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Daytona Notebook - News & Notes

Dale Earnhardt Sr. could have been Rowdy - and that doesn't mean Kyle Busch

Could you have imagined the late Dale Earnhardt as the Rowdy Burns character in the 1990 stock car racing film "Days of Thunder?"

According to Dale Earnhardt Jr., who on Saturday night will make his last trip around Daytona International Speedway in the #88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, that casting scenario might have been close to the truth.

"The rumor was they offered Dad the role of Rowdy Burns," Earnhardt said on Friday during a question-and-answer session with reporters. "I don't know if that is really true or not, but that was the rumor. But Dad turned it down because he didn't want to play the bad guy.

"Just a rumor, I don't know if it is true or not. I was so young, you hear the rumor later, but I never did get a chance to figure out if it was really true or not."

The part of Rowdy Gaines ultimately went to Alabama-born actor Michael Rooker, who played one of the primary adversaries to Cole Trickle, played by Tom Cruise.

And though Dale Jr. doesn't recall with certainty whether the Rowdy role was offered to his father, he remembers vividly Cruise's visit to the Earnhardts' Deer Head race shop (so named for the hunting trophies that lined the walls).

"Tom Cruise comes over to the Deer Head Shop," Earnhardt said. "DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) wasn't built yet. So we are excited. We are going to meet Tom Cruise. Me and (sister) Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) are there - we are giddy.

"And he comes in... he's about a foot shorter than I thought he'd be, and he had pimples all over his face. I remember that. They (Cruise and the film's producer and director) go into Dad's office. And they come out 30 minutes later, and I guess they were picking Dad's brain.

And that's where the rumors originated.

In true "Days of Thunder" fashion, NASCAR fans will be able to ride with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Saturday night, when the in-car video from the #88 Chevrolet will be live-streamed on Facebook Live during the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola

Viewers will be able to get an up-close look at Earnhardt's last ride at "The World Center of Racing" as a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver.


EVEN WITH A WIN, RICKY STENHOUSE JR. HAS SOME CATCHING UP TO DO

Although Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won at Talladega Superspeedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' most recent restrictor-plate race, the driver of the #17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford isn't definitively locked into NASCAR's playoffs - but the odds are heavily in his favor.

Assuming Stenhouse makes the playoff, however, he'll start in a deep hole to Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson, who have accumulated 21, 16 and 13 playoff points, respectively.

Truex has won a whopping 11 stage points to go with his 10 playoff points earned from two victories. Stenhouse, on the other hand, has only the five playoff points earned from his Talladega win, and without improvement in that respect, he'll start the playoffs at a disadvantage.

"You have to think about the playoffs and how far behind you are when you start the playoffs," Stenhouse said. "You definitely want to get more stage points, and that's a difficult thing to do when Martin and Kyle and those guys are taking them all. They're doing what they have to do. It's going to be a lot easier (playoff) for them.

"It's definitely a priority for us to get stage wins. Here at Daytona is a good chance for us to play a little strategy, try and get a stage win and try and put ourselves in position to get a win. I think if we prioritize this weekend, it would probably be the win and get five more points instead of stage win and only getting a point."

When it comes to races at non-plate tracks, the approach might change.

"That's a concern of ours. Something that we've been talking about is to go out and get stage wins without really having a good car (using strategy). At our place, it's just trying to get our car better where we're capable of going out and winning stages."


Kurt Busch has a creative approach to preparing for the NASCAR playoffs

For practical purposes, Kurt Busch is locked into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Sure, there's the possibility that a surfeit of race winners - more than 16, to be precise - could eliminate a driver who has been to Victory Lane in the first 26 events. Based on recent history, however, the prospects of that happening are remote, and as the winner of the season-opening Daytona 500, Busch figures to be competing for the championship in the final 10 races.

With that in mind, Busch feels his time is best spent preparing for the five 1.5-mile intermediate speedways that populate the playoffs. Only one problem: there's only one 1.5-mile track on the schedule (July 8 at Kentucky Speedway) between now and the postseason opener at Chicagoland.

Accordingly, Busch and his team will have to be creative with their preparation.

"Well, we tested at Kentucky earlier...about a month ago...working with Goodyear on the tires," Busch said in his media availability prior to Saturday's Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC). "I know that we have a Chicago test with Goodyear on the tire that they're wanting to bring to that race...

"Again, a lot of it is getting into sim work. I was on the simulator before we went out to Sonoma to physically drive the simulator. And then there are the computer simulation models that the engineers use."

Busch said Texas Motor Speedway used to be one of the most important tracks on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule because the asphalt was closest in character to that of Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of the championship race.

But after the recent repave in Fort Worth, Busch's emphasis is elsewhere.

"Right now, I think the two most important races coming up are Kentucky and Chicago, if we're gearing up for a championship run," he said.

Incidentally, Busch will try to join an exclusive club in Saturday night's race. Only Fireball Roberts (1962), Cale Yarborough (1968), LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969), Bobby Allison (1982) and Jimmie Johnson (2013) have swept both Daytona races in the same year.


CHASE ELLIOTT: WHY WOULD I LEAVE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?

Before Thursday's opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Daytona International Speedway, Chase Elliott took questions from reporters for the first time announcing a contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports.

Though the 21-year-old is still looking for his first victory in the series, his message was emphatic.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity and the chance to stay at Hendrick Motorsports for another five-and-a-half years," Elliott said. "It's been an honor to work with the men and women that make Hendrick Motorsports go around every day. And as I've told everyone before, I owe so much to Mr. Hendrick and what he's done for me and really just kind of believing in me from the time I met him...

"I owe an awful lot to him, not just for the opportunities he's given me, but for the faith he's had in me over the years. Even when nobody else does, he does; and he's made that very apparent for everybody else to see. That means a lot to me. You don't see people like that in this world very often these days that are willing to go out of their way to help you. And he's one of those guys. I'm very lucky to have him on my team to do that."

Nor does Elliott think the term of his contract - a four-year extension that will carry him through 2022 - will diminish his level of motivation.

"I think if the length of a contract changes how you go about your job, then you're in the wrong sport," Elliott said. "I feel very passionate about that. I think you have to bring the same amount of intensity and drive each weekend, whether your contract is good for 10 years, or this is your last race.

"I think that's how you need to go about it or anything that you do. So, I'm not changing how I race or how well I want to do. We want to win and run well more than anybody else wants us to or thinks they want us to. We're certainly very driven to want to continue to do well, regardless."


SHORT STROKES

Stealing the thunder from a large pack of Fords, Kyle Busch ran the fastest lap of the day in the draft during Thursday's opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Daytona International Speedway. Busch's #18 Joes Gibbs Racing Toyota covered the 2.5-mile distance in 45.584 seconds (197.438 mph). Led by Brad Keselowski, Fords occupied the next six positions on the speed chart...

Drafting in a pack that included Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, as well as Brendan Gaughan, Michael McDowell and Clint Bowyer, retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the fastest lap in final Cup practice at 193.328 mph. McDowell was second quickest at 193.249 mph. Earnhardt will be racing at Daytona for the final time in the #88 Hendrick Chevrolet, though he has allowed that he might race again in the Daytona 500, should the right opportunity present itself.

by Reid Spencer / NASCAR Wire Service