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Earnhardt’s Difficult Season Drags On At CMS

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 7 2017

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final weeks as a full-time driver are not as much fun as he would have hoped. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Jim Fluharty)

CONCORD, N.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway he would be having more fun and he thought the fans would, too, if he was in the thick of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship battle.

“I think it’s a little bittersweet for me and the fans and our supporters with the situation we’re in,” Earnhardt said during preparations for Sunday’s Bank of America 500.  “I only really have fun when we run well. It’s been a difficult year from a fun meter standpoint. We haven’t really moved the needle too much this year.”

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. says he would like to advance to the playoffs’ third round with a victory at Talladega, but he believes his team must be realistic and plan on points.

“That’s our mindset for now,” Stenhouse said. “(Crew chief Brian) Pattie kind of showed me this week that if we can get back to doing what we were capable of earlier in the season that we can do it on points.”

Stenhouse realizes there are those who didn’t expect him to advance to the second round, but “I love proving people wrong.”

“I feel like going back to our 2011 championship in the Xfinity Series nobody thought we’d win that,” Stenhouse said. “We had some new drivers come in, in 2012 and they didn’t think we’d win that either, so it’s always nice to prove them wrong. I enjoy doing that.”

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Even though Talladega is the second race instead of the last one in the playoffs’ second round, Martin Truex Jr. believes the race at the 2.66-mile track will still be crazy.

“I think the stage points are really what changes that racing,” Truex said. “I think guys are willing to risk it more because those stage points are available. I feel like if you can have a good finish in the first two stages, somehow you maybe get caught up in a wreck or something bad happens, you still have those points. It’s kind of a net gain from what it used to be. I would say that we’ll have less guys riding in the back than normal and should be more of an intense race with a big crowd up front most of the day.”  

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Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers survived the first round in this year’s payoffs, doing what they needed to do to advance despite a 23rd-place finish at Dover. The second round, however, could be a different story.

“I think the next tracks will suit us a little bit better because of the mile-and-a-halves, and Talladega we always run decent at,” Blaney said Friday.  “Hopefully, be in a decent spot for Talladega where we don’t have to hit a homerun or anything like that. If that happens, we’ll just roll with what we have to do.”

The order of the tracks in the playoffs’ second round changed this year. Charlotte moved from second to first, Talladega from third to second and Kansas from first to third.

“We can’t go out this weekend and run like we did at Dover. That was pretty bad,” Blaney said. “We’re going to have to get a bunch of stage points and run at least in the top 10 in all three races to transfer on. As we cut teams, it just gets harder to make it into the next round.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 7 2017
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