Earnhardt rallies from loose wheel for Top-5 result

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Junior Nation is still waiting for a win, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued his above-average post-season with a fourth-place finish yesterday at Phoenix International Raceway that strengthened his grip on a Top-5 spot in the Sprint Cup championship.

Earnhardt encountered early problems on Lap 63, when he was forced to pit from sixth place under green for a loose wheel. That put him one lap down, but he was able to get the “lucky dog” free pass after a Lap 131 incident involving Dave Blaney brought out the caution.

After that, Earnhardt would race into the Top 10 as the race hit its middle stages, which saw the scoring pylon repeatedly scrambled through pit strategies. He had been cycled back to seventh by the Lap 282 caution for debris, and following the final restart with 25 laps to go, he peeled off several positions before finishing fourth after Carl Edwards ran out of gas.

“It was a good car – we knew it in practice,” said Earnhardt, who collected his third Top-5 finish in his last four races and seventh Top-10 in his last eight.

“Since this Chase has started, we have been quick. If we don’t win Homestead [next week], hopefully we have that speed when we show up in Daytona [in February].

“I have to give credit to the team. They are working hard and just because we aren’t in the title hunt doesn’t mean they have given up. They work just as hard as anyone out there.”

Earnhardt remains fifth in the Chase, but saw his gap over sixth-place Jeff Gordon grow to 17 points after Gordon logged a 14th-place result in Phoenix.

He also stands a chance to rise even further in the standings this Sunday at Homestead, as Kyle Busch only sits six points ahead of him in fourth position (Busch finished seventh in yesterday’s race).

IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.