AP NEWS

Talladega digs Dale Earnhardt Jr.

May 7, 2017

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s farewell tour has officially started.

All eyes are on NASCAR’s favorite son as he races today at Talladega Superspeedway, a place where he’s adored by the fans and expected to win every time he gets in his Chevrolet.

The crowd roared yesterday in qualifying when he shot to the top of the board, but it was short-lived. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the last driver to qualify, immediately bumped Earnhardt to second. Stenhouse turned a lap at 191.547 mph to put the Roush Fenway Ford on the pole. Earnhardt leads all active drivers at Talladega with six wins, but has never started from the pole; his lap was 190.780 mph in a Chevrolet.

“I’m pretty happy,” Earnhardt said. “Great lap by Stenhouse and the Roush crew. Would have liked that pole.”

For Stenhouse, it’s his first pole in four years.

“It will be nice to lead the field to the green here,” Stenhouse said. “It’s a cool way to start the weekend.”

Earnhardt announced last week he’s retiring at the end of the season, and this first of two stops at Talladega has him nostalgic for one of his favorite race tracks.

“Thrilled with our car, good speed,” said Earnhardt, who didn’t seem to be joking when he noted a pole would make him eligible to run the preseason “Clash” at Daytona.

“Probably could have sat down and talked to Rick (Hendrick) about running the Clash or something, but let’s see if we can’t try to get another one later on this year.”

There’s some notion that today is a must-win race for Earnhardt, because the start to his final season has not been great. He’s also won only one race at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since 2014. So with his playoff chances dwindling, a victory would be a big boost to this goodbye tour.

“We have had a dry spell, haven’t won a lot of races,” Earnhardt said. “I think if I go in thinking this is a must-win, then I’m probably going to get in there and make a few mistakes.”

Earnhardt is 24th in the standings behind five finishes of 30th or worse this season. But he has a strong mindset for today, in which he knows he needs to be strongest and smartest in the third and final segment.

“Every move and decision, every slight turn of the wheel has to be the right decision,” he said.