CONCORD, N.C. – Some of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s earliest NASCAR memories came at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and he hopes to add another big one by winning the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night.
Earnhardt grew up watching his late father, Dale Earnhardt, race here more than 30 years ago and has long wanted to win NASCAR’s longest race as his dad accomplished three times, the last in 1993.
“I want to win a points race here so bad because we live just right down the road,” Earnhardt Jr. said.
He has come close, most notably in 2011 when he broke free from a late restart to take the lead. He got the white flag just fine, then ran out of gas on the front straightaway and coasted through the final turn before Kevin Harvick passed him for the win. Earnhardt finished seventh, his sixth top-10 finish in the Memorial Day weekend race.
Earnhardt has won the All-Star race here before, in 2000. He kept the strong showing going a week later when he won his only pole at Charlotte. In the race, though, Earnhardt faded to fourth.
“We’ve had some good cars, but not anywhere near enough,” he said this week. “There are a lot of other tracks where I think, ‘Man, we were really close,’ or the car was fast enough. But I’ve never really had a car here that I thought we had it, we were walking away and we gave it away.”
This might be the time, though.
Earnhardt is off to one of his most consistent starts. His No. 88 Chevrolet took the season-opening Daytona 500, and he’s barely slowed down since. He followed the Daytona win with second-place showings at Phoenix and Las Vegas. He was third in Martinsville, added another runner-up finish at Darlington and was fifth behind winning Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon at Kansas two weeks ago.
Larson wins Nationwide race
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) – Kyle Larson showed he could beat NASCAR’s big boys in the Nationwide Series.
Now he hopes to do the same on the Sprint Cup circuit.
Larson raced to his second Nationwide Series victory of the season Saturday, holding off Sprint Cup drivers Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“It was nice looking in the rear view mirror and seeing them get smaller and smaller,” Larson said. “It’s not often the 22 and 54 cars are getting smaller in your mirror.”
The 21-year-old Larson, also the winner at Fontana, passed Keselowski on the 118th lap in the 200-lap race and led the rest of the way.
Keselowski was second, followed by Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brian Scott.
It was Larson’s first victory at Charlotte.
The win came on care owner Chip Ganassi’s 56th birthday, and one week after Sprint Cup teammate Jamie McMurray won the All-Star race.
“It sounds like he is having a great month,” Larson said about Ganassi. “I know he’s really excited about the Indianapolis 500 and I think Jamie and I both have a good chance to win here” on Sunday at the Coca Cola 600.
Larson said the win will give him some momentum heading into the Coca-Cola 600, but admitted there isn’t much he can carry over from the Nationwide race.
“It’s a different race in Sprint Cup,” said Larson, who has never won at the top level. “On Sunday we will start in daylight and go through the night.”
Larson had to beat Harvick on a restart with 29 laps to go and was never challenged after that.
That left Keselowski and Busch battling for second.
Keselowski joked that “Kyle (Busch) and I had a great race” but said he simply couldn’t come close to catching Larson.
“We just didn’t have enough to run with him,” Keselowski said.
Chase Elliott surrendered the Nationwide points lead after finishing 37th when a broken suspension caused his car to crash into the outside wall on Lap 86.
Regan Smith, who finished seventh, took the points lead — five points ahead of Elliott Sadler.
Busch was the heavy favorite coming in after winning the previous three Nationwide races at Charlotte and eight times overall at the track in the series. He started on the pole and bolted out of the gates to an early lead.
But after a caution on lap 23, Matt Kenseth beat Busch off the restart and Busch eventually fell back to 11th and never challenged for the lead again. It capped a tough day for Busch, who crashed his primary Sprint Cup car earlier in the day and will have to start the Coca-Cola 600 from the rear of the field.
Keselowski passed Kenseth on Lap 93 before getting caught in lapped traffic and getting passed by Larson on Lap 118.
Only 12 cars finished on the lead lap, and the leaders had to battle lapped traffic throughout the race.
“It was a pain when one is low and one is high and you have to zigzag in between them,” Busch said.
Said Keselowski: “It was a very difficult but that is part of the deal when you run the Nationwide Series.”