Dale Earnhardt Jr. may have found missing piece to solving Sprint Cup championship puzzle

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For Dale Earnhardt Jr. to become a true championship threat, critics have said for a number of years that he’d have to learn how to master 1.5-mile tracks – particularly since five of the 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup races are on tracks of that distance.

If what he’s done thus far this season is any indication – including his showing in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway – we may very well start anointing Earnhardt as indeed a true championship threat this season.

In five 1.5-mile races thus far this season, Earnhardt has now recorded three top-fives, including Saturday’s fifth-place finish.

Even better, Earnhardt has recorded a win, three top-fives and two other top-10s in his last seven starts.

It was a true team effort to get Junior that kind of finish, particularly since he started 27th.

“The pit crew did an amazing job tonight,” Earnhardt told TNT after the race. “They were gaining me a number of spots for me every stop.

“Even when we were taking four tires, we were beating a lot of guys off pit road. They’re a great group and deserve a lot of credit.”

Much like the first top-10 finish of his career last week at Sonoma, Earnhardt was a bit surprised at his finish at Kentucky (although he did earn a fourth-place showing there in 2012).

“It was way better today, a lot more fun to drive,” Earnhardt said. “This place is a bit of a handful for me. I don’t know if I have it figured out just yet. I don’t really know exactly what I’m looking for and how I need the car to drive.

“Steve (crew chief Steve Letarte)  and the guys did a good job having to deal with me and putting a good car under me this weekend. It was a lot of fun in the race. Strategy was great in the race. Steve’s fuel strategy gave us a lot of good track position.”

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Travis Pastrana leads flag-to-flag in Nitro Rallycross as the series returns to America

Pastrana Nitro Rallycross
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Travis Pastrana waited until the final trip around ERX Motor Park to take his Joker Lap – a longer way around the course that all drivers must do at least once in a race – and came out cleanly to win his first Nitro Rallycross race of 2022. With this win, Pastrana is the third driver to visit Victory Lane in the first three rounds of the 2022-23 season.

“This is the closest to a motocross track,” Pastrana told Katie Osborne on Peacock. “Thank you so much for a beautiful facility. It’s been a rough start to the season and I’m so thankful to be back out here. We had a good run in the side-by-side and now for this. This is much needed.”

Another thing needed was the sense of improvement. And Pastrana earned that affirmation each time he completed a lap around the course.

“I get my lap times read out and they said ‘fastest time of the week,’ ‘fastest time of the week’ (each time around) ” Pastrana said. “This is really special. We’re a long way behind in the championship, but welcome to America.”

In a pre-race press conference, Pastrana said that as Nitro Rallycross heads back to America, it was time for an American to win and he made good on his promise. Pastrana took the early lead over Robin Larsson and let the back of his Subaru hang out, taking risks he might not otherwise take if not for his need to win.

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Larsson’s second-place finish completed a perfect sweep of the podium in three rounds. In fact, he has not yet finished worse than second after winning the opening round at Lydden Hill in the United Kingdom and finishing second at Strangnas in Sweeden.

Fraser McConnel rounded out the podium for his best result of the season. He finished fourth in each of the first two rounds.

Last year, Pastrana finished second in this race to Scott Speed before narrowly edging his teammate for the championship.

Andreas Bakkerud crashed in prelims, but rebounded to finish just off the block in fourth. Bakkerud won the second round ahead of his teammate Larsson.

Oliver Bennett completed the top five.

Minneapolis is the first of three rounds scheduled in the United States. Next on the schedule is Glen Helen, Calif. on Octo 30 and then Phoenix at Wild Horse Pass on November 12th. Nitro Rallycross will then head to Saudi Arabia in December to continue their 2022-23 season.