NASCAR AMERICA: Dale Jr. & Steve Letarte’s winning chemistry (VIDEO)

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After winning Sunday at Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. talked about having a “fighting spirit” in the closing laps that he had not always possessed since his migration to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.

Some of the credit for that can certainly go to his crew chief, Steve Letarte, who has helped guide Earnhardt to his first multi-win season in a decade.

With Letarte heading for NBC Sports to work on their NASCAR coverage next season, Earnhardt knows he has one chance to give him a championship. It’s something he desperately wants to do.

“It would be very disappointing and sad if this was his last year and we struggled,” Earnhardt said Sunday. “But we’ve won two races, and I won my first Pocono race, he won his first Daytona 500. It seems a bit storybook, and we’re having a real thrill.

“We’ll continue to be such great friends after working together this year. I still have him as a big part of my life, and I think that will continue to positively affect me in whoever I work with in the future.”

Today on NASCAR AMERICA, veteran crew chief Frank Stoddard talked about how Earnhardt and Letarte’s chemistry has led to the No. 88 team emerging as a title contender. You can check out his thoughts in the video above.

A new episode of NASCAR AMERICA comes at you tomorrow at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra. For more clips, head over to the show’s archive page.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

Follow @KyleMLavigne