For a pair of Boston Bruins, an Earnhardt and a Busch rate high 

  • Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. signs autographs for fans as he walks through the garage area after a NASCAR auto racing practice at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Friday, July 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels drives the pace car prior to the start of the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday. AP

Monitor staff
Sunday, July 16, 2017

LOUDON – Dale Earnhardt Jr’s. disappointing final season continued Sunday at the Monster Energy Cup Series race in Loudon.

But the support he had from a famous Boston athlete, who knew little about the sport, showed the impact the driver known as Junior still has as the end of his career approaches.

Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo was one of two VIP guests at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, along with teammate Tim Schaller of Merrimack. Carlo said before the race that Junior was his favorite driver, for one simple reason.

“Because I don’t know too many other drivers,” Carlo, 20, said. “We’ll go with him.”

Carlo, who was attending his first race, knew the significance of Junior’s surname, one of the lone tidbits of history he had stored away.

“I know about his father,” Carlo said, referring to Dale Earnhardt Sr., killed on the final lap at the 2001 Daytona 500. “Just the accident and the crash and all that, that’s pretty incredible for him to continue on the legacy of his father.”

 Carlo took his knowledge further, noting Junior’s personality, which has always been affable.

“It’s incredible for him to continue on the legacy of his father,” Carlo said. “Even off the race track you have a lot of respect for him and what he’s done, so it’s pretty cool. That kind of guy you want to root for.”

Junior will retire after this season, citing several concussions he’s sustained through his 18-year career. He finished 18th Sunday and now sits in 21st place in overall points, five spots short of advancing to the NASCAR playoffs.

Meanwhile, Schaller, a 26-year-old center, said he likes NASCAR because he’s followed a particular driver, Kurt Busch, for more than 10 years.

“I’ve been keeping tabs on him,” Schaller said.

Why? Schaller said he liked Busch’s old number, 97, which he had with Roush Racing through 2005. Schaller wears No. 59 for the Bruins, and attached no particular significance to 97.

“I’ve just liked him ever since,” Schaller said.

Patriots OC is a motorhead

Josh McDaniels, a coach on Bill Belichick’s staff for all five of the Patriots’ Super Bowl championships, drove the pace car Sunday and gave a press conference before the race.

McDaniels, New England’s offensive coordinator, was at the speedway to accept Georgia peaches from Ed Clark, general manager at Atlanta Motor Speedway, part of a friendly wager made before the Patriots’ stunning 34-28 come-from-behind win over the Falcons in this year’s Super Bowl.

But McDaniels might have been in Loudon for the race anyway, since he’s a big NASCAR fan and has been to the local speedway multiple times.

“I’ve been a big admirer of how much of a team sport this is,” McDaniels said, “and just following different groups and especially some of the younger guys that are coming up, the guys like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, even Joey (Logano).” 

McDaniels has done more than simply attend races at the speedway. He’s enjoyed the complete experience.

“I think it’s such a neat thing to meet people from all over the place that enjoy the sport of NASCAR,” McDaniels said. “I've had an opportunity to come here multiple times now and do some camping out and some tailgating. I know that because I’ve lived here for a long time, but to come to a race and experience a different sport is really something neat.”

New England’s Matt Light, Julian Edelman and Rob Ninkovich had previously driven the pace car at NHMS. McDaniels was asked if he knew of any other player who might like to do it.

“(Tom) Brady would be as competitive as anybody,” the coach said. “If you play cards with him he wants to kick your butt. It doesn’t matter what the competition is – ping pong, pool – but if you put him behind a race car I’m sure he would try to master that skill just like he’s tried to master the skills that are really important in his sport too.”

No word on what tire pressure Brady might want.

Down and out early

Sunday’s race was a short one for Erik Jones and Cole Whitt, who both left the track during Stage 1.

Jones, driver of the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, hit the wall in Turn 3 after his front left tire blew out. Jones made contact with the Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne on pit road during a competition caution on lap 38, one lap before wrecking.

“Disappointing day,” Jones told NBC after leaving the infield care center. “We thought we were okay and unfortunately lost the right front or left front into three and it ended our day.”

Jones was 14th in the Cup standings entering Sunday’s race. Joe Gibbs Racing announced last week that Jones, a rookie, will replace Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Toyota next season.

The engine of Whitt’s No. 72 Chevrolet blew out on Lap 67. It was the third week in a row that Cole’s car sustained a blown engine and the fifth time in the last eight races going back to Charlotte on May 28.