pants.

Kidding -- slightly.

But Bowyer's 5-Hour Energy promotion for "Living Beyond Breast Cancer'' in which the Michael Waltrip Racing driver will be part of a yoga class in the infield on Saturday morning has drawn a lot of attention.

Bowyer
Bowyer

Patrick raised a few eyebrows when she tweeted: "I have some yoga pants you can borrow.''

Bowyer, still recovering from the aftermath of his spin at Richmond that played a major role in creating this 13-driver Chase, apparently wasn't totally aware of what he signed up for with the class.

"Just found out Yoga is not a message!'' he wrote on Twitter.

Pretty sure he meant massage.

The good news: 5-Hour Energy is sponsoring the event and, as announced on Friday morning, will return to Bowyer's No. 15 car in 2014.

That has been in question since the Richmond incident in which Bowyer was accused of intentionally spinning out to help teammate Martin Truex Jr. get into the Chase, particularly after NAPA announced last week it was leaving MWR.

The announced return of Bowyer's sponsor means MWR will be able to continue with at least a two-car team next season with Bowyer and Brian Vickers. It remains to be seen if Truex, the loser in all of this when his sponsor NAPA announced it was leaving, will return or if MWR can afford to put him on the track.

If NAPA drops out of the sport and doesn't follow Truex to another team, his best option appears to be Furniture Row.

The least Bowyer can do for Truex is buy him a "message'' -- I mean massage -- over at the Dover Downs Casino Hotel.

Now back to whether this is a three-man race for the championship between Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. It's way too early to tell.

-- David Newton

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I have some yoga pants you can borrow @ClintBowyer.

— Danica Patrick (@DanicaPatrick) September 27, 2013

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#DaleJr now to the top spot after 26 cars. Aric, Brad, Jimmie, Kurt and Truex follow. #NASCAR

— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) September 27, 2013

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Where do you think @gbiffle will qualify for Sunday's race @monstermile? -KC pic.twitter.com/akgkKoi0Ne

— Miss Sprint Cup (@MissSprintCup) September 27, 2013

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#DaleJr ready to qualify the No. 88 @NationalGuard Chevy #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/MIn2wwqMWl

— Laura S. (@Hendrick88Team) September 27, 2013

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#48 on Dover pole after 10/43 drivers then 78 5 55 15 10 30 98 33 40 #NASCAR

— Jayski (@jayski_nascar) September 27, 2013

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A long tech line means one thing: it's almost time to qualify! Watch the action on ESPN2. #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/z7xExK1YTJ

— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) September 27, 2013

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Cup qualifying up next. Fastest in practice were 20, 56, 22, 78, 18, 15, 24,88, 42, 16, 99, 2, 48, 55 1. #nascar

— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) September 27, 2013

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Ford's turn?

Ford hasn't captured a Cup championship since Kurt Busch won for Roush Fenway Racing in 2004, but Greg Biffle made it seem like they've won two more.

He mentioned RFR teammate Carl Edwards losing the 2011 title in a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart and him losing the 2005 title to Stewart by 35 points because of a "major hiccup with three races to go.''

"Potentially, with not much in history changed, we've got two championships right there,'' Biffle said.

Officially, Ford has gone eight straight years without a title. But the manufacturer has two drivers in contention to end that with Edwards fourth and Biffle fifth with eight races remaining.

-- David Newton

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Regan Smith and B. Scott lead NNS practice; now join us at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2 for Sprint Cup Series qualifying from @MonsterMile #NASCAR

— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) September 27, 2013

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"Some teams have probably done a little better job than we have," Greg Biffle says of @roushfenway having just one Cup championship. #NASCAR

— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) September 27, 2013

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Momentum for 2014?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn't buy into the theory that a strong finish, maybe a couple of wins, would build momentum for next season.

Earnhardt
Earnhardt

"There are so many changes in the offseason,'' he said earlier in the week. "We're always looking with the new car, you're looking at higher potential that there will be changes in the offseason and lots of new things to learn, lots of new things to sort of science out.

"Really, if we just win races, it just vindicates the work we do and gives yourself confidence that you can do the job. Helps you understand where your team is and what things you can fix and change to get better before the next year.''

Earnhardt, who was eighth-fastest in Friday's practice, expects numerous changes to the car before 2014.

"I think enough is going to change in the offseason that it will be almost like kind of having to start over a little bit next year as far as learning what works and what doesn't work,'' he said. "Either way, I feel pretty good with that. We have a good organization that can start from scratch and make some things happen.''

-- David Newton

Let's do this

The interview schedule got off to an interesting start on Friday as points leader Matt Kenseth was introduced as the driver of the "Let's Do This'' Toyota.

The NASCAR public relations person making the introduction apparently was struck by the slogan, repeating it several times. Kenseth didn't miss an opportunity to have fun with it.

"You sounded great the first six times [you said it],'' he said.

-- David Newton

Can Kyle do this?

Kyle Busch has had more than his share of rough starts to the Chase, so consecutive second-place finishes to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth puts him in perhaps his best position to win a title.

Busch
Busch

So is he a serious contender?

"He has the ability,'' five-time champion Jimmie Johnson said. "We'll see if he can keep it together over the course of 10 weeks. We all have something out there that media, fans and competitors hold against you and make you think about from time to time, and they always bring up a question.

"His question is: Can you hold it together for 10 weeks? We'll see.''

So what does Busch think?

"There's only one way to find out, and that's to run these races,'' he said. "Certainly, we want to, we need to. You have to. There's also anything that can happen in this sport.''

Johnson, by the way, apparently has a question hanging over his head as well.

"For me, it's the two-year dry spell,'' he said. "Like it's been an eternity since I've won a championship.''

-- David Newton

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Beautiful Friday morning on a busy day for #NASCAR at the #MonsterMile. pic.twitter.com/kr7VMvNw03

— Monster Mile (@MonsterMile) September 27, 2013