KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn't help himself.
When he heard his unborn daughter's heartbeat for the first time, Earnhardt responded with an instinctive, spontaneous laugh of pure joy.
"It's not like a funny 'ha-ha' laugh," Earnhardt said before final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Kansas Speedway. "It's more like something just comes out. I'd play it for you. You just burst out like joy. It wasn't 'ha-ha' funny. It was just a joyful moment.
"Somebody says your wife is pregnant, that registers a little bit. But man, when you hear that heartbeat it's like 'Yep, it's real. This is a real thing in there and it's here. This is happening.' So, just all this emotion just pops out."
Earnhardt learned in August that wife Amy was pregnant with the couple's first child, but didn't make the news public until last Monday. Nevertheless, the driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet recalls being consumed with anticipation while waiting for confirmation of the pregnancy.
"We went for a checkup, and Amy took a couple of tests, and the tests were saying she's pregnant," Earnhardt recounted. "We went to the doctor, and I'm still thinking, 'Man, I'm not believing crap until this doctor tells me. So we're sitting in there for like 20 minutes. And they're talking woman language, and I'm not understanding.
"They are just talking about things, and I'm like, 'Well, when is she going to say it?' I want to hear it from the doctor's mouth that she's pregnant, so we can rejoice. It took them a while. I was scared to speak up. Finally, they said something that confirmed it for me and I was like, 'Awesome!'"
"And then we had the ultrasound and got to hear the heartbeat and all that right there, and that was great. We go back for another checkup here soon, in a couple of days, and those are awesome. They are so much fun because it's like the closest you can get to it before they're born, and I'm looking forward to each and every one of them."
QUALIFYING PENALTY IS DOUBLE WHAMMY FOR RYAN BLANEY
For Ryan Blaney, the timing couldn't have been worse.
Fighting for a spot in the Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff, Blaney qualified third in knockout time trials for Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 (on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET) at Kansas Speedway, only to have his time disallowed when his No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford failed post-qualifying inspection.
According to NASCAR, the package tray on Blaney's Ford-the shelf-like area between the rear quarter and the C-posts that outline the rear window-didn't retain its shape after his qualifying runs.
The rule book requires the package tray to remain flat and straight from front to back.
With his time disallowed, Blaney will start from the rear of the field in Sunday's elimination race. That's bad enough. Blaney is currently seventh in the standings, two points ahead of eighth-place Jimmie Johnson and nine clear of ninth-place Kyle Busch, who will start seventh at Kansas.
With each position worth a point, Busch will have a 33-point edge over Blaney at the green flag, as Busch tries to knock Blaney out of the top eight. Starting deep in the field also will make it more difficult for Blaney to accumulate vital stage points in the first two stages of the race.
Blaney also got last pick of pit stalls and ended up with stall No. 12a (actually the 13th stall for those with a superstitious bent), between the Hendrick Motorsports cars of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in front and Kasey Kahne behind him. The Hendrick drivers have a vested interest in assuring that teammate Johnson, who starts 12th, makes it to the Round of 8.
Blaney will also have last pick of pit stalls next week at Martinsville, whether he remains in the Playoff or not.
"The rules are pushed to the max in every area, and (Friday) the NASCAR officials found something they didn't like about our car," said team co-owner Eddie Wood. "We're not disputing their decision. We'll own it and move on.
"We'll work on our car in Saturday's practice, line up in the back on Sunday and look forward to watching Ryan drive his way to the front."
The good news is that Blaney's Kansas car is fast. Blaney was sixth in Saturday morning's first practice session, and he topped the speed chart in final practice. Even so, he'll likely have to have an exceptional run on Sunday to maintain his spot in the Playoff.
Playoff driver Kyle Larson may have qualified 13th for Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400, but his car is plenty fast in race trim. In Saturday's first practice session, Larson paced the field at 181.671 mph. His No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was eighth fastest in final practice.
Near the end of final practice, NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoff driver Daniel Hemric ran laps in Paul Menard's No. 27 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Chevrolet. Menard is on baby watch as he and wife Jennifer are expecting their second child, and Hemric is standing by as a relief driver in case the birth takes precedence over Sunday's race.
--- NASCAR Wire Service ---