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NASCAR

Dale Earnhardt Jr. keeps an eye on his health at age 38

He says he has adjusted his diet and is more mindful about wrecks after suffering a concussion last year. The second-place finisher at Daytona 500 hopes to extend his strong start at Phoenix.

March 02, 2013|By Jim Peltz, Los Angeles Times
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks on from the garage area during practice.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks on from the garage area during practice. (Christian Petersen / Getty…)

AVONDALE, Ariz. — "I'm no health freak," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of his recent effort to eat healthier by cutting down on "stuff like pizza and wings."

"I just think the older you get, the more you have to do to kind of maintain a healthy weight," the popular NASCAR driver said. "Not getting too crazy about it, though."

At 38, Earnhardt is entering his 14th full season in the Sprint Cup Series. He finished second to teammate Jimmie Johnson in the Daytona 500 a week ago, and hopes to extend his strong start Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

Having suffered a concussion last year, Earnhardt also is grateful that his crash in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway a week ago did not cause further damage.

Earnhardt was collected in the same crash that sent Kyle Larson's car into the grandstand fence, with Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet slamming into the wall.

"I was concerned just how my body was going to react to that," Earnhardt said. "I felt pretty good after the wreck and ... was able to get in the car" the next day for the Daytona 500.

"I was real happy that I was able to pass a personal test, I guess," he said. "When you have concussions, sometimes they're easier to get the second, third, fourth time around, so we survived that one. We'll move on and try not to get in any more wrecks."

Earnhardt raced well most of last year, winning in Michigan to snap a 143-winless streak and qualifying for NASCAR's 10-race Chase for the Cup title playoff. But he missed two Chase races because of his concussion.

His goal again this season is a strong 26-race "regular season" to reach the Chase, which is based on driver points, with room to spare.

Otherwise, the scramble to make the Chase is "a distraction that I'd rather not have to put the team through or have to go through myself," Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt is a two-time winner at Phoenix, but that was before the track was repaved and slightly reconfigured two years ago. He starts 21st in Sunday's race.

Daytona crash update

NASCAR is shipping Larson's mangled car and related parts to its research and development center in Concord, N.C., as part of its probe into the crash.

More than two dozen spectators were injured by flying debris, and two remain hospitalized.

The debris included one of Larson's front tires, which went through the fence and not over it, based on "everything we've seen so far," Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president for racing operations, told reporters Saturday.

"We'll go through each part of the car — want to look at how everything held up," he said.

NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway and outside experts also will study the track's fencing, particularly a gate area where Larson's car struck, "and look to what we may need to do going forward," O'Donnell said.

Busch wins Nationwide race

Kyle Busch won the Nationwide race Saturday at Phoenix International in dominant fashion, leading 142 of the race's 200 laps.

Busch, who started on the pole, overcame an early speeding penalty during a pit stop that dropped him deep into the field.

Brad Keselowski briefly grabbed the lead by staying on the track while Busch pitted, but the gamble didn't work as Busch again retook first place.

Keselowski finished second, Justin Allgaier third and Trevor Bayne was fourth.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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