NASCAR Dover Notebook: Short Practices Are Intense For Chase Bubble Drivers

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Kevin Harvick (Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kevin Harvick (Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

DOVER, Del. – With intermittent rain playing havoc with the racing schedule at Dover International Speedway, Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup contestants scrambled to learn as much as they could during two short practice sessions at the Monster Mile.

After posting the fourth fastest lap in a 25-minute opening practice Saturday, Kevin Harvick surged to the top of the speed chart at 156.033 mph during a Happy Hour session that lasted barely more than 15 minutes before rain returned.

Harvick almost certainly must win Sunday’s AAA 400 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) to advance to the Contender Round of the Chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., among a group of four drivers hovering around the Chase cutoff, was 11th fastest in the first practice and fifth fastest in the second. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet also posted the second fastest 10-lap average during the first session.

As Happy Hour wound down, Earnhardt seemed pleased with his car.

“I’m backing up the corner—it’s real nice,” Earnhardt radioed to crew chief Greg Ives. “I don’t have anything happening at all in the first half of the corner.

“I’m just waiting on the spring on the front, center-off.”

Earnhardt is 12th in the standings, the last transfer position into the Chase’s next playoff round. Kyle Busch, who is one point behind Earnhardt and currently out of a transfer spot, was 19th fastest in opening practice but improved to seventh in the second session.

Tenth in the standings and 12 points clear of Busch, Jeff Gordon nevertheless has cause for concern after two lackluster practices. The defending race winner was 32nd on the speed chart in the morning and 27th in the afternoon.

Following Dover, the four drivers with the lowest points totals and winless in the three-race Challenger Round will be eliminated from the postseason. Denny Hamlin and Matt Keneth, race winners at Chicago and New Hampshire, respectively, have already punched their ticket into the 12-driver Contender Round. The other 10 spots will be filled by the winner at Dover if he is a Chase driver, with the remaining positions filled by Chase drivers with the most points.


To hear Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Elliott Sadler talk, it’s mildly surprising the two friends haven’t combined for a formal competitive venture before now.

But Earnhardt and Sadler will join forces next year when Sadler and sponsor OneMain Financial come to JR motorsports for the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series season.

“Me and Elliott have been great friends since we’ve been racing late models together, and he actually drove our car a couple of times at JR Motorsports, so this is really a lot of fun for me,” Earnhardt said on Friday at Dover International Speedway during the announcement of the new deal.

“I’m excited to work with Elliott full-time, to give him the best opportunity we can, to put him in the best cars we can and to get to work with our guys—our company. Once we told them the news, they were really excited to work with Elliott and OneMain… Winning races is great, but when you do it with your friends, it’s even better.”

Sadler, who will move from Roush Fenway Racing to JRM at the end of the season, echoed Earnhardt’s sentiments.

“It’s neat to see our paths kind of crossing again this much later in life compared to when we first met each other driving Late Models,” Sadler said. “It says a lot about our friendship, I think, it says a lot about our trust for each other and definitely about our passion to race together.”

JRM will reveal Sadler’s crew chief and car number when those details are in place.


Matt Puccia, crew chief for Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle, wasn’t at Dover International Speedway on Friday. Then again, with rain washing out all track activity at the Monster Mile, there wasn’t a compelling reason for Puccia to be there.

But Puccia had much more important business at hand—witnessing the birth of daughter Kennedy Harper Puccia in Mooresville, N.C., where he drove from Dover on Thursday night after wife Alyssa went into labor.

RFR Sprint Cup team manager Kevin Kidd filled in for Puccia during two abbreviated Sprint Cup practice sessions on Saturday. It will be Puccia’s decision whether to return for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at the Monster Mile.

“I tried to leave them at peace and let them get through the baby being born, but since then, we’ve talked a couple of times, and it will probably be a Sunday morning game-time decision, and I’m leaving it completely in Matt’s hands,” Kidd said.

“If he wants to come up and do the race tomorrow, then we’ll certainly welcome him. As a company, we’d love to have in back, but we also want to be respectful and do the right thing as an employer and give him some time to be with his family right now.”


For its eighth year, the fast-growing NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will stage 24 races in six different countries on the Old Continent, bringing exciting racing and American-themed entertainment to European fans.

For the 2016 season, the series will debut an aggressive aerodynamic package (with dynamic front section and eight-inch rear spoiler) inspired by the American NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars, thus strengthening the racing bond between the United States and Europe.

A new Italian venue will host the series Semifinals: Adria Raceway, located close to world famous Venice, will enter the calendar September 16-18 with a double-points event.

“We are very proud to work with such amazing track partners and can’t thank them enough for their efforts,” said NASCAR Whelen Euro Series President and CEO Jerome Galpin “This calendar is a great mix of mythic tracks like Valencia, Brands Hatch and Zolder and challenging ovals like Raceway Venray and Tours Speedway.

“We are also very happy to welcome Adria Raceway in the NASCAR Family. All these partnerships are based on great human relationships with a common goal to deliver the best racing show to European fans.”

NASCAR Whelen Euro Series

2016 Schedule

Rd 1&2: April 22-24 – VALENCIA, Spain (Road Course)

Rd 3&4: May 14-16 – VENRAY Raceway, Holland (Oval, Saturday, Sunday, Monday)

Rd 5&6: June 10-12 – BRANDS HATCH Indy, UK (Road Course)

Rd 7&8: June 22-24 – TOURS Speedway, France (Oval)

SemiFinals: September – 16-18 ADRIA Raceway, Italy (Road Course)

Finals: October 7-9 – ZOLDER, Belgium (Road Course)

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