Dale Jr. low-key about milestone 500th Sprint Cup start

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is set to make his 500th start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tomorrow at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but after qualifying sixth last night, NASCAR’s most popular driver indicated that the accomplishment isn’t of much importance to him.

“It’s not that big of a milestone to me,” said Earnhardt, who will look to break through for his first career Sprint Cup win at Charlotte tomorrow (he won the non-points All-Star Race at CMS back in 2000).

“I just hope I’m around for at least 250 or 500 more [races]. I’ve really been blessed to have the opportunity to do what I do. I feel thankful every weekend to be able to get in some of the best cars in the series – I really mean that from my heart. It’s truly been a dream career for me and I never took it for granted that I would be driving race cars all my life and be able to make a living doing it.

“I’m real thankful and it makes me reflect on that kind of thing.”

Earnhardt, one of the Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders, has been on a good streak lately, with finishes of sixth, second and eighth in his last three races. However, an engine failure in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway last month has put him in a hole he’s yet to climb out of, as he sits eighth in the standings at 54 points behind Matt Kenseth.

Needless to say, his championship hopes are ebbing. But he can certainly help them out with a victory tomorrow at the track where he made his Cup debut in 1999 (started 8th, finished 16th).

A win would make him the third driver in Cup history to triumph in his 500th career start. Matt Kenseth’s win last month at New Hampshire enabled him to join seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty in that very exclusive club.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”