MIAMI BEACH | Dale Earnhardt Jr. can still end his final NASCAR season with a championship.
He just won’t be the one driving for the title.
Earnhardt’s farewell in the Cup series was filled with gratitude, frequent nods to the past and a look ahead to his future as an NBC broadcaster. But the present, well, there wasn’t much to celebrate — Earnhardt is winless and on pace for his worst full-season finish in eight years.
Earnhardt the team owner has fared much better: JR Motorsports, the Xfinity Series organization he runs with his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, has placed three cars in the four-driver championship field. Earnhardt may well end up hoisting a NASCAR trophy in victory lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Somebody asked me if I’m excited and I’m like, well, we haven’t won yet,” Earnhardt said.
Elliott Sadler, William Byron and Justin Allgaier represent Junior in the Xfinity finale with Daniel Hemric the lone outlier in Saturday’s field. The top finish among the four is the champion.
So who takes the checkered flag?
“Oh gosh, I can’t root for or against anyone,” Earnhardt Miller said, laughing. “I have reasons for all of them to win.”
The 42-year-old Sadler is a bit of a sentimental favorite. He’s a veteran of 438 career Cup starts and has toiled in the second-tier series on and off since 1995. He’s been series runner-up four times, including last season, when Joe Gibbs Racing prospect Daniel Suarez won the title.
“Homestead is the only race that matters to me and my race team,” Sadler said.
Allgaier has bounced around in all NASCAR series the last 10 years and landed a spot among the championship four last season. The 31-year Allgaier has two of his five career Xfinity wins this season but will race without his crew chief. Jason Burdett was suspended because the car failed inspection last weekend.
All eyes are on the 19-year-old Byron. He has four…