Social Spotlight with Amy Earnhardt

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their social media usage. Up next: Amy Earnhardt, the wife of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who maintains an active presence on Twitter and Instagram.

You’re active on social media, and that has opened you up to a world of different types of people I’m sure you never would have thought you would hear from. What’s the overall experience like for you? Do you find it more positive or negative?

For the most part, I find it positive. Social media was scary for me at first. I just felt like it was this giant world and it was super intimidating, so I waited awhile to even join Twitter. I don’t still have a Facebook account. But I’ve had a lot of fun with Instagram and Twitter so far, and you’re right — there’s a lot of people you get to meet, or just chitchat with that you’d never otherwise have any contact with. Dale had (country singer) Cole Swindell stop by today (at Richmond) and they met on social media. That’s just one of the things that social media would allow that nothing else before has. So it’s been a lot of fun.

You say it’s more positive for you. How do you have that experience? Because from my view, I look at it sometimes like, “Oh my gosh, she must get so much crap,” as I search through all those responses. But you don’t feel like it’s terrible or overwhelming?

It can be overwhelming. I kind of choose when to and when not to get on there. At first, there were quite a few people that I had to block — everybody has those few people who like to just ruin their day. But you have to remind yourself that those people don’t even know who you are, and they’re probably not just doing that to you, they’re doing it to plenty of other people. It’s just their M.O. in life. So I don’t let that get to me at all.

Like I said, I kind of tend to stay away from Twitter on a bad day. If Dale doesn’t do well on the track, I try to encourage him to do the same thing, because he’ll have 90 great comments and then those few that are bad just really bring him down. So I just do the same for myself.

It’s interesting how Twitter hasn’t really done a good job of being able to cut trolls. Because like you said, most people on Twitter are good people and they’re positive and they’re encouraging, but then you get those people who can be so bad that it really can ruin somebody’s day if you don’t have super thick skin. Is there anything you’d like to see Twitter do, or do you think that just comes with the territory?

I kind of feel like that’s the nature of the beast. It’s the freedom of speech. We’re in America, so people get to say what they want and they have that ability. You have that ability to block them, mute them, whatever you so choose. So if you choose not to, then you have to take what they give you. I feel like (Twitter has) done what they can with it.

The biggest blowup that I can think of, when you got the most heat, was when you posted about not letting Dale run the Clash. How did you handle the aftermath of all that?

So that’s a great question. Dale actually threw me under the bus with that because he had been asked over and over again — because he had qualified to do so — was he going to run the race? And he had even told Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) that it was up to me. So after a lot of heckling on social media, especially that week — he must of had an interview where it came up again because that day in particular, I had a lot of responses in my feed — I just got tired of listening to it, so I’d figure I’d put a squash to it.

And I definitely had some negative feedback, but I spoke the truth and I stand by it. I would say it again. He put me in the position to even have an opinion about it publicly, because he was talking about it publicly.

Honestly, I still get responses about that, even on random tweets that have nothing to do with it. People still get hung on those things. But to be honest, when it comes down to it, he’s gonna do what he wants to do. It’s his decision. I just was trying to clean my Twitter feed up. I didn’t want to hear it anymore.

So people were like, “Come on Amy, come on Amy, come on Amy.” And so you give a response and they’re like, “Amy, you suck!”

“Boo Amy! You said the wrong thing!” (Laughs)

You obviously use Instagram as well. Do you prefer Instagram to Twitter?

I do, just because I’m a visual person. I like the pictures. I’m a girl, so I like to follow bloggers, I like to follow foodies and just different famous people. I like to see what people are doing. I’m just like everybody else — the people I enjoy following, I just want to see what they’re doing.

It’s like legalized snooping in a way, because people post these things and they have no idea really how many people are seeing it. And it just seems like a fun little insight into other people’s lives, where you don’t get that as well with Twitter. People can post photos, but it’s more of just a quick blurb, if you will.

How many people are you regularly going through their feed on Instagram? Do you just go through your timeline? Because Instagram timelines are out of order, which isn’t very convenient, so sometimes you have to go back and see certain people.

I don’t try to go back to pages, because I’m gonna be the person who accidentally starts hearting things two months old, and then you’re alerted that I’m a stalker on your page. So I’ve just tried not to do that. But I follow so many people on Instagram, my feed’s pretty current. I can go through the last five and refresh it and have a whole new 10 to look at. So I don’t get bored with it.

Where do you come down on looking at other people’s Instagram Stories? Because for me, I’m on Snapchat a lot, so I feel like people put their same stuff sometimes on Snapchat as they do on Instagram Stories and I get super annoyed. I’m like, “Oh crap, now I have to go through their Instagram story, too,” because I don’t want the circle to pop up and just sit there and look at it. Do you go through most of the little circles?

I do. I love the Stories. It’s a fun way to see what people are doing all day long. I like that they added that, because you don’t have to worry about posting something that you might regret. It comes right off.

I’m with you on the Snapchat and Instagram story thing. I don’t have a public Snapchat for that reason. Like you can’t keep up with both; that’s a lot to do. But it’s annoying, as a follower, if you see the same person posting the same things everywhere. That’s not what the purpose of all these different apps is, right?

I guess I’m going to admit to this, but there are times when I’ll go through and heart several pictures — and then for some reason I don’t feel like hearting a picture. I see it, but I just don’t. So do you ever withhold the heart?

I do the same thing. I don’t even know what that is. Maybe you can help explain even what I’m doing, because I don’t even know what that is either. It’s like, “I’ll heart four or five of your photos, maybe I shouldn’t heart all six of these.” I don’t know what that is.

Is it some sort of thing like “This wasn’t quite good enough to get my half second of time it takes to tap?” Like “I didn’t want to take my energy to show my approval of this.”

I think that it is true. I also think it depends on what comes right before. Like if you have three or four great photos that other people posted and this is just not up to par with those, then you just don’t heart it. Sometimes I scroll back up like, “Oh, I actually really liked it, it’s one of my really good friends, I’ll just heart it anyway.” It’s a picture of their kid, he’s so cute, I’ll heart.

You’re like, “I wasn’t going to (heart) another kid picture, but you know what, I do like them.” So you do heart them after all.

Yeah, you get a conscience.

Going back to Twitter for a second, where do you fall on blocking, muting or just ignoring? I think Dale has said in the past that he doesn’t block anymore, he just mutes. You mentioned you have blocked people in the past. Do you still use the block button a lot?

I haven’t used the block button in quite awhile, actually. When we first started Twitter, they didn’t even have the mute button, so that would have been helpful. But I’ve blocked people back then who were pretty vicious, or who were imitating me on Twitter, and I just didn’t want to see their stuff either. Mute, I haven’t really used that much. I just feel like at this point if it’s going to be there and I know it’s gonna be there, I know that I don’t need to take it seriously, so it doesn’t really matter that much. But I’ve used both a couple of times.

That’s a good point. I should probably take that into consideration a little bit more, because I’ll mute people a lot. I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing they got me upset enough to block, but it does bother me. It gets to me, so I don’t want to see it. You know what I mean?

I can understand that. Muting is great, because you’re right, they don’t know that you did that.

Did you know that you can block people in your phone, by the way, and they don’t know that you blocked them? Like an actual phone number?

Yes! I’ve been doing that for a lot of spam numbers recently because people call me — I don’t know if this happens to you — with the area code and it looks like it must be someone you know.

Right. I don’t know how they figured out how to do that, but you get spam numbers from your own area code. It’s ridiculous.

They disguise their number, and it’ll be like the first three digits of my phone number, too! So I’m like, “It must be somebody I know,” and it’s somebody offering me a vacation to Florida on a recording.

I don’t answer, and I don’t even listen to the voicemail if it’s not a number I don’t have programmed into my phone. I don’t even bother listening to the voicemail.

You screen the calls.

I screen. I’m a hard screener.

We stayed in our pjs all day waiting for this eclipse. Didn’t want to out dress our glasses. #eclipse2017

A post shared by Amy Earnhardt (@mrsamyearnhardt) on

What do you think the future is on social media? There’s all this live stuff now. You can pretty much see into anybody’s life as much as you want to show them. Is there a limit, or is it going to just keep going in that direction?

That’s a really good question. I wouldn’t have said I could have seen social media coming, so I have no idea where it will be going. I can only imagine that it’s going to be…easier and easier for people to use, maybe. But honestly, my brain does not work like that. I have no idea where it would go. What do you think it’s going to do?

I think at some point, there has to be a tipping point both with trolls and with the amount that’s shared because 

Too much skin, is that what you mean? 

Just that I could start an account right now, tweet to Dale Jr. and say “You are the most awful human being!” or whatever, and he might read it. And I don’t think celebrities are going to be on social media forever if that’s the case, because people will just be like, “Why am I doing this?”

I’m more worried about how unsafe it is for kids. I don’t have kids yet, but we’re trying, and who knows what that’s going to look like by the time our kids are old enough to use Snapchat or anything else. There’s so many other apps that kids use that I don’t even know how to use. So that’s the scariest part for me.

As an adult, especially Dale or any other celebrity, I feel like they should just take it as it comes. It’s just part of the gig.

I’ve thought about this myself. Someday when I have kids, how much do I share pictures of my kids publicly? Because it would be nice to have a private account, but then people think you’re keeping stuff guarded. You have a public Instagram and public Twitter. Is there going to be any place where you can just share stuff with your family and friends, where you don’t have to show everybody?

So we do that now. We both have iPhones. Most of the people in my family and Dale’s family have iPhones, so we have photo streams where we share photos. Both of my sisters have kids, Dale’s sister has kids, and so we kind of do that there, and you can comment on there if you really want to, and like it.

You can comment on the iPhoto stream?

Whatever you want. And aunts, uncles, whatever, and they can see the photos you post. They get a little button that pops up.

So you can bypass social media. That’s interesting. Maybe that’s the answer of what will happen ultimately is like mini social media networks — just with your friends and family, where you don’t even have to have a profile.

That’s right, it’s just all in the cloud. You have to remember that.

You say that you’ve given advice to Dale. Has he ever given you any advice about your social media use?

Yes. So this is a great question. I have many a times gotten on Twitter, and I am an opinionated girl. I can be a little cut and dry, and that doesn’t come across so well, especially just in text on Twitter with a lot of people that follow who don’t actually know who you are.

So he’ll see me start typing something, he’ll look over my shoulder and be like, “I don’t think you should send that.” And now I am really nervous about what I send out, because not only do I have Dale watching if I’m gonna send it out, but his entire brand team. There’s a wrath that comes from it, not just from Dale but with his entire team.

Have you ever gotten in trouble with a tweet that you’ve sent? Are people like, “Amy, no. You shouldn’t have said this?”

Yeah, there was a couple. I won’t reference them, but I’m sure everybody probably knows what they are. But I don’t regret it at all.

One last thing I want to ask you about, which shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but you’ve had a couple of messages of tolerance lately. These are really hard times in the world and society, but you’ve kind of had that message of love or different colored hearts for people of different races. What’s been behind that?

I just feel like people use social media, especially Twitter…you find that generally people that have something negative to say. Instead of it being positive, you hear more negative things, especially about politics or about any big thing. Even athletic games, football games, whatever — if somebody does something stupid, you hear all of the trolls versus the people that are excited about it.

So I just feel like if it’s something I really believe in, I’m going to voice my opinion and try to be as positive about it as possible. I tend to stay away from politics and those things — I just don’t want to get involved with it and I have the wrath of whoever wants to fight with me about it on social media. I don’t want to use my social media that way.

It’s supposed to be fun, right? So that’s why I keep it that way.

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

The Top Five: Breaking down the Richmond race

Five thoughts after Saturday night’s regular season finale at Richmond Raceway…

1. Why Larson’s win was important

Before his win Saturday night at Richmond, Kyle Larson had won four races in his career — three this season — but each victory had been on a 2-mile track (either Fontana or Michigan).

Larson certainly doesn’t lack for confidence, but this will help heading into a playoff that will require excellence on several different types of tracks. Now Larson has proof he can win on different kinds of tracks at the Cup level (not that it was really that much of a question, but it can’t hurt) — and now that includes short tracks,.

“Everybody says I grew up short-track racing, but this is way different than sprint car racing on a short track,” he said. “This is really, really slow, heavy braking, off the throttle a lot, taking care of your tires — where in a sprint car on a quarter mile, you’re still wide open a lot of times depending on how the track is.

“This is different, and I’ve had to learn a lot. I feel like I’ve definitely gotten better at it.”

Next on Larson’s to-do list: Win on a 1.5-mile track. He actually has the third-best average on 1.5-mile tracks this season — the tracks that make up half the playoff races — but Martin Truex Jr. is far ahead of him.

That will likely have to change if Larson wants to snatch the title away from Truex like he took the win at Richmond.

2. Regular season champ

NASCAR did not celebrate Truex’s regular season championship (which comes with a trophy and 15 playoff points) last week at Darlington after he clinched because they wanted to save it for Richmond. According to the post-race plan, Truex was even set to have his own burnout celebration in Turn 1 while the winner (if it was a different driver) celebrated in Turn 4.

But the only thing Truex did in Turn 1 was crash into the wall on the last lap — thanks to Toyota teammate Denny Hamlin — which was most unfortunate. It’s no wonder he was cranky afterward about how everything played out and wasn’t exactly in a mood to celebrate.

Here’s a sampling of Truex quotes after the race:

— “I wish we could have got the trophy last weekend. I mean, tonight sucks, plain and simple.”

— “It’s ridiculous there’s a guy out there that shouldn’t even be out there, 20-some laps down, riding around. As slow as he is, he can’t even hold his damn line. It’s ridiculous. He scrapes the wall, they throw a caution with one to go. That’s not what racing should be.”

— “Somebody obviously wasn’t paying attention (to the ambulance) or wasn’t doing their job properly, and in my opinion at this level, it’s inexcusable.”

So Truex was salty, but obviously he had every right to be that way. As Larson said, Truex “should have probably have like 10 or 12 wins if things would go his way more often.”

Truex will go into the playoffs with 53 playoff points, which is pretty decent, but it’s only a 20-point lead over Larson. It would have been 30 had he won at Richmond.

So it’s no wonder Truex couldn’t bring himself to smile while accepting the regular season championship trophy. That late caution was a 10-point swing, and it will be worth remembering later in the fall.

3. No fairy tale ending

I guess we all saw this coming, but it’s still a shame that Dale Earnhardt Jr. won’t be competing in the playoffs during his final season. After Jeff Gordon made it to Homestead in 2015 and Tony Stewart had a road course win fall into his lap to make the playoffs last year, it just seemed destined that Earnhardt would win at some point in the first 26 races. Sadly, that wasn’t the case despite a good run on Saturday night.

What didn’t we see coming? Joey Logano missing out on the 16-driver field. Logano was my preseason championship pick, and his team’s downfall is the most surprising flop I can remember in the Chase/Playoff Era. He opened the season with eight finishes of sixth or better in the first nine races — including five straight top-fives — and then completely fell off the map after the encumbered Richmond win.

Ultimately, Logano finished second on Saturday night. But that was just his third top-five since the last Richmond race. He missed the playoffs by 100 points.

And how about Clint Bowyer? Honestly, it was a pretty solid regular season; his average finish of 14.8 is his best since 2013. I mean, the guy finished 11th in points and missed the playoffs! That just speaks to how unusual this season has been with five winners below him in the standings.

By the way, it was fun to see Erik Jones make a run at what would have been an incredible victory at Richmond. He didn’t make the cut (despite being 13th in points during his rookie season), but don’t worry — he will be part of the field for years to come after this.

4. Someone call 911

Let’s hope NASCAR got its one crappy officiating night out of the way before the playoffs, because that was — as our president would say — “not good.”

First, there was the caution toward the end of Stage 1 which was officially thrown for “Smoke.” Not Tony Stewart, but smoke from Matt Kenseth’s tires when he was trying to avoid hitting Danica Patrick. That was an awfully quick trigger for a group of officials who previously insisted it takes time to call a caution (like at Daytona and Indianapolis as cars were crashing).

Second, the ambulance on pit road. Yikes. Martin Truex Jr. said the safety vehicles were running alongside the cars down the backstretch, so NASCAR had plenty of time to figure out what was going on. NASCAR said it told the ambulance to stop, and the directive was not obeyed. But typically, race director David Hoots runs a much tighter ship than that. It was not only a safety hazard, but Matt Kenseth ultimately could have missed the playoffs because of it. Thankfully, that situation didn’t play out — but again, “not good.”

Third, it might have been worth holding off calling the race-altering caution for Derrike Cope. That was a judgment call and likely a caution in many circumstances, because he did brush the wall. But this was the final laps of the regular season when NASCAR has put such an emphasis on playoff points this year — and it changed the winner.

NASCAR warned drivers to “let it play out naturally on the racetrack” in the pre-race drivers meeting, so it doesn’t feel right that three questionable calls occurred in the hours afterward. Let’s hope that was the last officiating controversy of the season.

5. Championship predictions

So here we go. It’s time to make some picks.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott will be eliminated in the first round, with Kasey Kahne, Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray advancing to Round 2 but falling out after that.

Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski will come up short of making it to Homestead, which will leave Truex, Larson, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin as the final four.

In the end, despite the presence of Homestead ace Larson in the championship race, Kyle Busch will use a late restart to win his second career title as Truex once again suffers bad luck after a dominating race.

Kelley Earnhardt Miller: Dale Jr.’s disappointing final season ‘depressing’

If you’re a member of Junior Nation who has found Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s string of bad results in his final season to be deflating, you’re not alone.

Earnhardt’s sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller said this season has been “pretty depressing and disappointing,” and aches to see her brother have better results.

“It seems like just some luck things that happen here and there, and things that are beyond his control,” she said Friday at Darlington Raceway, where the track unveiled the naming of the Earnhardt Tower suites honoring her brother and father. “It’s certainly not how he wanted this last season to be and it’s not a lot to write home about lately.”

Earnhardt Jr. has just four top-10 finishes this year after having four straight seasons of at least 20 top-10s before his injury-shortened 2016 campaign. He currently ranks 22nd in points, which is on pace to be his worst year since 2009.

Earnhardt Miller said she’s frustrated for her brother because”I know he wants so much more than that” and has seen how he responds when he’s contending for wins.

“When he’s really running well, he has that connection with all the people around him and his fans and really holds his head high when he’s performing well,” she said. “So I’d love to see that for him in this last year.”

That said, Earnhardt Miller has no regrets about seeing Earnhardt Jr. come back to race one more season. She’s glad he has gotten to run this final season on his own terms and not have to cut his career short because of an injury, she said.

In terms of support, Earnhardt Miller said she just shoots Earnhardt Jr. a text here and there to keep his head up. She’d do more than that but said Earnhardt Jr. “doesn’t like anything mushy, so I try not to get too mushy.”

“He says I’m always mushy and I’m always the one that cries at everything,” said Earnhardt Miller, who acknowledged she’ll cry a lot at Homestead in November. “So I try to just keep it on the surface and not get too deep, but let him know that we’re thinking about him. I think that’s the most important thing for him.”

Even now, after all the fame he’s experienced throughout his career, Earnhardt Jr. still doesn’t seem to grasp how big of a star he is at times.

“We’ve sat in a lot of meetings this year where I have to remind Dale he’s a pretty special athlete,” Earnhardt Miller said. “He’s so humble and down to earth. He’s like, ‘Why would anybody want to do that (tribute)?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, this is the last year of your career on the track and you are a really special human being. You rank up there with a lot of top-notch athletes.'”

Earnhardt Miller just wants him to have some happy days on the track to go with it.

 

 

The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol Night Race

Five thoughts after Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway…

1. Kyle Busch drinks his haters’ tears

At a Toyota appearance on Saturday morning, a fan in attendance stood there and gave Kyle Busch one long, continuous middle finger.

“I know I’m number one,” Busch told the fan. “I’ve been number one the past two nights.”

So then the fan gave him a double bird.

“All you’re doing is solidifying what I already know,” Busch said.

Like the greatest of wrestling heels, Busch has gone full villain this season as he’s come to terms with the fact he’s never going to be the most popular driver. It doesn’t seem to bother him anymore — and yes, it definitely did at one time — so he’s soaking up the hate instead.

As Busch was showered with boos from the 100,000-plus fans at Bristol after completing the three-race weekend sweep, Busch cupped his ears for more. Then, as the volume increased, he flashed three fingers — not Three for Dale, but three for the sweep.

To add insult to their injured feelings, Busch then climbed on top of his car, parked right on the frontstretch, and swept the roof with a broom.

“I’m sure they’re still booing and whining and crying all the way home tonight. They’re driving home mad,” he said later, then smirked. “So people, be careful.”

For Kyle Busch Haters, a group of people that probably rivals the size of Junior Nation, this weekend was absolutely disgusting. He dominated two lower-series races with glee (“In your face!” he yelled on the radio after winning Trucks) and then whooped everyone in the Cup race.

But I’ve got to confess something: The more Busch irritates people, the more hilarious I think it is. Seriously, Busch haters get SO twisted up when he wins and their livid reactions are so disproportionate to the outrage over everything in the real world that it’s just flat-out funny to me.

The hate is so commonplace now, it doesn’t affect him. He’s used to it, and he might even thrive off it.

Personally, I think he’s the most interesting character in NASCAR these days. And even though he can be a pain in the ass at times, I sure am glad he’s around to give me something to write about and talk about.

2. Yes, he’s that damn good

To those who truly despise Busch — even you have to admit we’re watching one of the great talents of all time, right?

I mean, check out this tweet from Kyle Larson from Saturday night:

Could Kyle Busch actually be the GOAT, as Larson’s tweet suggested? I can only speak in NASCAR terms on this, so you can debate sprint car drivers and other racers Larson may be including in the conversation. But in NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson has won six more championships, Jeff Gordon won a lot more races and Tony Stewart was more versatile as far as winning in different types of cars.

And yet, when it comes to sitting in the stands and watching which driver wheels the car the best, I think Larson may be right: Busch may be the best pure talent of his generation.

Yes, of course he’s driving the best cars in the lower series and makes it seem easy when he has a speeding penalty and gets back to the front in 50 laps (probably because it is easy for him).

But when he does it in the Cup Series, against the best drivers and teams, and makes it look like he’s back in an Xfinity race? Well, that’s damn impressive. It just is.

Busch now has 40 Cup wins, which tied Mark Martin on the all-time list. And he’s only 32! He probably has 10 more years in his prime to rack up more victories.

I’m not advocating for people to start liking Busch, because his attitude and demeanor and lack of grace are massive turnoffs to many fans in a sport where drivers are often judged on personality as much as results. And I’m also not suggesting people start enjoying what they’re seeing, because people need someone to root against.

But as a longtime Denver Broncos fan, I compare it to Tom Brady. I can’t STAND Brady, but I still recognize he’s probably the best quarterback ever (which is painful to admit).

So you truly have to respect Busch as one of the best and appreciate what we’re seeing. And if you can’t, your bitterness is getting in the way.

3. Erik Jones making big gains

Remember earlier in the season when the No. 77 car looked fast every week but always had something bad happen? Those days seem gone now.

Erik Jones has six DNFs due to crashes this season — many of which were not his fault but some which happened after he put himself in bad positions. But Jones really seems to be finishing races lately.

He’s reeled off four straight top-10 finishes, including a third at Michigan and now a career-best second at Bristol. And he led a race-high 260 laps during nine different times in the race, which is pretty impressive.

It’s a shame he’s likely going to miss the playoffs, because he’s coming on really strong at the right time. But I have a feeling he’ll be a playoff fixture in the future, though.

4. More frustration for Dale Jr.

At the tweetup on Saturday, a few of us started daydreaming about what it would be like if Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Bristol race.

Can you imagine? It would be even better than the 2001 Pepsi 400! The whole stadium would go freaking nuts!

Goosebumps.

But that was just a fantasy, because Earnhardt never had a chance after being way off in practice and qualifying 31st.

“I couldn’t find any speed out there,” he said afterward. “Whatever we got wrong came from the shop. You’re not going to fix it on that racetrack from pit road. We just missed the setup, big time.”

The struggles Earnhardt experienced all weekend at Bristol reminded me of the Lance McGrew Era. Personally, I thought it was the most frustrated I’d heard Earnhardt on the radio this season, but he disagreed.

“It’s frustrating every week, you know?” he said. “I don’t know how to quantify frustration. I don’t know how to measure it. None of it is good. We want to compete and run well this last season. I don’t want to be out there just packing it in. It’s a lot of work to run 23rd, I’ll say that.”

Earnhardt deserves a better ending than this season is shaping up to be, similar to what Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart got.

Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more like that might not happen — and that sucks for everyone.

5. Two to go!

It’s almost playoff time, and the picture is getting a bit clearer now that there are two races left where upset winners are a rarity.

Actually, I’m having a hard time seeing how the 16 drivers currently in the field change after Darlington and Richmond (you can see the standings below).

There are only three spots left, and it’s not close on points at all. Clint Bowyer is 58 points out — nearly an entire race — and he’s the only driver within 100 points (Joey Logano is 117 points out).

So that means someone like Logano would have to win Darlington or Richmond to get in. And really, is Logano even running well enough to do that right now? It doesn’t seem like it, even though he’s great at Richmond and had the encumbered win there in the spring.

There are no more upset winner type tracks, which lessens the chances Jones or Daniel Suarez could pick up their first career victories in the next two weeks.

Anyway, I think you’re already looking at this year’s playoff field, which is below.

——-

PLAYOFF PICTURE

By patron request, I’m going to start including the playoff picture at the bottom of the Top Five each week. Here’s how it looks now:

IN (13): Truex, Larson, Harvick, Ky. Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin, Johnson, Blaney, Ku. Busch, Newman, Stenhouse, Kahne, A. Dillon.

Points Bubble with two races to go:

14. Chase Elliott +69

15. Matt Kenseth +61

16. Jamie McMurray +58

—-

17. Clint Bowyer -58

(Everyone else more than 100 points or one win behind)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. explains economics of 2017 Silly Season

Leave it to Dale Earnhardt Jr. to perfectly explain why this year’s Silly Season seems so crazy.

Unproven Alex Bowman was named as Earnhardt’s replacement in the No. 88 and former champions Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch are currently free agents. Eighteen-time race winner Kasey Kahne may be on the hot seat, too.

So what the hell is going on? Well, it all comes down to driver salaries.

Here’s Earnhardt talking about the economics of NASCAR today at Watkins Glen:

“You’ve got more drivers coming in being offered — and accepting — contracts that are a fifth to a tenth of what veterans are getting paid. And that’s money that can go into the team. These sponsors aren’t giving teams the money they used to, so everybody’s got to take a little cut. Everybody’s got to dial it back. Everybody’s got to realize they’ve got to accept some of that difference.

“You’ve got a guy who you think has got a lot of talent, very young, lot of potential — and a veteran who is established but he wants three, four, five, six times the amount of money. I mean, you’re going to go with a younger guy because it’s a better deal financially.

“It took awhile, but when we had our major reset (financially) — the trickle-down effect is coming through the drivers’ contracts and making a big difference into the decisions these owners are making. You can’t pay a driver $5 to $8 million a year if you ain’t got but $10 million a year in sponsorship. You can’t. That ain’t gonna work. (Owners) aren’t getting $20, $30, $40 million a year on sponsorship.

“Drivers sort of have to understand that change is coming down the pipe. If it hasn’t happened to ’em yet, it’s going to happen to them. And the young guys, they don’t know any better. They’re taking a nickel to race. They’re taking whatever they can get.”

“That’s a shift that’s going to be better for the sport. Get those salaries in a realistic range for how much money we have from corporate America.”

The Top Five: Breaking down the Pocono race

Five thoughts on Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway…

1. Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch?

Kyle Busch haters can skip over this part, but the guy is a serious championship contender despite not having won in more than a year until Sunday.

For most of the season, the best car each week has been either Martin Truex Jr. or Kyle Larson. But Busch has been creeping into the picture lately, and he’s been the one to battle Truex the last couple weeks while Larson hasn’t shown as much speed (even before incidents which resulted in finishes of 28th and 33rd).

Busch hadn’t won since the 2016 Brickyard 400 and Joe Gibbs Racing hadn’t won all season until two weeks ago, so everyone has been busy talking more about that than how the 2015 Cup champ might have a pretty good shot to do it again.

Busch has the most poles, second-most laps led and third-most top-five finishes this season. And perhaps most important, he is now tied for the third-most playoff points with Larson and Brad Keselowski.

As JGR continues to gain speed, Busch has been out front the most. He’s led at least 74 laps in four straight races now. That’s a very dangerous car for his rivals to deal with.

“… We’ve had speed, we’ve been right there, we’ve been able to do what we should be doing: That’s running up front,” Busch said. “It’s just been a bit frustrating on the finishing side.”

It’s scary, because with all the near-misses until Sunday, you get the feeling the No. 18 team hasn’t even performed to its potential yet. If Busch and his team start converting all the close calls into wins? Watch out.

2. What’s the point?

Speaking of championship contenders, I was puzzled by the No. 78 team’s decision to pit late in Stage 2 and give up what seemed like a sure playoff point — which would have made 30 on the season.

I get that Truex and Cole Pearn were going for the win, which meant sacrificing a stage win. Had it worked, they would have made a trade for four additional points than a stage victory brings.

But that’s only if it works. It didn’t. So instead of one playoff point, the team left with zero.

“That was the gamble,” Truex said. “That was our mindset before the race. We figured if we felt like we were good enough to possibly win the race, we’d have to pit before the end of that second stage. Just stuck to our plan.

“It didn’t work out, so obviously now I wish we would have stayed out and won that stage. That’s part of it.”

I can’t recall every situation that led to 14 stage wins for Truex this season, but it seems like the team had been going all-out for playoff points every week until Pocono. And as has been discussed frequently, those points are going to be a massive factor this fall in deciding who makes it to Homestead. So why not take as many as possible when the opportunity presents itself?

Truex and Pearn had an easy one point, gambled for four more and ended up with none. That’s what a team in a trailing position should do, not the leader.

This was like a basketball player passing on a wide-open layup with a 20-point lead; there’s no need to take a contested three in that situation.

3. A different level of speed

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was pumped after finishing 12th, pleased he and the No. 88 team “finally put one together” and had a “complete race” despite an early speeding penalty. Earnhardt ran in the top 10 for much of the second half of the day — something he didn’t anticipate after fighting a loose condition on corner entry all weekend.

But even on a good day, he wasn’t really close to running with the top cars.

“Man, I don’t know where the speed is that the front three or four have,” he said on pit road after the race. “They’ve got it every week. We don’t have that, and we’re not going to find in that garage on Friday or Saturday. If we don’t show up with it, we’re not going to find it. That’s somewhere in the shop.”

Earnhardt said it was probably only a matter of time before Busch started matching Truex’s speed, given the information-sharing arrangement between alliance partners JGR and Furniture Row Racing.

But he’s not sure where the speed is coming from, and that’s concerning.

“It’s nothing you can visually see,” he said .”We’re all in the garage together. We can see under their cars, see the springs they’re running, stuff like that. But it’s not in anything like that.

“They’ve got a lot of speed somehow. They’ve got a lot more speed than everybody else. Gotta give ’em credit.”

4. Season slipping away for Logano

Joey Logano’s season of misery just keeps snowballing as the playoffs approach all too quickly for his team’s liking.

Sunday was another race where everything seemed to go wrong.

Not only did the team lack the speed it needed to be competitive, but both Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon made mistakes on pit road.

Logano was caught speeding with 36 laps to go and had to serve a pass-through penalty under green, but then locked up his tires coming to pit road. When Logano told the team he hurt his tires enough to possibly incur a flat, Gordon quickly made the call to pit for four tires.

But that was a no-no, because pitting while serving a penalty requires another pass-through down pit road. By the time it was all over, Logano finished 27th and one lap down.

The result was Logano’s eighth finish outside the top 20 in the 12 races since he won at Richmond but had the win ruled to be encumbered. He’s now 69 points behind the cutoff with just five races until the playoffs begin.

I caught up with Logano as he was walking glumly away from his car on pit road and asked whether he’s ever faced such a stretch of adversity in his career.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

But Logano said his team “still knows how to do it” and added “we’ve just got to built some momentum back up.”

The thing is, momentum might not be necessary. It just takes one great race (or one good race where everything falls into place) to make the playoffs, and Logano is certainly capable of doing that.

There’s not much time left, though.

5. Sunday doubleheader (kind of)

Qualifying on the same day as the race was kind of weird, even though there were a lot of positives on paper.

The flow of race day seemed all messed up, and the laid-back atmosphere that qualifying brings took away from the typical Sunday morning vibe — where the anticipation builds in the hours before the event.

Maybe I’ll get used to it (a similar schedule will be tried again next week), and I hope that’s the case — because there definitely some good sides of it. Fans get added value with on-track activity before the race itself (some of whom never get to see a Friday session at the track because they don’t come for the whole weekend) and drivers/teams get an extra day at home (after all, the Cup Series really doesn’t need to be at some of these tracks for three days).

 

I just wish the schedule could be tightened up a bit. After qualifying, there was roughly a 45-minute gap until the drivers meeting, then a 90-minute gap until the green flag.

Lunchtime quietly rolled by without much fanfare, and the sun started to shift in the sky before the race finally went green at 3:21 p.m. ET.  People were just milling around waiting for it to start.

But come on — this is NASCAR! Big-time auto racing, right? It shouldn’t feel like waiting for the leaders to tee off at a golf tournament.

 


PLAYOFF PICTURE

By patron request, I’m going to start including the playoff picture at the bottom of the Top Five each week. Here’s how it looks now:

IN (13): Truex, Larson, Harvick, Ky. Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin, Johnson, Blaney, Ku. Busch, Newman, Stenhouse, Kahne, A. Dillon.

Points Bubble:

14. Chase Elliott +39

15. Jamie McMurray +38

16. Matt Kenseth +17

—-

17. Clint Bowyer -17

18. Joey Logano -69

(Everyone else more than 100 points or one win behind)

Dale Jr. didn’t talk about racing with his dad

I wasn’t around when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was racing, so maybe his relationship with Dale Earnhardt Jr. was well-known and well-documented at the time. I don’t have a good feel for what was reported back then.

Most of what I know is from the question-and-answer sessions when Dale Jr. drops little nuggets about how things were. So when he discusses their relationship, my ears perk up every time.

Saturday was another example. Earnhardt was wrapping up his news conference at Pocono Raceway when Scott Walsh from the Scranton Times-Tribune asked about the driver’s memory of the 2000 race when Jeremy Mayfield did a bump-and-run on Dale Sr. to win.

Did Dale Jr. recall his dad saying anything about the incident in the aftermath?

“We didn’t talk (about it),” Dale Jr. said quickly, almost before the question was finished. “Me and my dad never talked racing. We just didn’t. I wouldn’t go up and ask him about that unless I wanted to upset him.

“Knowing my dad, it’s nothing I would have brought up in conversation on the rental car ride back to the airport.”

From an outsider’s perception, it seems like the Earnhardts would have been tighter than they really were — especially since both were involved in racing. But every time Dale Jr. is asked about advice or input from his father, there doesn’t seem to be much there.

“I was running Late Models for four years never seeing him,” Dale Jr. said of his developmental years. “I don’t think he ever saw me race Late Models in the mid-90s. Then we got in the Xfinity Series. I had two years of that and one year of Cup, and he was gone.”

And during those three years of NASCAR racing before his father’s death, Dale Jr. said, the two never really talked much about driving or advice relating to on-track performance.

“He was more worried about me keeping my head on straight, keeping focused, than how to get into the corner,” he said. “He was just making sure I wasn’t going to be an idiot outside the car. We talked about that all the time — getting up all time and not sleeping until noon and being on time for appearances and all that.”

I’ve known for awhile Earnhardt Jr. made it through the lower ranks on his own, with no financial help from his dad. But it’s sort of remarkable he ended up with a successful career without getting much of his dad’s on-track advice, either.