Dale Jr. takes over Cup points lead

Leave a comment

Let’s recap what happened on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway: Kyle Busch took the win thanks to Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin wrecking on the final lap (which wound up sending an awake and alert Hamlin to the hospital), Tony Stewart fought Logano on pit road in post-race, and oh yeah, Dale Earnhardt Jr. seized the Sprint Cup points lead.

It’s not everyday that NASCAR’s most popular driver gets buried in the news. But indeed, through all of the end-of-race madness, Earnhardt finished second to move ahead of Brad Keselowski (who finished 23rd) by 12 points for the top spot in the Cup standings.

“I wasn’t racing up there so I couldn’t really get a good view of it, but I was running around the bottom of the corner, and I knew they were going to ‑‑ they were slowing up and battling real hard, so I was just trying to get what I could get,” Earnhardt said of the final lap.

“I felt like on the back straightaway, Kyle had the best shot at winning the race because [Logano and Hamlin] were slowing down running so hard. Just lucky we were able to get by on the inside there.”

Earnhardt had to do a lot of work to make sure he was in position to capitalize on the Logano-Hamlin incident and get his runner-up finish. On a pit stop under yellow with 84 laps remaining, an issue with the right-rear tire caused him to tumble from 3rd to 22nd. But he quickly made up positions when the green flag came back out.

A four-tire stop and chassis adjustment on his final round of service enabled him to return to the Top 5, and he was running fourth at the time of Logano and Hamlin’s run-in. With Logano going into the Turn 4 wall and Hamlin sliding hard into the inside retaining wall, Earnhardt passed the pair for his second consecutive top-three result at ACS.

He is the only Cup driver to start the season with five consecutive Top-10 finishes.

Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”