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Finishing 24th at Bristol may actually be a good thing for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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Ever since he won the season-opening Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been on a rocket ship of attention.

He didn’t even get a chance to celebrate his win in the Great American Race with family and close friends until this past week, having gone on a whirlwind post-Daytona national media tour, followed by runner-up finishes in subsequent races at Phoenix and Las Vegas.

There’s a thing like a delayed reaction, but to celebrate one of the biggest wins of your career nearly three weeks later after actually doing it, well, that should show just how busy Earnhardt has been.

Sooner or later, Earnhardt was bound to come back to Earth, and did so in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Two days after admitting he wasn’t comfortable with being the face of NASCAR, something that Brian France probably cringed about when he heard it, Earnhardt proved he was human and not invincible, finishing 24th.

After having the spotlight constantly and directly aimed on him since Daytona, it was time someone else enjoyed time in that same spotlight.

Plenty earned it Sunday.

There was race winner Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart’s season-best fourth-place finish, the inspiring showing by Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Aric Almirola (third) and Marcos Ambrose (fifth), outstanding 10th and 11th place runs by rookies Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon.

Admittedly, Earnhardt didn’t have the strongest car at Bristol. While strong early on in the race, his Chevrolet faded, eventually finishing 499 laps, one lap behind the leaders.

While Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne finished seventh and eighth Sunday, there was no shame in Junior finishing 24th. Heck, fellow teammate Jimmie Johnson finished 18th – and he’s a six-time Sprint Cup champion.

Of course, Bristol is one of Johnson’s worst performing tracks, so that’s not such a big surprise in the whole scheme of things.

In a strange way, maybe Bristol was just what Junior needed. The media and fan attention will likely tone down heading into next weekend at Fontana. Reporters won’t make an immediate beeline to interview him there, instead likely looking for guys like Edwards and Stewart.

Sure, Earnhardt lost his lead in the Sprint Cup points standings, dropping from first to second, 10 points behind new series leader Brad Keselowski.

But it’s better to have the kind of finish he had Sunday in the fourth race of the season than to go through a similar outcome in the last few races of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Junior Nation may be bummed. Junior himself likely is.

But finishing 24th really isn’t all that bad. It will give Earnhardt a chance to catch his breath, to look back and review everything that has happened to him thus far – including Sunday’s showing – and figure out where to go from here.

If anything, his Bristol showing could wind up being the best thing to happen to him. If nothing else, it’ll bring everyone back to reality who was starting to think that Earnhardt was invincible this season, that if he couldn’t win every race, he’d at least finish second every week that he doesn’t’ finish first.

Remember, from adversity often comes strength.

If you think Junior was strong in the first three races, wait and see how he bounces back from Bristol.

In a season that he enjoyed the best start of his career, what he does from here will be the true measure of whether this truly and finally is going to be his best year ever or not.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

 

McLaren reveals much anticipated, orange MCL32 Honda

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Photo: McLaren
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McLaren has taken the wraps off the MCL32 Honda, its new chassis in the first year of the post-Ron Dennis era, with Zak Brown now at the helm of the team and after an offseason of excitement and teasing about the livery change.

The switch to an MCL32 chassis designation brings to an end the run of MP4-number chassis as part of the team’s effective relaunch, although the notation of “32” after MCL would in some respects keep that MP4-31 number streak continuing.

But the biggest change beyond the name is the livery color, which switches to the traditional McLaren orange along with black for 2017, and brings to an end the first two years of black, red and silver that adorned the McLarens when Honda came back.

McLaren last ran orange in testing 20 years ago in an interim livery before the unveil of the striking silver to coincide with West cigarettes in 1997. But in race competition, it’s been since the 1960s and early ’70s since the team founded by Bruce McLaren has had that distinctive orange flavor on a race car.

If the team can find an uptick in performance with the chassis and power unit enhancements to match, then two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso and one of Formula 1’s most exciting rookie prospects in years, Stoffel Vandoorne, could well have a year to remember here, befitting of the entire McLaren legacy.

“It’s awesome. It’s such a special place to be,” Brown said at the launch.

“It definitely wasn’t me!” he added of the livery design. “It was a collective group. Ultimately it was in response to input from the fans.

“If you’re not a McLaren fan, please leave! We’re highly frustrated were not winning races. It takes time putting the package together. But last year was forward progress and that’s what we need to see this year. Our driver lineup has two of the best guys.”

Naturally, the two drivers followed.

“It’s fantastic,” Alonso said. “The first time we saw it today. yesterday the last parts were coming together. We’ve got some orange and obviously with the new regulations it seems spectacular.

“I think it becomes sexy when they are fast! But it’s one of the most beautiful cars I will drive. It looks sexy from the outside.

“There are some hopes it will improve the show and will make things a little bit bigger. Next week we will have some answers in Barcelona. But it’s a good change for Formula 1 to have faster, good looking cars.”

Vandoorne added, “It’s a very exciting time for me to be fully involved as a full-time race driver. I’ve been to many Grands Prix but finally in full-time, set to step in is great. For McLaren, the focus is to get back to winning.”

F1 Paddock Pass: Mercedes W08 Launch (VIDEO)

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Winter storm Doris hit the U.K. on Thursday but filming of Paddock Pass pressed on regardless, as the latest installment of the NBC Sports Group original digital series captured yet another video – this time the launch of the Mercedes F1 W08 EQ Power+, the latest challenger for the Mercedes AMG Petronas.

Mercedes’ launch differed from the first three this week, Sauber, Renault and Force India, in that it was both a filming day and launch at the Silverstone Circuit for drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Both drivers had time in the car.

NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton catches up with the key stakeholders in this edition of Paddock Pass.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Stay tuned to more on NBCSports.com as the week continues in the buildup to testing next week in Barcelona.

Scuderia Ferrari reveals its 2017 Formula 1 challenger

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Photos: Ferrari
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Scuderia Ferrari has taken the wraps off its 2017 chassis as the launch week continues for this year’s Formula 1 cars.

Despite the loss of technical director James Allison to Mercedes and after going through an underwhelming, winless 2016 season – at least by Ferrari standards – the team looks for a bounce back this year to coincide with the new regulations.

The renamed SF70H, which follows on last year’s SF16-H, was revealed online in a quick video without any buildup or dialogue from any of the key team stakeholders.

Photo: Ferrari
Photo: Ferrari
Photo: Ferrari
Photo: Ferrari

Noticeable on this car is the shark fin element, again with a winglet on the top of it. The team’s reveal of the chassis reveals the differences for this project, code named the 668 internally:

There are several differences between the 668 project and Ferraris from the recent past: the lengthened nose and the arrow-shaped wing are a consequence of the regulations, as is the obvious fin on the engine cover and the more complex aero appendages ahead of the air intakes on the sidepods, whose unusual shape was designed in harmony with the front crash structure. Visible at the front is a duct that has an aerodynamic role, while behind the driver, the roll-hoop, which incorporates the engine air intake has been completely redesigned. Also updated is the suspension layout, which still retains a push rod design at the front with pull rods at the rear. The hubs and wheel nuts have been redesigned to facilitate the work of the mechanics when changing wheels during the pit stops. Finally, also as a function of the expected increase in performance this year, the power-steering and braking systems have been upsized.

A couple screen caps from the launch video are below:

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Photo: Ferrari
Photos: Ferrari

The launch is the first of two today, with McLaren’s reveal of the MCL32 coming in a couple hours.

Ricky Taylor makes his IndyCar test debut today at Homestead

BRASELTON, GA - OCTOBER 03:  Ricky Taylor, C, sits with member of his crew before qualifying for Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 3, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
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It seems to be the winter of all-stars from other racing disciplines testing in IndyCar.

Today Ricky Taylor joined the list of those stars from the closed-top sports car or touring car world on the winter IndyCar test list, with a one-off guest test for Team Penske in defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud’s No. 1 PPG Chevrolet.

The older of two Taylor brothers, who completed a star turn at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona en route to delivering the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R an overall win with brother Jordan, Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon, made his maiden laps at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.

Chevrolet and General Motors extended the test offer to Ricky Taylor for this opportunity. Fittingly for Pagenaud, it’s the second time in not even a year he’s given up his seat to another member of either the GM or Penske family; Brad Keselowski made a similar out-of-nowhere one-off test at Road America last year.

“Every driver dreams to be an Indy car driver,” Taylor said, via IndyCar.com. It can’t hurt to be involved with (Team Penske); there are no negatives to that. To get to know all the guys and get to drive the car and get an actual feel for it in a low-pressure environment is a great opportunity for me. Even if it doesn’t lead to anything, it’s a big learning opportunity.”

With Ricky Taylor completing this test and with Robert Wickens and Pipo Derani set to test next week at Sebring’s short course, there’s been a sudden series of additional interest in the final few runs before the IndyCar season opens on March 12.

And with Ricky Taylor in Homestead today, it was left to Jordan Taylor and the Konica Minolta team’s new third driver, Englishman Alex Lynn, to run solo today as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship February test at Sebring’s full course. Lynn will make his U.S. race debut in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to be held March 18. Ricky Taylor will be back at Sebring for the second day of the IMSA test, held Friday.

Great to see @simonpagenaud and @rickytaylor_10 today good job both!!

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