(Photo by Alan Marler for Chevrolet)

After derailing at Texas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets back on track with career-best finish at Darlington

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It wasn’t a win, but after last Monday’s embarrassing mistake and last-place finish at Texas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will gladly take his second-place finish in Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

While Earnhardt had the lead with two laps to go, Kevin Harvick pulled ahead just before the white flag flew and then held on for his second win of the season and first-ever win at Darlington.

But there was no shame in Earnhardt finishing second, which was a career-high for him at the so-called Track Too Tough to Tame.

In fact, Earnhardt was a little surprised that he wound up doing so well, earning his third runner-up finish this season to go along with his season-opening win in the Daytona 500.

“We really weren’t a top-two car, we were probably the third-best car, fourth-best car, depending on where Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff Gordon were,” Earnhardt said. “They were pretty good, a little better than us most of the time.

“But the 4 (Harvick) was the best car, I thought. Jeff was pretty good (too).”

Earnhardt was pushed to the lead by Harvick on the final restart, getting by Johnson, and then Harvick worked his way around to the front and never looked back.

“We got some good restarts at the end,” Earnhardt said. “The outside line was real bad about spinning the tires, and Jimmie hadn’t been up there and didn’t really know that, so he chose the outside on them restarts and I knew I had a great shot at getting the lead from him.

“We got going, he spun his tires real bad, the 4 got to pushing me a little bit and we got the lead, and that felt pretty good leading the race. But the 4 just had new tires. We had 30-something laps on ours left, and it just wasn’t going to get the job done with him right there on us.

“I’m going to probably wish I would have run the top in 3 and 4 coming to the white and made him try to pass us on the bottom, but I’m pretty sure he was going to get around us somehow.”

Indeed, while most other drivers took just two tires (mostly right side) on the final caution, Harvick took four. It was a gutsy call, but also proved to be a race-winning call.

To come so close to winning, however, even though it was his best finish ever at Darlington, somewhat irked Earnhardt, too.

“It’s a little disappointing to come that close because I know I don’t really run that well here and the opportunities to win are going to be very few compared to other tracks,” he said. “It hurts a little bit to come that close because we worked so hard to try to win races.

“Running second is great but nobody is going to really remember that. But we’re proud of it, and Steve (crew chief Steve Letarte), I know he’s very proud. They did a great job giving me a really good car to be able to run that well here. The car was phenomenal. Really proud of those guys’ effort. Even though they know where my shortcomings are, they worked their guts out to try to get us the best.

“Sometimes if I admittedly say this isn’t my best track, it’s easy to sort of back off, but those guys really push the pedal and give me everything I can to give me the best chance to finish as best I can.  They did that tonight.  That was a great example of that.”

NASCAR now takes its annual break for next week’s Easter holiday, but there will be little downtime for Earnhardt and his crew. After dropping five places following last week’s last-place finish at Texas, Earnhardt regained two spots in the standings, leaving Darlington in fourth-place.

There’s still plenty of work to do to get back to where he was earlier in the season and again before the Texas debacle, leading the standings.

“I think we’re really got some great performance for our team,” Earnhardt said. “We just need to look at our competition, try to understand what we’re seeing and where are some areas where we can improve.

“There’s some spots where we can improve and get better, but we run second at one of our worst tracks tonight, so our performance is there. We’ve got the cars, we seem to be on the leading edge of trying to learn these new rules and trying to understand what’s going on. A lot of guys middle of the pack are scrambling with their setups. We seem to be on a path and setting a pattern with what we’re doing, and it seems to be working.”

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Alternative engine solution rejected by F1 Commission

Nico Rosberg
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Plans to introduce a new alternative, cheaper engine into Formula 1 for 2017 – hypothetically a 2.2-liter V6 similar to what is seen in IndyCar – will at least temporarily go on the backburner.

The F1 Commission has rejected the so called “alternative engine solution,” where several companies submitted proposals to be that alternative supplier.

“The F1 Commission voted not to pursue this option at this stage — however, it may be reassessed after the Power Unit manufacturers have presented their proposal to the Strategy Group,” the FIA said on Wednesday.

“The parties involved have agreed on a course to address several key areas relating to Power Unit supply in Formula One,” the statement added.

Meanwhile the statement outlined four things the current manufacturers – Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda – would be tasked with improving on the current 1.6-liter formula:

Those are:

  • a guarantee of supply to teams
  • the need to reduce the engines’ cost
  • simplification of the specification
  • “improved noise”

Further meetings between the manufacturers and the governing body are scheduled, including one this weekend at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season finale.

As F1 heads into the final weekend of the season, political/paddock items such as Red Bull and Toro Rosso’s respective power unit futures, whether Renault’s takeover of Lotus will finally become official and what will happen with Manor’s team leadership stake – this marks Graeme Lowdon and John Booth’s final weekends although ex-McLaren man Dave Ryan has been hired as the team’s new racing director – are among the talking points.

Stoffel Vandoorne’s Super Formula test hampered by engine woes

Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Stoffel Vandoorne
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You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Dominant GP2 Series champion Stoffel Vandoorne had his first go in a Super Formula car at Suzuka on Wednesday, but the engine woes that have hampered his Formula 1 team’s efforts (McLaren) all season appear to be equal opportunity woes.

Vandoorne only completed a limited day of running due to technical issues; naturally, and in an unfortunate coincidence, the Super Formula cars also have Honda power.

The Belgian is now en route from Japan to Abu Dhabi, where this weekend’s final round of the GP2 season will be held alongside the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

FIA Formula E to remain at Battersea Park following vote

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Wandsworth Council’s Community Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee voted seven to four late Tuesday night, in favor of retaining the FIA Formula E event in Battersea Park.

This will see the London ePrix – the season finale for the electric open-wheel championship – continue at the site for at least the next two seasons.

The 2016 race will run July 2-3, to avoid a direct head-to-head clash with the British Grand Prix a week later in Silverstone.

Battersea Park’s race faced local opposition in recent weeks, which put the race under threat.

Here are your Abu Dhabi GP TV Times on NBCSN, CNBC, Live Extra

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It’s the final Grand Prix of the year, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the Yas Marina Circuit.

Here’s the TV times and game plan for the weekend across NBCSN, CNBC and NBC Sports Live Extra:

NBC Sports Group presents the season finale of the 2015 Formula One season this weekend with live coverage of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – F1’s only twilight race – from Yas Marina Circuit this Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

NBC Sports Group is on pace to deliver its most-watched Formula One season to date, with just Sunday’s season finale in Abu Dhabi remaining on the schedule. Through 18 races, NBC Sports Group’s F1 coverage has averaged 533,000 viewers, up 17% vs. the same point of the 2014 F1 season. Last week, NBCSN delivered the most-watched live cable telecast of the Brazilian Grand Prix since 2010, averaging 493,000 viewers.

Lead F1 announcer Leigh Diffey will call the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and will be joined by veteran analyst and former racecar driver David Hobbs, and analyst and former race mechanic for the Benetton F1 team Steve Matchett. F1 insider Will Buxton will serve as the team’s on-site reporter from Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) is looking to close out the 2015 campaign with a third consecutive victory, following wins in Mexico and Brazil. Rosberg has also earned the pole position in five consecutive races. Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton clinched his second consecutive Drivers’ Championship with a victory at the United States Grand Prix in October. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has won the race in Abu Dhabi three times (2009, 2010 & 2013), followed by Hamilton’s two victories (2011 & 2014). The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix debuted in 2009 and holds the distinction as F1’s only twilight race, beginning in the sun of the afternoon and concluding after dusk under the lights.

Coverage of this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi begins Friday at 4 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra with Practice 1, followed by NBCSN’s live coverage of Practice 2 at 8 a.m. ET. Live Extra will carry Practice 3 on Saturday at 5 a.m. ET, and CNBC will present live qualifying on Saturday at 8 a.m. ET.

NBCSN’s race day coverage begins Sunday at 7 a.m. ET with F1 Countdown, followed by NBCSN’s live presentation of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at 7:30 a.m. ET. F1 Extra will provide post-race analysis at 10 a.m. ET, and NBCSN will air an encore presentation of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET. NBCSN will also air coverage of the GP2 race in Abu Dhabion Sunday at 10 p.m. ET, with Alex Jacques calling the action.

Motorsports Coverage This Week on NBCSN, CNBC & NBC Sports Live Extra (subject to change):

Date Program Time (ET) Network
Fri., November 27 F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 1 4 a.m. Live Extra
Off The Grid – Talladega (Encore) 7 a.m. NBCSN
Off The Grid – Austin (Encore) 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 2 8 a.m. NBCSN
“1” – F1 Documentary 9:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sat., November 28 F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 2 (Encore) 1:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 3 5 a.m. Live Extra
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Qualifying 8 a.m. CNBC
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Qualifying (Encore) 12:30 p.m. NBCSN
Sun., November 29 F1 Countdown 7 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Extra 10 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Encore) 4:30 p.m. NBCSN
GP2 – Abu Dhabi 10 p.m. NBCSN