Dale Jr. leads “Happy Hour” at New Hampshire

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will roll off 17th in tomorrow’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but appears to have the speed to make some moves on Race Day after topping Sprint Cup final practice this morning at the Magic Mile.

Earnhardt, whose engine failure late last weekend at Chicagoland has him dead last among the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders, was fastest on the time sheets with a lap of 133.059 mph in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He finished 14th at NHMS earlier this summer.

Also looking strong is Matt Kenseth, who leads the Chase after scoring his sixth win of the year last weekend in the Windy City. Kenseth, who rolls off ninth tomorrow, was second-quickest in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with a lap of 132.938 mph.

One of Earnhardt’s HMS teammates, front-row starter Kasey Kahne, was third-fastest (132.868 mph), with JGR’s Denny Hamlin behind him in fourth (132.799 mph). Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer rounded out the Top 5, placing fifth this morning (132.591 mph).

Pole sitter Ryan Newman, however, didn’t have a great “Happy Hour,” posting only the 25th-quickest time (131.040 mph).

Kenseth had the fastest 10-lap average speed in the session (Laps 35-44, 132.128 mph), followed by Jimmie Johnson (sixth-quickest overall), Brad Keselowski (seventh-quickest overall), Bowyer and Hamlin.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.