It’s been 10 years since Dale Jr. won Talladega, and he needs one now (VIDEO)


Ten years ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the October race at Talladega. No real surprise at the time, mind you, because he’d won four straight Talladegas from 2001 to 2003, then finished second in the next two before returning to victory lane for the fifth time in October 2004.

The place Dale Jr. once owned now is his last stand to make the Chase in 2014.

Talladega, surprisingly, has been a challenging track for Dale Jr. since his last win those 10 years ago. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he has only three top-five finishes (second in spring 2009, fourth in spring 2011 and second this race last year), while posting four finishes of 25th or worse in the same time frame.

He needs a win to advance, unless the drivers in front of him in points have issues to set them back.

Still, whether he advances or not won’t change what’s been a refreshing season overall for Jr. and the 88 team.

My colleague Jerry Bonkowski touched on this in the immediate aftermath of the Charlotte race last Saturday night, but what had been the “dream season” for Dale Jr. and the 88 crew is one race away from ending up no different than any other of Jr.’s seasons, dating to his rookie year in 2000: without a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. So he’s used to that.

In a longer form piece for NBC’s SportsWorld by Joe Posnanski, he writes of a happier, more at piece Junior, now 40, and content with his circumstances. Older, wiser, yet driving better than he has in years, Junior isn’t at a make-or-break situation if he fails to win Sunday and thus, likely, fails to advance through to the Eliminator round of the new Chase format.

A win would be clutch, but it isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all for his 2014 season. But a win would tie a nice bow on the ten-year mark since his last Talladega win in a season that’s featured so many dream moments.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.