Monday, May 28, 2018
Sports

Dale Earnhardt Jr. gears up for a Daytona sweep in Coke Zero 400

DAYTONA BEACH — It had been 31 years since a driver won both Daytona races in the same season when Jimmie Johnson pulled off the Sprint Cup series sweep. A year later, his teammate wants to complete the feat.

But for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Coke Zero 400, he can't race the way he did at Talladega Superspeedway in May.

The Daytona 500 winner went to Talladega for the Aaron's 499 thinking he'd win another restrictor plate race but instead finished 26th in a performance that still haunted him Thursday when he showed up at Daytona International Speedway. "It's embarrassing, man. I hate to talk about it," Earnhardt said.

"The way we ran and what I chose to do at the end of the race was just uncharacteristic, really, of anybody that is in the field trying to compete. I just got really frustrated with the way things were working out for us and lost sight of the overall big picture and what you're out there trying to do and who all is out there depending on you to do what you need to do. I learned some lessons."

He'll attempt to apply the lessons in the 400-miler Saturday night, where he'll most likely race hard and try to lead much the same way he did when he won the season-opening Daytona 500. The February race had a frantic pace because of a rain stoppage that lasted 6 hours, 22 minutes. When the racing resumed, Earnhardt was determined to win his second Daytona 500.

Earnhardt led six times for a race-high 54 laps — all after the rain delay — and ended a 55-race losing streak that dated to 2012.

But at Talladega, he wasn't at all the same racer.

Earnhardt led 26 laps early and gambled he'd have no trouble making it back through the traffic when he was shuffled to the rear. When it became clear he had his work cut out for him, Earnhardt opted to take it easy and nurse his Chevrolet home for a clean finish.

Fans were livid.

"I think I got real selfish at Talladega, and … how the result affected anyone, I never took into account," he said. "I really just was out there thinking more about me and what I thought and what I wanted to do and how frustrated I was.

"I forgot that there's a team behind me depending on me and a lot of fans there to see us race and show up to spend their hard-earned money. Definitely was a difficult thing to go through."

Earnhardt has eight wins at plate tracks — four behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon for the active-driver lead — and wants another win. Johnson, who goes into Saturday night with three wins in the past six races, believes his teammate has a shot at the sweep. Before Johnson did it last year, the last driver to sweep Daytona was Bobby Allison in 1982.

"If I don't have a chance to win the race, I wouldn't mind if (Earnhardt) did," Johnson said. "He's going to be fast. He's going to be strong and have a very good opportunity to win. That stat went 30 years for a reason. It's not easy, because in plate racing, anything can happen. (Earnhardt is) the one who gave me that phrase about 'If I make it to the white and you're in the picture, you have a shot at winning.' If he can make it to the white, he will definitely be a threat."

Earnhardt is aware of the ability to sweep and recognizes how difficult the sweep is to complete.

"I would love to sweep the races at Daytona because that is a cool thing, but I just love winning here," he said. "To go to Victory Lane here, regardless of what we did in February, would mean a lot to me. I expect that we will try to do the best thing that we can to help us strategy-wise so that we are toward the front."

Comments
LeBron James, Cavs beat Celtics, advance to NBA Finals

LeBron James, Cavs beat Celtics, advance to NBA Finals

Times wiresBOSTON – LeBron James scored 35 points and played all 48 minutes Sunday night  to lead the Cavaliers to an 87-79 victory over the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to advance to the NBA Finals.James added 15 rebo...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rays journal: Reliever Austin Pruitt pitches nearly six scoreless innings for second career save

Rays journal: Reliever Austin Pruitt pitches nearly six scoreless innings for second career save

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays RHP Austin Pruitt has started and worked out of the bullpen, in both short and long relief.But he did not expect to pick up his second career save Sunday by having to log 5⅔ innings, allowing only three hits whi...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rick Stroud’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Orioles game

Rick Stroud’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Orioles game

So the team that just got back from a 10-day, 11-game road trip in three time zones is headed back out west for Memorial Day? The Rays travel to Oakland, Calif., Seattle and Washington, D.C. It's the first time they visited the West Coast on back-to-...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Martin Fennelly: A column to match Rays’ upside-down pitching

Martin Fennelly: A column to match Rays’ upside-down pitching

  In the spirit of the Rays' topsy-turvy pitching alignments, last goes first in this column. Go to the end to start reading. "The buy-in that we get, the buy-in to each other, and the team effort has been really fun to be part of to this point," C...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Rays bats come alive with six-run rally to beat Orioles 8-3

Rays bats come alive with six-run rally to beat Orioles 8-3

ST. PETERSBURG — If you think the Rays are holding their pitching staff together with baling wire, duct tape and an overbooked shuttle to Triple-A Durham, a bigger story might be how their bats keep producing runs no matter who is swinging them...
Updated: 10 hours ago
For starters: Rays RHP Sergio Romo opens the game for the second time in 48 hours vs. Orioles

For starters: Rays RHP Sergio Romo opens the game for the second time in 48 hours vs. Orioles

ST. PETERSBURG – Speaking of openers, the Rays will start RHP Sergio Romo (1-1, 4.66 ERA) for the fourth time this season, the second time in 48 hours vs. the Orioles. The 35-year-old Romo did not make it out of the first inning Friday, allowin...
Published: 05/27/18
Rays journal: After Alex Colome trade, Rays’ closer situation is fluid, Kevin Cash says

Rays journal: After Alex Colome trade, Rays’ closer situation is fluid, Kevin Cash says

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have had to get creative in how they start games. Now, after Friday's trade of closer Alex Colome, they might have to get creative in how they finish them.How they handle the ninth inning going forward will be a fluid ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Vegas envy: Is Tampa Bay ready for a Vegas’ birth-to-best story?

Vegas envy: Is Tampa Bay ready for a Vegas’ birth-to-best story?

What in the name of the 0-26 Bucs is going on here?The breathtaking Vegas Golden Knights are the greatest expansion team in professional sports history. They are the best (or worst) thing to ever happen to our games, having won 51 times during the re...
Published: 05/26/18
Updated: 05/27/18
Rays pitchers Ryne Stanek, Anthony Banda dominate in 5-1 win over Orioles

Rays pitchers Ryne Stanek, Anthony Banda dominate in 5-1 win over Orioles

THE BASEBALL LABORATORY IN ST. PETERSBURG — Up is down. Down is up. Hello is goodbye. Goodbye is hello. A reliever is a starter. A starter is a reliever.These are your 2018 Tampa Bay Rays.You never know what's going to happen. And just when you...
Published: 05/26/18
Updated: 05/27/18
Former Bucs QB Josh Freeman says he’s retiring from football

Former Bucs QB Josh Freeman says he’s retiring from football

Former Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, who was trying to resurrect his career with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, said Saturday that he is retiring from football.Freeman, 30, was a first-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2009 and was their starting ...
Published: 05/26/18