On cusp of 40th birthday, Dale Jr. hopes next 40 years will be just as good

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is certainly no longer a kid. But it still seems strange that he’s going to be turning 40 years old next week.

No doubt that he’s matured, though, both on and off the race track.

And as he prepares to hit the big 4-0, the son of the seven-time Sprint Cup champion, Dale Sr., is feeling good with what he’s done on the race tracks of the world.

Growing up, he wondered if the Intimidator’s legacy would make it harder for him to succeed in the sport.

But one could argue that Junior has become every bit as vital to NASCAR as his father was.

“I just wanted to make it and being the son of a guy that was so successful – the more success he had it seemed like the harder it would be for me to make it,” Junior said today at Kansas Speedway. “I would just be sort of a chapter in that whole thing. But I’m real happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish and who I have been able to work with and the friends I’ve been able to make.

“That is probably the best thing is the relationships that you create. Being a part of this sport there are so many great people in it, no matter what department you talk about. It’s just fun getting to know all those people that helped get this thing going and move it from race to race.”

And while Junior has yet to join Senior as a Cup champ, he feels that his list of accomplishments – which include two Nationwide Series titles, two Daytona 500 victories, and status as the most recognizable racer in America – has turned out to be much longer than he expected.

“We are still winning races and running good so maybe we can get a few more wins and have some more fun before it’s over,” he said.

“Definitely having this birthday come up makes you reflect quite a bit back on not so much the decisions or any regrets you have, just the fun stuff you have done and is the next 40 years going to be just as good? Because the first 40 were pretty great.”

Junior will get to celebrate his milestone birthday before next Saturday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with fans welcome to join the party with the purchase of a pre-race pit pass or driver intro pass along with their regular race ticket (more details here).

But that comes later. This weekend, Junior hopes to put a sub-par Challenger Round behind him with a solid run in the Contender Round opener on Kansas’ 1.5-mile oval.

“We feel like we are not realizing our potential and I think it is obvious we are not realizing our potential,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to sort of get back into the championship battle.

“Had they not structured it so, I don’t know that we would be feeling too confident about our chances at this point. Now it’s all back to zero. We can get regrouped and get confident again and come out of here with a great finish, we are back in it.”

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”