Dale Earnhardt Jr. now has nothing to lose, and is loving it

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Relaxed, spitballing and almost-40-year-old Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a good, happy Dale Earnhardt Jr.

And a calm, cool, collected Junior might be trouble for the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field this Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Following his Kansas debacle where he ended 39th, Earnhardt Jr., like Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, currently sits outside the top eight, the drivers who advance to the Eliminator round.

It seems Junior has the field right where he wants them.

“I always win in weirdest times and the oddest circumstances, so everything’s lining up for me this weekend,” he said during his media availability Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We should be competitive this weekend. We know what the situation is with the points, and how important it is to come in and win the race. I’m winless in a points-paying race here since I started my career.”

If it doesn’t sound like it makes sense, Earnhardt Jr. attempted to explain why he felt in such a relaxed state of mind this week.

“When you say it’s ‘must-win,’ that don’t make it sound like its easier,” he said. “But as soon as we had trouble, now there’s two kinds of approaches.

“One is to run well and hope nothing bad happens. The other is you can kinda just go for broke. I feel less pressure now than I did before the race at Kansas. Under this circumstance I feel like less pressure. I think we’re good enough, and I believe we’ll run well.”

With Johnson and Brad Keselowski also sitting outside the top eight at the moment, Earnhardt said he’s not worrying about them in terms of trying to advance.

“Those are the two of the most successful guys, with championships and how they run. But I can’t worry about them, and what are my odds versus them,” he said.

“I’m not counting points or worrying about scenarios. My job is to help Steve (Letarte, crew chief) put together the strategy. We’ve been very good at doing that this year.

“In this situation where nothing matters, is where we do the best. Daytona 500, we could be so risky and aggressive on our calls, and it paid off. When this Chase started, we reverted back towards being reserved and calculated, and it netted us average results.

“We have our backs against the walls but we can be aggressive again. And that’s where Steve is at his best. If the car’s competitive, we can be around with a shot.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.