A joyful Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to the racetrack Saturday, finishing sixth in the Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina two weeks after he and his family escaped a plane in flames in Tennessee.
The race was a welcome relief from thinking about the crash for Earnhardt and his family. He hopped into his car after kissing wife Amy and 16-month-old daughter Isla, and his driving skills kicked in as he moved up from 14th into the top five.
“It’s just good to be at the track,” Earnhardt said. “I can’t count how many people give me a warm feeling when I see them at the track.
“This,” he continued, “is good therapy.”
Earnhardt’s glee was apparent when he told fellow retired driver-turned-broadcaster Jeff Burton, “I didn’t think I’d be this good.”
It was Earnhardt’s only race this season and his first since finishing fourth in Richmond almost a year ago.
Photo: Sean Gardner / Getty Images
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NASCAR Cup regular Denny Hamlin had crossed the line first, but was disqualified and stripped of the win when his car failed inspection. Second-place Cole Custer was awarded the victory.
• Josef Newgarden made a pair of mistakes in qualifying and the IndyCar points leader will start behind two of his three rivals at Portland International Raceway. Colton Herta won the pole for Sunday’s race.
Of the drivers mathematically eligible to win the title, reigning series champion Scott Dixon, in fourth place 70 points behind Newgarden, will start third; Northern California driver Alexander Rossi (third, 46 points behind) will start seventh and second-place Simon Pagenaud (38 behind) will start 18th.
• French driver Anthoine Hubert, 22, died in a Formula Two accident at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Hubert died after an estimated 160 mph collision with U.S. driver Juan-Manuel Correa’s car as they exited a corner on Lap 2 at the high-speed Spa-Francorchamps track. Correa — a 20-year-old in his rookie season — was “in a stable condition” and being treated at a Liege hospital.
Hubert won two F2 races this season and was eighth in the championship standings.
• Before Hubert’s death, Charles Leclerc took the third pole position of his promising Formula One career, finished ahead of Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel. Championship points leader Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes will start third.
Hal Naragon, catcher on ’54 Indians, dies
Hal Naragon, who caught three Hall of Fame pitchers on Cleveland’s 1954 World Series team, died at 90 in Barberton, Ohio, where the high school’s baseball field is named in his honor.
Naragon made his debut with Cleveland in 1951 and played in three games that season before serving two years in the Marine Corps.
He rejoined the Indians in ’54, when the club won 111 games and made it to the Series led by a staff that featured Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Early Wynn. Cleveland was swept in four games by the New York Giants, led by Willie Mays, in the Series.
Naragon played parts of seven seasons with Cleveland. In 1959, he was traded to Washington and finished his career with Minnesota in 1962. He was a coach for the Twins when they won the pennant in 1965 and for Detroit’s World Series title team in 1968.
WNBA: Elena Delle Donne scored 29 points and the first-place Washington Mystics set a franchise record with their 23rd win of the season, 91-85 at the Dallas Wings. … A’ja Wilson and Dearica Hamby each had a double-double and Kelsey Plum scored 17 of her 20 points in the fourth quarter to help the Las Vegas Aces rally for a 92-86 win over the Los Angeles Sparks.
Charges dropped: A misdemeanor assault charge against former Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien has been dropped. A judge in Spokane, Wash., dismissed the fourth-degree assault charge involving Rypien’s wife, KREM-TV reported.
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