Dale Jr. And Kenseth Say Goodbye In Their Own Way

Matt Kenseth

The crew in black and yellow fire suits went methodically about its business, check-listing last details before the beginning of the final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

A few feet away, the crew in the red and black fire suits was performing the same series of tasks, but a throng of onlookers and well-wishers pressed in at every movement.

It was a surreal scene, or rather scenes, both on Sunday and 14 years ago. But in each case, the careers and personas of NASCAR’s most popular driver and his understated friend and contemporary had intersected. In 2003, it was in the garage bays in the hours before Matt Kenseth finished off his first and only championship at NASCAR’s highest level. On Sunday, it was as he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. posed for a series of photographs for friends and family beside their cars staged in Turn 4 as they prepared to undertake their final races before retirement.

Earnhardt Jr. eventually broke from his gathering on Sunday, slinked under a rope and waited through a television interview to speak with Kenseth. He’d been “adamant” Kenseth said, that their cars be parked next to each other for their moments, and was particularly intrigued that they were both using versions of their early career paint schemes for their farewells. They shared a quip and a hug and then prepared to get on with the last vestiges of their careers. In keeping with their divergent personalities – Earnhardt Jr. – compelled to accommodate the scores who wanted to share in the moment with him – and Kenseth joined the field of cars to begin the start of the race, and NASCAR’s 14-time most popular driver slowly drove pit road to exchange handshakes with crewman from other teams waiting near the wall.

Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth have always been different people seeking the same career goals, since they entered first the Busch Series [now XFINITY Series] and then Cup together, and it can be argued that Kenseth accomplished more. Both won the Daytona 500 twice, but Kenseth claimed the 2003 championship and contended for others more frequently than his friend, who finished a career-high second in the same season. Kenseth won 39 career Monster Energy Series races, Earnhardt Jr. 26. When Earnhardt Jr. won consecutive XFINITY titles in 1998 and 1999, Kenseth finished second, and third, respectively.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

But Earnhardt Jr. always was and always will be the focus. It was his birthright and burden.  Understated and wry, Kenseth saw up close the scrutiny and demands on his friend and wanted no part of them. He learned that early. In 2002, the bachelor Earnhardt Jr. hitched a ride with Kenseth and his wife, Katie, driving back from a race at Rockingham, when they cruised into a McDonald’s. Earnhardt Jr. was inundated. Kenseth and Katie walked to the front of the line. Demands came with such fame and Earnhardt Jr. came to accept them as his part of the bargain.

NASCAR legend dictates that Kenseth’s march to his championship for Roush Racing was so banal – after winning one race he entered the final 226 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson – that it prompted the series to institute the first version of what was then called the “Chase” in 2004. Earnhardt Jr. arrived in third place, 264 behind for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and still gathering momentum as the standard-bearer of the sport and a crossover marketing star just two years after his father and namesake perished on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. In keeping with the Budweiser sponsorship on his red No. 8 Chevrolet, the mood on the edge of his camp that November was festive bordering on hysterical. Such was the reason that security stations theater ropes several feet beyond the mouth of his garage bay so crewman could work and push through mobbing fans carrying gear back to their transporter. Kenseth’s crew went about its business unbothered.

Ultimately, their departures from the series were in keeping with the way they conducted their careers, or at least had them dictated to them. Returning this season after missing half of the 2016 season because of a recurrence of concussions, Earnhardt Jr. announced in April that he would discontinue full-time racing at the end of the season. A hashtagged farewell tour ensued, allowing his scores of fans and appreciative admirers to partake in his moment. Kenseth, who will be replaced next season at Joe Gibbs Racing by 21-year-old Erik Jones, refused to accept a lesser job and eventually accepted his career was over.

Earnhardt Jr. chugged a beer as a massive mob surrounded his rubber-clumped car and engaged in a long embrace with team owner Rick Hendrick after exiting the car following a 25th-place finish. Hendrick, whose son, Ricky, died with nine other Hendrick family members or employees in a 2004 plane crash, claimed Earnhardt Jr.’s helmet as a souvenir and slid away from the scene. He’d done the same in 2015 after four-time series champion Jeff Gordon’s last race as a full-time driver at Homestead and wouldn’t be without a token from someone he said he loves “like he’s flesh and blood.”

“I don’t want to get any more helmets,” Hendrick said, becoming emotional. “He and I have such a special relationship.  We were talking about it. Now we can go fishing. So, it’s unbelievable to see his driving career come to an end, but he’s excited about the next stage and I am too, We have a special bond, so we are going to do a lot of fun things together, and that’s a commitment we made this year, early on when he told me he thought it was time. I’ve turned the page now and we’re going to start planning the trip tomorrow morning.”

At the absolute end of pit road, in the quiet, Kenseth sipped on a sports drink and joked with crew chief Jason Ratcliff. It was fitting.

There is the feeling that their paths will cross again, as Earnhardt Jr. remains around the sport as an XFINITY Series team owner and NBC analyst. Kenseth, with three daughters younger than eight and another imminent said his life will become filled with recitals and sports events. In the near-term, he planned to “go up to Wisconsin and be cold.”

“That was fun,” he said of exiting alongside Earnhardt Jr., including taking a group photo with their teams on Friday. “We went for a bike ride when we were in Darlington and I told him this was going to be it, but I never really announced it just because I kind of knew by September, I pretty much had my mind was made up the way things were going and kind of knew it then. It’s kind of cool we came into Cup together and now we go out together.”

And in their own ways.

On a personal note:

What a really cool NASCAR ride the last 17 years have been with both of these excellent drivers.  Kenseth always has been a low keyed, dry witted race car driver that never really sought the limelight, but was eager to compete and win races at the highest level.  Dale Jr. had the awesome weight of NASCAR thrust on his shoulders to carry after his father’s untimely death.  But carry it he did with class and humility!

Gentlemen, thanks for allowing this person to ride shotgun in your race cars, to experience the thrill of victory and the agony defeat vicariously!  I am eternally grateful to you for your class, and humility!

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

The Future NASCAR Stars Are Here!

Christopher Bell

According to NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, you don’t have to look far to find the next generation of stars.

“They are here,” France said on Sunday morning before the Ford EcoBoost 400 during a question-and-answer session with reporters at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “They are here, and they’ve got to develop their performance, but they’re doing well. You look at Ryan Blaney, you look at Chase (Elliott) almost making the final here in Miami. Go down the list. We’ve got a loaded group.

“But it’s true, we’re in a transition, too. But that happens from time to time, not usually in the concentrated manner that we have now, but it happens. But we’re excited. We’ve got a great, great bunch of 19-, 20-(year-olds), and they’re talented, so we’re in good shape.”

NASCAR President Brent Dewar, who appeared with France on the dais, echoed those sentiments.

“We anticipate every decade you’re going to go through this rotation, and between NASCAR Next and Drive for Diversity, these young stars that you’re talking about have all come through those classes, and they’re all good wheel men and women that are coming up through these series. And I think that’s the key thing, and we’re working with them in terms of how they work outside the car.

“And I think the other part is if you look at most sports, name any other major sport where you get to have a 15  to 20 year career at the highest level. It just does not exist. Those are exceptions.  It’s the norm here. So if you look at all the ones you take and you add 20 years, you’re going to be somewhere around the age of a Dale Jr. and a Matt Kenseth, so they were those same very 19 , 20 , 21 year olds years back.”

France’s and Dewar’s comments were juxtaposed against the backdrop of a sea change in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, from which the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is retiring after Sunday’s race. Kenseth, the 2003 champion, also faces a hiatus from NASCAR’s premier series, and Danica Patrick announced on Friday she will race for the last time in the series in the 2018 Daytona 500.

“Dale Jr. has made an obviously big contribution on and off the track for a long time,” France said. “So while we’re going to miss him for obvious reasons, he’s not going to be that far away, being an owner and working with NBC.

“So he’s going to be glued to the sport, and that’s a good thing for us.”

Both France and Dewar expressed optimism about the state of the sport and were thankful for the dialogue and collaboration between the sanctioning body, team owners, manufacturers, drivers and race tracks toward a long-term strategic plan for the sport.

“Well, I’m really more optimistic right now, and I know you may expect me to say that, but we’ve made the transition largely,” France said. “We’ve gotten the council meetings going. We’ve gotten charters in position so we can get our interests aligned more closely with drivers, OEMs and the charters and the team owners.

“We have the young drivers already in place. We’d like a couple more, of course. We’ve got some diversity with Bubba Wallace going in the 43 car (as the only African-American driver competing at NASCAR highest level). We like that. We’d love to see more of that. And we like all the changes that we’ve made in the last four or five years, including stage racing this year. It has created the things that we thought were important.”

And just as the sanctioning body has collaborated extensively with race teams on the evolution of the racing on the track, so too has NASCAR and the industry worked to improve the overall business model.

“The difference is now we have a mechanism of working together and a process to do that, and we’re all in,” Dewar said. “From tracks to teams to drivers, we’re all in, and we’re trying to focus on the sport, the business behind the scenes, and just continue to make continuous improvement to do that.

“I’m making it sound easy. It’s really hard. It’s really, really hard. At the end of the day, they’re racers. Race car drivers want to win, and team owners want to win, and we want them to win. We want to cultivate and nurture that as much as possible, but there’s still a business behind all these sports, and we need to make continued improvement on the business side.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Dale Jr’s Legacy Involves More Than Just Driving

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

When the checkered flag waves on Sunday evening at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in then No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will be over.

And though Earnhardt says he will run two or three NASCAR XFINITY Series races for his JR Motorsports team next season, his appearances behind the wheel will be few and far between.

Nevertheless, Earnhardt will maintain an enduring presence in the sport as he continues to provide opportunities to aspiring drivers. On Saturday at Homestead, three of his JRM drivers—on markedly different career arcs—will compete for the series championship.

Veteran Elliott Sadler, 42, Justin Allgaier, 31, and Sunoco rookie William Byron, 19, will race for the title against Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric in the Ford Eco-Boost 300. That Earnhardt has three quarters of the Championship 4 field under his roof is emblematic of his contribution to the sport as a team owner.

And though Earnhardt will have plenty to occupy his time in his final weekend as a Cup driver, he’ll immerse himself in the XFINITY race as soon as he finishes his post-practice debrief for the No. 88 Chevy.

“I’ll get a headset and come out to pit road and sit on the pit wall and watch the XFINITY race unfold,” Earnhardt said on Friday morning before opening Cup practice. “It’s really a proud moment for all of us, my sister (Kelley Earnhardt Miller) and everybody at JR Motorsports to have the opportunity to be here at the final race racing for a championship, whether it’s one car or three or four.

“There’s a lot of pride in that. We came close last year (with Sadler), and even when the checkered flag fell, the pride in my heart was the same as it was on the first lap. I just thought it was so special to be there.”

JR Motorsports has come light years since its 2005 debut at Homestead with driver Mark McFarland.

“We were kind of a patchwork of a ragtag crew, and we ran 20th all night, and we thought it was so awesome just to be there,” Earnhardt said.  “We were so proud to be in the race and just be competing. ‘There goes our car!’ It was awesome.

“So I don’t take that for granted, and I know how hard it is to be good and be competitive so there is a lot of pride that we are even in the position to win a championship. Hemric is a worthy opponent. I know RCR will put everything they have to give him the best opportunity.”

Three of the four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series contenders also have driven for Earnhardt—Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Fellow Hendrick driver Chase Elliott won the NASCAR XFINITY Series title for JRM in 2014.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Dale Jr. Contemplates His “What Ifs” As His Driving Career Closes Out

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Memories of his formative nine seasons with his family team will be easily conjured for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In his final race as a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver – Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 – the sport’s most popular figure will utilize a No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with an aesthetic reminiscent of the one in which he made his Monster Energy Series debut in 1999.

Amid personal acrimony with stepmother and now-defunct Dale Earnhardt Inc. team owner Teresa Earnhardt, Earnhardt Jr. joined HMS for 2008, finding a career opportunity and a father figure in Rick Hendrick.

A decade later, there are no regrets, Earnhardt Jr. said. But there were some decisions that he’d like to have made differently.

“One in particular … whatever the hell I was thinking when I thought that I didn’t need to work with Tony [Eury] Sr. anymore,” he said of his uncle and former crew chief, with whom he claimed 15 of 26 wins and the 2004 Daytona 500. “We had won six races in 2004 and in a matter of just a few weeks at the end of the season our relationship deteriorated and I had the audacity that I thought that I knew what was best for me at the time and make the choice – or was part of making the  decision – to work with someone else, which was ridiculous.”

Earnhardt Jr. had never won as many as six races in a season before 2004 and didn’t win another six again, total, until the 14th race of the the 2014 season. But Eury Sr. was replaced with Pete Rondeau, who had 12 previous Cup starts and Earnahrdt Jr. slumped from fifth in the points to 19th with just one race win in 2005. Rondeau was fired after 11 races, with Steve Hmiel taking over for the next 15 – helping him win at Chicago – before Earnhardt Jr.’s cousin, Tony Eury, Jr., assumed control to end the year. Eury Jr. stayed with Earnhardt Jr. into 2009, the exception being his departure for the final 14 races of the 2007 to integrate with the system at Hendrick. Eury Jr. was eventually replaced early in the 2009 season.

“I regret that,” Earnhardt Jr. said of deposing his uncle. “That’s probably my biggest [regret] in motorsports as a driver, was that decision because it did nothing and it made our relationship a challenge to repair. Like I say, we’d won a lot of races together and he had been a big reason why I even got in the XFINITY car to begin with. He was my biggest supporter and we had won so many races together.

“I don’t know what …. I got confused there a while thinking that I knew better than anyone else what was best for me.”

Eury Sr. eventually served as competition director for JR Motorsports – which is co-owned by Earnhardt, his sister Kelley, and Hendrick – before being fired in 2012.

Though he still believes moving to Hendrick was a personal and professional revelation, Earnhardt Jr. said he does allow himself to wonder what would have become of the team had his father not perished on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. DEI merged with Ganassi Racing from 2009 before vanishing after the 2013 season.

“I would only be guessing on the outcome of such things, but yeah, you always wonder what Dad would be doing if he were still around, what he would have done with DEI, where it would be, what we all would be doing,” he said. “Would it look completely different than it looks today? I don’t have any clear idea what it would look like, but it certainly wouldn’t be what we have today. And everything, I think, would be completely different.

“The sport would be a little different with his influence throughout the years and I think he certainly would have had a good impact on the sport. But considering how things worked out, coming to work with Rick was a huge break for me and really a great opportunity. But I certainly think about the what-ifs, but I don’t know if I had stayed at DEI, if it would have made much of a difference for the end result for that place. It was a very challenging time for the company and it was a difficult decision to make, but I think it was the right one.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Hendrick Motorsports Previews The Ford EcoBoost 400 At Homestead

HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY (1.5-MILE OVAL)

LOCATION: HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA
EVENT: NASCAR CUP SERIES (RACE 36 OF 36)
TUNE IN: 2:30 P.M. ET, SUNDAY, NOV. 19 (NBC/MRN/SIRIUSXM)

No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS / Kasey Kahne

Driver Kasey Kahne   Hometown Enumclaw, Washington
Age 37                        Resides Mooresville, North Carolina

2017 Season

  • 14th in standings
  • 35 starts
  • 1 race win
  • 0 stage wins
  • 0 pole positions
  • 3 top-five finishes
  • 6 top-10 finishes
  • 41 laps led

Career

  • 503 starts
  • 18 wins
  • 27 pole positions
  • 92 top-five finishes
  • 175 top-10 finishes
  • 4,648 laps led

Track Career 

  • 13 starts
  • 0 wins
  • 2 pole positions
  • 1 top-five finishes
  • 4 top-10 finishes
  • 107 laps led
GREAT CLIPS: Kasey Kahne will pilot the No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race of the season. The Enumclaw, Washington, native last drove the scheme in September at Chicagoland Speedway. Homestead marks the eighth time this season that the Great Clips scheme has graced Kahne’s Chevy.

KAHNE AT HOMESTEAD: Kahne returns to the Florida track with two poles, one top-five finish and four top-10s on his Homestead resume. The 37-year-old driver has led three different times at the 1.5-mile track for a total of 107 laps, ranking him seventh among active drivers. Kahne has an average starting position of 11.8 and an average finishing position of 16.9 at Homestead.

SALUTING KASEY: Homestead will mark the final race with Hendrick Motorsports for Kahne, who has won six Cup races since joining the organization in 2012. His first Hendrick Motorsports win came in the Memorial Day weekend race at Charlotte in May 2012, followed by checkered flags at New Hampshire, Bristol, Pocono, Atlanta and, most recently, historic Indianapolis. He has scored eight runner-up finishes with the No. 5 team, along with five pole positions, 35 top-five finishes, 73 top-10s and 1,284 laps led. Kahne earned Cup Series playoff berths in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017. He finished a career-high fourth in the championship standings in 2012.

5’S FINAL RIDE: This weekend at Homestead marks the end of an era, as Hendrick Motorsports will no longer field its No. 5 Chevrolet following the season. It was the organization’s first car number and has run full-time since the team was founded in 1984. The No. 5 was raced to Hendrick Motorsports’ first victory by Geoff Bodine at Martinsville Speedway during its inaugural season, and Terry Labonte drove it to a Cup Series championship in 1996. Seven drivers have piloted the car full-time since 1984 — Bodine, Ricky Rudd, Labonte, Kyle Busch, Casey Mears, Mark Martin, and now Kahne, who took over the ride in 2012. The car number has amassed 38 wins for Hendrick Motorsports. Next season, the organization will field Nos. 9, 24, 48 and 88

HOMESTEAD LOOP DATA: According to NASCAR’s loop data since 2005, Kahne is third in the green-flag passes category with 1,024. He also ranks fourth in average speed late in a run at 145.546 mph, eighth in fastest laps run with 108 and ninth in quality passes with 474.

GOING HOME: Two No. 5 team members will return to their home state this weekend. Engine tuner Billy Fraser, a University of Florida graduate, was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. Rear-tire changer Johnny Roberts hails from Titusville, Florida.

No. 24 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet SS / Chase Elliott

Driver Chase Elliott   Hometown Dawsonville, Georgia
Age 21                      Resides Dawsonville, Georgia

2017 Season

  • 5th in standings
  • 35 starts
  • 0 race wins
  • 3 stage wins
  • 1 pole position
  • 11 top-five finishes
  • 20 top-10 finishes
  • 560 laps led

Career

  • 76 starts
  • 0 wins
  • 3 pole positions
  • 21 top-five finishes
  • 37 top-10 finishes
  • 918 laps led

Track Career 

  • 1 start
  • 0 wins
  • 0 pole positions
  • 0 top-five finishes
  • 0 top-10 finishes
  • 0 laps led
NAPA AUTO PARTS CHEVROLET: As the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season comes to a close this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NAPA AUTO PARTS will once again grace the hood of the No. 24 Chevrolet SS with its familiar blue-and-yellow colors. The Atlanta-based company has served as majority sponsor for Chase Elliott during the 2017 season and will return as a primary sponsor to Elliott and the No. 9 team in 2018. Elliott’s fresh paint scheme was revealed in October. Most recently, Elliott piloted the NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevy at Martinsville Speedway, where he led four separate times for a total of 123 laps. The No. 24 NAPA AUTO PARTS driver ultimately finished 27th after being spun out by a competitor while leading in the final five laps.

HOMESTEAD-MIAMI STATS: The second-year driver is set to make his second NASCAR Cup Series start at the 1.5-mile oval. In last year’s race, Elliott qualified fifth and finished 11th. The driver of the No. 24 has also competed in two NASCAR XFINITY Series races at the Homestead, Florida, track, garnering one top-10 finish. In 2014, Elliott was crowned the XFINITY Series champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

2017 SEASON: Up to the final race of the season, Elliott and the No. 24 team have collected 11 top-five finishes, 20 top-10s and 560 laps led. Elliott has captured five runner-up finishes, four of which came in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. The 21-year old has averaged a starting position of 10.5 and finishing position of 12.2 throughout 2017.

PHOENIX REWIND: Elliott and the No. 24 Hooters team put up a valiant effort on Sunday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway. The Dawsonville, Georgia, native led three times for 34 laps on his way to the seventh runner-up finish of his career. Despite scoring his fourth runner-up finish in nine playoff races, Elliott will be on the outside looking in as the Championship 4 race for the NASCAR Cup Series title on Sunday. Elliott ranks fifth in the series points standings entering the season finale.

No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS / Jimmie Johnson

Driver Jimmie Johnson   Hometown El Cajon, California
Age 42                             Resides Charlotte, North Carolina

2017 Season

  • 10th in standings
  • 35 starts
  • 3 race wins
  • 1 stage win
  • 0 pole positions
  • 4 top-five finishes
  • 11 top-10 finishes
  • 217 laps led

Career

  • 578 starts
  • 83 wins
  • 35 pole positions
  • 222 top-five finishes
  • 341 top-10 finishes
  • 18,663 laps led

Track Career 

  • 16 starts
  • 1 win
  • 2 pole positions
  • 5 top-five finishes
  • 11 top-10 finishes
  • 102 laps led
#CHASING8: Last weekend in Phoenix, Jimmie Johnson suffered a blown right-front tire on Lap 149 while running 11th. The damage was too severe to fix and the No. 48 Lowe’s team did not advance into the final Championship 4 round for this weekend’s event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson is currently 10th in the point standings entering the final race of the season.

PERFORMANCE IN MIAMI: Among Johnson’s five top-five finishes at Homestead are two runner-up finishes, the most recent of which came in 2010. It marked his best finish at the track until last year, when Johnson led only three laps during the season finale event, but they were the final three, clinching both his first career win at the track and his seventh NASCAR Cup Series championship.

CMA RED CARPET RECAP: Last week before heading to Phoenix, Johnson and his wife Chandra attended the 51st Annual Country Music Association Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. Johnson, along with actress Michelle Monaghan, presented the award for Female Vocalist of the Year to country music standout Miranda Lambert. Among the many entertainment media outlets that covered the event, E! News referred to the Johnson’s as one of the “cutest” couples on the red carpet. Click here to see the red carpet photos.

DRIVER RATING: According to NASCAR’s loop data statistics since 2005, Johnson has the fifth-best driver rating at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a score of 97.8. The driver rating is a formula that combines wins, top-15 finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, most laps led and lead-lap finishes. The maximum a driver can earn in each race is 150 points. The driver rating number is used pre-race as a prediction tool and post-race as a performance evaluator.

No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS / Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.   Hometown Kannapolis, North Carolina
Age 43                                Resides Mooresville, North Carolina

2017 Season

  • 21st in standings
  • 35 starts
  • 0 race wins
  • 0 stage wins
  • 2 pole positions
  • 1 top-five finish
  • 8 top-10 finishes
  • 47 laps led

Career

  • 630 starts
  • 26 wins
  • 15 pole positions
  • 149 top-five finishes
  • 260 top-10 finishes
  • 8,234 laps led

Track Career 

  • 16 starts
  • 0 wins
  • 0 pole positions
  • 1 top-five finish
  • 2 top-10 finishes
  • 121 laps led
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS, will be available to members of the media on Friday, Nov. 16, at 10:20 a.m. local time in the Homestead-Miami Speedway media center.

APPRECI88ION TOUR SUCCESS: In June, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced a five-month campaign called the JR Nation Appreci88ion Tour, which started at the July Daytona event and has carried through to the end of the 2017 season, his last as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver. The Appreci88ion campaign gave Earnhardt’s fans, his partners and the NASCAR industry a way to celebrate his historic career while offering the driver an opportunity to make gestures of gratitude to everyone who made the ride possible. Throughout, the fans have joined the celebration by using the #Appreci88ion hashtag on social media. Earnhardt himself used it to share weekly videos recounting memories and milestones from each of the tracks on the NASCAR circuit. The gestures of appreciation from the entire industry were overwhelming, and many will create a lasting impact on local communities across the country, celebrating the legacy Earnhardt has created.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: The 2017 season marked Earnhardt’s 18th full-time year in the Cup Series. The native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, has earned 26 career victories, including the 2004 and 2014 Daytona 500s. His 26 victories tie him for 29th on NASCAR’s all-time race winners list. He also has 15 pole positions and eight non-points wins (five in the Daytona 500 qualifying Duel, two in the Clash and one All-Star Race victory). Overall, Earnhardt has qualified for the NASCAR playoffs eight times (2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015). He is the only third-generation NASCAR champion, achieved when he won the 1998 and 1999 NASCAR XFINITY Series titles. He follows his legendary father Dale Earnhardt Sr., a seven-time Cup champion and winner of 76 races, and his grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt, the 1956 NASCAR Sportsman champion. The three Earnhardts combine for 10 NASCAR championships.

AT HOMESTEAD: Earnhardt, who has yet to earn his first win at Homestead, has been on the upswing in his most recent visits to the 1.5-mile oval. While Earnhardt has a total of one top-five and two top-10 finishes in his 16 starts at the facility, the Kannapolis, North Carolina, native has finished inside of the top 15 in four of his last five trips to Homestead-Miami Speedway, including a career-best third-place finish in the 2013 event. According to NASCAR’s loop data statistics, Earnhardt ranks near the top of the fastest laps run category. The driver of the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS is fourth among active drivers at Homestead since 2005 with 150 fastest laps run, some of which have been during the 121 laps he’s led in his 16 starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

ROOKIE SCHEME: Earnhardt’s No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS, originally unveiled live on QVC on Aug. 2 from Axalta’s Customer Experience Center, will be red with black and white stripes, paying homage to the driver’s very first paint scheme, which debuted in 1999 when he competed in his first career Cup Series race. Click here to see how the scheme came to life.

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER: On Tuesday, Nov. 28, NASCAR and Nationwide will bring together fans, family, friends, key influencers in his racing life and a few surprise guests to join Earnhardt to tell stories at Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas at 9 p.m. PST. Hosted by Earnhardt himself, this once-in-a-lifetime fan experience will tell the tales of NASCAR’s reigning most popular driver. The best part is all the proceeds from the event will benefit Nationwide Children’s Hospital including the great work being done in the Dale and Amy Earnhardt Activity Room. For tickets and more information, click here.

IT’S NOT GOODBYE, IT’S SEE YOU LATER: While Earnhardt is retiring from full-time Cup racing, he will still be a very visible presence in the sport. He will drive in two NASCAR XFINITY Series races for his JR Motorsports team in 2018, be active in his role as an owner of that team, and, in the second half of the season, he will join the NBC Sports group in the Cup broadcast booth. In short, the man who has been voted by fans as NASCAR’s most popular driver for 14 consecutive years isn’t really going anywhere.

Hendrick Motorsports

HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AT HOMESTEAD: Hendrick Motorsports drivers have earned two wins, three pole positions, 14 top-five finishes and 29 top-10s at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The first win came courtesy of Jeff Gordon in 2012, when he led the final 13 laps of the race en route to Victory Lane. The organization’s most recent win at the Florida track came just last season as Jimmie Johnson clinched his record-tying seventh NASCAR Cup Series title after leading the final three laps of the race.

LASST RIDE FOR THE SS: Homestead will be the last race for the successful Chevrolet SS model NASCAR Cup Series race car before the manufacturer transitions to the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in 2018. The Chevy SS made its debut in the 2013 Daytona 500, which was won by Johnson. Hendrick Motorsports earned the car’s first three race wins and has amassed 40 total points-paying victories and two Cup Series championships with the SS.

SEASON IN REVIEW: With one NASCAR Cup Series race remaining in 2017, Hendrick Motorsports has amassed four wins, three pole positions, 19 top-five finishes and 45 top-10s. The four wins came at four different tracks — Texas, Bristol, Dover and Indianapolis. Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Johnson qualified for the series’ playoffs, with Kahne being eliminated following the Round of 16 and Elliott and Johnson following the Round of 8 cutoff event last weekend at Phoenix.

ORGANIZATION STATS: To date, Hendrick Motorsports has totals of 12 championships, 249 race victories, 213 pole positions, 1,028 top-five finishes and 1,739 top-10 finishes in points-paying NASCAR Cup Series competition. Its teams have led 67,239 laps since 1984.

QUOTABLE / 

“You have to be able to run the wall, it seems like, for a lot of that race, because the speed is up against the fence. So, just being confident with that, confident with the grip of your car and then you also have to move around late in the race. It seems like the wall kind of goes away a lot of times. I’ve always liked Homestead. I’ve won one race there in XFINITY and ran well in Cup races, led a lot of laps. But it’s a track that’s really tough to win at. To me, the pace falls off a ton and it’s rough in spots. I think it’s one of our tougher tracks throughout the season.”

Kasey Kahne on racing at Homestead

“I felt like I gave it my all at Phoenix. We’re going to go to Homestead and try to finish the season as strong as we can and then get ready to come at them next year as hard as possible.”

Chase Elliott on not advancing to the Championship 4

“Yeah, you know, we have other tracks that have progressive banking and they don’t quite work like Homestead. I think one thing people overlook is the straightaways are actually straight we don’t have a dogleg there. I think that makes a big difference in how the track is shaped and what allows you to run some different lanes. I think that plays a bigger factor than people think.”

Elliott on Homestead’s progressive banking

“I hate it for this team that we won’t be competing for an eighth championship this year. They’ve worked so hard all year long and I’m very proud of their efforts. It’s obviously not the result that we want, but we’re Hendrick strong and I’m proud of Team 48 and very thankful for the support and all the opportunities Lowe’s, Kobalt and Chevrolet give us. We will make some changes in the offseason, get those new Camaros built and come back next year strong.”

Jimmie Johnson on being eliminated from the 2017 playoffs

“I’ve known Dale a long time, well before he joined Hendrick Motorsports and even before I was a stock car driver. To have him as a teammate, I’ve been able to get to know him behind the scenes and behind the steering wheel – our friendship has gone to deeper levels. I really have enjoyed my friendship with him. It will be sad to see the No. 88 go away, but I’m so proud of him for everything he has accomplished. I can’t wait to see him as a dad, to compare notes (laughs) and am just so happy for him and Amy. I’m excited to see what this next chapter has in store for him.”

Johnson on Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I am not sure that I’m ready to be going through all of the emotion that I will have in Homestead, but it’s coming. I hope that I can handle it well, but it’s definitely going to be interesting to see how that feels. All these videos and all these things that our partners are creating, this content has just been incredible. It makes you feel so good in your heart. The comments from fans … it is more than you can process and I’m sure that Homestead is just going to be like the cork coming out of the bottle. I’m lucky that Amy (Earnhardt) is going to be there, I’m lucky my family will be there, and my team. I will have so much support and I want to support them. It’s going to be emotional for them and our fans.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. on his emotions leading into Homestead

“I’m trying to run hard, trying to do well, trying to figure out our cars and get as good a finish as we can. We’re going to have a lot of things going on this week. Going in there and trying to do as well as we can is at the top of the list, but there are a ton of other things happening. We will just take it one day at a time. It’s going to be a busy weekend.”

Earnhardt on racing at Homestead

“Throughout the years, my relationship to Dale has gone through many phases. In his early years I was a fan, watching him win races and championships in the iconic AC Delco paint scheme. It was so cool that we had the privilege to run a throwback to that scheme at Darlington this year. In 2004 when I started at Hendrick Motorsports, he was a competitor that we had to go out there and race each weekend, especially at the superspeedway races where he was so strong.

“When he made the move to Hendrick in 2008, we began a pretty neat relationship. Dale and I are pretty calm and quiet in our personal environment, but when it comes to competition we are extremely focused and competitive. The fantasy football league was where we had our first encounter of determination. The unique battle we had formed a bond that we can still talk about today.

“Moving to JR Motorsports in 2013, Dale became my boss as I tried to help lead his company back to winning races and eventually a championship. Every time Dale came to my office, he asked what he could do for me to help the teams get better – never to tell me how to do my job. There are plenty of Monday morning crew chiefs, but he was never one of them.

“Then in 2015, I got the call to be his crew chief. It was an honor to accept the challenge because I knew we could have quick success with the relationships we had already established. That held true for the 2015 season and 2016 was going to be even better. Putting more focus on winning and being perfect, we were so close in 2015, so why not? When Dale got hurt in 2016, I took a lot of the responsibility on myself. We had to work through the tough times together, had to confide in each other, and ultimately developed our best relationship – our friendship.”

No. 88 team crew chief Greg Ives on his relationship with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“Kasey is one of the best people you’ll ever meet, and he’s contributed so much to our organization. He’s won big races like the World 600 and Indianapolis, competed for championships, and added a lot to the legacy of the ‘5’ team. Kasey’s a true racer, and I haven’t seen many drivers with his level of pure talent. I’m looking forward to continuing our friendship for a long time. He’s a great dad. He’s someone who does so much good through his charitable work and has such a passion for racing. I admire his character and truly appreciate everything he’s done for us. It’s going to be hard not seeing the ‘5’ car on the track next year, but I’m proud that he’ll be the driver to give it one last ride.”

Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick on Kasey Kahne

“Dale said he was going to make me popular. (laughs) His star power and his talent immediately created a lot of enthusiasm both inside and outside the organization. His fans of course pull for him, but some of them have also supported our other drivers because they’re his teammates. So it’s been neat to see the Earnhardt fans come on board and embrace what we’ve done together. He’s been a great teammate and a great ambassador. He really jumped in from day one and put his heart and soul into the team.”

Hendrick on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s impact on the organization

“A lot of pressure. (laughs) You know what the expectations are. You want to give him the best possible stuff. You want him to run well. That’s what folks expected when he came over and joined us. You don’t want to let his fans down, and you don’t want to let Dale down.”

Hendrick on whether he felt pressure being Earnhardt’s car owner

“To win the very first race he ran (the 2008 Budweiser Shootout) was unbelievable. There was a lot of hype going into that season, so to win right out of the gate was exciting and took some pressure off. The Daytona 500 (in 2014) was so special. Any time you can be with Dale in victory lane at Daytona, it carries a lot of meaning. I think all the way back to his very first test with us at Atlanta (2007) when he drove our car with City Chevrolet on the hood and All-Star Racing on the side. That’s when we were like, ‘OK, this is really happening.’ I kept the car (from the test). That’s how much it meant to me.”

Hendrick on his favorite moments with Earnhardt at Hendrick Motorsports

“It’s really, really special. He always told me that Dale would drive for us. I didn’t think it would ever be possible. For that to actually come together, it was like we were fulfilling something that he (Ricky) always believed in and wanted to see happen.”

Hendrick on Earnhardt driving for Hendrick Motorsports as his son Ricky predicted

“After knowing Dale and Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) for so long, it’s kind of felt like a family affair. I want to be someone Dale can talk to and confide in. In a way, I think we’ve filled a void for each other. No one will ever replace my son and no one will ever replace his dad, but we share a special bond. I’ve just loved watching him grow up and mature, from hanging out with his posse (friends) to getting married and now starting a family with Amy.”

Hendrick on his relationship with Earnhardt

“We’ve talked about it a lot. We’ve made a commitment to each other that we’re not going to let this end. We’re going to do even more things together. We’re partners in JR Motorsports. We’re partners in car dealerships. We both love to go down to Florida and fish. I want to see him as a dad and watch his family grow. Our relationship is so much more than him just driving the car. He’s a special person and friend.”

Hendrick on how his relationship with Earnhardt will change after the driver’s retirement

“He’s still going to be very visible – maybe even more visible after going to TV. I think he will keep it loose (on TV) and the fans will really respond. Dale loves the sport. He’s a car owner (at JR Motorsports). He’s committed. He’s going to stay involved. The one thing I know for sure is that Dale is always going to be Dale.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Hendrick Motorsports Previews The Can-Am 500

PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY (ONE-MILE OVAL)

LOCATION: AVONDALE, ARIZONA
EVENT: NASCAR CUP SERIES (RACE 35 OF 36)
TUNE IN: 2:30 P.M. ET, SUNDAY, NOV. 12 (NBC/MRN/SIRIUSXM)

No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS / Kasey Kahne

Driver Kasey Kahne   Hometown Enumclaw, Washington
Age 37                        Resides Mooresville, North Carolina

2017 Season

  • 12th in standings
  • 34 starts
  • 1 race win
  • 0 stage wins
  • 0 pole positions
  • 3 top-five finishes
  • 6 top-10 finishes
  • 41 laps led

Career

  • 502 starts
  • 18 wins
  • 27 pole positions
  • 92 top-five finishes
  • 175 top-10 finishes
  • 4,648 laps led

Track Career 

  • 26 starts
  • 1 win
  • 0 pole positions
  • 5 top-five finishes
  • 8 top-10 finishes
  • 55 laps led
FARMERS AT PHOENIX: Kasey Kahne will pilot the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS at Phoenix International Raceway for the final time this season. The Enumclaw, Washington, native last drove the black-and-blue scheme last month at Talladega Superspeedway, where he raced it to an eighth-place result and secured his sixth top-10 finish of the season.

KAHNE AT PHOENIX: Kahne returns to Phoenix this weekend for his 11th start at the track with Hendrick Motorsports. The 37-year-old driver’s win at Phoenix in November 2011 was his 12th career NASCAR Cup Series victory, and he finished with a 0.802-second margin of victory over Carl Edwards. Overall, Kahne has an average starting position of 12.0 and an average finishing position of 17.8 at Phoenix.

PHOENIX LOOP DATA: According to NASCAR’s loop data since 2005, Kahne is eighth in quality passes at Phoenix with 483. Quality passes are the number of times a driver passes another car that is running in the top 15 while under green-flag conditions. He also ranks ninth in fastest laps run with 198, 10th in green-flag passes with 929, ninth in laps run in the top 15 with 4,154 and eighth in the closers category with 10 positions moved up over the last 10 percent of the race.

RECAPPING TEXAS: After qualifying 19th and ending two of three practice sessions inside the top 15, Kahne and the No. 5 team overcame an early on-track incident in Sunday’s 500-mile event at Texas Motor Speedway and utilized pit strategy to secure an 11th-place effort at the Fort Worth, Texas, track.

No. 24 Hooters Chevrolet SS / Chase Elliott

Driver Chase Elliott   Hometown Dawsonville, Georgia
Age 21                      Resides Dawsonville, Georgia

2017 Season

  • 7th in standings
  • 34 starts
  • 0 race wins
  • 3 stage wins
  • 1 pole position
  • 10 top-five finishes
  • 19 top-10 finishes
  • 526 laps led

Career

  • 75 starts
  • 0 wins
  • 3 pole positions
  • 20 top-five finishes
  • 36 top-10 finishes
  • 884 laps led

Track Career 

  • 3 starts
  • 0 wins
  • 0 pole positions
  • 0 top-five finishes
  • 2 top-10 finishes
  • 106 laps led
Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 24 Hooters Chevrolet SS, will be available to members of the media on Friday, Nov. 10, at 1:05 p.m. local time in the Phoenix International Raceway media center.

HOOTERS CHEVROLET: For the second consecutive week and third time this season, the orange-and-white Hooters paint scheme will adorn the hood of the No. 24 Chevrolet SS this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. A casual dining establishment with a deep history in NASCAR, the Atlanta-based company was a three-race primary sponsor of the No. 24 team this season with Phoenix being their final race of 2017. Chase Elliott most recently piloted the No. 24 Hooters Chevrolet SS to an eighth-place finish last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

PHOENIX STATS: The second-year driver is set to make his fourth start at the one-mile oval this weekend. Elliott has collected two top-10 finishes in his three previous starts, led 106 laps and averaged a starting position of 9.0 and finishing position of 9.7. Elliott has also competed in five NASCAR XFINITY Series races at the Avondale, Arizona, track, garnering two top-five finishes and five top-10s.

PLAYOFF STANDINGS: Elliott is currently seventh in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings — 49 points behind fourth — as the series heads to Phoenix International Raceway for the Round of 8 cutoff race.

TEXAS REWIND: The Dawsonville, Georgia, native and the No. 24 Hooters team finished eighth in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway after battling through the field from the rear due to not completing inspection in time for qualifying.

HOOTERS 25TH ANNIVERSARY: November marks the 25th anniversary of Hooters’ NASCAR Cup Series 1992 championship with driver Alan Kulwicki. To honor that great achievement, Elliott will sport a special pair of racing shoes this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.

COMING HOME: No. 24 team jackman John Gianninoto, who grew up in Tucson, Arizona, will compete in front of his hometown crowd at Phoenix International Raceway. Gianninoto graduated with honors from Catalina Foothills High School and went on to sign as an offensive lineman for UNLV in 2006, earning his first letter in 2007 and becoming a team captain in 2010. Gianninoto participated in the Carolina Panthers’ 2012 training camp before signing with Hendrick Motorsports in September 2012.

No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS / Jimmie Johnson

Driver Jimmie Johnson   Hometown El Cajon, California
Age 42                             Resides Charlotte, North Carolina

2017 Season

  • 8th in standings
  • 34 starts
  • 3 race wins
  • 1 stage win
  • 0 pole positions
  • 4 top-five finishes
  • 11 top-10 finishes
  • 217 laps led

Career

  • 577 starts
  • 83 wins
  • 35 pole positions
  • 222 top-five finishes
  • 341 top-10 finishes
  • 18,663 laps led

Track Career 

  • 28 starts
  • 4 wins
  • 3 pole positions
  • 15 top-five finishes
  • 20 top-10 finishes
  • 990 laps led
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, will be available to members of the media on Friday, Nov. 10, at 9:45 a.m. local time in the Phoenix International Raceway media center.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: Jimmie Johnson had a tough Texas race, facing multiple issues on pit road and fighting the handling of his Lowe’s Chevrolet before ultimately finishing 27th. He is now eighth in the playoff points standings and in a potential must-win situation heading into Phoenix.

CMA PRESENTER: Before heading to Phoenix, Johnson will stop over in Nashville, Tennessee, to represent NASCAR at the 51st Country Music Association (CMA) Awards. Johnson, along with actress Michelle Monaghan, will present the 2017 Female Vocalist of the Year award. The CMAs are live on Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

SUPPORT FROM HIS FRIENDS: Ryan Dungey, a seven-time motocross and supercross champion, made a surprise visit to Texas Motor Speedway to lend some support in Johnson’s quest for an eighth championship. Dungey, who recently retired from racing, attended his first NASCAR race in August at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this season. He and Johnson have been supportive friends throughout each other’s careers.

PHOENIX STATS: According to NASCAR loop data since 2005, Johnson has the series-best driver rating at Phoenix with a score of 111.0. The driver rating is a formula that combines wins, top-15 finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, most laps led and lead-lap finishes. The maximum a driver can earn in each race is 150 points. The driver rating number is used pre-race as a prediction tool and post-race as a performance evaluator.

RECORD SPEED: The four-time winner at Phoenix also holds the track record for fastest qualifying speed. On Nov. 13, 2015, Johnson clocked a time of 25.147 seconds or 146.308 mph around the one-mile track. He is credited with 35 career pole positions, three of which have come at Phoenix. Johnson won one Phoenix event from the pole position, which was in November 2009.

No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS / Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.   Hometown Kannapolis, North Carolina
Age 43                                Resides Mooresville, North Carolina

2017 Season

  • 22nd in standings
  • 34 starts
  • 0 race wins
  • 0 stage wins
  • 2 pole positions
  • 1 top-five finish
  • 7 top-10 finishes
  • 47 laps led

Career

  • 629 starts
  • 26 wins
  • 15 pole positions
  • 149 top-five finishes
  • 259 top-10 finishes
  • 8,234 laps led

Track Career 

  • 29 starts
  • 3 wins
  • 0 pole positions
  • 9 top-five finishes
  • 14 top-10 finishes
  • 569 laps led
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, will be available to members of the media on Friday, Nov. 10, at 10 a.m. local time in the Phoenix International Raceway media center.

MOST RECENT WIN: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Phoenix International Raceway in November 2015 after a rain-shortened event. The wet weather didn’t put a damper on Earnhardt, who led 22 laps en route to his 26th career NASCAR Cup Series victory and his third at the track. The 43-year-old driver earned his first two Phoenix wins back-to-back, going to Victory Lane in November 2003 and November 2004 when the one-mile tri-oval hosted one Cup event per season. By virtue of his three wins, Earnhardt ranks third on the all-time wins list at Phoenix behind Kevin Harvick (eight) and teammate Jimmie Johnson (four).

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Earnhardt, a three-time winner at Phoenix, has experienced a resurgence lately at the short track. In his last eight races at the facility, the driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS has earned one win, five top-five finishes and six top-10s. The only one of those eight events in which he finished outside of the top 15 was when the series visited the short track in March 2015 and a blown right-rear tire ended his day on Lap 180. Earnhardt is ranked 11th among all active competitors with a driver rating of 88.6 from 2005-2017. The driver rating is a formula that combines wins, top-15 finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, most laps led and lead-lap finishes. The maximum a driver can earn in each race is 150 points. He ranks fourth among his competitors for completing the most green-flag passes since 2005 with 977, fifth in fastest laps run with 278 and seventh in laps led with 259.

VISITING KIMMEL: Before he makes his way to Phoenix, Earnhardt will stop in Los Angeles to appear on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Thursday, Nov. 9. “Jimmy Kimmel Live” airs weeknights at 11:35 p.m. ET, but check your local listings for details. Actor Josh Hutcherson and musical guest Dan Auerbach are also scheduled to join Earnhardt on Thursday’s show. It won’t be Earnhardt’s first visit – the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet SS has made multiple appearances on Kimmel’s late-night talk show.

NATIONWIDE IS ON HIS SIDE: The weekend’s event at Phoenix marks Nationwide’s final primary paint scheme with Earnhardt on the No. 88 Chevy, highlighting a very successful partnership. In September 2014, Nationwide announced an agreement with Hendrick Motorsports to become the majority primary sponsor for Earnhardt and the No. 88 Chevrolet for 21 races in each of the 2015-2017 seasons, although the partnership began well before that. Nationwide and Earnhardt officially teamed up in 2009, but it was a connection a long time in the making. The partnership was an extension of his family’s longtime relationship with Nationwide off the track – the Earnhardts have trusted Nationwide for their insurance needs for more than 35 years. Earnhardt continued that with his own 25-year relationship, trusting Nationwide to protect everything from his cars to his house to his business and even his dog, Gus. To honor and celebrate Earnhardt’s Cup career, Nationwide released a touching commercial spot last week that can be seen here.

GRAY GLOVES: Earnhardt will wear his gray-accented gloves again for the Phoenix and Homestead races to close out the month of November, raising awareness for diabetes. Through the Dale Jr. Foundation’s Driven to Give Gloves program, his race-worn gloves will be auctioned off to raise funds for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s clinical and research programs. Nationwide Children’s is America’s largest pediatric hospital and research center with all care provided regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

PATIENT CHAMPION J.R. CURRY: Additionally, through The Dale Jr. Foundation’s Driven to Give Gloves program, 10-year-old John Roger (J.R.) Curry will have his name featured above the passenger door of Earnhardt’s No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS at Phoenix. J.R. was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 2 and has received care through the Nationwide Children’s Hospital. J.R. started out with four shots and at least 10 finger pokes a day – that’s 1,460 shots and 3,650 finger pokes in a year – and had a tough time adjusting to his condition in the beginning, but he eventually got used to the process and became accustomed to the needles. He recently switched to a pump, which gives him a lot more freedom and his parents are able to monitor the readings. J.R. doesn’t let his diabetes stop him from doing what he loves – he plays soccer, baseball, basketball and is even a race car driver.

HOME TRACK: Phoenix International Raceway is the home track for No. 88 jackman Nick Covey, who grew up in Glendale, Arizona. He joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2009 and has been a member of the No. 88 team for six years. Covey played football for the University of Nebraska, where he was a linebacker from 2005 to 2009. Away from the racetrack, he says his focus is on his wife and his children, who play baseball.

Hendrick Motorsports

HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AT PHOENIX: Hendrick Motorsports has earned 10 wins, 11 pole positions, 45 top-five finishes and 79 top-10s at Phoenix International Raceway. Those 10 wins are spread among six drivers, with Jimmie Johnson accounting for four. Dale Earnhardt Jr. recorded the organization’s most recent Phoenix victory in November 2015.

ORGANIZATION STATS: To date, Hendrick Motorsports has totals of 12 championships, 249 race victories, 213 pole positions, 1,027 top-five finishes and 1,737 top-10 finishes in points-paying NASCAR Cup Series competition. Its teams have led 67,205 laps since 1984.

QUOTABLE / 

“Just the different ends of the track. (Turns) 1 and 2 kind of being like it is and (Turns) 3 and 4 being so flat we have to be set up a lot like at Darlington – you have to pick a little bit of the best on both and try to marry the two together the best you can to be good there.”

Chase Elliott on what makes Phoenix unique

“You want to try to win the race. The guy who wins that race is probably going to go on, we saw that last year. We weren’t really in the hunt there last year to win the race. We weren’t in the playoffs anymore at that point, so all those guys, you try to respect them as much as you can when you are not involved in it, but at the same time you want to win. Fine line you have to walk there, but just try to get the victory if you can to punch your ticket.”

Elliott on competing at Phoenix for a spot in the Final 4 at Homestead

“I know we’re building a better race car and taking a few new ideas to Phoenix. We’ll go there and fight as hard as we can. One thing this team will never do is give up.”

Jimmie Johnson on racing at Phoenix

“Phoenix is a good track for us. We have certainly had a great car there the last several times. Knowing we have won there helps you just go in there with a good attitude. I don’t think that we’ve lost hope on winning a race by any means. So, we’ll go in there with a solid attitude and see how it works out for us.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. on racing at Phoenix

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Enshrined Into The Texas Motorsports Hall Of Fame

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

It was completely appropriate that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton were honored during the same Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame ceremony, given the mutual respect and admiration the two men have for each other.

Earnhardt was the latest inductee into the hall, and Helton received the Bruton Smith Legend Award during a luncheon in the Grand Ballroom at Texas Motor Speedway.

Helton was a good friend of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., and that association continued into the next generation. Though Helton has some Earnhardt stories he said he will take to the grave, he did share two instances that underscored his closeness with the Earnhardts.

The first came less than five months after Earnhardt Sr. lost his life in the 2001 Daytona 500.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about what is your favorite Dale Jr., moment, and there’s actually two of them, and they happened in the same year,” Helton said. “The first one was in July, the Coke Zero 400 win in 2001. The whole industry needed a healing moment – and that was it.

“The second one was in the same year, but it was in September at Dover, when after 9/11 we had skipped New Hampshire (which was postponed after the World Trade Center attacks). So we go to Dover for the first race back after 9/11, and Dale Jr., wins that. Again, we all needed a big healing moment and Dale Jr., helped us through.”

Earnhardt Jr. credited Helton with providing invaluable guidance throughout his career.

“I can promise you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this guy right here as part of the sport,” Earnhardt said, as he and Helton shared the stage. “He not only led a lot of us in the sport, he taught my wife and I a lot of personal lessons.

“When I lost my father, I leaned on a lot of people, but I didn’t lean on anybody more than (Helton). He’s really been incredibly impactful to me throughout my life. The sport has a lot of superstar drivers, but this guy here is a superstar. He’s not on TV, but he’s a superstar in this sport.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Dale Jr. Has Some Choice Words For Eddie Gossage

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. & Trevor Bayne
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had some choice words for Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage – and the horse he rode in on.

In fact, Earnhardt’s choice words were expressions of gratitude for thoughtful gifts to the driver of the No. 88 in anticipation of his last appearance at TMS in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Bedecked in a lighted cowboy suit and hat, Gossage – NASCAR’s own Rhinestone Cowboy – pranced into the TMS Media center atop a horse to deliver news of the largesse to Earnhardt.

The speedway is sponsoring a horse called “Chevy” in Earnhardt’s name at Victory Therapy Center, a ranch that specializes in help for persons with disabilities. Gossage also presented Earnhardt with the lighted top section of the scoring pylon from Earnhardt’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Texas in April 2000.

“Texas has been so awesome to me,” Earnhardt said. “My wife Amy, she’s from Texas. I got a whole other family down here. That is a big, big bonus of being married to her. We spent all week with them, with her sister and her husband. So Texas is a place that is almost like a second home.

“I find I love more and more about it the more time I spend here. But the track… there’s nothing really unique about the place other than Eddie, (who) has been amazing as far as a promoter. The things that he does… he is always kind of pushing the envelope. And he means well, I have learned.

“Sometimes I have wondered, but I know he’s just trying to do a job and take advantage of his opportunities, and he has to deliver, and so he does what he needs to do to deliver. It reminds me of some of the older style promoters that we used to have. A lot more flamboyant and creative.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Another Andretti In NASCAR?

Marco Andretti

Another Andretti in NASCAR racing? It’s not that far-fetched.

IndyCar legend Mario Andretti ran 14 races in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, winning the 1967 Daytona 500. John Andretti, Mario’s nephew, competed in 393 Cup races, winning at Daytona and Martinsville.

Jeff Andretti, Mario’s youngest son, tried his luck in three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races in 1999, all ending as DNFs because of mechanical issues.

And on Saturday morning at Martinsville Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged discussing the possibility of providing a NASCAR XFINITY Series ride for Marco Andretti, Mario’s grandson.

Only one problem: with four Chevrolets set to compete full-time for the XFINITY title next year – with drivers Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and Tyler Reddick – Earnhardt doesn’t have an “all-star car” to make occasional starts with a variety of drivers.

“We’ve got four teams and they are all full,” Earnhardt said. “So it’s probably not got any life, but we are friends and we’ve talked about it for two to three years. He has some interest in coming over and running some road courses and so does (Graham) Rahal and a bunch of other guys.

“If I had a field full of race cars, we would have a blast, all our buddies racing, but it’s just hard to do. We’re really thankful to be in the position we are in to have four full cars racing for a championship. As fun as the all-star idea and car is, and as many races as we won with (Kevin) Harvick, the real goal is to have a team running for the championship.”

Though he’s leaving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at the end of the season, Earnhardt is committed contractually to run at least one XFINITY Series race next season at a track still to be determined.

When that happens, he’ll have to field a fifth car, but that situation likely won’t be available to other drivers, even if their names are Andretti or Rahal.

“If we did have those opportunities, we certainly would entertain it, and I think it would be great for the sport to have an Andretti out there running in stock car,” Earnhardt said. “No matter where it is at, it would be awesome.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

The Dale Jr. Foundation Invites Fans to Whisky River for Homestead Race Watch Party

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. & Trevor Bayne
On Sunday, Nov. 19, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s storied career as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver will come to an end at Homestead-Miami Speedway and The Dale Jr. Foundation and Whisky River are partnering to provide JR Nation the opportunity to watch as part of an exclusive, private event. For just $20, fans can purchase a ticket to the JR Nation Appreci88ion Tour Race Watch Party and view the Homestead-Miami Speedway race from Dale Jr.’s own Whisky River location in the Charlotte Epicentre.

Entry to the JR Nation Appreci88ion Tour Race Watch Party also includes a swag bag, raffle ticket, a drink ticket and appetizers. Several Dale Jr. autographed items and memorabilia will be raffled off during the event. The watch party gets underway at 1 p.m. ET at Whisky River, located on the second level of the Epicentre (210 East Trade Street, Charlotte, NC 28202), with the green flag set to drop at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Proceeds from the event will directly benefit The Dale Jr. Foundation, a charity formed by the 14-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver that’s dedicated to giving underprivileged individuals with a focus on youth, the resources to improve their confidence and education, and the opportunity to achieve extraordinary goals.

For additional information and to purchase tickets for the JR Nation Appreci88ion Tour Race Watch Party, click here.

The Dale Jr. Foundation is also offering Party Packs for those unable to attend so that they can host an Official Appreci88ion Tour Race Watch Party in the comfort of their home. The $88 Party Packs supply everything needed to make their watch party a hit as well as help the Dale Jr. Foundation continue its mission.

Each Party Pack includes 12 cups, 12 koozies, a bottle opener, one T-shirt, napkins, a welcome sign for your door, recipe cards from Dale Jr.’s Whisky River restaurant, photo-booth props, a thank-you note from Dale Jr. and donation information for guests. The proceeds from each Party Pack benefit The Dale Jr. Foundation, which has supported 450 charities with more than $5.3 million raised in its existence.

Fans can show their Appreci88ion of the 43-year-old Earnhardt Jr.’s racing career and charitable efforts by making donations to The Dale Jr. Foundation in his honor and share on social media by using #Appreci88ionDonation to help continue the important and vital work it does in communities all around the country. Visit http://bit.ly/2eGDLwO or text “Dale” to (704) 313-1413 to make an instant donation, and help continue the mission!

ABOUT THE DALE JR FOUNDATION:

The Dale Jr. Foundation is a charity dedicated to giving underprivileged individuals with a focus on youth, the resources to improve their confidence and education, and the opportunity to achieve extraordinary goals. The Dale Jr. Foundation has made a monumental impact in the local community since its beginning.  Dedicated to giving underprivileged individuals, with a focus on youth, the resources to achieve extraordinary goals, TDJF has contributed to more than 300 charities nationally and locally, including The Make-A-Wish Foundation, Blessings in a Backpack, Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Ace and TJ’s Grin Kids, and Mooresville Christian Mission. For more information, visit www.thedalejrfoundation.org.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!