Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 race-winning car is No. 1 NASCAR die-cast seller in 2014

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For those who may have thought die-cast replicas of NASCAR cars had faded away from the height of their popularity in the 1990s and up to about 2005, guess again.

Lionel Racing, which is the Official Die-Cast manufacturer of NASCAR, announced Friday that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 Race Win die-cast was the best-selling car of 2014.

Not only that, that same car is now the best-selling die-cast in the company’s history.

Wait, there’s more, particularly for members of the Junior Nation:

Six of the top 10 best-selling NASCAR die-casts this year are tied to Earnhardt in one form or other. He earned the No. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10 spots on the top 10 list, several due to special paint schemes for particular races.

“When the NASCAR season kicks off with Dale Jr. winning the Daytona 500, it’s a safe bet that die-cast sales across the board will skyrocket,” Lionel Racing president Howard Hitchcock said in a media release. “His win really set the tone for our year overall – we have had a very good season.”

Among the most notable was Earnhardt’s National Guard/Superman paint scheme, Lionel said.

Austin Dillon bringing back the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet to the Sprint Cup Series for the first time since the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 ranked fourth-best, preventing Junior from sweeping the top 5 spots.

“The story of the #3 car’s return to Cup competition really resonated with both long-time and new NASCAR fans,” Hitchcock said. “It’s great to see a rising star like Dillon make our top 10 list.”

Also of note, 2014 Sprint Cup champ Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet ranked eighth on the top 10 list.

Here’s the list of this year’s top 10-selling NASCAR die-casts:

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 National Guard/Daytona 500 Win Chevrolet.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 National Guard Hall of Heroes/Superman Chevrolet.

4. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Dow Automotive Chevrolet.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 National Guard/Pocono Win Chevrolet/

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 Michael Baker/Pocono Win Chevrolet.

7. Jeff Gordon No. 24 AARP/Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet.

8. Kevin Harvick No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet.

9. Tony Stewart No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet.

10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet.

Also, here’s the best-selling drivers of 2014:

1. Earnhardt. 2. Gordon. 3. Harvick. 4. Jimmie Johnson. 5. Austin Dillon. 6. Chase Elliott. 7. Stewart. 8. Kyle Busch. 9. Brad Keselowski. 10. Kyle Larson.

“It’s exciting to see the rising stars of the sport make such an impact on the core fan,” Hitchcock said. “Austin, Chase and Kyle Larson beat out some heavy hitters when it comes to merchandise sales, and that only bodes well for the future of NASCAR.”

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Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.