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NASCAR at Sonoma notebook: Junior's joy ride ends

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. waits to qualify, Friday June 22, 2012 at Sonoma. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

SONOMA — Dale Earnhardt Jr. was not only dominating NASCAR headlines entering the Toyota/SaveMart 350. If it weren't for LeBron James and Jerry Sandusky, he may have dominated all other sports stories.

Junior's victory at Michigan a week ago in the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet ended a four-year drought and suddenly cast America's most popular driver back into the spotlight. He was credited with spiking ticket sales in Sonoma by 20,000 earlier in the week.

Alas, Earnhardt's joyride didn't last long. He started 19th on Sunday, finished 23rd and seemed to race a bit passively all day. To finish off his effort, Earnhardt was collected in a multi-car accident after the final restart and wound up driving a battered car into the pit area.

Toyota / Save Mart 350

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"We weren't good all weekend," he said. "We've got to put a better car on the racetrack. I mean, I ain't the best road course racer out there, but I can damn sure do better than that. So we've got to pick up the race car a little bit."

Earnhardt fell from second to third in the overall Sprint Cup standings, and is 14 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.

LaRUSSA GIVES HIMSELF THE SWING SIGN

Former Oakland A's, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox manager Tony LaRussa served as grand marshal for the Toyota/Save Mart 350. He is known as one of baseball's great strategists and, off the diamond, as the co-founder (with wife Elaine) of the Walnut Creek-based Animal Rescue Foundation.

But when LaRussa spoke to the media before the race, it didn't take long for the talk to turn to performance-enhancing drugs. He managed two of the players most closely associated with steroids, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.

"I don't understand being inconsistent," LaRussa said. "People are talking about, &‘This guy said he did it, but he's gonna be a Hall of Famer, and these guys did it and they've got no chance.' ... If you don't want Mark in, don't put any of 'em in."

LaRussa is doing some work with the baseball commissioner's office, but generally has a lot more free time since retiring right after taking the Cardinals to the title last year.


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