With nothing left to do but win, Dale Earnhardt Jr. faces Talladega with optimism

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A tire failure and crash at Kansas, plus a broken shifter last weekend at Charlotte, have conspired to put Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the brink of Chase elimination going into today’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The year that was seemingly supposed to finally yield a championship for the sport’s most popular driver may effectively be over by the time the sun sets this evening.

But while Earnhardt realizes how much is at stake and that a victory today is basically his only hope of advancing to the Eliminator Round, it’s not like he hasn’t been in high-stakes situations at Talladega before.

As he himself mentioned yesterday to reporters, there was 2004 when he won at ‘Dega in the fall to move into the points lead (and then subsequently lost it via a 25-point penalty for cursing on TV in Victory Lane). He says he didn’t recognize the importance of the situation then.

He certainly recognizes such things now.

“I definitely have a better sense now with the years of experience and things we’ve learned and mistakes we’ve made in the past,” said Earnhardt, who’s 26 points behind the cutoff to advance. “It’s a pretty big deal. I wish we were in a better position to achieve what we want to achieve and be able to move forward.

I wish we had to finish ‘X’ or better but we have only one route and that’s to Victory Lane, and that’s the only way we can get forward into the Chase. It’s definitely a tall order but we have nothing to lose. We’re going to go out there and try to accomplish that goal and give it all we’ve got.”

Earnhardt was one of many Chasers that suffered a setback during yesterday’s bizarre, what-did-I-just-witness qualifying session at Talladega. As a result, he’ll start 28th in today’s race – directly in the pack.

You don’t want to be there at Talladega. You want to either be up front and have potential mayhem ensue in your rear view mirror, or lay back far enough and be able to avoid such mayhem when it happens.

Earnhardt would prefer the former. He says with this rules package, it’s very tough – not impossible, but tough – to get past the leader.

“The guy that’s leading the race really is the guy controlling everything,” he said. “He can block and he can do whatever he needs to do as far as getting in front of the line that’s coming to be able to get the push to maintain his speed.

“He can do so much more than everyone else in the field. And that’s just the best place to be.”

With five Talladega wins to his credit, Earnhardt certainly knows what to do in order to put himself at the front. But what about any potential car issues such as the ones at Kansas and Charlotte that have put him in this tough spot?

It seems like Junior Nation – Earnhardt’s army of loyalists – won’t have to worry about that, as Earnhardt felt confident enough to say the No. 88 Chevrolet was “like a bass boat across the lake at 5 a.m. yesterday…Smooth as glass.”

So, it would appear that for Earnhardt, there’s nothing left to it – but to do it.

“After how bad we’ve run the last couple of weeks and the troubles we have, to even have an opportunity is pretty neat on one side of the coin,” he said. “I’m looking at it in a more positive manner than ‘We’re in panic mode and we’ve got to go crazy here.’ We have a shot and we know what we need to do.

“Doing it is another thing obviously, but we’re going to put our best foot forward all day long.”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.