No more Mr. Nice Guy: Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets aggressive and ends up with career-best finish at Sonoma

6 Comments

You almost have to wonder if Dale Earnhardt Jr. listened to Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” prior to Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway — and took the lyrics to heart.

Earnhardt came into the race never having finished in the top-10 at Sonoma in 14 prior starts.

But Sunday was a completely different story.

Instead of the passive Junior we’ve seen in past races at Sonoma, he got up on the wheel, became aggressive – overly aggressive in some instances (just ask Matt Kenseth) – and wound up with a career-best third-place finish at the twisting and turning road course in California’s wine country.

“Aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us,” Earnhardt said in the post-race press conference. “We came in here and knew we had a good car throughout practice, and I’ve been in the top 10 in a lot of these races with two or three laps to go, but we’ve just never been able to finish.

“So to be clear of the mess and just have an advantage with the tires at the end, there was a lot of confidence, and knowing we were going to be able to wrap it up or feel like we were in good position to wrap it up and really good.  The car was fun to drive all weekend.”

Earnhardt’s aggressiveness and confidence extended to crew chief Steve Letarte.

“Just putting the tires on and getting the strategy right with Steve” was the key to the win, Earnhardt told TNT after the race. “I told him (Letarte) the secret to being a great crew chief is to call every year like it’s your last, because he’s had the best strategy every week.

“Our car was fast all weekend really. I tried to screw it up a couple of times there in the race, but calmed down and was able to get a good finish out of it.”

No more Mr. Nice Guy, indeed.

To that end, Earnhardt got into at least two significant incidents that, while they didn’t hurt him and his car too bad, they pretty much ended the day for two other drivers, including one of his closest friends, Matt Kenseth.

Earnhardt and Kenseth were fighting hard on Lap 75, driving side-by-side, when Kenseth pulled slightly ahead going into Turn 7.

Earnhardt hit a curb and his car bounced back to the left, right into the right rear quarter-panel of Kenseth’s car, spinning him out hard and almost head-on into a tire wall.

Kenseth’s car was all but obliterated by the crash, and while he fortunately was uninjured, he also wound up with one of his worst finishes of the season: 42nd out of the 43-car starting field.

Earnhardt took complete blame for the incident.

“I got into Matt,” Earnhardt said. “I jumped that curb and just ran into him. Totally my fault.

“It was just racing a little too hard with him there and I probably should have let him have that spot. Other than that, we had a pretty good day.”

Earnhardt also got into a scrum with AJ Allmendinger 11 laps later, but this time it wasn’t Junior’s fault.

Allmendinger was coming out of Turn 11 and got pinched towards the inside retaining wall. Allmendinger bounced off the rear of Junior’s car in the process, spun and then continued bouncing like a pinball off the trailing cars of Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers.

As a result, Allmendinger, who dominated the first half of the 110-lap race by leading 35 laps, finished with a very disappointing 37th-place finish, two laps behind the leaders.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NBC to air more than 100 hours of IMSA racing in 2019

Leave a comment

Beginning January 26, 2019 with the 57th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona, NBC will air more than 100 hours of exclusive coverage of the IMSA Sports Car Championship across their platforms.

NBC Sports will present 12 races across NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app throughout 2019. In addition to the 24 Hours at Daytona, race highlights include the 12 Hours of Sebring from Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida, on March 16; the Grand Prix of Long Beach from the Long Beach Street Circuit on April 13; and the penultimate race of the season from WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, on September 15.

“We couldn’t be more excited to begin our IMSA coverage with the 57th running of the iconic Rolex 24,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports and NBCSN in a press release. “As the home of U.S. motorsports, we’ll showcase the uniqueness of IMSA racing to motorsports fans everywhere, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the association throughout the upcoming season.”

More than 40 hours of will be broadcast on NBCSN with live coverage of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Laguna Seca and season finale Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta showing on NBC.

MORE: IMSA Reveal 2019 schedule

Coverage of the 24 Hours of Daytona will get underway Thursday, January 24 at 2 p.m. ET with a season preview on NBCSN. That program will be followed by live coverage of qualification for the race from 3 to 5 p.m. ET as a world class group of drivers lock in their positions for the annual twice-around-the-clock endurance race.

The preview show will re-air Saturday as a lead-in to live coverage of the 24 Hours, which will kick off a 2 p.m. ET.

“As we all get ready for IMSA’s much-anticipated 50th anniversary season in 2019, our new NBC Sports media partnership promises to promote and showcase our unique premium product in revolutionary ways,” said IMSA CEO Ed Bennett. “Both IMSA and the WeatherTech Championship have been experiencing incredible momentum the last several years and this partnership should only help elevate the sport to new heights.”

NBC will be the exclusive home for IMSA beginning in 2019 as part of a six-year partnership between the two organizations.

The season concludes with live coverage of the Motul Petit Le Mans on Oct. 12 from Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia.

All races will be live streamed to authenticated subscribers on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.