Sunday, February 25, 2018
Sports

Earnhardt Jr. reaches another milestone in NASCAR

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. slipped through sliding doors of his hauler and parted into a sea of memorabilia-toting fans.

"Make a hole please!" a man working for Hendrick Motor­sports shouted as he walked with Earnhardt. "He has to get to his car for practice!"

Earnhardt silently signed some autographs Saturday and didn't have much time to stop and talk on a busy day.

Does he have a lot of memories at Michigan International Speedway?

"Yeah," Earnhardt said in a voice just loud enough to be heard over the sounds of revving engines and clamoring fans.

After preparing for a practice, he changed into a suit to provide commentary during the Xfinity series race, which included some drivers that compete for him and JR Motorsports. During breaks, he was featured in a TV commercial.

Earnhardt starts 27th today in the 40-car field at NASCAR's FireKeepers Casino 400 on a 2-mile oval he has become very familiar with over the years. Joey Logano has the pole and is in the front row with Martin Truex and just ahead of Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin.

Earnhardt, a 26-time winner, has two victories at MIS. He is making his 34th start on the track, tying Richmond for the venue in which he has competed on the most since making his NASCAR debut in 1999.

He picked up a desperately needed win at the wide, high-banking track on June 17, 2012, and ended a four-year, 143-race slump without a victory.

Earnhardt is coming off his best two-year stretch — winning three times last year and four times in 2014 — since winning a combined eight races in 2003 and 2004.

This year, though, Earnhardt hasn't won any of his 14 races and is among three drivers ranked in the top 12 without a win.

“Each and every week there are 12 to 15 guys with a shot to win," said Kyle Busch, who leads the Sprint Cup series with three victories, "and there are about five more guys who can surprise you by winning."

Earnhardt was second last week at Pocono, his fourth runner­up finish this year.

"Pocono was a good step in the right direction," he said. "I think we learned a lot that we could use to understand how to get better. I'm looking forward to Michigan."

NASCAR is tweaking its aerodynamic package this week, and next month at Kentucky, in the hopes of creating more competitive racing. Among the changes are reducing side-force by setting the rear toe to zero and shortening the spoiler by an inch.

"We're working on getting these cars to be less aero dependent," Busch said. "We want them to be more drivable so we can outrace guys and make moves with a better handling car instead of getting stuck in a line. I think that'll help the product. I haven't been comfortable by myself out here so far, so that doesn't bode well for being in traffic. Maybe everybody will be uncomfortable and we'll just have to outdrive them."

Comments
Rays Journal: A key step back for Venters, sharp day for Snell, big blast by Cron

Rays Journal: A key step back for Venters, sharp day for Snell, big blast by Cron

FORT MYERS – The big heartwarming story will be when – and thus if – LHP Jonny Venters makes it back to the majors for the first time since 2012, having battled through three elbow surgeries.But Sunday was worth a headline, too, as ...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Elkanah Kibet wins the men’s Gasparilla half-marathon

Elkanah Kibet wins the men’s Gasparilla half-marathon

TAMPA — A week ago, Elkanah Kibet felt his calf tighten while training for the Publix Gasparilla Classic half-marathon. At first, Kibet tried to ignore the injury, hoping the pain would away.Instead, it became sorer.Kibet, 32, had massages, eve...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Meet the aptly named Friend of Gasparilla Distance Classic weekend

Meet the aptly named Friend of Gasparilla Distance Classic weekend

TAMPA — Runners in the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic know The Voice. Year after year, it comes back to them like home. They hear her before they see her as they head up or back on Bayshore Boulevard. The Voice makes them feel part of somet...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sara Hall sets course record in women’s Gasparilla half-marathon

Sara Hall sets course record in women’s Gasparilla half-marathon

TAMPA — Stephanie Bruce returned Sunday to defend her title at the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic half-marathon. She ran a blistering pace, shaving 50 seconds off her time from last year to finish well under the course record.Still, it was ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Gasparilla Distance Classic: A day (or two) at the races

Gasparilla Distance Classic: A day (or two) at the races

Meet the various people who take in the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic race weekend, whether on the sidelines or pounding the pavement.Woman's best friendAt about the one hour, 45-minute mark of Saturday's 15K, an Australian shepherd wearing a se...
Updated: 2 hours ago
On what Odorizzi has to feel good and bad about after trade from Rays to Twins

On what Odorizzi has to feel good and bad about after trade from Rays to Twins

Two things were pretty clear in talking to RHP Jake Odorizzi this morning in Fort Myers about being traded from the Rays to Twins.He couldn't be much happier than to be a new that that has legitimate playoff aspirations, and that he feels for those h...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Any deadline move won’t be cure-all for Lightning

Any deadline move won’t be cure-all for Lightning

The Lightning could very well add another defenseman by Monday's trade deadline, whether it's the bigger fish like Erik Karlsson or Ryan McDonagh, or depth piece like Mike Green.But, either way, one addition won't automatically cure some of the team-...
Updated: 5 hours ago
For starters, Rays at Twins, with Venters making first spring outing since 2013

For starters, Rays at Twins, with Venters making first spring outing since 2013

As the Rays head back to Fort Myers today for a game on the other side of I-75 to take on the Twins at 1:05, there are several spring debuts worth noting:First, that LHP Jonny Venters, trying to make it back to the majors for the first time since 201...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Ex-Rays prospect Andrew Toles working his way back from knee surgery for Dodgers

Ex-Rays prospect Andrew Toles working his way back from knee surgery for Dodgers

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Andrew Toles made a two-base error and went 0-for-3, and his team lost. All told, it was still a pretty good day for the Dodgers left fielder.In his first game since a serious knee injury last May, the former Rays prospect ret...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Florida boosts NCAA resume by beating No. 12 Auburn 72-66

Florida boosts NCAA resume by beating No. 12 Auburn 72-66

GAINESVILLE — KeVaughn Allen finally got the message. It took a scoreless game and long chats with coach Mike White and two teammates to sink in.Allen bounced back from his worst game in more than three years with 24 points, including a 60-foot...
Published: 02/24/18
Updated: 02/25/18