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dale earnhardt jr
Height: 6-0
Weight: 165
Born: Oct 10, 1974
Birth Place: Kannapolis, NC
Number: 88
Cup Wins: 26
NNS Wins: 23
Most Popular Driver Swards: 15
Sponsor: National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet
Crew Chief: Steve Letarte

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    (Click Here to submit news, articles & rumors)

    That time Tony Stewart told Dale Jr.: ‘Let’s be friends’

    (2/20/19) Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart weren’t always the fast friends that they are now.

    In fact, it took a scuffle for them to realize they should be pals.

    The two retired Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers talked on Earnhardt Jr.’s “Dale Jr. Download” released Tuesday, and reminisced about the first time they met — in the now-NASCAR Xfinity Series hauler at Pikes Peak International Raceway on June 14, 1998.

    Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart were called there after Stewart “punted (Junior) into Turn 1” following an intense battle on the track.

    “There was an altercation and pushing and shoving between me and his crew chief,” Earnhardt Jr. remembered. “Nobody ever really got popped or anything.”

    Fast forward one week later when both drivers were in Milwaukee for a then-Busch Grand National Series race. Stewart stopped Dale Jr. in the pits.

    “I would never have done this so it probably would have been awkward for a long time if it was up to me,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “But he came up to me … and said, ‘Hey man, we’re going to be racing each other a long time, so let’s be friends. Let’s not run into each other anymore. Let’s not drag this out.’

    “He’s like, ‘I’ve got no problem with you. Let’s be cool.’

    “And we’ve been cool.”

    Dale Jr. confirms he will drive in Darlington Xfinity race

    (2/2/19) Want to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. drive again?

    Junior advises you to come to Darlington Raceway on Aug. 31.

    Earnhardt Jr. mentioned on Twitter that he will drive in the Xfinity Series Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington.

    Last year, in Earnhardt Jr.’s first full season of retirement from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, he drove JR Motorsports’ Richmond Raceway entry in the Xfinity Series. He finished fourth.

    Earnhardt hoping to cultivate drivers’ growth on, off track with Drivers Edge Development program

    (1/25/19) Dale Earnhardt Jr. took a class in 1998 that impacted his professional career for years to come.

    The course taught him how to navigate an interview and conduct himself in a professional setting. Today, he credits that class as the start of his off-the-track growth as a professional driver.

    Those lessons are among the ones the JR Motorsports co-owner wants to provide to up-and-coming drivers in the Drivers Edge Development program, which JR Motorsports and GMS Racing jointly announced Thursday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame with its inaugural six-driver class.

    “That class I was in taught me how to cut down on a lot of terrible habits when you’re in an interview,” Earnhardt said. “… I wasn’t amazing right out of the gate — but it helped me understand to be able to identify them through the years and get better. … We’re going to help them understand how to identify these issues and these things as they go through their years in driving.

    “Just like when your dad would tell you something and you didn’t get it right away, but then down the road, you go ‘Aw, I see what he meant,’ ” he continued with a chuckle. “Maybe that’s what this is all about.”

    In addition to off-track lessons on branding, social media and professional imaging, the program will provide a racing path for up-and-coming drivers to move up through the series, beginning with JR Motorsports’ Late Model program and eventually leading to potential opportunities in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and Xfinity Series with GMS Racing and JR Motorsports, respectively. Former NASCAR driver Josh Wise will also help the drivers foster and improve their physical fitness.

    The idea is to provide a way to cultivate drivers’ talent and development to prepare them to move up the ladder in NASCAR’s ranks — and offer accountability while doing so.

    “They’re going to be held accountable to, ‘Hey, man, you took advantage of this course, you took advantage of these tools, you progressed … If they don’t take it seriously, they’re going to be left behind,” Earnhardt said. “They’re going to struggle to get that next opportunity. And that’s always going to be kind of a question mark about that particular individual. I guess as much as it helps them be better outside the car and so forth, it helps us sort of learn more about them individually, about what they’re capable of and how marketable they are, how they’re evolving through the program.”

    The six-driver class includes novice NASCAR drivers like Sam Mayer and Adam Lemke, as well as more seasoned ones like Xfinity drivers John Hunter Nemechek and Noah Gragson, who steps into the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet for his first full season in the series.

    The former Kyle Busch Motorsports wheelman said he’d “be lying if (he) said there wasn’t pressure” to perform with a team that’s won the last two championships in the Xfinity Series with Tyler Reddick (2018) and William Byron (2017). But having the tools in a good opportunity with a strong team only gives him “more confidence and more motivation, knowing that they can do (it).”

    In a similar facet, the Drivers Edge Development program gives the 20-year-old the necessary tools he needs to be successful in his off-the-track growth.

    “Really just trying to develop my skills, whether it be public speaking or it be developing my brand or what not,” Gragson told NASCAR.com. “I feel like I could grow and these are years where I really mature as a person. My late teens/early 20s is when people really start to mature and figure out who they are and I feel like surrounding myself with a great group of people, whether it be the drivers or the upper staff at GMS and JR Motorsports.”

    Social media is a growing area Earnhardt identified Thursday as important for young drivers’ branding in the Drivers Edge Development Program, citing it as a space where fans have begun to consume more content. Gragson in particular has become well-known for his playfulness on his accounts; when asked, he smiled and said he hopes to keep having fun on social media.

    “I’m a guy who’s, I would say a little,” he paused. “… a lot of weird. I kind of (march to a) beat of my own drum, but I come from the fan side of things before I started racing. I was a fan of the sport and I really enjoyed the personalities like Clint Bowyer, where they were just themselves.

    “There’s times to be professional but I feel like there’s also times where you can sit down and have some fun,” he continued. “I just want to relate to the fans and show them that I’m one of them.”

    JR Motorsports, GMS Racing launch Drivers Edge Development

    (1/25/19) Building on a successful technical alliance, JR Motorsports and GMS Racing jointly announced today the establishment of Drivers Edge Development, a program presented by Chevrolet aimed at grooming the next generation of racing superstars through a tiered competition pipeline coupled with comprehensive off-track education.

    Drivers Edge Development will give participating drivers, all with differing levels of experience, the opportunity to race in five types of developmental series with JRM or GMS-fielded entries while staying aligned with Chevrolet. The program allows the two teams to complement each other by offering participants competition options with JRM’s regional late model program leading into GMS’ NASCAR K&N Pro Series and ARCA entries. The next tier presents potential seat time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series with GMS. Finally, at the program’s top level, JRM entries await in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

    Equally as important as the competition focus, Drivers Edge Development provides added training to enhance participants’ professional growth off the track. Drivers will have access to a host of programs focusing on their physical, mental and technical development. An emphasis will be placed on educating them in areas such as brand building, social media and digital content, media training and fan relations as well as support for partner procurement and retention.

    “We have always prided ourselves on being a stepping stone for drivers that want to get to the top level of racing,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., JRM team owner. “JR Motorsports was designed with that in mind, and now with the help of GMS and Chevrolet, Drivers Edge Development will provide a clear-cut path and more options for drivers to get there.”

    Although mainly performance-based, there are no set criteria for selection into the program. Ideally, drivers between the ages of 14 and 21 years old will be considered. Currently, six drivers are enrolled in the Drivers Edge Development program:

    Noah Gragson (NXS driver for JRM)
    John Hunter Nemechek (NXS driver for GMS)
    Zane Smith (NXS driver for JRM in eight races)
    Sheldon Creed (Truck driver for GMS)
    Sam Mayer (Truck/ARCA/K&N driver for GMS and Late Model driver for JRM)
    Adam Lemke (Late Model driver for JRM)

    “We couldn’t be more pleased to get this program off the ground,” said Mike Beam, GMS team president. “Between GMS and JRM, I feel our two programs are very complementary of each other and will give Drivers Edge Development participants multiple series options.

    “We have to give Lorin Ranier some credit, too. He has been working behind the scenes and is a great help in scouting drivers for the program. He is really plugged into the local and regional short-track scene and has already worked with some of the drivers in the program.”

    Drivers Edge Development participants will also benefit from the mentoring of veteran racers from both the JRM and GMS stables.

    “Drivers Edge Development is going to be critical to the future of the sport and our race team,” said Kelley Earnhardt Miller, JRM general manager. “The fact that you have JRM, GMS and Chevrolet involved in getting this off the ground speaks to that importance.

    “We’re emphasizing on-track experience in multiple series while still keeping the drivers under the Chevrolet umbrella. Off track, we’re going to offer these drivers decades of industry knowledge and best practices with the goal of helping them become the best versions of themselves in all aspects of the sport.”

    The six drivers enrolled in Drivers Edge Development are joining established and successful operations. The JRM late model teams have delivered 40 wins in the last three seasons and own a total of four championships. GMS Racing has nine wins and a championship with its ARCA program. Its Truck teams have amassed 23 wins along with a championship in 2016. Over 13 years of competition, JRM’s NXS program lays claim to 44 wins and three championships, including consecutive titles in 2017-18.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. elected to North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame

    (1/23/19) Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s NASCAR career is starting to be recognized by sporting bodies and in four months he’ll be honored by his home state.

    The native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, will be among 11 sports figures in the state who will be inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in May.

    Earnhardt, a 26-time Cup winner and an analyst for NBC Sports, will be the 13th motorsports representative inducted into Hall of Fame.

    He joins Lee Petty (1966), Richard Petty (1973), Ned Jarrett (1990), Junior Johnson (1992), Herb Thomas (1992), Buck Baker (1992), his father Dale Earnhardt (1994), Humpy Wheeler (2004), Richard Childress (2008), Dale Jarrett (2011), Rick Hendrick (2015) and Ray Price (2016).

    Established in 1963, the NCSHOF is on the third floor of the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.

    Earnhardt and the other inductees will be enshrined in an induction banquet May 3 at the Raleigh Convention Center.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. to pace 2019 Daytona 500 in all-new Chevrolet Silverado

    (12/12/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr. will find himself in a very familiar place at the 2019 Daytona 500: at the front of the pack.

    Earnhardt Jr., a two-time Daytona 500 winner, will drive the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado pace truck to lead the field to green for the 61st running of the ‘Great American Race.’ This is the first time the Daytona 500 will be paced by a pickup truck.

    “I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of success at Daytona over the years, and now I can’t wait to get out on that track in a Silverado,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Away from the track I’ve driven Chevy trucks all my life, and I’m excited to have this unique experience of pacing the Daytona 500 with the Silverado.”

    In addition to winning the ‘Great American Race’ in 2004 and 2014, Earnhardt Jr. was a two-time winner of the July race at Daytona, overall scoring four wins, 13 top five and 19 top 10s in 36 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career starts at Daytona International Speedway (DIS). Earnhardt Jr. was voted the sport’s Most Popular Driver for 15 consecutive years.

    “Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the perfect choice to pace the race because of his enthusiasm for the sport, his long history with Chevrolet and his love of trucks,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “It’ll be exciting to have Dale lead the field to green in the strongest, most-advanced Silverado ever.”

    The Silverado pace truck is powered by a production 6.2L V-8 engine that is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. It delivers 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque.

    Chevrolet has paced the Daytona 500 field 12 times, seven with Camaro and five with Corvette.

    Gragson: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch ‘polar opposites’

    (12/9/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch have been two of NASCAR’s biggest stars of the sport for more than a decade; nearly two, in Junior’s case.

    Each made their mark in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, along with putting together a pair of dominant, championship-winning race shops in NASCAR’s lower national series.

    But the similarities stop there, according to Busch’s former and Earnhardt’s future driver, Noah Gragson.

    “Polar opposites,” Gragson said Saturday night at the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center. “Two race car drivers, but polar opposites. … This is going to get me in trouble.”

    Gragson is making the leap up to Xfinity competition next season with JR Motorsports’ No. 1 Chevrolet entry, following a pair of Truck Series seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports. In his time with KBM, the 2018 Snowball Derby winner compiled two wins, 30 top 10s and a runner-up finish in the standings after placing third in last month’s Championship 4 race at Homestead.

    The 20-year-old driver will have the fortune of learning first-hand from two of the best the sport has to offer, and credits the guidance he received from the 2015 Cup champion as a stepping stone for where is today.

    “I definitely think going through that growth spurt over at Kyle Busch Motorsports (helped me),” Gragson said. “Kyle, he’s one of the most talented race car drivers in all of NASCAR. Period. Can’t argue it. It is what it is. He’s one of the best, and to be able to learn from him and ask him questions … ‘Hey man, what are you doing on restarts? What are you doing getting into your pit box with your feet on the brake pedal and the clutch pedal and all that?’ That type of experience, to lean on, is priceless.”

    While he’s learned countless lessons under the tutelage of Busch the past few years, JRM might feel a little more like home.

    “For myself personally, I feel like (Dale and I) have a lot of similarities. … I think I can be even more myself going over to JR Motorsports. I just really enjoy the atmosphere over there with all the guys. It’s more of a laid-back atmosphere and it’s a bit of a change for me. It’s just a different environment; not saying one’s right, one’s wrong.”

    The move to the digital/social heavyweight JRM also might help him expand on his outgoing, comical personality — a profile he’s owned and embraces, but one that he wants fans to know that is only one aspect of who he is.

    “I think they might see me more as the jokester and the clown,” Gragson said. “Deep down I like to have a fun time, I like to joke around. But when it’s time to put the helmet on, it’s time to strap those belts on, and fire up that motor. It’s down to business.

    “I might look like the clown, but all I’m thinking about … is about my race car and how to make this sport better.”

    Dale Jr.: Bowman ‘the right guy’ in the No. 88 seat

    (12/7/18) Having had a few weeks to reflect on the 2018 NASCAR season, Alex Bowman said Thursday that he still has goals left unfinished after his first full season with Hendrick Motorsports. Though he checked another pole position and a first-time playoff berth off his list, he still wanted more — namely a tick mark in the win column.

    Though the fortunes of the No. 88 outfit rose and dipped at points during the season, Bowman’s positive approach helped mitigate the sometimes team-wide struggles. It’s a characteristic that stood out for a vested outside observer — his predecessor, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    “I think from outside the car, he handled it really well,” Earnhardt said. “You know, a young driver their first year, not performing the way you want to perform, he never put it on anybody, he never pointed fingers, never said anything that had a little attitude to it or anything like that. He just was like, ‘We’re going to keep working. We’re having some struggles, we’re going to get it right.’ I thought he kept his attitude great when he was frustrated. …

    “And so I felt like that Alex proved this season that if they can get the cars where they need to be that they got the right guy in the seat. I think that that was important for Alex because the car did struggle.”

    Bowman’s first campaign with the No. 88 team overlapped with the first season of the Chevy Camaro ZL1 in the Monster Energy Series. Teammate Chase Elliott broke through for his first three wins in the second half of the season, but the organization fought to replicate its trademark performance with the new Chevrolet model and a retooled driver roster.

    Still, Bowman was one of three Hendrick drivers claiming postseason berths, joining Elliott and seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson in the 16-car field. Bowman survived a harrowing first three races of the playoffs to advance to the Round of 12, an achievement he said may have changed people’s perceptions.

    “I’m still on the same page of we didn’t win and that’s pretty frustrating to me, but we made it further than a lot of people thought we would in the playoffs, which was really cool,” Bowman said. “I really just wanted more, but it was a rough year for all of us at HMS. So to kind of start where we did and make the progress that we did was pretty cool.”

    Bowman ended his year with the first three top-five finishes of his premier-series career, including a fourth-place effort at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course that helped him avoid the first postseason elimination. The 25-year-old driver said he hopes to improve on his stats in year two with Hendrick Motorsports, but acknowledged that some performance gains will be dependent on how quickly his organization adapts to a new rules package for 2019.

    Earnhardt said Bowman’s progression has the potential to mirror his own. Earnhardt said he set modest goals in his first year with crew chief Steve Letarte (now his broadcasting colleague at NBC Sports) in 2011 of running among the top 15. When he was able to accomplish that on a regular basis, the team reset the bar at top-10 performance, methodically inching closer to being a threat to win.

    “They can’t expect to just jump out there next year and they’re just going to miraculously start contending for wins,” said Earnhardt, who estimated that his own team’s transition to becoming a top-tier contender was a three-year process. “You’ve just got to move those standards up and push that team to believe in those standards and work toward that goal.

    “Last year, I think his goal would be to run in the top 10 any time they could. I believe they could raise that up a little bit to a top five this year and just aim for that every single week until that is happening every week, and then you can change that goal.”

    Alex Bowman reveals 2019 Nationwide paint scheme with help from Dale Jr.

    (12/6/18) (Photo) Alex Bowman helped to take the cover off the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet he’ll drive next season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, capping off an afternoon of surprises at GoPro Motorplex. But those biggest surprises weren’t necessarily on the car itself.

    Though his predecessor Dale Earnhardt Jr. was by his side for Thursday’s reveal, the paint scheme for Bowman’s 2019 ride signaled that he’s working to establish some of his own identity as the face of the No. 88. The new-look design featured some subtle changes, with many styling cues carrying over from his first full season with Hendrick Motorsports.

    “He was still standing by it,” Bowman joked about Earnhardt’s presence. “I don’t know. I feel like everybody’s been really supportive and Nationwide’s really embraced me as well as Axalta, Llumar and Valvoline and everybody at HMS have been super-supportive. That hasn’t been too bad.

    “Definitely there are a lot of Dale Jr. fans out there and it’s cool to kind of take over the 88 car, but it’s also really cool to have Dale’s support and all his help.”

    Bowman said that the patriotic No. 88 design that he drove at the Coca-Cola 600 last May served as a starting point for creating the 2019 model. Both Bowman and Earnhardt expressed their adoration for the expanded sections of white on the side panels — all the better to show tire marks and race-worn grime, they agreed.

    “For me, I don’t know that every driver’s the same, probably not, but man, I had to like the car I was driving, and I wanted to,” said Earnhardt, who estimated he had a hand in the design of 95 percent of the cars he drove during his career. “It made me want to drive it, made me want to race it, made me excited to do well with it.”

    Earnhardt, who transitioned to the broadcast booth for NBC Sports this year after retiring from full-time driving, lent his support Thursday as an emcee for social-media streams of the car’s unveiling. He also gave the event his blessing as a longtime Nationwide endorser, surprising local fans recruited by the insurance company to attend.

    Bowman gave his own surprises on the .7-mile karting track, making liberal use of his front bumper with fans and media alike. Guests watching the unveil were asked for a show of hands: “Who got spun out by Alex?” More than one hand shot up.

    “It was fun. I tried to run into a couple of them to give them that authentic NASCAR experience,” Bowman said. “It was cool.”

    NASCAR, eBay launch first joint auction; bid on unique memorabilia, VIP experiences

    (10/22/18) eBay and NASCAR today launched their first joint charity sale giving fans the opportunity to bid on autographed memorabilia and once-in-a-lifetime racing experiences.

    Today through Nov. 1, fans can visit eBay.com/NASCAR and bid on 20 items including a chance to see who wins the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series live at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the chance to be a VIP at the 2019 Daytona 500.

    In addition, fans can win meet and greets with seven-time NASCAR Champion Richard Petty, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano; as well as autographed memorabilia from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Jeff Gordon and much more.

    “NASCAR is synonymous with a truly passionate fan base, and eBay fuels this passion while helping people come together to make an impact,” said Suzy Deering, Chief Marketing Officer of eBay Americas. “We understand the apparel, memorabilia and merchandise are ways for fans to show allegiance for their favorite drivers – and show support for causes they believe in. In collaboration with the NASCAR community, eBay is now offering a wide-range of exclusive inventory that helps children finish first through programs of the NASCAR Foundation and our eBay for Charity platform. True to our mission of opportunity for all, eBay brings new ways for the racing community to give back to the next generation of fans.”

    One hundred percent of the proceeds from each item will benefit The NASCAR Foundation’s programs for children.

    The NASCAR Foundation believes every child should have a chance at a healthy life and deserves to get across the finish line. Through the Speediatrics Children’s Fund and Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, the Foundation is making children’s health and medical needs its top priority.

    “We are thrilled to partner with eBay to provide these very unique items to their customers,” The NASCAR Foundation Executive Director, Nichole Krieger said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids. Funds raised through this auction will help us provide much needed healthcare services to children in our racing communities across the country.”

    VIP experiences and signed racing memorabilia available include:

    Experiences:

    2019 Daytona 500 VIP Experience
    2018 Homestead-Miami Speedway VIP Experience with NASCAR Suite Passes
    Richard Petty Meet and Greet Experience
    iRacing Experience with NASCAR Driver William Byron
    Meet and Greet with NASCAR Driver Chase Elliott
    NASCAR on NBC Sports Behind-the-Scenes Experience
    Meet and Greet with NASCAR Driver Joey Logano
    2018 NASCAR Champion’s Week Package in Las Vegas, NV

    Memorabilia:

    American Ethanol Green Flag autographed by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drivers
    Martin Truex Jr. Autographed Side Panel Sheet Metal
    Joey Logano Autographed Hood
    Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Autographed Replica Full-Size Helmet
    Ty Dillon Autographed Race-Used Firesuit
    Helmet Visor signed by Richard Petty and Bubba Wallace
    Paralyzed Veterans of America Hat Autographed by Brad Keselowski
    Alex Bowman Autographed Diecast
    Jeff Gordon Autographed 24EVER Framed Photo
    NASCAR Replica Hood autographed by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drivers
    The Glass Case of Emotion autographed Poster
    Full Size Replica Helmet autographed by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drivers

    Additionally, the autographed American Ethanol Flag and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Autographed Replica Helmet will be available to view at SEMA in Las Vegas from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 at booth no. 30219.

    AOL Build Interview: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    (10/17/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr. Talks His New Book, "Racing To The Finish: My Story": Video.

    In his new book, "Racing to the Finish: My Story," Dale Earnhardt Jr. opens up about his frustration with the slow recovery, his admiration for the woman who stood by him through it all, and his determination to share his own experience so that others don’t have to suffer in silence. Steering his way to the final checkered flag of his storied career proved to be the most challenging race and most rewarding finish of his life.

    Talk Show Appearance

    (10/13/18) Rachael Ray - syndicated

    Airing Oct 16, 2018

    David Boreanaz ("SEAL Team"); NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. gives one of his super-fans the surprise of a lifetime; Rachael makes a hearty Italian dinner.

    Earnhardt Jr.’s Xfinity return was an important personal moment

    (9/21/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lone scheduled race of the season — a one-off Xfinity Series effort — was intended to be a flashback, a low-pressure return to NASCAR competition after his retirement from full-time racing last season. It was also intended to be enjoyable, a goal that Earnhardt reiterated in a pace-lap radio communication to his pit crew: “Let’s have some fun, man.”

    After 250 laps Friday night at Richmond Raceway, the fun factor was a turning-back of the clock to long-ago days, a rekindling of memories planted nearly two decades earlier to the last time he’d enjoyed racing this much.

    “When I was racing Late Models in the ’90s, probably,” Earnhardt said. “I had a lot of fun in the late ’90s running the Xfinity Series, but I didn’t know I was having fun. I didn’t know how good I had it.”

    Earnhardt had a sense of how good things could be by exceeding his own expectations in Friday night’s Federated Auto Parts 250, where he led a race-high 96 laps before slipping to a fourth-place finish. The longtime fan favorite soaked in adoring cheers, spent time with his growing family and accepted well-wishes from many of his peers after the event.

    It was an overflow of emotions for Earnhardt, who qualified second in a patchwork fifth JR Motorsports entry, then used a veteran’s poise to conserve his equipment and rise to the lead near the race’s midpoint. He picked up his first-ever stage victory and stayed solidly in contention, building a striking sense of anticipation that his one-race return could be a winner.

    The apprehension wasn’t just the crowd’s. It was Earnhardt’s, too.

    “I tried to come in here and just think, man, I really just want to have fun, I want to race, I want to do everything I’ve got to do,” he said. “Right around three-quarters of the way through that race, I’m like, man, if I don’t win, now I’m going to be disappointed. I done backed myself into a corner with my expectations getting so high. It’s easy to be disappointed that we didn’t win because we should (have).”

    Those prospects held firm until Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet lost the race off pit road in the next-to-last caution period and faded with tire spin on a sprinkling of late restarts. Still, if there was any rust in his first race since last November, it barely showed.

    “If you think about it, when a guy steps out of, say a baseball player no matter what level takes months and months off and get back out there, they don’t just start and pick up right where they left off,” Earnhardt said. “The sport is elite, the drivers are elite and this ain’t a hobby. These guys are the best. Some of these guys in this field will be winning Cup races and championships one day. … You just can’t assume you’re going to miss eight months or 10 months and come right in here and win, much less run in the top five. My expectations were just to kind of be in the top 10.”

    Though his competitive juices got going once the field went green, Earnhardt was loose in pre-race ceremonies, conversing with his wife, Amy, and doting on his 4-month-old daughter, Isla Rose. Two fans pierced the intimate family moment, yelling out “Slide job!” in a nod to the TV call that resonated in Earnhardt’s debut as a broadcaster for NBC Sports. Earnhardt made eye contact and grinned.

    He’ll resume his primary duties from the television booth starting Saturday evening at Richmond. But for one night at least, the 43-year-old driver was rejuvenated, having the same sort of adventure as a kid trying to scratch out a career at dimly lit short tracks with his Late Model crew.

    This time, though, he got to spend it with his wife and daughter, coming oh-so-close to creating scrapbook memories in Victory Lane.

    “She obviously won’t remember this, but she’ll have the photographs and all that stuff,” Earnhardt said of his infant daughter. “I don’t know what she’ll think about my racing career and how that’ll register with her since she won’t get to experience any of it, but we got to have one race together and Amy wouldn’t miss it. Isla’s here. It was a pretty important moment for me, personally.”

    NASCAR AMERICA TO AIR EXCLUSIVE FIRST LISTEN OF DALE EARNHARDT JR.’S BOOK RACING TO THE FINISH: MY STORY – MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 24 AT 5 P.M. ET ON NBCSN

    (9/21/18) NASCAR America, NBCSN’s daily motorsports show, will air an exclusive first listen of NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s new book, Racing To The Finish: My Story, next Monday, September 24 at 5 p.m. ET.

    The first listen will feature NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for an unprecedented 15 consecutive years narrating a chapter from his autobiography entitled “A Life, A Secret, and A Promise.” A first-person account, Earnhardt’s gripping book candidly brings readers through his eighteen years behind the wheel, his struggle and frustration with concussions the last several years of racing, his admiration for the woman who stood by him, and his determination to share his experience so that others don’t suffer in silence.

    The full audio excerpt of the first listen will also be available on NBCSports.com’s NASCAR Talk. NBC Sports Group’s 24/7 website dedicated to up-to-the-minute news, video, and information on NASCAR drivers, teams and the motorsports industry.

    Earnhardt first announced his new book, and revealed the cover, this past April during an episode of NASCAR America "Wednesdays with Dale Jr."

    Racing To The Finish: My Story will be released on October 16, 2018 from the W Publishing Group, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.

    Dale Jr. returns to race at Richmond, but will it be his last race?

    (9/18/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr. left the door cracked open for racing beyond Friday night’s GoBowling 250 at Richmond Raceway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In a spontaneous Q&A with fans on Twitter, Earnhardt responded to a question about whether Friday (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) would be his final race.

    Earnhardt said he’d only run races for JR Motorsports that involve sponsorship packages that help fund races for the other four teams. He went on to say when the team runs five cars in a given week, it stretches the company thin.

    Earnhardt is running in this weekend’s NASCAR Playoffs opener in Xfinity because, as he said, it was part of an agreement with Unilever and Hellmanns that he do so; an agreement that was in place before he decided to walk away from full-time racing after the 2017 season.

    Sweetening the scene for Junior fans is that he’ll have his old spotter back this weekend, TJ Majors, who currently spots for the No. 22 Team Penske Ford driven by Joey Logano in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

    Junior told a fan he got permission from Roger Penske, himself, for Majors to spot this week. But as for Steve Letarte stepping in as Junior’s crew chief? That won’t be happening, Junior says, because of Letarte’s commitments to broadcasting for NBC Sports.

    However, although the band won’t be totally back together, we wouldn’t bet against Letarte dialing up Junior for an in-car interview or two.

    Dale Jr.: Richmond ‘may be the last time I race a car’

    (9/10/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr. has spent this season working in the broadcast booth for the first time in his career, but he will make another “first” in two weeks at Richmond Raceway. Although he has retired from full-time racing, he will make a one-race start in a JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the Sept. 21 Xfinity Series race at the track.

    It will be his first NASCAR start since he climbed out of his Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 after the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season finale in Homestead, Florida, last November — and it might just be his last, he hinted.

    “I’m looking forward to it,’’ Earnhardt said of his Xfinity Series debut this season. “I didn’t miss racing at the start of the year at all. I didn’t miss driving much. When I got back to the broadcasting and started to really plug into what the races were like and what was going on, you see moments in the races that make you wish you were out there doing that. And so, I started to miss it a little bit.

    “I like Richmond as a track. And it’s a pretty straightforward little race track. We have had success there. I’m not really putting any expectations or pressure on myself as far as performance. I just want to go run and have fun.”

    And, Earnhardt said, it just may be the last time he enters a major NASCAR race.

    “It’s the only time I’m going to race a car this year. And it may be the last time I race a car,’’ he said.

    “I really don’t know what our plans are going forward. I don’t really have any initiative to drive a ton of races. So, we’ll just kind of see what kind of opportunities there are down the road with the sponsorships and so forth that help the rest of the company. But, hopefully I get to run all the laps and just enjoy driving the car.

    “The only reason you get behind the wheel of a race car is because it’s fun and you enjoy the competition. Hopefully those are things that I get out of it and try not to get real competitive about it. I don’t want to sweat over every lap and how fast we are in practice and all those things, and make it a miserable experience because most race car drivers tend to do that if you’re not careful.”

    Reactions from Sally Field and more to Burt Reynolds' death

    (9/7/18) Reaction to the death on Thursday of actor Burt Reynolds:

    ___

    — "There are times in your life that are so indelible, they never fade away. They stay alive, even forty years later. My years with Burt never leave my mind. He will be in my history and my heart, for as long as I live. Rest, Buddy." — Sally Field, in a statement released to The Associated Press.

    — "Quinton and I are extremely touched by the tremendous outpouring of love and support from friends and family throughout the world. Burt was a wonderful director and actor. He was a big part of my life for twelve years and Quinton's loving father for 30 years. We will miss him and his great laugh." — Loni Anderson and Quinton Anderson Reynolds, Burt Reynolds' ex-wife and son, in a statement to the AP.

    — "Burt Reynolds was one of my heroes. He was a trailblazer. He showed the way to transition from being an athlete to being the highest paid actor, and he always inspired me. He also had a great sense of humor — check out his Tonight Show clips. My thoughts are with his family." — Arnold Schwarzenegger, on Twitter.

    — "Oh how sad I am today along with Burt's millions of fans around the world as we mourn one of our favorite leading men. I know we will always remember his funny laugh, that mischievous sparkle in his eyes, and his quirky sense of humor. You will always be my favorite sheriff, rest in peace my little buddy. I will always love you." — Dolly Parton, who posted the statement on social media along with a photo of Reynolds in a sheriff's uniform in their 1982 film "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

    — "Rest in peace to a legend and a friend." — Mark Wahlberg, via Twitter.

    "A sad day, my friend Burt Reynolds has passed away. I remember him back in 1979, he always reminded me that I should've cast him as Colonel Trautman in 'First Blood,' I said that's impossible, because you're too expensive and too famous, and probably tougher than Rambo! He laughed, He had a great sense of humor and I enjoyed his company so much... RIP Buddy." — Sylvester Stallone, on Instagram.

    — "Worked with Burt Reynolds on a TV show once. He introduced himself by saying, 'Hi, I'm Burt Reynolds. I used to be big in the 70's.' How do you not love that?" — comedian Michael Ian Black, via Twitter.

    — "Burt, what an impact you made. Working beside you and seeing firsthand what a movie star was like when cameras were and were not rolling was truly instructive. Thanks for the kindness you always extended. RIP, Giant." — Actor Carl Weathers, on Twitter.

    — "I'm 19. I get a few lines in a movie. The megastar on set was really nice and cool to this punk actor (me) for no reason. The director called me before the movie came out to tell me I had hit the cutting room floor. But I never forgot that Star. Thanks Burt." — Kevin Bacon, on Twitter.

    — "Burt Reynolds the movie star was larger-than-life. Burt the man was down-to-earth, funny as hell, and more talented than he ever gave himself credit for. A true icon has passed." — Larry King, in a tweet.

    — "Rest in peace Burt Reynolds. You were an icon and one of my heroes." — Actor Danny Trejo, on Twitter.

    — "It was just two weeks ago that we were talking about the upcoming college football season and the 'Noles. Burt, better known as 'Buddy' to his friends, loved FSU football and no matter how big a star he became, he never forgot his friends from the FSU family. I will forever remember our conversations and the true friend that he was." — ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso, a teammate and roommate of Reynolds' when both played football for the Florida State Seminoles in the 1950s. Via Twitter.

    "Burt Reynolds, you are the glorious dictionary definition of a golden man. Thank you for spreading your glow." — Lena Dunham, on Twitter.

    "'Stroker Ace was born to race.' Much respect to you Burt Reynolds. RIP." — NASCAR Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    "Very sad to hear about the passing of Burt Reynolds. He was a great actor, a philanthropist and a pioneer of the cool mustache." — Steve Harvey, via Twitter.

    Dale Jr. predicts Truex-Pearn pairing destined for JGR in 2019

    (9/5/18) In his former role as a driver and his current role as a broadcaster for NBC Sports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a keen perspective on the inner workings of the NASCAR “Silly Season” carousel. Wednesday morning, he used that insight to lob a prediction about a major personnel move that may or may not be drawing near.

    On the heels of yesterday’s news that defending Monster Energy Series champ Martin Truex Jr. and his crew chief, Cole Pearn, will be on the move next season, Earnhardt opened up on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” about a potential 2019 shift to Joe Gibbs Racing — a theory that would directly impact Daniel Suarez and JGR’s No. 19 team.

    “It’s definitely going to move a lot of things around on the competition side with Truex and Cole Pearn going to Gibbs,” Earnhardt told SiriusXM. “It’ll be interesting to see where Daniel ends up, and where Daniel goes moves another domino and so forth. I think that this’ll be one of the most interesting offseasons or silly seasons that we’ve had in many, many years. Seems like there’s a piece of news or new domino falling every single day, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens through the rest of the year.”

    Furniture Row Racing announced Tuesday that it would cease operations at season’s end, leaving driver, crew chief and other team personnel in limbo. Earnhardt speculated that whichever team brings Truex into the fold would strive to keep the chemistry of the driver-crew chief pairing with Pearn intact.

    Pearn joined Furniture Row in 2015, one year after Truex landed at the Colorado-based organization. They have combined for 17 Monster Energy Series victories together, including the 2017 championship.

    “I think they’ll both stick together and they’ll end up in the 19, more than likely. I think they both complement each other,” Earnhardt said. “I believe that Martin Truex Jr. is as good as anybody in the series, but without a great crew chief, no driver is going to be as competitive as they could be and reach their potential, so they both complement each other. I think they’re a good package if they can stick together.

    “I worked with Martin for a long time and we’ve been friends for a long time, and I’ve always thought a lot about his ability. He’s a guy that comes to work, does his job. Anything that they ask of him outside the race car, he does. He’s no-nonsense.”

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive Brickyard 400 pace car

    (8/17/18) The final race before the 2018 NASCAR Playoffs kick off is special at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year, and it has a special pace car driver, too: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    The Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard kicks off at 2 p.m. ET, Sept. 9 — the last chance for drivers to make the field of 16 for the NASCAR Playoffs.

    “I am honored that Chevrolet asked me to drive the Camaro ZL1 Pace Car in one of the biggest races of the year,” Earnhardt said in a release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “The fan in me was already looking forward to this event. It’s a big race. There is a lot at stake since it’s the final chance for the teams and drivers to make the Playoffs. So, I hope to do a good job leading the field to the green flag, but I can promise you I’ll soak in every minute and enjoy the Brickyard in a way I never have before.”

    Now an analyst for NBC Sports, Dale Jr. made his final start at the Brickyard as a full-time driver July 23, 2017. He crashed out, finishing 36th. In 17 starts at Indianapolis, Junior had one top 5, five top 10s and an average finish of 19.8.

    Watch Dale Jr., NBC personalities as they take in Xfinity race at Mid-Ohio

    (8/8/18) Want to know what it’s like to watch a race with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the NASCAR on NBC personalities?

    Well, this Saturday you are in luck as Earnhardt and his NBC pals will take in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and the @Xfinity handle will be live streaming it for your enjoyment.

    In his first year with NBC, Earnhardt has brought a unique energy to the booth with his excitement and passion for racing. We can only imagine how much fun will be had in this setting.

    This is the second road-course race in a four-race stretch for the series, which will shape the playoff picture until the regular season ends at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App).

    36 NASCAR Drivers join Dale Jr.’s glove auction for Nationwide Children’s Hospital

    (7/29/18) When Dale Jr. puts out the call to NASCAR drivers to help support The Dale Jr. Foundation and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, they show up … by the dozens.

    During the Watkins Glen race weekend (Aug. 3-5), 32 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers and all four JR Motorsports NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers will participate in the Driven to Give Glove program. Drivers will wear skeleton driving gloves inspired by the ones Junior wore during races. Each pair of gloves then will be autographed by the driver and auctioned on Aug. 8, with proceeds benefiting the Dale and Amy Earnhardt Fund at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

    The fund supports the hospital’s efforts in pediatric injury rehabilitation, research and prevention.

    “We’ve done a lot with the Gloves program through the years at The Dale Jr. Foundation, but this year we wanted to open it up to more people,” said Earnhardt Jr. of the program. “To have 32 of my former competitors and all four of our JR Motorsports’ drivers sign on to this to help the Nationwide Children’s Hospital continue the life-saving work they do there is impressive, and I can’t thank them all enough. Nationwide Children’s Hospital is a huge part of the work we do at The Foundation.”

    The Earnhardts created the fund at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in November 2017, with an $88,888 initial donation, commemorating Dale’s years driving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports car with Nationwide as a sponsor.

    Nationwide will be on the No 88 car again at Watkins Glen, with Alex Bowman driving a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet featuring a butterfly-themed special Nationwide Children’s Hospital paint scheme. Patient Champion Ashyzla Jackson was at Hendrick Motorsports for the unveiling of the paint scheme. Patient Champions help tell the story of the work the hospital does for children.

    Driven to Give Glove program also started in 2017 and has raised more than $100,000 already for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital. It is an extension of Junior’s relationship with Nationwide as a sponsor before his retirement and his commitment to the children’s hospital, reaching back several years.

    In 216, the Dale & Amy Earnhardt room was dedicated to the driver and his wife, and they created their fund as a way to extend that relationship beyond Junior’s retirement from driving.

    Bowman has history with Nationwide Children’s Hospital as well. He was the first driver to pilot a car with a special paint scheme for the hospital, at the Xfinity Series’ 2013 race at Mid-Ohio. When he’s back behind the wheel with the hospital on board, Nationwide Children’s Hospital Patient Championship Bricen Thall will be on hand at Watkins Glen with his family.

    Bricen and his family are from Winfield, New York, and he was born with a condition named Hirschsprung’s Disease. He’s now five but had his first of many surgeries at just one week old.

    After several surgeries over the first two years of his life, Bricen was referred to the Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. His care there has set him on a path that for the first time didn’t involve a surgery for a whole year.

    “Nationwide Children’s has a very special place in our hearts for everything they have done for Bricen,” said his mother, Colby Thall. “They have given him a better quality of life and the chance to experience all that a 5-year-old should.”

    Drivers who are participating in the Driven go Give Glove program are: Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger , Aric Almirola, Michael Annett, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Chris Buescher, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Landon Cassill, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Michael McDowell, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Tyler Reddick, Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace.

    SPECIAL ANALYST-ONLY “NBC RACE TEAM BROADCAST” SUNDAY AT 2 PM ET ON NBCSN

    (7/16/18) NASCAR on NBC analysts Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte will take over NBC Sports’ broadcast booth for a special analyst-only call of this Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 on July 22 at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

    Combining their decades of experience behind the wheel and in the garage, Earnhardt, Burton and Letarte will bring viewers a fresh perspective of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, through informal stories, conversation and race commentary. Called from NASCAR on NBC’s traditional broadcast booth above the start-finish line, the “NBC Race Team Broadcast” will bring fans closer to their favorite drivers and teams as pre-playoff competition heats up at “The Magic Mile.”

    “We have a multi-option offense, and are again excited to try a different booth setup for our NASCAR Cup Series race broadcast this weekend in New Hampshire,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer & President, Production, NBC & NBCSN. “We’re putting people in positions to make it fun for the audience, and the ‘NBC Race Team Broadcast’ will bring a unique and different perspective to the race.”

    Lead NASCAR on NBC race announcer Rick Allen will move to pit road and report on Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice and race coverage from “The Magic Mile,” adding a fresh perspective from pit road. Allen will also call the Xfinity race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this Saturday, July 21 at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN alongside Earnhardt and Burton. Letarte will contribute coverage from pit road on the “Peacock Pit Box.”

    Allen, Burton, Earnhardt and Letarte will all return to NASCAR on NBC’s traditional two broadcast booth set up for NBCSN’s coverage of the Cup series race at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, July 29. Allen will call the action alongside Burton from NBC Sports’ booth above the start/finish line, with Earnhardt and his former crew chief Letarte providing additional insight and analysis from NBCSN’s second broadcast booth.

    The “NBC Race Team Broadcast” is an additional example of NBC Sports’ innovative NASCAR race telecast techniques, expanding on NBC Sports’ “On The Box” coverage and the addition of NBC Sports Group’s “Peacock Pit Box,” both advancements that were unveiled earlier this season.

    Slide job! Dale Jr. brings catchphrase and enthusiasm to new job

    (7/6/18) One week into his next career with NBC Sports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. already has a hashtag-worthy broadcast moment. His exuberant call of the Chicagoland last-lap clash between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson has already had a lasting effect.

    Just don’t expect “slide job!” to become an every-week occurrence.

    “I don’t know that that’s a catchphrase because I don’t know that you can just work it in any time,” Earnhardt said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “That was just a natural reaction to what I was seeing. That’s what my bosses asked me to do was to say what I was thinking, especially in a moment like that when you’re excited and I’m enjoying it and reacting like a fan.”

    That reaction seemed to resonate, showing up in online parodies and memes in the days after the Chicagoland event.

    “I was really surprised that that took off like it did,” Earnhardt said. “I got done with the race, went to the car, drove to the airport. By the time I got to the airport, everybody was texting me and saying it over and over, and I’m hearing it all week. That’s cool. I’m glad that the broadcast was a success, and I’m glad everybody enjoyed that little tidbit at the end. Hopefully we see as much excitement out of every race.”

    Earnhardt said he’s easing into the job as an analyst, learning the nuance of communication with his producers and on-air colleagues as he preps for his second race-day assignment, Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM). His brings an extra level of expertise this weekend as a four-time Daytona winner over the course of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.

    Earnhardt says he’s been encouraged to take a more casual approach, emulating the laid-back feel of his weekly podcast, the “Dale Jr. Download.” Last weekend’s final call, where he punctuated lead broadcaster Rick Allen’s play-by-play with his descriptions, was a step in that direction.

    “His passion for racing, it showed last week, right?” said NBC Sports teammate and pit analyst Steve Letarte, “because you had an expert when you needed an expert and you had a fan when you wanted a fan, and I think that was a great balance.”

    Said Earnhardt of his first go in the NBC booth: “I’ve got nothing negative to say about it. Even if I tried to think about anything on the negative side, everything’s been positive. I get to work with my friends, have fun and we get to talk about racing. Jeff Burton says this all the time and I agree: I’m watching the races anyway. I want to be at the track, I miss coming to the track, so if I can go to every race and watch them, I would. And so NBC’s going to do that and send me to all the tracks and then they’re going to pay me to talk about it, so it’s a dream come true to be honest with you.

    “Hopefully, it just comes down to the fans’ opinion of the broadcast, the fans’ opinion of the job we do and I do whether I get to stick around. So I’m going to try hard to do a great job.”

    Dale Jr.’s debut on NASCAR broadcast an instant classic

    (7/3/18) The deep appreciation Dale Earnhardt Jr. carries for NASCAR’s history includes him often re-watching races from decades before. It was fitting then that Sunday his debut Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series broadcast as a full-time NBC analyst just happened to be a race harkening to the classics Earnhardt likes to view.

    A thrilling last-lap duel featuring Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson saw them bump-and-bang off one another multiple times, culminating with Busch nudging Larson out of the lead in Turn 3, then maintaining control of his battered car to drive it across the finish line to win the Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

    “That’s all Dale Jr. right there,” Busch said of the finish. “It’s 70s-, 80s- [esque].”

    During the buildup to the stirring finish and on the final lap itself, Earnhardt shined in his new role, displaying an acumen for broadcasting that gives every indication he will be as successful in the broadcast booth as he was on the track.

    As Larson chased down Busch to overcome a multi-second deficit, Earnhardt adroitly explained how Larson was able to make the high groove work to his advantage while Busch preferred the low section around the mile-and-a-half track. And when the Chip Ganassi Racing driver eventually caught Busch, Earnhardt highlighted how Busch had altered his corner entry to counteract Larson’s advantage and what Larson needed to do in response.

    Then, as Larson went for the lead diving underneath Busch entering Turn 1 on the white flag lap, Earnhardt knew exactly what was coming, excitedly yelling “Slide job!” even before Larson made his brazen bid for the victory in a soundbite that in all likelihood will become part of NASCAR lore.

    It was a sequence exemplifying Earnhardt at his best. Demonstrating his ability to mix his knowledge and perspective that allowed him to correctly anticipate what was to come with a folksy enthusiasm that made it sound as if he was sitting at the bar watching the race with buddies.

    That Earnhardt’s debut was a smash is no surprise. During cameo TV appearances as a NASCAR analyst before retiring from full-time racing following the 2017 season, it was apparent Earnhardt possessed the ability to become his generation’s Benny Parsons — a star driver turned beloved broadcaster whose analyst skills actually superseded what had been a hall of fame career.

    But there is more to becoming an ace analyst than a former driver simply exchanging their helmet for a headset, even if they have the charisma to connect with the audience. It takes work, something Earnhardt acknowledged he needed to put in if this career transition was going to be deemed a success.

    With an eye on becoming a media personality once his racing career concluded, Earnhardt began in earnest preparing for this venture even before announcing his retirement.

    Instead of just occasionally hosting a popular podcast that bared his name, Earnhardt became the full-time host prior to the 2017 NASCAR season, thus acclimating himself to the preparation, routine and production that goes into making a show. There were also stints this past February where he served as a roving reporter during NBC’s broadcast of the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics, where Earnhardt made sure to step outside his comfort zone and attempt things he previously would not have considered doing.

    And in the lead-up to his debut Sunday, Earnhardt took part in several mock broadcasts where co-analysts Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte, and Rick Allen (play-by-play) would call a Cup race to gain familiarity and develop chemistry with one another.

    Their strong rapport was on full display where the four enjoyed seamless banter in describing the action at Chicagoland — especially among Earnhardt and Letarte, his former crew chief, with the two respectfully disagreeing at times but also acting as a nice complement in their differing viewpoints on how things would unfold. When Busch crossed the finish line, Earnhardt and Letarte exchanged high-fives over the electric conclusion they had just witnessed.

    “I knew that I was going to get along great with my teammates, so I’m not surprised I had a blast with them,” Earnhardt said post-race in a live video stream on Periscope. “We’re going to have a good time this year. I got a lot to learn and there is a lot more I can provide, and as I get better and understand some of the things that are going on [in the broadcast booth] I’m sure things will continue to get better.

    “First broadcast was a big hit, I feel like.”

    There is little question Earnhardt’s foray into full-time broadcasting exceeded expectations. Of course, being able to call a rousing finish that certainly gave him and his NBC colleagues plenty to discuss only helped.

    Nonetheless, Earnhardt deserves credit for contributing to what was a memorable race Sunday. A fantastic ending featuring two of NASCAR’s best made all the better by an enthusiastic analyst who enhanced what was transpiring before him – while avoiding the cheesiness that can often overcome a broadcaster in that moment.

    By any measure, it was a star-making performance.

    Best part about Dale Jr.’s new gig? He can be himself

    (6/28/18) The moment is nearly here. In a matter of hours, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be covering his first practice session for NBC Sports from Chicagoland Speedway as an official analyst.

    Earnhardt boarded a plane Thursday morning en route for the race weekend in Chicago with his new teammates — lead commentator Rick Allen, analysts Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton.

    Sporting a throwback Richard and Kyle Petty T-shirt, it’s go time for the 15-time Most Popular Driver.

    “I’m excited to finally be at the race track with my teammates and getting ready to go to work,” Earnhardt said in a Thursday afternoon teleconference. “I’m just watching these guys and following them around to see how they prepare and what all goes into the days leading up to the race itself. It’s been extremely educational.”

    Earnhardt’s exact role on the NBC Sports broadcast has yet to be detailed in full, but it sounds like fans are in for a treat.

    “We have the multi-option offense,” said Sam Flood, NBC Sports Group Executive Producer. “We have different booths with different tracks. We’re putting people in positions to make it fun for the audience and give the most insight. We have five different styles of booths and we’ll roll them out and we’ll let you know each week what we plan to do.”

    Earnhardt’s first directive from Flood in his rookie broadcasting year is simple, but also one that’s hard to believe.

    “The best part about it is Sam Flood says just be yourself,” Earnhardt said. “I keep asking him if that’s really what he wants because that sounds a little bit too good to be true, and a little bit too easy. But, that’s what they expect out of you.

    “That should be very fun to just get up there and watch races and react,” he added. “All the guys in the booth are such huge fans of what we’re seeing, it’s going to be a lot of fun just doing that. Sitting around talking about what’s happening on the race track. I’m excited to learn a lot and get to know my teammates even better.”

    Earnhardt participated in countless hours of practice with Allen, Letarte and Burton in a radio booth at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, earlier in the year, along with another mock broadcast from a suite during May’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

    “I was really nervous about going into it cold turkey without a whole lot of experience, so it gave me a lot of peace of mind and it allowed me to build a little bit of rapport with Jeff and Rick because we’re going to need that kind of chemistry,” Earnhardt said. “It was really helpful for me.

    “I still got the job, so obviously NBC is pretty happy with what they heard in our practice runs,” he added jokingly. “I got a lot of great feedback and was able to adjust on the fly. It was cool.”

    Now, it’s time for Earnhardt to experience the real deal.

    “We’ve been talking about it for a long time,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve been practicing and here it is. It’s time to get to work. We’re going to have a great first weekend to kick off the next several trips to the race track. It’s going to be an awesome run all the way to Homestead.”

    Dale Jr. getting real comfortable commentating in Wrangler

    (6/27/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr. is rounding Turn 4 of his offseason before getting the green flag on his NASCAR commentating career this weekend at Chicagoland. Recently, he’s had his hands full between the birth of his daughter, Isla, his home renovation show on the DIY Network and his “Dale Jr. Download” podcast.

    Some might ask: What’s left in the tank for Junior? How will he downshift to being in the booth and not in a No. 88 Chevrolet? The real question is — we know he won’t be in a fire suit, but will he be in an actual suit and tie or jeans?

    Watch the humorous spot below for a sneak peak at how Dale Jr. has been preparing for his career shift. (Video)

    Dale Jr. jokes he likes hanging out with ‘pal’ Jimmie Johnson more than ‘uncle’ Jeff Gordon

    (6/27/18) With Dale Earnhardt Jr. set to make his debut on NASCAR on NBC’s broadcast of the second half of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season in Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the recently retired driver is making the media rounds in New York.

    Thankfully for us, this included a trip to the always-insightful “Dan Patrick Show” on Wednesday.

    Patrick is a master interviewer, and has such a rapport with Earnhardt that the pair often dives headfirst into deep subjects, showcasing a side of the former Hendrick Motorsports driver not often displayed. It’s why Patrick often cites Earnhardt as his favorite interview.

    Wednesday’s show was no different — they quickly got into Earnhardt’s recent foray into fatherhood, the background of his seemingly-sudden retirement and more — but not before starting off on a light note… as in, which NASCAR driver he’d want to drive him around “The Big Apple” in a taxi cab.

    “Jimmie (Johnson). Jimmie had a place in New York City, so he knows the town a little bit, he knows where he’s going.”

    Patrick then pointed out that Earnhardt’s former HMS teammate and current NASCAR on FOX commentator Jeff Gordon also had a place in NYC.

    “He did. I enjoy being around Jimmie a little bit more than Jeff,” Earnhardt, age 43, said. ” … I dunno, Jeff’s older and he’s kind of like my elder, where Jimmie and me are kind of pals. It’d be like hanging out with my best friend versus, maybe, my uncle. That kind of thing.

    “I don’t even know (what the age difference is), maybe four years? He got started so young, it seems like he’s been around forever.”

    Regardless, everyone knows it pays in life to have both a best friend and a cool, fun uncle that can get you fireworks, which we’ve heard Junior has a penchant for.

    We now go live to Gordon, 46, who managed to sneak into the back seat of the cab of Johnson, 42, and is Periscoping the trip.

    Letarte offers behind-the-scenes look at Dale Jr.’s rebirth in ‘Leading the Way’

    (6/26/18) When Steve Letarte and Dale Earnhardt Jr. came together as crew chief and driver prior to the start of the 2011 season, both were at a crossroads. Earnhardt hadn’t won a race since 2008 while Letarte was coming off a winless season with Jeff Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports.

    Four years later, as Letarte was leaving the pit box for the NBC Sports broadcast booth, the duo had tallied five wins together — including the 2014 Daytona 500 — and the sport’s longtime Most Popular Driver was a title threat again.

    “Our relationship was on a different level,” Letarte told NASCAR.com. “It was more as equals, more as friends, more as buddies, more as coworkers, and that instantly gave it sort of a different feel. When I look back on it, the success that Dale and I had and the relationship that he and I created was just an amazing four years to finish out my career.”

    In his new book “Leading the Way,” (as told to Nate Ryan of NBC Sports and available for purchase today) Letarte offers readers and fans alike a unique inside look into how he helped rebuild confidence for Earnhardt — who wrote the forward for the book — and the No. 88 team, and how the relationship with Junior still impacts Letarte to this day.

    “When Dale and I were put together, we were both at a point in our careers where we questioned privately ourselves where our careers were going,” Letarte said. “It was such a turnaround from there to 2014.

    “While I looked forward to the opportunity to take my new job (at NBC), I was going to miss what I was doing greatly. After being out of it for six months or so, I kind of wanted to go back and relive it. To tell the stories to the fans, the behind-the-scenes stories and then also to the business leaders, the managers of the world about how we went about rebuilding his career and my career together.”

    The book was a three-year project for Letarte and opens with the crew chief learning of his new assignment following the 2010 season, where team owner Rick Hendrick shifted him from Gordon’s No. 24 team to Earnhardt and the No. 88. Letarte candidly admits he thought he would be unemployed after that season.

    Throughout the book, Letarte provides insights into the leadership and team building he utilized in helping get Earnhardt back on track to Victory Lane. In the two seasons before their pairing, Earnhardt had finished outside the top 20 in points. The key to the relationship, according to Letarte, was that it started from scratch with no preconceived notions.

    “One thing I learned with Jeff (Gordon) — the best advice I never took — was he wanted me to treat him like everyone else on the race team,” Letarte said. “And while that is great advice, I could just never do it. He was my mentor. He gave me the opportunity to crew chief. He’s the whole reason I’m in the sport.

    “So when I got Dale as a driver, I was convinced that even if it didn’t work, I won’t look back on it and say that I should have done this or I should have done that. I decided I was going to do it my way. We just started with conversations and building a relationship and then took that relationship to the race track.”

    Early on, there were several near-victories for the pairing, with the most notable being the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 where Earnhardt ran dry on the final lap.

    In 2012, each was able to snap his personal winless drought – Earnhardt’s was at 143 races, while Letarte’s was at 115 races – with their collective triumph in June 2012 at Michigan International Speedway. And while the victory was a huge sigh of relief, it also was the moment Letarte realized he wasn’t going to be a crew chief forever.

    When Letarte was considering leaving the pit box for a television job with NBC, Earnhardt was one of his sounding boards. Dale Jr. showed his leadership and growth in an emergency team meeting when the news of Letarte’s move leaked out.

    “Dale was one of the people that I leaned on to get his opinion,” Letarte said. “I think that proved our relationship. As a race car driver, he didn’t want me to leave. Professionally, he didn’t want me to leave, but personally, he saw how it could be great for me and my family, and I really think that is why we are going to work together again.

    “Because our friendship was much more than on the race track.”

    The release of the book coincides with the start of NBC’s portion of televising the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series beginning at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend. The recently retired Earnhardt is joining the booth and re-teaming with his former crew chief once again.

    And while the book shows the strength of this relationship, the television screen is sure to display it as well.

    “DALE JR. DOWNLOAD” - HOSTED BY DALE EARNHARDT JR.

    (6/15/18) NBC Sports Group hits the ignition switch on NASCAR on NBC’s fourth season of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing, with a new 30-minute show, the Dale Jr. Download, debuting Thursday, June 21 at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. In collaboration with NBC Sports’ newest on-air contributor Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr), NBCSN takes viewers couch-side for the taping of the motorsports icon’s weekly podcast. The latest addition to NBC Sports’ extensive motorsports lineup, the Dale Jr. Download will air each Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET following NASCAR America.

    NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for an unprecedented 15 consecutive years (2003-17) and winner of two Daytona 500s, Earnhardt co-hosts the show with Mike Davis. Thursday’s debut episode surrounds Father’s Day, Earnhardt’s first as a dad. Earnhardt will reflect on his time as a new parent, and share some of his favorite memories of his own father, Dale Earnhardt Sr.

    “Our approach with the TV show will be no different than our approach with the podcast – buddies hanging out, talking racing, sharing life stories, and telling jokes that may or may not be funny only to us,” said Earnhardt. “I’m having a lot of fun with the podcast, and we are excited to be bringing it to TV. If we have a guest join us, it’s only because they’re relevant to whatever has my attention that week. It could be a NASCAR driver, or it could be my plumber – depends on who’s more important to me that week. The Download is as transparent as I can be when it comes to my life and thoughts.”

    Produced on-site at Dirty Mo Media Studios in Mooresville, N.C., Earnhardt and Davis raise the bar with unparalleled perspective, candid commentary, and first-person insight into the life of a broadcaster and celebrated race car driver.

    The full Dale Jr. Download podcast is available at DirtyMoMedia.com and all major podcasting platforms.

    Lionel Racing celebrates Isla Rose Earnhardt with a die-cast

    (6/15/18) (Photo) Isla Rose Earnhardt may not be ready to trade in baby booties for hot shoes, but she has her own car now — at least in 1:24 scale.

    Lionel Racing created a pink and white Isla Rose No. 88 die-cast celebrating the birth of Dale Jr. and Amy’s daughter April 30.

    Dale Jr. documents fatherhood, shares stories of Isla Rose’s first week

    (5/9/18) Isla Rose already has the ‘Earnhardt smirk’ down. At least according to her dad.

    It’s been one week since Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy welcomed home their new bundle of joy, and the first seven days of fatherhood have been a whirlwind.

    “I feel like everything that’s going to come out of my mouth is so cliche,” Earnhardt Jr. said during the most recent episode of “The Dale Jr. Download” podcast. “The love that you have is more than ever. This person … I don’t know what it is. It’s hard to explain. You feel this love for this baby that is not a love that you’ve felt for anyone else. I love my wife to death. I love my parents, my father and my sister. … It’s a 100 times more than that.”

    The couple, who wed on New Year’s Eve in 2016, announced the pregnancy in October 2017 and had the racing world on pins and needles as the due date got closer.

    The newest little Earnhardt was born April 30, just one day after what would have been Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s 67th birthday.

    “I was really emotional, more so than Amy” he said. “This whole week I keep telling Amy she reminds me of a pit crew. The car comes down pit row, hops in the box … it’s like clockwork. It hits this line, the crew jumps over, goes to work, does the work, crew goes over wall, car leaves and everyone is back watching the race.

    “It’s instinctual. That’s the way she’s been. Baby comes out, she knows what to do, she’s doing it. She’s not crying, not emotional. She’s just doing her mother thing. I’m just a basket of nerves and crying.”

    And it didn’t take long for Junior to find a little personality in his daughter either.

    “She smirks the ‘Earnhardt smirk’ some, where she does it off to the side,” he proudly shared. “… I like to tell Amy that’s the Earnhardt in her coming out, because that’s how Daddy always smiled.”

    KELLY CLARKSON, DALE EARNHARDT JR., CHARLES BARKLEY & SHAQ TO PICK KENTUCKY DERBY WINNERS ON NBC’S DERBY COVERAGE THIS SAT., MAY 5, AT 2:30 PM ET

    (5/4/18) NBC Sports Group celebrates the 144th Kentucky Derby with 14 hours of Kentucky Derby Week coverage highlighted by a record five-hour live NBC broadcast from Churchill Downs at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

    In preparation for the Derby, NBC Sports Group asked a number of celebrities and NBCUniversal personalities for their horse picks, including Charles Barkley, Kelly Clarkson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Savannah Guthrie, Megyn Kelly, Hoda Kotb, Adam Levine, Shaquille O’Neal, Danica Patrick, Al Roker, Blake Shelton, Kenny Smith, Justin Thomas and Shaun White. Their picks will be revealed during NBC’s Kentucky Derby broadcast on Saturday.

    Actress and Kentucky-native Ashley Judd will narrate NBC Sports’ show open, as well as select scene-setting vignettes this Saturday. Judd, who has voiced the show open the prior two years, will be making her on camera debut this year as she narrates the opening tease set in a Kentucky-style speakeasy. A signature of NBC Sports’ Kentucky Derby coverage, the opening film celebrates the pageantry and rich history of Churchill Downs and will lead off the 6 p.m. ET hour of NBC’s coverage of the 144th “Run for the Roses” this Saturday.

    A wide range of NBCUniversal properties joined NBC Sports Group in celebrating the food, fashion, celebrity and entertainment spectacle that is the Kentucky Derby. A summary of Kentucky Derby Week activities and activations are below:

    TODAY & WEEKEND TODAY – NBC News weather anchor and NBC Sports Group’s Kentucky Derby lifestyle correspondent, Dylan Dreyer will contribute to TODAY and Weekend TODAY live from Churchill Downs Friday and Saturday morning on the latest horse racing news and developments.

    TODAY WITH KATHIE LEE AND HODA – NBC Sports Group anchor and correspondent Carolyn Manno joined TODAY’s Kathie Lee and Hoda yesterday morning for a special “Who Knew” Kentucky Derby segment. Tomorrow, on "Try-day Friday," Kathie Lee and Hoda will help ring in the weekend with mint juleps.

    NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WITH LESTER HOLT – On Friday, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt will tease NBC’s coverage of the Kentucky Derby.

    THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON – The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will feature a Kentucky Derby edition of “Man on Street,” testing New Yorkers’ Derby knowledge, during tonight’s show, and a special “Puppy Predictor” tomorrow, Friday, May 4, to forecast Saturday’s winner.

    E! ENTERTAINMENT – E! News will bring viewers complete Derby Day red carpet coverage from NBC Sports Group’s Peacock Paddock with behind the scenes glam cam footage available across E!’s social media handles.

    BRAVO – Bravo’s Top Chef, Tom Colicchio, will be on-site Saturday to whip up a special Derby Day treat in celebration of Top Chef’s upcoming season filmed in Kentucky. Vanderpump Rules’ Jax Taylor and Brittany Cartwright will make a red carpet appearance on the Peacock Paddock Saturday. NBC Sports Group’s features reporter Rutledge Wood also joined Monday’s Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen as a guest bartender.

    CNBC – On Friday, Churchill Downs’ CEO William C. Carstanjen will join CNBC’s Power Lunch to preview the weekend. Audible’s Vice President of Marketing John Harrobin also contributed an interview to CNBC’s feature article on Audible, the Florida Derby-winning horse and Kentucky Derby contender, backed by Amazon.

    GOLF CHANNEL – Kentucky Derby host Mike Tirico will join Golf Channel’s Morning Drive tomorrow to preview the field, and discuss his second year covering the Kentucky Derby. Golf Channel will also air a feature with No. 2 world ranked golfer Justin Thomas’ visit to Woodford Reserve.

    THE DAN PATRICK SHOW – Mike Tirico joined Dan Patrick and the ‘Danettes’ on the Dan Patrick Show this morning to preview the Kentucky Derby.

    NBC AFFILIATES, OWNED STATIONS AND NBC SPORTS REGIONAL NETWORKS – Kentucky Derby promotions will air throughout the week on NBC Affiliates, Owned Stations and NBC Sports Regional networks across the country, with analysis and commentary from NBC Sports Group’s horse racing team on local newscasts.

    NBC SPORTS RADIO – NBC Sports Radio will feature interviews with the on-air Kentucky Derby team throughout the week.

    It’s a girl! Dale Jr., Amy welcome new baby

    (5/1/18) Since announcing a “baby Earnhardt” was on the way in October 2017, Dale Jr. and wife Amy have had the racing community eagerly awaiting the arrival of their baby girl.

    And now, the countdown is over.

    @AmyEarnhardt : She’s finally here! @DaleJr and I are officially parents to a beautiful baby girl, Isla Rose Earnhardt. It feels like a dream. The best dream ever.

    @DaleJr : Everyone was right. It’s a new beginning. Now everything I do will be for her and Amy. So blessed.

    The happy couple welcomed Isla Rose Earnhardt on April 30, the first child for both, revealing the baby’s birth on Tuesday morning.

    Dale Jr. has been open about his excitement to enter the fatherhood fraternity throughout the pregnancy. Sharing his thoughts on social media, the former driver has given fans an inside look into the couple’s experience. He even gave updates on the size of the baby throughout the trimesters on Twitter.

    The baby was born the day after what would have been Dale Earnhardt’s 67th birthday.

    In an interview on the Dan Patrick Show, he talked about how quickly his life has changed since hanging up the fire suit at the end of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

    “You’re driving 200 mph last year and now you’re going to try to put a baby seat in a Suburban — what happened to you, Junior,” Patrick quipped at Earnhardt, who laughed.

    “I’m becoming a father,” he said.

    Earnhardt Jr., who is 43, and Amy wed on New Year’s Eve in 2016.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. prepares for baby girl’s arrival; NFL Draft will wait

    (4/4/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr. told Dan Patrick on Wednesday that he would eagerly — but nervously — welcome the chance to announce the Washington Redskins’ pick — 13th overall — in the NFL Draft.

    “Any fan that gets asked to do that, they’ve got to get up there and do it and I would definitely take the opportunity if I ever got that chance,” Earnhardt Jr. said on “The Dan Patrick Show,” airing on NBCSN.

    There’s one problem, though; Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy are expecting their first child on May 2, less than one week after the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft is held on April 26.

    “Nope,” he said. “Maybe next year, we go to the draft. I mean, I’m nervous to do or go anywhere. Because this could happen at any moment.”

    The preparations for the couple’s baby girl in full swing, Earnhardt told Patrick that he received a tour of the hospital recently.

    “I just can’t wait til she gets here, I can’t wait to meet her,” he said. “… During the tour the other day, they took us into one of the rooms and they showed us where the delivery room is and they’ve got that little table there and damn, I about choked up just doing that. The baby ain’t even here and I’m looking at this little table and I’m getting choked up like she’s here.

    “It’s going to be an incredible experience.”

    Earnhardt was mum on the baby’s expected name that he and Amy have one picked out, saying he’ll “get in real big trouble if (he tells).” Plenty has changed for the former No. 88 wheelman in a year; this time last season, he was preparing for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ race at Texas Motor Speedway.

    “You’re driving 200 mph last year and now you’re going to try to put a baby seat in a Suburban — what happened to you, Junior,” Patrick quipped at Earnhardt, who laughed.

    “I’m becoming a father,” he said.

    Patrick also pointed out another part of the delivery experience that Earnhardt is all too familiar with.

    “You get to drive fast one more time,” he said. “Like, if her water breaks you’ve got to get there.”

    “Yeah! I know, I’m excited,” Earnhardt said. “I think the drive there and the drive back are going to be two completely different drives.

    NASCAR AMERICA TO DEBUT “WEDNESDAYS WITH DALE JR.,” THIS WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28 AT 5 P.M. ET ON NBCSN

    (3/26/18) NASCAR America, NBCSN’s daily motorsports show, will debut “Wednesdays with Dale Jr.,” weekly episodes with motorsports icon and NBC Sports’ newest on-air contributor Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr), this Wednesday, March 28 at 5 p.m. ET.

    NASCAR’s most popular driver for the last 15 years will contribute weekly to NASCAR America, from the “big oak table” at NBC Sports’ NASCAR office in Charlotte, N.C. Set outside of the traditional NASCAR America studio, each “Wednesdays with Dale Jr.” episode will feature in-depth discussions and free-flowing conversations about the latest news to come out of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series.

    Viewers and fans can join in the conversation using #WednesDale, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

    Rutledge Wood (@Rutledgewood) will host this Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, alongside Earnhardt, and fellow NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty (@KylePetty). Driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, Ryan Blaney, will also contribute to Wednesday’s coverage.

    Following this week’s debut of “Wednesdays with Dale Jr.,” Earnhardt will make weekly appearances on NASCAR America every Wednesday night at 5 p.m. ET.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. reacts to return of No. 8 car

    (3/22/18) Daniel Hemric announced Tuesday that he will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet in two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts for Richard Childress Racing this year.

    The No. 8 hasn’t been on the track in the Monster Energy Series in nearly a decade. It was made famous, so to speak, by Dale Earnhardt Jr. from 2000-07, when he won 17 races in the red Budweiser paint scheme.

    Hemric, who grew up in Kannapolis, North Carolina, much like Dale Earnhardt and drove by the old Dale Earnhardt, Inc., building on his daily commute, told NASCAR.com he had not spoken to Junior about the news.

    Well, Junior has chimed in.

    @DaleJr :The 8 is coming back!!! Good luck with it @DanielHemric ???? https://twitter.com/nascar/status/976224972648714241 …

    Judging solely by exclamation points and emojis, we think he approves.

    NBC’S DALE EARNHARDT JR., NASCAR’S MOST POPULAR DRIVER FOR LAST 15 YEARS, DEBUTS AS ANALYST ON NASCAR AMERICA - MONDAY, MARCH 12 AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN

    (3/9/18) NBC’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) makes his debut as an analyst on NASCAR America, NBCSN’s daily motorsport show, this Monday, March 12 at 6 p.m. ET. Following his recent assignments as a contributor for NBC Sports Group’s pre-game coverage of Super Bowl LII, and NBC Olympics’ coverage of the 2018 PyeongChang Games, Earnhardt will begin his role as a NASCAR on NBC analyst and provide in-depth expertise and insight to Monday and Tuesday’s 60-minute episodes of NASCAR America, live from NBC Sports Group’s headquarters in Stamford, Conn.

    Earnhardt will reunite with his former crew chief and fellow NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte (@Steveletarte), to provide a complete breakdown and examination of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at ISM Raceway, in Phoenix, Ariz.

    Leigh Diffey (@leighdiffey) will host NASCAR America throughout the week, and will be joined by NASCAR on NBC analysts and 21-time Cup Series winner Jeff Burton (@JeffBurton), Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett (@DaleJarrett), and auto racing icon Kyle Petty (@KylePetty), from NBC Sports Charlotte, in Charlotte, N.C., and Burton’s Garage, in Huntersville, N.C.

    Dale Jr. on skiing steep slope in South Korea: ‘It scares the hell out of you’

    (2/28/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent nearly a week in South Korea covering the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics for NBC Sports, giving us an all-access look into the games and country’s culture.

    Prior to returning home, Earnhardt and business manager Mike Davis recorded the latest edition of “Dale Jr. Download” on Dirty Mo Radio in their hotel room. Earnhardt and Davis shared their various experiences, one of which included the opportunity to hit the ski slopes for a few hours.

    After a few warm-up hills, Earnhardt decided he would tackle a double black diamond slope — the steepest hill offered.

    “If someone had said you wanna go down that when we got there … no chance in hell,” Earnhardt said.

    But Earnhardt built up the courage tackle the humdinger of a slope. The wild ride only took about 20 seconds and fulfilled the need for speed he has always chased throughout his life.

    “It scares the hell out of you going down that double black diamond,” he added. “It’s just straight down. It’s crazy.”

    NASCAR AMERICA RETURNS FOR FIFTH SEASON MONDAY, FEBRUARY 26 AT 5 P.M. ET ON NBCSN

    (2/22/18) STAMFORD, Conn. – February 22, 2018 – NASCAR America, NBCSN’s daily motorsports show, returns for its fifth season this Monday, February 26 at 5 p.m. ET. The season premiere will provide complete coverage of this weekend’s triple-header action at the year’s first mile-and-a-half track, Atlanta Motor Speedway.

    NASCAR on NBC reporter Marty Snider (@HeyMartysnider) will host NASCAR America next week, from NBC Sports Group’s headquarters in Stamford, Conn., alongside NASCAR on NBC analyst and the “Mayor” of NASCAR Jeff Burton (@JeffBurton), and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Steve Letarte (@SteveLetarte).

    The 2018 NASCAR America season will feature regular appearances by NASCAR on NBC’s newest crew member Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@Dalejr), as well as Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett (@DaleJarrett) and auto racing icon Kyle Petty (@KylePetty). NASCAR on NBC’s pre- and post-race host Krista Voda (@kristavoda), and studio host Carolyn Manno (@carolynmanno), also return as regular hosts of NASCAR America.

    NBCSports.com’s lead motorsports writer Nate Ryan (@nateryan), features reporter Rutledge Wood (@rutledgewood), in addition to reporters Kelli Stavast (@KelliStavast), Dave Burns (@tvdaveburns) and Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman) will also return to contribute regular reports and features.

    In 2018, NASCAR America will also bring back its extended series My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows. Crossing the country alphabetically from Alabama to Wyoming, the favorite series will showcase and celebrate local race tracks and racing communities in all 50 states across the country.

    Airing each weeknight at 5 p.m. ET, NASCAR America will include in studio driver interviews, regular interviews with crew members from race shops across the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series, regular live i-racing simulator segments, and weekly deep dive Scan All segments with audio from each race weekend.

    NASCAR America originates from NBC Sports Group’s headquarters in Stamford, Conn., with contributions from NBC Sports Charlotte, in Charlotte, N.C., Burton’s Garage, in Huntersville, N.C., and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, allowing the show to report directly from NASCAR’s heartland.

    NASCAR America is also available on the NBC Sports app – NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TV’s.

    Dale Jr. says Bubba Wallace drove ‘like a veteran’ in Daytona 500

    (2/20/18) En route to South Korea to cover the Winter Olympics for NBC Sports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. used a layover in Atlanta to produce his weekly “Dale Jr. Download” podcast on Dirty Mo Radio.

    Fresh off his duties as Grand Marshal for the 60th annual Daytona 500, Earnhardt reflected on his experience at the “Great American Race” as a newly-retired driver. Spending a good portion of his time atop the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsport pit box cheering on Alex Bowman, Earnhardt was impressed with how well the younger drivers of the sport were able to hold their own against veterans.

    Among the fleet of competitors who fall under the youth movement category in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, it was Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. who stole the headlines following a second-place finish in Sunday’s race.

    After Bubba became the highest-finishing African-American driver in Daytona 500 history, he caught the attention of many — including Earnhardt.

    “A lot of people kind of wondered if he had done enough, I guess, to get this opportunity. I never felt that at all or felt like he didn’t deserve the chance,” Earnhardt said in his podcast. “And he went out and proved it on Sunday by driving like a veteran and driving with his head on his shoulders.”

    On top of his on-track performance, Earnhardt also noted how well Wallace was able to handle all the pressure on NASCAR’s biggest stage.

    “I was watching him all of Speedweeks and he had so many media responsibilities and commitments, more than any other driver by far … multiple times more than any other driver by far,” Earnhardt added. “He was feeling that pressure, man. I think it was probably the most pressure I’ve ever seen any driver deal with. I think he set a new high for handling that type of pressure.”

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes a name for himself in new Goodyear commercial

    (2/14/18) (Video) “Those who live up to their names, make one for themselves.”

    That is the premise of Goodyear’s new commercial for 2018, which features Dale Earnhardt Jr. as he makes the move from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver’s seat to the NBC Sports television booth.

    In the one-minute video, released Feb. 14, the tribute tells the story of Earnhardt’s rise up the NASCAR ranks with a mixture of clips dating back to his younger years through his triumphs in the sport.

    From watching his father’s dominance in NASCAR to 20-plus years of success on his own path, Earnhardt has made a name for himself — both on and off the race track.

    Dale Jr. reacts to Bowman winning Daytona 500 pole

    (2/11/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr. may not be driving this season, but the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet still took a familiar position on Sunday with newcomer Alex Bowman winning the Daytona 500 pole ahead of the Feb. 18 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) race.

    This marks the second straight season with the No. 88 sitting on the front row for the “Great American Race.” And from the sidelines, Junior and wife Amy Earnhardt were cheering on their former team.

    @DaleJr : Awesome! Great job @AlexBowman88 @TeamHendrick on the #Daytona500 pole! @Ives_Greg and the gang built a fast one.

    @AmyEarnhardt : Congrats @AlexBowman88 @Ives_Greg and #Team88 !!!! https://twitter.com/hendrick88team/status/962759321384779776 …

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. extends longtime partnership with Nationwide

    (1/23/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career may have come to a close, but his longtime partnership with Nationwide Insurance isn’t going anywhere.

    Nationwide announced Tuesday that Earnhardt will continue his role as a company spokesperson, a relationship that originated in 2008 — his first season with Hendrick Motorsports.

    The multiyear personal services agreement not only entails the promotion of Nationwide’s products and services, but Earnhardt will also make appearances for the company at various national sales conferences and industry events.

    “I’m excited to be continuing my partnership with Nationwide,” said Earnhardt in a company press release. “The relationship I have them is very special to me. They’ve been with me through most of my life — as a sponsor and also a company that I’ve come to depend upon to protect the many different aspects of my life. I’m proud to represent them and look forward to sharing my Nationwide experience with others for years to come.”

    The company also noted they will continue to work alongside Earnhardt in his efforts to support Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

    Nationwide will also serve as a primary sponsor on the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet during the 2018 Monster Energy Series season, driven by Alex Bowman. Earnhardt and Bowman will come together for various social and media events in support of the primary sponsorship throughout the year.

    Dale Jr. crashes in snowy weather after helping other driver

    (1/17/18) Dale Earnhardt Jr. is warning North Carolina drivers not to venture out into a snowstorm after he slid off the road and hit a tree.

    Earnhardt said on his Twitter account Wednesday that he had just used his winch to help a sedan out of a ditch in snowy weather when he himself drove off the road and into a tree.

    He wrote: ''NC stay off the roads today/tonight. 5 minutes after helping these folks I center punched a pine tree.''

    A spokesman for Earnhardt, Mike Davis, said that the recently retired NASCAR driver wasn't injured and his pickup truck had only minor damage, if any. Davis said the people Earnhardt helped weren't injured, either.

    Earnhardt's crash happened in Mooresville near where his racing team has its shop and offices.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make NBC debuts at Super Bowl LII and Winter Olympics

    (1/16/18) Motorsports icon and two-time Daytona 500 winning driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his NBC debuts as a contributor for the network’s coverage of Super Bowl LII on Sunday, February 4, and the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, beginning Thursday, February 8.

    Voted by fans as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for an unprecedented 15 consecutive years (2003-17), Earnhardt will make his first trip to the Super Bowl with NBC Sports, and participate in NBC’s Super Bowl Pre-Game Show leading up to the big game. While in Minneapolis, Earnhardt will experience the celebration surrounding this year’s winter weather Super Bowl, and share his great sense of adventure, as he takes part in some of the outdoor events and activities taking place in town leading up to kickoff.

    “I’m excited to get to work with my new NBC family,” said Earnhardt Jr. an an NBC release. “Beginning with two huge events like the Super Bowl and Olympics, right out of the gate, should be quite the introduction. I’m looking forward to raising the profile of NASCAR, and all that we’re going to be doing during the 2018 season.”

    Later in February, Earnhardt will travel to PyeongChang, where he will explore the culture, people, and traditions in South Korea, and experience Olympic competitions first hand. Earnhardt will visit the speed skating venue at Gangneung Ice Arena, and through the lens of a racer will view the speed, close contact, and tight turns on the short track speed skating oval, which so closely mirror Earnhardt’s racing days and nights at Bristol Motor Speedway.

    “Dale is a star on the race track and off, and we are excited to have him join the NBC team,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer & President, Production, NBC and NBCSN. “It will be fun to have him be a part of our coverage of the Super Bowl, and we are looking forward to watching him explore a new world with the Winter Olympics.”

    Following a recent invite on social media from his new friends on the U.S. bobsled team, including U.S. bobsled team pilot Nick Cunningham, Earnhardt will also travel to Alpensia Sliding Center, where he will test the true speed of the bobsled track and live out his post-retirement dream of riding in an Olympic bobsled.

    In July of 2017, Earnhardt and NBC Sports announced the 26-time NASCAR Cup Series winner would be joining NBCUniversal as an on-air analyst and contributor. In addition to serving as an analyst for NBC’s coverage of the 2018 NASCAR season, the agreement with NBCUniversal allows Earnhardt to participate in a wide range of opportunities in the company’s media businesses, including movies, television, podcasts, and other areas.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. tops best-selling die-casts from 2017

    (12/15/17) The die-cast car from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final race as a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver was the best-selling paint scheme for Lionel Racing in 2017.

    Lionel Racing released its top 10 list Thursday. Earnhardt paint schemes take up five of the 10 spots. The Axalta/Last Ride car at Homestead-Miami Speedway consisted of a design Earnhardt drove early in his career.

    Not only was it this year’s top seller, Lionel Racing says the car is now the best-selling die-cast in the company’s history.

    “The demand for this car has been simply astounding,” said Lionel Racing president Howard Hitchcock. “The fan response to this die-cast is a true measure of how much Earnhardt has meant to both casual NASCAR fans and serious die-cast collectors.”

    The 2017 top 10 best-selling cars:

    1.Dale Earnhardt Jr. Axalta/Last Ride Chevrolet SS

    2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Nationwide Darlington Chevrolet SS

    3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Nationwide Chevrolet SS

    4. Chase Elliott NAPA Chevrolet SS | SHOP: Elliott’s new number

    5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Axalta/Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet SS

    6. Ryan Blaney Motorcraft/Pocono win Ford Fusion | SHOP: New look for Blaney

    7. Kyle Busch M&M’s Caramel/Bristol Win Toyota Camry

    8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Axalta Chevrolet SS

    9. Chase Elliott Hooters Chevrolet SS

    10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Mountain Dew/Talladega raced version Chevrolet SS

    Hendrick presents special gift for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    (12/8/17) (Video) Tracks presented Dale Earnhardt Jr. with gifts throughout his final full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He won the Most Popular Driver Award for a 15th straight year and was award the Bill France Award of Excellence. There has been plenty of Appreci88ion for the son of Dale Earnhardt has contributed to the sport.

    And there is a little bit of extra thanks from the folks at Hendrick Motorsports, the team that Earnhardt drove for from 2008 to 2017.

    The 2018 season will see Earnhardt in the broadcast booth with NBC’s NASCAR coverage as well as plans to run a NASCAR XFINITY Series race for JR Motorsports, the organization he co-owns. Alex Bowman will step into the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports in 2018.

    Dale Jr. and Truex Jr.: Friends, competitors and champions in many ways

    (12/2/17) In so many ways Thursday’s 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards seemed like the perfect sentimental send off — a fond farewell for retiring superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a fitting championship celebration for one of his best friends, Martin Truex Jr.

    Celebrating the two drivers and longtime friends on stage on the same night felt almost destined. It was certainly one of the most genuinely heart-touching times in the history of the sport’s celebratory evenings.

    Their connection is substantial and long-standing.

    As with his good friend Junior, Truex won back-to-back (2004 and 2005) XFINITY Series (then called the Busch Grand National Series) championships driving for the late seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s former team. Then, as with Junior six years earlier, Truex ran his first full-time Cup season for the Dale Earnhardt Inc. team as well.

    The fondness between the men is genuine, abounding and as the banquet showed, enduring.

    So much so, that it was Earnhardt who delivered a heartfelt speech in introducing Truex for the championship trophy presentation.

    “To me and many who know him, he’s a champion in so many ways,” Earnhardt said, as Truex smiled and began wiping away tears.

    “Like when his professional career turned challenging, his options limited, he blamed no one. He kept his head high, he persevered because he’s a champion person.

    “While the love of his life [Truex’s girlfriend Sherry Pollex] battles the most evil of diseases, and he stands with her to make her fight his fight, he’s a champion partner. When he’s away from the track, perhaps enjoying his true passion for hunting or fishing, you realize this: He’s a champion friend. He’s the man. He is the champion in so many ways and no one more deserving this night.”

    And while the two-time Daytona 500 winner Earnhardt has never hoisted a Cup championship trophy, the newly-crowned 15-time Most Popular Driver, has impacted the sport in bountiful ways and will continue to as he transitions from the cockpit to NBC’s broadcast booth in 2018.

    First, he will serve as Grand Marshal for the 2018 Daytona 500 and undoubtedly he will continue charitable efforts that included an $888,000 donation from longtime sponsor Nationwide in Las Vegas — his time devoted and money raised for charities is a legacy that, for many, may outshine all his great achievements on the race track.

    That interest in giving back is something he and Truex share in addition to their on-track legacies — another way the two men are connected and another reason why their time together out front wrapped up this season most appropriately.

    Champion Martin Truex Jr., Dale Jr. honored at 2017 Monster Energy Series Awards

    (11/30/17) The 2017 version of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards included a night of tributes, honor and plenty of good cheer celebrating the 2017 champion Martin Truex Jr. and his Furniture Row Racing team and giving a fond and heartfelt farewell to the now 15th consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver in the sport, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    The ceremony – shortened to 90 minutes this year – at the gorgeous Wynn Las Vegas included time spent speaking with the 16 playoff drivers, handing out awards and recognizing Truex for his maiden and emotional Cup victory.

    Drivers, their wives and the sport’s VIPs walked the sport’s version of the “red carpet” to come into the banquet looking fabulous in tuxes and formal gowns and giving off good vibes and fond farewells.

    All 16 drivers who qualified for the playoffs took turns on stage with the final four making speeches culminating with Truex’s earnest words of gratitude for his team, team owner Barney Visser – who is in Denver, recovering from a heart attack – and his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, who is battling a recurrence of ovarian cancer.

    Earnhardt Jr. introduced Truex and offered sincere words of congratulations and praise for his longtime friend and onetime employee.

    “His life partner battles the most evil of diseases and he stands with her,” Earnhardt said bringing Truex on stage to receive his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup.

    “He is a champion friend. And there is no one more deserving.

    “It’s my privilege to introduce the 2017 Monster Energy Cup champion . .. my good buddy, Martin Truex Jr.”

    The introduction culminated a night of handshakes and back pats. The ballroom gave a standing ovation to special guests – Las Vegas area emergency responders, who assisted during the recent mass shooting in the city.

    And there were multiple good wishes made from drivers and NASCAR executives throughout the evening to 2003 champion Matt Kenseth who is retiring at the end of the season.

    The prestigious Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award was presented by the namesake’s grandson, Ben Kennedy to Julian Maha for his work developing KultureCity. The Alabama doctor founded the KultureCity organization to help autistic children navigate busy locations such as “arenas, stadiums and other public settings as well as developing the “lifeBOKS” program which helps the families “monitor the movements of their children though GPS and Bluetooth tracking devices.”

    One of the evening’s most anticipated moments was time on stage with Earnhardt Jr. who retired from full-time competition following the season finale at Miami two weeks ago.

    In addition to accepting his NMPA Most Popular Driver award, Earnhardt was also presented the prestigious “Bill France Award of Excellence” by NASCAR Chairman Brian France. The award is not given on an annual basis but instead only for extreme merit and extraordinary work.

    “I had no idea,” Earnhardt said of receiving the recognition. “The Myers Brothers award and the Bill France Award, those are so personal and they really get your feelings. It’s an incredible feeling for someone to feel like you’re worth that acknowledgement. I’m grateful and it makes you inspired to continue to be an asset and help the sport grow.”

    While making his speech for finishing runner-up in the championship, Kyle Busch joked that he appreciated the retired Earnhardt giving all his “Junior Nation” fans to his “Rowdy Nation.”

    “It’s all going to be very different getting all those cheers at driver intros,” Busch said smiling.

    In the end, Truex was feted by sponsors, Toyota, fellow drivers and cheers from the rear of the grand room – his Furniture Row Racing team.

    “The 78 team has a motto, “never give up,” a smiling Truex said.

    “It’s just unbelievable to be here. It’s a childhood dream for me.”

    He thanked his parents and Pollex’s parents for being there and reminded that team owner “Barney Visser is the heart of this team, “People thought he was crazy to start a NASCAR team in Denver,” Truex said breaking into a huge grin.

    “Well, who’s crazy now?”

    Truex thanked his crew chief Cole Pearn who led the team to a series best eight wins this season.

    “He never sleeps and is more competitive than anyone I’ve met in my life,” Truex said. “Buddy, thank you for making me a champion.”

    And Truex finished the night in the ultimate feel good – a reminder that life and love goes beyond the race trophies and championships.

    “You are the love of my life,” Truex said, turning toward Pollex. “Thank you for the change you caused in my life. Winning is a great feeling but spending my life with you is the real victory.”

    It sure felt like a win all around.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins most popular driver for 15th year

    (11/30/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. wrapped up his final season as a NASCAR driver with one last piece of hardware. He won the Most Popular Driver Award on Thursday night for the 15th consecutive time.

    The award is based on a fan vote and sponsored by the National Motorsports Press Association. Only Bill Elliott won the award more than Earnhardt — 16 times between 1984 and 2002 — before he removed his name from consideration.

    "It always comes back to the fans, it really does, and I’ve got to thank them for keeping the train on the track and rolling all these years," said Earnhardt, who retired as a full-time driver following NASCAR’s season finale. He will move to NBC’s broadcasting team next year.

    Earnhardt was presented as NASCAR’s most popular driver during the annual season-ending awards ceremony, which is meant to fete all the playoff drivers and Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. But this week has truly been a send-off for Earnhardt, who was also named Grand Marshal for February’s season-opening Daytona 500 — just one of the many ambassador gigs the superstar is nabbing for the sport he loves so much.

    NASCAR Chairman Brian France also presented Earnhardt with The Bill France Award of Excellence on Thursday. The award is not presented every year.

    "It is for the ultimate contribution to the sport that they love, sometimes it is off the track, sometimes it is on, and sometimes it is both," France said.

    Earnhardt was appreciative of the award and said he’s always done his best to represent the sport his family has been such a huge part of for decades.

    "I always tell people all the time, all I wanted to do was be able to pay my bills and be able to race a long time," Earnhardt said. "I’ve always tried to take a lot of pride in taking the sport to new places and introducing it to new people."

    He then tried to turn the attention to Truex, his good friend and former driver. Truex won two second-tier series titles driving for Earnhardt before Truex graduated to the Cup Series. Earnhardt told a story Thursday night of how his father, the late seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, stressed to his son to celebrate after his first Cup victory.

    Now a married man expecting his first child next year, he said he finally understands what his father meant: there’s only one chance to celebrate firsts, and he vowed to party hard Thursday night in celebration of Truex’s first Cup title.

    Earnhardt was winless in his final season, didn’t make the playoffs, and wasn’t all that competitive at the end of his 19-year career. But he’s beloved by "Earnhardt Nation" and his fans supported him all year during his "Apreci88tion" tour.

    His farewell party began earlier this week in a salute from sponsor Nationwide, which Earnhardt turned into a charity event. Fans paid $88 to attend, and proceeds will go to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. He and wife Amy established a fund at the hospital and contributed the first $88,888.

    The next day, Chevrolet named Earnhardt the recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. opens up on childhood, relationship with father to Dan Patrick

    (11/30/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been praised over the years for his candor, openness and thoughtfulness.

    The 14-time Most Popular Driver brings an element of authenticity to his interviews unparalleled in NASCAR, and no interviewer seems to bring this side of Junior out more than NBC Sports’ Dan Patrick. The longtime anchor has built a rapport with Earnhardt and has routinely listed the Hendrick Motorsports driver among his favorite interviewees — and it’s easy to see why.

    The “Dan Patrick Show” aired a wide-ranging, 21-minute conversation between the two on Thursday morning. The exchange – originally slated for 10 minutes – took many twists and turns, only to be cut off due to time constraints mid-sentence; it could’ve gone even longer.

    Early in the interview after discussing some early career tribulations, Patrick asked Earnhardt if he’d ever tried therapy.

    “Oh yeah, I’ve been in therapy in and out of my whole life,” he explained. “I was in therapy as a child and definitely think that therapy is a very useful tool. If you meet the right therapist; I met a lady named Jane that I worked on and off with the last several years and she has changed my life. To meet the right person that you can trust and listen to and sort of absorb what they’re telling you, it can be incredibly helpful.”

    Patrick noted that it was unusual for a child to be in therapy.

    Earnhardt explained the unique circumstances of his upbringing, and a significant emotional event a young age.

    “As a child it was hard to open up or understand why you were there or understand what was the reason for being there. Man, I was a troubled kid. I was going to get kicked out of a Christian school and got sent to military school for a year and a half and I didn’t really have much direction until I got the opportunity to drive race cars. I was really probably more of a disappointment up until probably 1996, ’97 when I started driving in the XFINITY Series in a couple races for Dad and started showing ‘hey, there’s some purpose for me here and here’s direction for me.’

    “Having divorced parents and then the fire; we were living with my mom in a mill house near Concord Mills in Kannapolis that caught fire when I was five, six years old. So, I’m standing outside in the yard in the morning watching our house burn down. My mom is broke and doesn’t have anywhere to turn, so she had to move back to Norfolk, Virginia to live with her mother, because that’s the only place she could go. She made the very difficult choice to give up custody of me and my sister at that moment to my dad because she knew that he could provide for us and give us a better life. I was at my mom’s watching our house burn down in the morning and then that evening I was at my dad’s house, rummaging through my toy box in the garage, seeing if all my toys had made the trip. That’s difficult. Probably needed some therapy through all that.”

    It also explains why Earnhardt – who it’d be easy to assume would have lived the good life growing up the son of a seven-time champion – admittedly struggled in his adolescence and even into his early 20s.

    Those teenage years were especially trying times, and his relationship with his father was complicated, he divulged.

    “I was just wanting his attention. I didn’t know it, because I didn’t want his attention in a negative way, I didn’t want whoopin’s and all that stuff. My sister says that I was always acting out and trying to get his attention. Kelley would do things like get good grades, which is what she’s supposed to do to get his attention, and I was doing whatever I could to … I felt like the only way I could get him to talk to me or notice me was if I did something wrong or rebelled or fall back or whatever or made things difficult. I don’t think I did those things on purpose but my sister swears I did.

    “He wasn’t around; it wasn’t like we were interacting all the time. He would come home from working in his shop all day long. He’d get home around 9, 10 o’clock and it’s time for us to go to bed. And we’re dying for just five minutes of his time. We just want five minutes just to see him and say hey. He would come in and sit in his La-Z-Boy in the living room and you would sit on the couch and ask him questions and he would not even answer your questions, he was so tired and worn down and so much on his mind about his racing career. This is back in the mid-80s when he was sort of kind of struggling to right the ship, so-to-speak. It was a difficult time but I think that he was really frustrated for a long time with me and who I was going to become and what kind of kid or what kind of person I was going to be.”

    Their relationship started to turn a corner around the time Earnhardt got behind the wheel of an XFINITY Series car for a part-time schedule in 1997, at the age of 22.

    Racing was a language they could both speak.

    “It really clicked as soon as I got in the race car. I don’t know if he knew I could a race car or not, because he never saw me in the late model series from ’92 to ’96; he never saw a race. I ran 159 late model races and I don’t think he saw one of them. He was just going off people’s opinions off whether I had any talent or not.

    “Once I got in an XFINITY car, we went to Michigan and ran in the top 10 right there in front of him and he says ‘hey, this is all right,’ so we started talking about the future.”

    And that future?

    A career that saw Earnhardt earn 26 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins, become the face of the sport and, most importantly, follow a man that found himself along the way.

    Dale Jr. has fun with baby names, talks about higher role in NASCAR with Dan Patrick

    (11/30/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. took some time out of his busy schedule during Champion’s Week in Las Vegas to call in to NBCSN’s “Dan Patrick Show” Thursday morning, discussing a variety of topics — both deeply personal and fun-spirited.

    The call was originally supposed to last 10 minutes, but it turned into a 21-minute conversation with Patrick; one that was abruptly ended mid-sentence due to other prior commitments. Although Earnhardt talked longer than the allotted time, it seemed he wanted to talk longer. Patrick even shared on-air that Earnhardt later sent him a text apologizing for cutting their talk “short.”

    Paying particular attention to the fun stuff, baby names were quickly brought up by Patrick as Earnhardt’s wife, Amy, is pregnant with the couple’s first child. With their daughter due in May, Patrick asked if they have a few names picked out already.

    “We do. We have a list on our phones that we share. I had a lot of names that I liked, but all those got sent to the trash can,” Earnhardt said with a laugh.

    “I’m learning as I go that it’s really going to be down to her. She’s got some great ideas and whatever she chooses is going to be just perfect.”

    Patrick then asked what other NASCAR driver Earnhardt would name the baby if it was a boy.

    “Oh, man. That’s a tough call,” Earnhardt said. “Kyle Larson is a cool name. I think Chase Elliott, that’s a cool name. And Ryan Blaney. All these young kids are coming in with all these racing names.

    Earnhardt then came up with the perfect mixture.“I think Chase Blaney.”

    When asked if he would ever want to take on being the president of NASCAR someday, Earnhardt shared that he didn’t see himself thriving in that position.

    “I think it would be interesting to be in those conversations, to be in those boardroom meetings, understand a little bit of what’s going on and how they come to the decisions that they come to,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a lot more moving parts than myself or a lot of people know that make up the decisions they have. I don’t think I would want to be a president of NASCAR, nor do I think I would be a great president for the sport.”

    But, Earnhardt didn’t rule out an executive role of some form potentially down the road.

    “I think I could be just underneath that in maybe a Mike Helton-style role or a Steve O’Donnell-style role where I have some influence,” Earnhardt said. “I think the France family should and always should be the leaders of the sport. They are the ones that brought this together and created it. I do think it would be fun and be something I would be good at if I could be an influence in the sport some way, some how.”

    The two-time Daytona 500 champion and 14-time Most Popular Driver wrapped up the show by talking about his beloved Washington Redskins, as Patrick suggested he pack up the RV and take his family around to games across the country.

    “I mean, yeah, why not? That sounds like a lot of fun,” Earnhardt said. “They are more fun to watch these last couple years as the defense has gotten better. It’s funny … I get invited to go see them play away, but I don’t feel comfortable going into the opponent’s stadium. When they play the Panthers, or the Cowboys especially, I cannot go to the Cowboys stadium.”

    When Patrick asked if he hated the Dallas Cowboys, Earnhardt didn’t mind giving his opinion.

    “I don’t like them, yes,” he said. “Hate is a strong word. I grew up with a family that had a lot of Cowboys fans in it and it’s been a tug-of-war all my life.”

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. named 2018 Daytona 500 grand marshal

    (11/29/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have a prominent role in next year’s Daytona 500 after all.

    Daytona International Speedway announced Wednesday that the two-time winner of “The Great American Race” is set to serve as Grand Marshal for the 60th running of the Daytona 500, scheduled Feb. 18, 2018.

    The recently retired Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 in 2004 and 2014. Come February, his duties will include giving the command to start engines to the field.

    “I was humbled when asked to be the Grand Marshal of next season’s Daytona 500,” Earnhardt said in a release provided by the track. “The race has so much history and being a two-time winner of the event is something I am extremely proud of. The list of names who have Grand Marshaled the race is one I’m honored to add my name to. Speedweeks is an exciting time for our sport, and this assures me an opportunity to witness the thrills of it all.”

    Said track president Chip Wile: “Talk about a perfect fit — on the historic 60th running of the Daytona 500, we will have a man responsible for so much of our history serving as the Grand Marshal. He has meant so much to our facility, to NASCAR and all race fans through the years. It’s an honor to have him back in this capacity for the 2018 DAYTONA 500.”

    Earnhardt completed his final full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series earlier this month at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He ends his full-time career with 17 career victories at Daytona International Speedway, including his wins in Can-Am Duel qualifying races and XFINITY competition at the 2.5-mile circuit.

    Earnhardt joins a list of celebrities who have served as Grand Marshal for the season-opening event, including former President George W. Bush and last year’s honoree, Owen Wilson. Former Daytona 500 winners Junior Johnson and Richard Petty have also presided over the event as Grand Marshal.

    Tickets for the 60th edition of the Daytona 500 are on sale now through the track’s website or 1-800-PITSHOP.

    Dale, Amy Earnhardt establish fund at Nationwide Children’s Hospital

    (11/28/17) (Video) Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s involvement with Nationwide Children’s Hospital will continue into his retirement as he and wife Amy announced the creation of the Dale and Amy Earnhardt Fund at the hospital via Twitter on Tuesday morning.

    Earnhardt has been visiting the Nationwide Children’s Hospital for the past three years, making five trips to the Columbus, Ohio-based facility through his partnership with Nationwide. He most recently made a trip to the hospital in July, ahead of the tripleheader race weekend at Kentucky Speedway. As a retirement present, the track presented him with a special jukebox that would be given to the hospital.

    The hospital also named an area of the facility the Dale and Amy Earnhardt Activity Room last season.

    “We will continue to go,” Earnhardt said in a press conference after his July visit. “We will be connected to that place forever. Can’t wait to go back. Can’t wait to take a whole planeload of people with me that have never seen it before so they can see what is going on.”

    Classic rides again on display, for a good cause, at Evernham car show

    (11/24/17) Classic cars owned by four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and more are scheduled to be on display Saturday as part of the fifth annual AmeriCarna LIVE car show in Davidson, North Carolina.

    Gordon’s 1952 Oldsmobile Super 88 Convertible and Earnhardt’s 1976 Chevrolet Laguna highlight the annual charity event hosted by NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018 member and former championship-winning crew chief Ray Evernham.

    The show will be held at Ingersoll Rand North American headquarters and Corporate Center located at 800 Beaty Street in Davidson.

    Funds raised through the event support IGNITE, the Autism Society of North Carolina’s community center for young adults with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome.

    Evernham is the founder of IGNITE while MSC Industrial Supply Co. and Ingersoll Rand are supporting sponsors.

    A special display of off-road vehicles and vintage race cars will also be on hand. In addition to the vehicles of Gordon and Earnhardt, also on display will be Joey Logano’s 1972 Chevelle Duramax twin turbo diesel; a 2018 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 owned by Rusty Wallace and a display of vehicles from Evernham’s own collection.

    Admission is $5; children under 10 will be admitted free.

    Interested car owners can pre-register online at AmeriCarnaLIVE.com or register at the gate on day of show for $30.

    Emotions hit Dale Jr. the hardest when thanking Rick Hendrick

    (11/21/17) Rick Hendrick has a knack for bringing out the heaviest of emotions in his drivers who have gone into retirement from full-time racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

    In 2015, Jeff Gordon stepped out of a No. 24 car he made famous with four championships and 93 victories during his 24 years with Hendrick Motorsports. Not only was Hendrick a car owner for Gordon, he was a role model and a friend, which led Gordon to tears when thanking Rick and wife Linda on stage during that year’s banquet in Las Vegas.

    Fast forward to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final weekend as a full-time driver. Piloting Hendrick’s No. 88 for the last time in Miami, Earnhardt called it a career with 26 victories over his 19-year tenure — 10 of those years while driving for HMS.

    The two-time Daytona 500 winner and 14-time Most Popular Driver immediately embraced his boss for a lengthly period of time after climbing from the car with swarms of people surrounding them on pit road.

    For Earnhardt, it was those interactions with Hendrick that got him the most.

    “Really didn’t get seriously emotional … only when I talked to Rick,” Earnhardt said during his Dale Jr. Download podcast.

    Not only did Hendrick hire Earnhardt when Dale Earnhardt Inc. was facing rocky times, he was also by Earnhardt’s side during some of the toughest moments in his personal life.

    “It’s easy to thank him for hiring me,” Earnhardt said. “But when I think about what he did for me personally, for some reason it’s hard for me to thank him. I don’t know why. But, for some reason, when I try to do that, it brings up all the feels.”

    As Earnhardt trades his firesuit for a business suit next season in the NBC Sports broadcast booth, the relationship between he and Hendrick will remain special and unwavering.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth made their own ways as friends and racers for 14 years

    (11/20/17) 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 were 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.

    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 finale 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 extended several feet beyond the mouth of his garage bay so crew members 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 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.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. throws epic retirement party after finale

    (11/20/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. threw his own retirement party on pit road. Earnhardt popped out of his car, flashed a thumbs-up sign and chugged a Budweiser. Drenched in sweat and suds, he grabbed another cold one. It was easy enough to keep happy hour rolling since the beer cooler was stashed on the trunk of his Chevrolet.

    Earnhardt passed the brews around to his crew members. One by one, they huddled like frat brothers around the car and raised — and sprayed — their Buds in a career toast to NASCAR’s most popular driver.

    The most popular party boy at Homestead was more like it for Junior.

    Earnhardt cut loose like he won the NASCAR championship that eluded him in an 18-year-career.

    The No. 88 on the hood served as a de-facto coaster for his posse as they hugged and laughed and called for more beers in a Sunday night bash that seemed poised to stretch into Monday morning.

    "We’re going to miss you Junior!" a fan screamed at Earnhardt.

    Earnhardt finished 25th in his final NASCAR Cup race, the result a mere footnote in a career that counts two Daytona 500s, 14 straight most-popular driver awards and a universal respect in the garage.

    One example why he’s earned the love : Earnhardt left his party to seek out hunting buddy and best friend, new NASCAR champion Martin Truex Jr. on the stage.

    Earnhardt still left with some hardware. He gets to keep the weathered Chevy as a parting gift from team owner Rick Hendrick. Hendrick kept Earnhardt’s race-worn helmet. Earnhardt planted a kiss on Hendrick’s cheek after the race and they smothered each other in a bear hug that neither man seemed to want to let go.

    "He’s like a daddy. Trying to tell him how much he means to me is really hard," Earnhardt said.

    Earnhardt, whose father died in a last-lap accident in the 2001 Daytona 500, surrounded himself with family Sunday. Before the race, he embraced his pregnant wife as fireworks crackled in the sky and fighter jets roared over the track.

    Earnhardt kissed Amy three times on the lips, then pulled on his helmet and slid into his car as dozens of cameras clicked in unison.

    All the video tributes , gifts and heartfelt gratitude Earnhardt received in the months since he announced his retirement seemed to fade as he pulled onto pit road. Earnhardt stuck his left arm outside the window and slapped hands with all pit crews from the entire series as he prepared to take off for a ceremonial pace lap.

    Driving the car must have been a relief to the 43-year-old Earnhardt. He spent Sunday morning doing his final rounds of interviews and earned a standing ovation from his peers at the drivers’ meeting.

    Earnhardt was the last one brought out before the four championship contenders. It was moments after a video aired about Earnhardt’s impact on NASCAR, which was narrated by "This Is Us" star Justin Hartley.

    As the video closed, Hartley said of Earnhardt: "Talent is a gift. Character is a choice."

    Earnhardt then walked across a special stage, where he tried to high-five as many fans as possible. He hopped into the back of a pickup truck, flipped his baseball cap backward and waved to the crowd during his final trip pre-race parade around the track.

    Four-time champion Jeff Gordon, his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate, stopped by the car for a chat. Hendrick hugged him. Amy dabbed her eyes with tears after each photo shoot, and Junior gently patted her tiny baby bump.

    Earnhardt laughed when a couple of fans shouted they wanted to buy him a round at Shots and Giggles, a pub near his Key West vacation home.

    The fans at Homestead-Miami Speedway who usually stick Sharpies in Earnhardt’s face demanding autographs instead crammed the 88 pit box and wrote messages for him on the concrete wall.

    NASCAR played a tribute video during the drivers’ meeting that was filled with celebrities, including actor Adam Sandler, late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel, actor/director Mark Wahlberg, country music singer Brad Paisley and retired NBA stars Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley.

    After it ended, the entire room stood and clapped for Earnhardt.

    "We’re going to miss him for obvious reasons," NASCAR chairman Brian France said. "He’s not going to be that far away. He’s going to be glued to the sport, and that’s going to be good for us."

    Earnhardt, who became the sport’s face of concussion awareness and persevered in the wake of his father’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500, won’t desert NASCAR: He has two or three Xfinity races planned for next season and tossed out the Homestead finale in 2018 as a potential race. He owns second-tier Xfinity race teams and will call the action next season in the NBC Sports broadcast booth.

    "I still want to have a purpose in this sport," Earnhardt said.

    Miami finale a stepping stone to new beginnings for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    (11/20/17) After all the hugs and handshakes, well wishes and heartfelt thank yous, the only thing left for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to do was climb in his No. 88 Chevrolet, fire the engine and begin his final start as a full-time competitor in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

    Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway signaled the end of more than just a driver’s career, it signaled the end of an era of sorts as well.

    The record will show that Earnhardt finished 25th, two laps down and never quite in contention at the 1.5-mile track in south Florida.

    But the disappointment of his final finish with crew chief Greg Ives and crew won’t last, he said. He’ll look back fondly on the day, thanks in part to a big reminder located nearby.

    “I’m going to keep the car so I’ll always be reminded about how the race went,” Earnhardt said shortly after sharing a hug with Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick.

    “I’ll never forget being with my crew before the race and right now. I’ll never forget shaking all the over-the-wall guys and crewmen’s hands on pit road. That meant a lot to me to be able to shake their hands because I have so much respect for everybody in the garage and the commitment it takes to work in that garage is very difficult.”

    Crew members from all the teams in Sunday’s field greeted the 43-year-old as he rolled off pit road prior to the start of the race.

    No less memorable, he said, was the fact that former teammate and good friend Martin Truex Jr. won the race and the series championship

    “I ran into (him) with my car so I would have marks on it and would remind me of Martin,” Earnhardt said of the side-by-side contact on the cool-down lap. “I think I wasn’t the only one that hit him though.”

    Earnhardt is stepping aside but is scheduled to compete in select XFINITY Series races next season. He will continue to be a co-owner of JR Motorsports along with sister Kelly Earnhardt Miller and Hendrick, and he will do television work with NBC next season, as well.

    He wasn’t one of the Championship 4 contenders – Earnhardt had missed qualifying for the playoffs for the second time in as many years – but in the eyes of many, Sunday’s season-ending race was as much about what he has meant to the sport as it was the battle for the 2017 title.

    Earnhardt qualified 24th for his final start, and paced the field for one “honorary” pace lap before dropping to the rear for an engine change made by the team on Friday.

    An early caution sent him to pit road and he lost much of the track position he had gained but the trade-off was fresh tires and a few adjustments to his car.

    But by Lap 56 he was a lap down in 20th; he later brushed the wall, and 130 laps into the 267-lap race found him two laps behind the leader.

    The throng surrounding the car once he pulled onto pit road afterward couldn’t have been any bigger had he won the event.

    Earnhardt was on social media early on race day, giving his followers something of a “good morning” when he posted via Twitter.

    @DaleJr : Woke up at 6. Made a pb&j and went back to bed. Woke up for good at 930. This is gonna be a weird day.

    The son of seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt, the younger racer made his 631st career start Sunday at Homestead. In a Cup career that began in 1999 when he made five starts, Earnhardt won 26 times, including twice in the series’ biggest race, the season-opening Daytona 500.

    He is also a two-time champion in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, where he won titles in 1998 and ’99 and 24 races.

    There were non-points wins as well for the series’ 14-time most popular driver. He is a two-time winner of the series annual All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the annual Bud Shootout held at Daytona. He has five career wins in qualifying races at Daytona (used to set the field for the Daytona 500) as well.

    Moments after taking the stage for what has become an annual wrap-up of the NASCAR season and state of affairs in the sport, NASCAR CEO Brian France singled out Earnhardt for his role on Sunday morning at Homestead.

    “He 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 is 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.”

    Fellow drivers and team owners, dignitaries and officials gave him a standing ovation at the conclusion of a video presentation featuring athletes, fellow competitors, actors and numerous others from across the sports and entertainment industry.

    As for the car, Earnhardt said it will go “wherever (wife) Amy lets me put it.”

    “We’ve got that 2 car coming from Talladega, which still ain’t there yet, dammit,” he said.

    As a parting gift from Talladega Superspeedway, officials there and in conjunction with the International Motorsports Hall of Fame arranged for him to obtain the No. 2 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by his legendary father in 1979 and ’80.

    “She said that (car) is going in the main garage,” Earnhardt said, “and we’ve only got four (garage) stalls. We’ll put this one in there and have to park the good (expletive) outside I guess.”

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. emotional after standing ovation in driver meeting

    (11/19/17) The screams and applause from the assembled red-carpet audience in the garage area served as an alert to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s arrival for perhaps his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver meeting.

    Dressed in a red cap, red T-shirt and jeans, he slowly made his way in, stopping to sign autographs and pose for impromptu photos with fans before stepping into the meeting three minutes before it was set to start.

    Before the formal driver instructions were issued, NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton took the podium to recognize a trio of NASCAR’s biggest stars making Sunday’s race their final full-time start. After calling Danica Patrick “an incredible force” and saying “it’s been a lot of fun” watching Matt Kenseth, Helton turned his attention to Earnhardt Jr.

    “People will write about different legacies in our sport and different moments in our history, and I suspect every one of them will touch on the Dale Earnhardt Jr. era,” Helton said. “You have done great things for us and it’s been a great personal and professional pleasure watching you grow up in this industry, watching you take responsibilities … you have been a great asset to NASCAR, we thank you and wish you the best and are glad you will be close to the sport.”

    Then Helton introduced a specially made video to further confirm what Earnhardt has meant to so many — the people that make a living in the sport but also the passionate fandom who watch, cheer and sustain it.

    Videos posted on social media showed an emotional Junior wiping his eyes during the ensuing standing ovation, which lasted approximately 30 seconds.

    Current drivers such as Ryan Blaney, Earnhardt’s good friend Truex, his former XFINITY Series driver Brad Keselowski and his former crew chief Steve Letarte were among those that spoke in a celebrity-heavy ode to Earnhardt.

    “The biggest way he affected all of us,” former Cup champion Dale Jarrett said, “is putting more eyes on the sport.”

    Late night television host Jimmy Kimmel, country superstar Brad Paisley, former NBC anchor Brian Williams, former NBA superstar Charles Barkley and movie star Adam Sandler — wearing a No. 88 hat — praised Earnhardt’s impact and offered good wishes.

    The ending featured a long list of people — not only celebrities, but team members and race fans — each offering a most simple, but poignant message: “Dale, I appreciate you.”

    And judging by the love and attention Earnhardt, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, has been showered with this weekend, there is no doubting that.

    William Byron gives Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s race team Xfinity title

    (11/18/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the best retirement gift he could have asked for when William Byron won the Xfinity Series championship for JR Motorsports on Saturday, one day before Earnhardt’s final race as a full-time driver.

    NASCAR’s most popular driver is a part owner of the race team with sister Kelley and boss Rick Hendrick, and JR Motorsports went in to the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 75 per cent chance of winning the title. JRM drivers Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Byron were up against Daniel Hemric of Richard Childress Racing for the championship.

    Hemric appeared up for the challenge at the start and he led the title contenders until he headed to pit road with a dead battery early in the second stage. The team frantically changed the battery, but his car still had no power after the swap. When Hemric finally got back on the track, he was down 12 laps from the leaders.

    That sealed the title for JRM, and the organization only had to watch to see which of its three drivers would take the crown.

    Earnhardt and Hendrick watched intently from the top of Byron’s pit box. Kelley Earnhardt Miller watched from another. Earnhardt moved to Sadler’s pit stall.

    Calling the race for Allgaier? Seven-time championship-winning crew chief Chad Knaus, who was filling in for Allgaier’s suspended crew chief. Earnhardt likened the call to the bullpen to having Joe Gibbs coach a kid in Pop Warner football.

    Although a second title for JRM was in the bag, it wasn’t without anxious moments.

    Sadler and Byron had a spirited battle for the championship as they raced each other for position for several laps. The two had contact at least once, and it took Sadler until 36 laps remaining to get past Byron. But Byron came charging back, and the two again raced aggressively for position with nine laps remaining.

    Sadler was held up by Ryan Preece, who was trying to win the owner championship for Joe Gibbs Racing, and Byron passed him for good with nine remaining as Sadler was stuck in the top lane behind Preece.

    As the laps wound down, Sadler grew more aggressive and hit the wall. After fading to eighth, Sadler angrily charged toward Preece on pit road.

    "He cost us a championship and he’s not racing anybody," said Sadler. "It’s just devastating to me to have one taken away from me like that."

    Sadler has now finished second in the standings four times in the last seven years.

    Preece argued he was racing for position — he finished fifth — and Gibbs. But he felt horrible to have played a role in the title race.

    "If there’s a person you don’t want to cost a championship to it is Elliott Sadler," said Preece. "It’s not where I want to be right there. I can’t take it back."

    Cole Custer, meanwhile, easily won his first career Xfinity Series race. It came a week after he was eliminated from the playoffs. He had leads of up to 15 seconds as he was out front for all but 15 of the 200 laps.

    The Custer race victory was a win for Ford, which has so far won both the Truck Series and Xfinity Series races on a weekend it sponsors. Ford has two drivers racing for the Cup championship on Sunday in Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, and Ford has not won a Cup title since 2004.

    The driver championship, though, went to Chevrolet. That was a given before the race because all four finalists were in Chevys.

    Team Penske won the owner championship, and Chevrolet won the manufacturer title.

    It’s the second championship for JRM, which won its first title with Chase Elliott in 2014. Elliott graduated to the Cup Series, and Byron is taking over the No. 24 at Hendrick Motorsports next season.

    Byron is a rapid climb through NASCAR’s ranks, and has gone from an 18-year-old rookie in the Truck Series last season, to Xfinity Series champion next season, to Jimmie Johnson’s teammate next year.

    He probably should have two titles, too.

    Byron was the strongest driver in the Truck Series last year but was eliminated from the playoffs a week before the championship when his engine blew at Phoenix. He responded by winning the finale, when he had nothing but pride on the line, the next week at Homestead. That had been Byron’s seventh victory in the series.

    Byron settled for four wins this season, but he and his JRM teammates were statistically the class of the field all year among the Xfinity Series regulars.

    Byron finished third to win the title. Allgaier was 12th and Hemric was 34th, 13 laps down.

    Byron, at 19 years, 11 months and 20 days, is the second-youngest driver to win a championship in any of NASCAR’s national series. Chase Elliott was 18 years, 11 months and 18 days when he won the Xfinity title for JRM.

    Byron, who grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and trick-or-treated at the houses of Hendrick, Johnson and Jeff Gordon, is the newest alumni of JRM drivers who graduated to top Cup rides. Elliott is at Hendrick, Brad Keselowski is racing Sunday for the Cup title, as is Martin Truex Jr., who won two Xfinity Series titles under Earnhardt Jr.’s first company, Chance 2.

    Earnhardt Jr. to start from the rear in Sunday’s finale

    (11/17/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. is scheduled to make his farewell Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start from the rear of the field after his Hendrick Motorsports team changed engines in his No. 88 Chevrolet.

    Earnhardt’s car — adorned with a brilliant red paint scheme borrowed from early in his career — sputtered during opening practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He coasted back to the garage, telling his crew that something in the engine had broken.

    Per the NASCAR Rule Book, Earnhardt is set to start at the back of the field in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM), the season-ending race. He indicated through Twitter that he would still make a qualifying run in Friday’s Coors Light Pole Qualifying session (6:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM).

    Earnhardt had announced in April that this season would be his last as a full-time driver. He has said he still plans for a handful of races in the NASCAR XFINITY Series next year.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. at ease with final start this weekend

    (11/17/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave his final weekly pre-race press conference Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, touching on a variety of subjects ranging from his health to his competitiveness to his championship pick as he prepares for his final scheduled start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

    Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, will step away from full-time competition in the series following Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). He’ll remain deeply entrenched in the sport as co-team owner of JR Motorsports, which fields multiple entries in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, and through work with NBC, which broadcasts the second half of the NASCAR season.

    “In the car, I just want to run all the laps,” Earnhardt said of Sunday’s season-ending, championship-determining race. “I want to finish the race in one piece. … Obviously you want to do as well as you can. But no matter where we finish, to be able to pull down pit road, stop the car and get out. Then see my guys and do all that. It would be a bit of a heartbreaker if we have any kind of issue that would take us out of the event and not be able to finish.”

    The 2017 season is Earnhardt’s 18th as a full-time competitor. He’s a two-time champion in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, has 26 career victories in Monster Energy Series competition and is the winner of the series’ most popular driver award for 14 consecutive years.

    After sitting out the final half of the 2016 season while recovering from a concussion, Earnhardt announced on April 25 of this year that he would step down from full-time competition at year’s end. Asked if he had reconsidered the decision at any point this year, Earnhardt didn’t hesitate when answering.

    “No, I don’t need to reconsider,” the 43-year-old said. “This is great timing for me. It’s time for somebody else to get in that car and get out of it what they can. “And with Alex (Bowman) coming in behind, it’s just a great opportunity for him. It’s his time. And mine, in my heart, has ran its course.

    “With everything we’ve been through, with the concussion and trying to come back, the emotion was man, I’m so glad I get to run this last year. It was always this is the last year. And I’m glad I get to run it.”

    Bowman made 10 starts for the team while Earnhardt was sidelined in ’16, winning the pole in the fall race at Phoenix. He will take over full-time duties in the car beginning next season.

    Neither Earnhardt nor his teammates, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne, made it to this year’s Championship 4 round here at Homestead.

    Earnhardt said he will be “Team Martin for this weekend for sure,” indicating his choice of champion is Furniture Row Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. The two were teammates earlier in their career at Dale Earnhardt Inc.

    Truex, Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing), Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Brad Keselowski (Team Penske) will compete for the championship on Sunday.

    “He’s the guy,” Earnhardt said of Truex. “Me and Brad are great friends. I love to see Brad do well. But with what Martin, just as a driver, what he has been through it would just be awesome to see him put his name on that trophy.

    “I don’t know how you put into words what it would mean for him to win. I don’t know how you describe what that means. It’s bigger than words.”

    In the day’s opening practice, Earnhardt started out fifth-fastest, but returned to the garage with engine issues.

    Friday afternoon there’s qualifying, then two more practice sessions on Saturday.

    Sunday, he’ll climb aboard his No. 88 for the final time.

    Forever family

    (11/17/17) (nascar.com) The years slipped by unnoticed, one and two and then five and now 10, and suddenly Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring from full-time competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Rick Hendrick wonders where the time went.

    Hendrick owns the car, the No. 88 Chevrolet, that Earnhardt has driven for the last decade. Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Earnhardt is scheduled to make his final start in the series. The Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) signals the end of the 2017 racing season. It also signals the end of a career for NASCAR’s most popular driver.

    Amid the palm trees and warm breezes of South Florida, Earnhardt Jr. will close the books on a driving career that will have seen 631 starts and, barring one final victory, 26 wins. There have been 149 top-five and 260 top-10 finishes thus far.

    The 68-year-old Hendrick always has enjoyed a close relationship with his drivers, but perhaps none have been as close as he and Earnhardt Jr.

    “We have had some heartbreaking finishes,” Hendrick told NASCAR.com, sounding apologetic. “There should have been a lot more wins. But at the end of the day, I got to spend a good part of my life with a young man that I’ve become extremely close to. We have almost like a father/son relationship. Now I get to see him grow through all those stages of life, get a girlfriend, get married and now be a father.

    “The biggest regret I have is that he got hurt in the car. But I wouldn’t take anything for the time. I would like to have won championships, I would have liked to have won more races but the good times we had together, the bond that we have with each other, the fun we’ve had together and the relationship that’s been developed is so important to me. That’s not going to end.”

    In 2018, Earnhardt will make at least one previously arranged start in NASCAR’s XFINITY Series. It will come in a car fielded by JR Motorsports, the organization he co-owns with sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Hendrick.

    He also will join NBC for work during its portion of the NASCAR season, as well as other projects.

    But his Monster Energy Series career officially ends Sunday in Miami when he shuts off the engine of the No. 88 Chevrolet for a final time.

    • • •

    On May 10, 2007, Earnhardt announced he was leaving his family-owned Dale Earnhardt Inc. organization following months of tense negotiations with his stepmother, Teresa Earnhardt.

    The son of seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt wanted controlling interest in a multi-car organization that had been built by his father, but that had begun to flounder in the years after his passing.

    Unable to strike a deal, Earnhardt Jr. decided his best career move would be to leave DEI.

    “At 32 years of age, the same age my father was when he made his final and most important career decision, it’s time for me to compete on a consistent basis and contend for championships now,” Earnhardt Jr. said in announcing his decision.

    Hendrick was the most successful outfit at that time with Johnson headed toward a second consecutive title and Hendrick drivers winning 10 of the first 14 races that season.

    Although HMS had no room, fielding teams for Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Casey Mears, Hendrick went to work.

    Earnhardt Jr. had 17 wins, including a Daytona 500 title, 76 top-five and 121 top-10 finishes in 291 starts at DEI. But the stats were only part of the reason Hendrick said he felt a need to bring Earnhardt Jr. into the fold.

    “You know, sometimes in life there are things that you just feel are so right that you just want to make happen,” he said. “And that’s the way I felt about him.”

    The Earnhardts “were family,” he said, “because of Robert Gee and knowing Dale and Kelley since they were kids.”

    Gee was the Earnhardt’s maternal grandfather and a legendary fabricator who had done business with Hendrick before there was a Hendrick Motorsports.

    Ricky Hendrick, Rick’s son, had competed against Earnhardt Jr. in the XFINITY Series. The two had become friends and “Ricky had this big idea that they were going to get together and Dale was going to drive here,” Hendrick said.

    The younger Hendrick died, along with nine others, in 2004 when a private plane ferrying the group to a race at Martinsville crashed into the mountainside outside Stuart, Virginia.

    After 36 days filled with rumors and conjecture, Earnhardt Jr. made the announcement — beginning the following season, he would resume his driving career at Hendrick Motorsports.

    By season’s end, Busch had been released and Earnhardt Jr. was beginning a new chapter in his racing career.

    • • •

    In 2007, Steve Letarte was crew chief for Gordon, by then a four-time champion. The acquisition of Earnhardt was not a surprise among those who knew and those who worked for Hendrick.

    “We never were shocked by Mr. Hendrick,” Letarte said. “He always seemed to have his hand on the pulse of the sport. … We knew getting (Earnhardt Jr.) with the company was going to be an improvement. We had no doubt that Mr. Hendrick, in his way, would get that done.”

    In 2008, Earnhardt, teamed with cousin and crew chief Tony Eury Jr., won in his first two outings on the track — the annual Clash at Daytona and Daytona Duel qualifying race.

    “I thought ‘Man, there’s going to be a lot of trophies.’ I remember telling him, ‘This is a great way to start,’ ” Hendrick said. “It was really special. I just knew, I thought, ‘Man, this is just going to be awesome.’ ”

    Earnhardt Jr.’s first points win came in his 15th start at Hendrick, a victory at Michigan snapping a 76-race winless streak that dated back to 2006.

    But it was nearly four years before Earnhardt took another checkered flag as the race winner. In the meantime, Eury Jr. had been replaced by Lance McGrew and McGrew was eventually replaced by Letarte.

    “I would have loved to have given him more wins and a shot at a championship, that’s the only regret I have,” Hendrick said. “I feel like maybe sometimes I moved a little slow to get him what he needed. He and I both have this same problem, we get attached to people and we don’t want to make a change. He gets that way; he doesn’t want to hurt anybody … sometimes it’s a hard decision.”

    By the end of 2010, however, it was apparent a change was needed. Letarte and Gordon had struggled through the season, so much so that Letarte believed when Hendrick called him into his office it was to tell him his services were no longer needed.

    Earnhardt, meanwhile, was mired in a two-and-a-half-year, 143-race winless drought.

    But instead of getting fired, Letarte said Hendrick told him, “I need you to do me a favor. I need you to go crew chief Dale Earnhardt Jr. We need to get him running better. He can’t run this poorly in our equipment. I’m trying to figure out why and we have to come up with a solution.”

    Letarte, who won 10 times with Gordon, immediately went to work. And he knew the parts and pieces were not the problem.

    “Jimmie Johnson was dominating and we all had the ability to have the same equipment, so you could rule that out,” Letarte said. “It was more than that; I didn’t know what the more was. I just knew it was more than that. And the only way to define the more was to spend as much time together with that guy as I could. That was my goal and that’s what I did.”

    Winning certainly would have helped soothe Junior Nation in 2011, but the issues for both driver and crew chief went deeper than that.

    “There was a point in that time that, and this is going to sound odd, but winning wasn’t the goal,” Letarte said. “It was enjoying going back to the race track. We had to start with that.”

    By the time Letarte stepped away from the pit box at end of 2014 to become an analyst with NBC for its NASCAR coverage, Earnhardt had won four more times, including that season’s Daytona 500.

    Since Letarte’s departure, Greg Ives has called the shots for the team. After a three-win season in ’15, Earnhardt Jr. missed half of ’16 while recovering from a concussion. He enters Sunday’s race winless in his last 54 starts.

    “I learned a tremendous amount,” Letarte said of his time with Earnhardt. “I cherish every race I had with Dale Jr. I was raised by Jeff Gordon; I’m thankful for every weekend I had with him, even the ones that weren’t as much fun, I learned something. His approach is very different than Dale’s.

    “Dale taught me a lot about the sport, taught me a lot about speedway racing. I think we taught each other … There was never a question of commitment, him to me or me to him.”

    • • •

    There wasn’t a championship, but there were wins and a deep friendship that developed and both the Hendrick organization and Earnhardt Jr. came away winners, you might say.

    Was his time there a success?

    “I think everyone has to define their own success,” Letarte said. “I think a Daytona 500 and a handful of wins, I think he was pleased that he was able to win those numbers and he would tell you himself, of course he wanted to win more. Any race car driver that doesn’t say that, I’d love to meet him because I’ve never met one that said they’d won enough.

    “I think overall, more than just the trophies, we became very good friends. He was very good to the people that worked on the teams. Rick and him have always been very tight. We all mature, we age, and I think he’s going to look back and be proud of those 10 years.”

    It’s obvious in speaking with Hendrick that the team owner is proud of what they accomplished, how he helped Earnhardt and just as importantly how Earnhardt helped Hendrick Motorsports.

    “He did tell me when we hooked up, he said ‘You know, I’m going to make you more popular. You’re not very popular right now,’ ” Hendrick said, laughing. “He brought a lot of excitement to our company. … He grew our fan base tremendously. You’ve got Jeff Gordon who could reach across different types of folks and then you get Junior with his fan base. All of a sudden it elevated our company. The people wanted to be involved with him.

    “I don’t know how to say it. … It was like you had Peyton Manning on your team, or Kobe Bryant.”

    • • •

    In 2008, more than a month before the season began, Earnhardt Jr. showed up in Daytona for preseason testing, even though his own Hendrick team wasn’t scheduled to test until the following week.

    Ten years later, and a bit further south, he makes his final start for the organization.

    Ten years. Hendrick wonders how the time went by so quickly.

    “I love watching guys like Jimmie come in and grow up and become a superstar and a family man,” Hendrick said. “Jeff, the same way. Dale, the same way. In life when you work so hard and you do things, relationships to me mean an awful lot. Being around people you like and love and do things with. That’s super important.

    “Dale and I have had so many special times. … It’s been more than a race car driver/team owner (relationship), way more than that. And it’s something that will go on forever.”

    Countdown to E-Day: Untold stories of Dale Jr.’s first race

    (11/16/17) Fifty-five years after “D-Day,” Budweiser was preparing America for “E-Day,” the name applied to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s debut in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. When Junior made the first of his now 630 Cup starts back in 1999, it was one of the most anticipated debuts of any driver in racing.

    “I don’t remember anyone coming in who’s gotten this much attention,” broadcaster Ned Jarrett said at the time of Junior’s debut. “It’s unusual to say the least. We might not ever see it again.”

    “The Countdown to E-Day” spanned the first half of 1999 and was a level of promotion never before seen in NASCAR. With all eyes on Junior, he entered the Cup Series to incredible fanfare and enormous pressure.

    As a 23-year-old in 1998, Dale Earnhardt Jr. first entered full-time competition in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, then the Busch Series. After winning seven times that year, Earnhardt claimed the championship by 48 points over Matt Kenseth. His talent was obvious and observers were crazy about the idea that NASCAR’s most famous driver had a winning son.

    In November 1998, NASCAR ran its final exhibition race in Japan, and Junior was entered. It was the first time he competed with his father, and Dale Sr. was just as thrilled as his son.

    “The one time I raced against my dad was at a dirt track,” Earnhardt Sr. reminisced. “I was racing this guy, and my dad, who was leading the race, came up behind me, and I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. Finally, he started bumping me, so I figured I better hold the car straight. He pushed me by this guy, and I beat him, then dad drove on past me. It was pretty neat.

    “It’ll be a great experience racing Dale Jr. in Japan. However, it wouldn’t look very good for him to beat his good old dad, now would it?”

    As it turned out, Dale Jr. did beat his dad and finished sixth, two spots ahead of his namesake. While that race was an exhibition, it helped set the stage for his first real Cup race.

    The details of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s debut came on Jan. 12, 1999. In an extravagant press conference at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, the Earnhardts, Senior and Junior, entered the building on a wagon pulled by the Budweiser Clydesdales.

    Driving the No. 8 Budweiser-sponsored Chevrolet, Junior would make his first start in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 30th. As NASCAR rules put a limit on the number of races a driver could run before their rookie season, Earnhardt’s schedule that year consisted of only five events run on different style tracks.

    The Coca-Cola 600 was an interesting choice for Dale Jr. to make his debut. It almost seemed odd to make his first start in the longest race of the year, but it all had to do with family history. Twenty-four years earlier, Dale Earnhardt Sr. made his debut in the same race, also driving a car with the No. 8 on the side. With the pieces in place, Junior was ready.

    “I couldn’t have asked for a better situation to make my Winston Cup debut,” Earnhardt Jr. said at the time. “I’ll be racing at the track near my hometown, in a car owned by my dad, competing against the best drivers in the world on the same track where he began his Winston Cup career. Best of all, I’ll have my granddad’s No. 8. It’ll be a special day for the entire Earnhardt family.”

    The 138 days between the official announcement and Earnhardt’s debut were packed with a tremendous level of promotion. Budweiser devoted a section of their website to Earnhardt and sent him to countless appearances. There were “Countdown to E-Day” shirts printed, diecast cars made, commercials filmed and special 16-ounce cans of beer that featured Earnhardt’s picture.

    All that promotion nearly drove the young man insane. As a full-time XFINITY Series racer and with commitments from two major sponsors, the demands placed on Junior’s time came as a terrible shock to the 24 year-old.

    “The only thing I’m uncomfortable with is that there was never a break period,” Earnhardt Jr. told reporter Dustin Long for the Roanoke Times. “One year, I couldn’t scrounge up $20,000 to run my late model car, the next year I’ve got people knocking down the door to sign me. Having to do an appearance two to three times a week, we’re booked up solid.

    “I’m somewhere every single day of my life. That’s taking some getting used to. A year ago, I was sitting back at home hanging out with my friends doing what I want to. Now, I’m out of touch with just about everything I was in touch with last year. At times it’s a little frustrating. My father tells me that’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

    Amid the added pressure, Earnhardt went winless in XFINITY Series races prior to his Cup debut. In a revealing Sports Illustrated interview, Junior said he expected the week prior to the Coca-Cola 600 to be a sort of “Hell Week.” Filled with attention and sponsor commitments, racing seemed like an afterthought.

    Earnhardt’s Jr.’s team arrived at Charlotte in a plain white hauler and burdened with a great deal of pressure to perform. With no points or provisionals to rely on, it was possible that Earnhardt could miss the race. After all the promotion, it would have been a devastating embarrassment for Junior to spend E-Day at home on the couch.

    But to his complete relief, the car was fast. In first practice, Junior was 10th fastest as his teammate, Steve Park, led the session. And in his first qualifying session as a Cup driver, Earnhardt Jr. raced to an impressive eighth-place starting position. In that Wednesday night session, Junior qualified seven positions higher than his father and better than all former Cup champions in the field.

    “I have never been that nervous in my life,” he said after his run. “It’s a big, big relief. You just don’t understand. It’s a big, big relief.”

    The attention on “Little E” was not ignored by competitors. After winning the pole, Bobby Labonte joked to reporters, “Do you guys have any questions you want me to ask Dale Jr.?”

    Earnhardt Jr. would share the spotlight with Tony Stewart on race day, as Stewart also raced in the Indy 500 that day. While Stewart arrived at Charlotte just prior to the green flag, a mob of attention surrounded Junior. Breaking through the crowd of reporters was Ken Schrader with an unusual request. He wanted an autograph. Earnhardt signed the back of Schrader’s suit and climbed into his own car to start the race.

    Once the green flag dropped, it was clear the new team missed the setup. After two laps, Junior had fallen to 15th and struggled through the early part of the race with an ill-handling car.

    On the first green flag pit stop, Junior lost time on pit road when he couldn’t find his pit stall, his spotter directing him to Steve Park’s box by mistake. Junior fell a lap down on Lap 78. The rest of the night was calm and after 600 miles, Junior finished 16th, three laps down. The event was a learning experience.

    Once the attention, pressure and excitement was over, perhaps the most important part of Junior’s night was getting feedback from his father, who finished sixth. Long after the sun had set that night, Dale Jr. walked through the dimly lit garage to see if his father was happy with the way the night went.

    “He said, ‘You did good and stayed out of trouble,’ ” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I wanted to know he was happy as a car owner and a father.” Dale Sr. was certainly happy at the track less than one year later, when he was celebrating Junior’s win in the All-Star Race.

    Finally now, after more than 600 Monster Energy Series races, Earnhardt Jr. will end his career in a similar manner. He’ll drive his car back to the garage following a race ending after sunset, and hopefully upon reflection, he’ll be happy with the way a career went.

    This article was edited for brevity. To read the entire historical piece, visit racing-reference.info.

    Cain: Memories stir as Dale Jr.’s final race approaches

    (11/16/17) (nascar.com) I first met Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Charlotte when the massive NASCAR national media corps showed up for preseason interviews in January 1998. In between formal sessions with the sport’s biggest-name drivers and owners, we were given the option to move into a nearby smaller room to speak to a young man who was about to make his full-time debut in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series.

    The 22-year-old Earnhardt Jr. sat by himself at a table waiting to see who — if anyone — would essentially initiate him with this “process.” The chance to sit down one-on-one with the Earnhardt Jr. two decades later is a rarity, and I smile thinking how much everything has changed since.

    I distinctly remember that first interview, however, and how he spoke quietly, looked down a lot and seemed a bit overwhelmed and unsure at the process. I concede, I did this mainly as a favor to his father’s public relations team. In retrospect, I’m glad I did.

    In speaking with Junior, I discovered his seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion father made him work at his family’s car dealership — his first job was sweeping floors — that he attended military school for a bit and that he had played soccer and had some artistic ability.

    At the time Junior only had a handful of starts in NASCAR’s former Busch Grand National series — those coming at strategic venues no-doubt well thought out by his dad — an assortment of short tracks, 1.5-milers, a road course and a couple big tracks.

    His first XFINITY start came three weeks after a DNQ at Nashville, Tennessee, in a No. 31 Chevy owned by his dad, with his uncle, Tony Eury Sr., as the crew chief and sponsored by “Gargoyles.” He completed only 87 of the 320 laps and finished 39th, victim of his car’s oil pump failure. Another young driver, a future close friend of Junior’s, and an eventual Cup champion, Matt Kenseth, finished 11th in that race.

    Up-and-coming young drivers may find some solace to know that the future two-time Daytona 500 winner Earnhardt finished 39th, 39th and 38th in his first three NASCAR national series races.

    In many respects, I’m guessing his father didn’t mind the lessons in tough luck and pick-yourself-up attitude. And Junior was a good student.

    Not only did he pick himself up, but he also raised several trophies beginning the very next year. He found himself. And he found Victory Lane, winning seven races in 1998 on the way to the series championship, and six the next year winning a second consecutive title and establishing himself ready to be a big-time player in the sport’s big stage.

    At one of his father’s press conferences after the seven-time champion won an early race in Daytona Speedweeks, he stood in the Daytona International Speedway press box high above the track’s famous front straightaway and was constantly turning away from reporters so he could stare out the wall of windows overlooking the track, where XFINITY Series cars were turning practice laps.

    I got a kick out of his timing. He was far more interested in his son’s — whom he called “June Bug” — lap times and drive lines than answering questions about his own latest, greatest win there. After a few questions, he got the timing down so that he could answer a question then turn around toward the track just in time to proudly watch his son zoom around the tri-oval. He had that full-on, mustache-extended Earnhardt grin looking down at the track.

    Those were the platinum hair and rock n’ roll halcyon days for Junior — winning races, working with his dad, enjoying all the perks of success and stardom.

    “Sometimes we’ll go places and it’s like I’m walking with Elvis,” this year’s Monster Energy Series championship favorite Martin Truex Jr. once said of his good friend Junior.

    Everything changed for Junior, however, that gut-wrenching day, Feb. 18, 2001 at the Daytona 500.

    Sitting across the track high above in the Daytona press box, I remember too vividly watching Junior park his car after finishing runner-up to Michael Waltrip in the 500; a 1-2 showing for his dad’s team. Immediately after climbing out, Junior started running down pit road toward the infield care center — wanting desperately to understand the situation. It was absolutely heartbreaking.

    There was no transition time really for Junior or for the fans — those that had cheered for his dad, immediately shifted their adoration to the son — absolutely willing to change driver allegiance to support this young man in the midst of a tragedy.

    For all the good intentions, it was a lot for a 26-year-old to have thrust upon his shoulders.

    And as Junior prepares to step out of the driver’s seat now 16 years after that fate-twisting Daytona 500, the grace, strength and resilience he showed in handling that unimaginable grief has been as important to him as the talent he has shown behind the wheel as a NASCAR champion, multi-time Daytona 500 winner and 26-time Monster Energy Series race winner.

    Earnhardt Jr. has always reminded that his deep drive to win and succeed was not because his father had, it was because he wanted to — although obviously their presence in NASCAR has understandably been linked.

    And for some, Junior’s decision to step away from full-time competition now affords many the “goodbye” fans never got to give his father — the thank you.

    This is one of the most significant and emotional transitions the sport has ever experienced.

    For Earnhardt, this life-changing shift should make him feel proud and will one day make his children — the first, a daughter, due in early May — feel proud, too.

    He has handled the immense attention and fame with class and remained competitive and championship worthy through it all.

    Something Junior told me for a story 15 years ago still resonates every bit today.

    “(Being an Earnhardt) has opened a lot of doors for me,” he said. “I’ve never wished I was anybody else. Sometimes it gets a little bit over the top, but I just kind of ride it out. It’s been a lot of fun.”

    Somewhere high above, his dad is smiling. And so will people everywhere Junior looks Sunday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway as he makes his last full-time start.

    He has lived the spectrum of emotion with millions of eyes upon him and here’s hoping he gets out of the car Sunday feeling deservedly tremendous and accomplished for a career he should be proud of.

    And it will be difficult to tell who is more grateful, Junior for the love and support, or NASCAR fans for the lessons in grace and strength.

    Preview: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway

    (11/15/17) Race: Ford EcoBoost 400

    Date: Sunday, Nov. 19, 3 p.m. ET (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

    Previous five results at Miami: 40th, 14th, third, 10th, 11th

    Notable: The weekend JR Nation has been anticipating since April is here: Earnhardt’s final start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as a full-time driver. Fittingly, he will do it while running a paint scheme he is most known for, a throwback to his beginnings at Dale Earnhardt Inc., in the famous red and black Budweiser machine. Sunday will be Earnhardt’s 17th start at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the 631st of his career.

    Memorable: Miami has not been a place to get excited about for Earnhardt. While the track allows him to do something most drivers enjoy — run up along the wall — Earnhardt’s results haven’t been as pleasant. In 16 starts at the 1.5-miler, Earnhardt has just two top-10 finishes, both of which came in back-to-back seasons (2012-13). In 2013, Earnhardt found himself in contention for the victory as he led inside the final 30 laps before being overtaken by Denny Hamlin. However, Earnhardt put up an entertaining fight with Matt Kenseth, as the two traded paint and the second spot back and forth. Earnhardt, who led 28 laps, finished third and wound up fifth in the final championship standings.

    Quotable: “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.”

    Dale Jr.’s distinctive voice resonates, even through retirement

    (11/14/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s voice has long been a distinctive one. The North Carolina twang didn’t skip a generation after his famous father, who handed down his name, his affinity for fast cars and that trademark drawl.

    Two decades after Earnhardt Jr. was introduced to racing on NASCAR’s national stage, that voice has become the sport’s most resonant, with unvarnished colloquialisms seamlessly blending with deeply incisive thoughts.

    We’ll hear that voice one more time in Earnhardt’s final media rounds as a full-time competitor this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he’ll round out his appreciation tour as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver. Those farewell interviews ahead of Sunday’s championship race promise to be appointment viewing for fans and reporters alike.

    It’s why veteran ESPN reporter Marty Smith — himself the proud keeper of a vibrant Southern accent — remarked on a recent visit to Richard Deitsch’s SI Media Podcast that Earnhardt Jr. “is the best interview in sports and it is not even close,” owing to Earnhardt’s intelligence and his ability to process questions with genuine, profound answers.

    It wasn’t always that way, Smith noted. In the early stages of Earnhardt’s career, drawing responses out of the young, frosted-haired kid in the red fire suit was sometimes like extracting teeth. The relatable plain-spokenness was always there, but there was often an underlying arms-length distance, almost a reluctance to fully connect.

    When he did open up early on, Earnhardt’s words sometimes had the subtlety of a flying elbow off the top rope. Provocative profiles in Rolling Stone (2001) and Playboy (2003) revealed a brash twenty-something still in the acquaintance phase with the responsibilities of his newfound stardom. And the on-air profanity he blurted out in Talladega Superspeedway’s Victory Lane in 2004 was especially ill-timed, with the FCC still on high alert in the months after the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” Super Bowl performance. NASCAR fined Earnhardt $10,000 and stripped him of 25 points in the midst of a late-season championship pursuit.

    Earnhardt’s interviews have remained must-see TV as his career has progressed. But the tenor of those media sessions has turned, transforming into opportunities to spend time with a mature, self-assured man whose soul-baring opinions — both about the sport and life outside it — carry real weight. He shared his decision to donate his brain to concussion research with us in spring 2016 at Martinsville with unflinching openness. And when he decided one year later that this season would be his last, he answered every question in an hour-long news conference — down to the wildest hypothetical — with patience and grace.

    Earnhardt has often been at his best when asked to draw from his appreciation of stock-car racing history. I attempted to tap into those memory banks two years ago, enlisting Earnhardt as a participant in our oral history of his father’s breathtaking final win at Talladega in 2000, an undertaking we had internally dubbed “The Earnhardt Project.”

    Earnhardt had been briefed about the subject matter when we connected on a sweltering Labor Day Saturday in the drivers’ motorcoach lot at Darlington Raceway. I offered a general first question about that season’s rules package as a table-setter.

    “Man, that was 15 years ago,” Earnhardt said, inspiring faint initial confidence in his recall ability with several questions still in the queue. What happened instead was 15 minutes of brilliance as he fondly recounted the specifics of a race almost a decade and a half old.

    Vivid details about his father’s determination to win that day sprang to life. Earnhardt Jr.’s description about his own efforts spilled out, as if we were watching a replay and he was doing play-by-play commentary. I wanted to use every word; the final product came close to hitting that mark.

    As reflective as Earnhardt’s sense of history has been, his perspective on current matters has been just as illuminating. His weekly media availabilities this season have unfolded in 30-minute blocks, expanded from the usual 15 to allow for farewell gifts from each track but also to satisfy media demand and provide Earnhardt time for his typically thorough answers. It’s also why Team Chevy public relations has often split up transcription duties for Earnhardt’s wide-ranging interviews among two or three staffers each week in his final season.

    After this weekend, Earnhardt’s competitive career on the track will end, but his voice will still be a familiar sound on race weekends next season. He’ll offer his views, likely with the same characteristic depth and charm but on the opposite side of the media divide, as an analyst for NBC Sports.

    Whether it’s as an interviewer or interviewee, the future should hold many more years of Earnhardt’s enlightened, conversational insights.

    All served up with a distinctive dash of twang.

    Dale Jr.: My Last Run At Talladega

    (11/13/17) My Last Run At Talladega: theplayerstribune.com.

    Preview: Dale Jr.’s final Phoenix race

    (11/10/17) Nearly two decades ago, a pair of fresh-faced drivers stared back at the many subscribers of “ESPN the Magazine” as they pulled the Spring 2000 issue out of their respective mailboxes.

    “Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are on your tail,” the tagline read.

    Now, they’re on their way out.

    After more than 600 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races together, Earnhardt and Kenseth find themselves with but a pair of foreseeable races remaining in their Cup-level racing careers in Sunday’s Round of 8 cutoff at Phoenix Raceway (2:30 p.m ET, NBC) and next weekend’s Championship 4 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

    Neither of the accomplished drivers are among those racing for a title. Right now, it’s about race trophies – and memories, which the duo have shared throughout their careers despite never racing for the same team.

    It kind of all started with that “First kid you meet in kindergarten becomes your best friend for life” principle, way back in the mid-1990s.

    “(Our friendship has) really kind of stayed the same,” Earnhardt said Friday afternoon at Phoenix, of his perennial motor coach-lot neighbor and cycling pal. “Matt engaged me early in our careers in the XFINITY Series and I was really shy; didn’t have an understanding of how to interact with my peers and competitors that well. I was just trying to do well.

    “I was really nervous coming up into the ranks, but Matt engaged me and we became friends through conversations with him really quickly. We were both sort of coming into the XFINITY Series at the same time and then we went into the Cup Series together. We did a lot of things together. We supported each other and enjoyed seeing each other have success.”

    Their mutual success blossomed in the new millennium after starting as rookies in 2000 – as foretold by that ESPN cover – with 64 Monster Energy Series wins combined.

    Earnhardt edged Kenseth for a pair of XFINITY Series titles in 1998 and 1999 (with the latter earning a runner-up finish in ’98 and a third-place result in ’99), but it was Kenseth who earned the only premier-series title between the two – and with equipment that may not have been top-of-the-line, no less.

    “Matt won his championship in 2003. I bet he was probably down 40 horsepower to everybody else. Roush (Fenway Racing) probably wouldn’t admit it, wouldn’t like to hear that, but he was just an amazing driver,” said Earnhardt, who finished third in the standings that year – the closest he’d come to a title.

    “We beat him in the championship in the XFINITY Series. We had a whole lot more race car than he did, and he ran us pretty hard. I felt like he did a lot in those two years with very little. … I had always been impressed with his talent and his ability. He was as good a driver as anybody that is in the series today.”

    While that may be true – and Kenseth’s 14 wins over the past four years alone indicate it is – Joe Gibbs Racing has plans to move on from its current, 45-year-old driver of the No. 20 Toyota to usher in its future with 21-year-old Erik Jones, currently driving for Furniture Row Racing.

    After announcing last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway that he’d be stepping away from driving in 2018 – without going so far as actually calling it a “retirement” – it’s evident that we could be seeing the last of a pair of superstars racing at the sport’s highest level.

    And, given all the fanfare, gifts and recognition thrown at Earnhardt and the hushed, humbling nature of Kenseth’s announcement, they’re going out just the way they came in.

    “One funny thing that we talk about; we were getting our picture made for the cover of ESPN magazine back when we were coming into the Cup series and everybody knew that Matt had so much potential, so they had me up front and then they kind of had him behind me,” Earnhardt said. “The image was to express that there is all this hoopla about me coming in and there is all this attention on me, but you better watch this guy Matt, that was sort of what the image was trying to express. This guy is one you need to keep your eye on and he is lurking over my shoulder.

    “But, Matt was really frustrated because the photographer kept sliding Matt a little further and a little further behind me. He kept getting more and more angry and he is whispering in my ear how pissed off he was at this photographer because he was like ‘they can’t even freaking see me.’ And I’m like ‘Matt the story, really … the image is to sort of show you as the real threat,’ you know, and people are talking about me and they should be talking about you. But, we still talk about that today.”

    It’s hard not to look at their relationship and see a brotherly bond, Kenseth being the older, wiser sibling and Junior, well, being the junior sibling that tends to get all the attention. It’s a friendship that has benefitted each tremendously, and one that will soldier on – even as one continues to soak up the spotlight in an NBC Sports commentator role and the other sinks heavily and happily into a deep family life, even if he’d still like to be racing.

    Both have children on the way – Earnhardt’s first and Kenseth’s fifth – and plenty of photos will likely be exchanged, even if Kenseth was slightly miffed and gave Junior a hard time for finding out about wife Amy’s pregnancy via social media and not through a text.

    That kind of humor is what Junior loves about his friend, and the overall ‘Matt Kenseth package’ is something he draws from.

    “Matt, I love his sense of humor. I love the person he is and the person he has become, the father he is. And so, you know, he has always had an influence on me as far as how I race or the person I want to be or become,” Earnhardt said.

    “All us drivers have terrible egos and we can hardly stand each other and being around each other sometimes, but I’ve never felt that way about Matt. Matt has never done anything where I have felt like he was inflating his ego. He has always just been Matt and was such a pleasure to race with and to know and be friends with. So, I hope that … and I know we will … he is more than likely going to be hard to find once he is out of the race car, but I hope we can spend time together and we will definitely remain friends.”

    Preview: Dale Jr.’s final Phoenix race

    (11/9/17) Race: Can-Am 500

    Date: Sunday, Nov. 12, 2:30 p.m. ET (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

    Previous five results at Phoenix: 14th, fifth, first, 43rd, eighth

    Notable: Phoenix Raceway is one of Junior’s best tracks when it comes to total wins — three. His average finishing position of 16.0, though, ranks the 1-mile track among the lower third of his best venues. He has 14 top 10s and nine top fives in 29 races in the desert. Junior has had a resurgence at Phoenix lately; in his last eight races there, he has one win, five top fives and six top 10s. The only race among those eight when he finished outside the top 15 was when a blown right tire ended his day on Lap 180 of the March 2015 race.

    Memorable: Earnhardt Jr.’s 2004 Checker Auto Parts 500 was significant not so much for how he won that day at Phoenix, but for what that victory meant. It was Junior’s sixth trip to Victory Lane that season, a mark that still stands as the most wins he’s logged in a single season. Earnhardt did start 14th and needed to pass Jeff Gordon with 12 laps remaining to claim the victory, too.

    Quotable: “Phoenix is a good track for us. We have certainly had a great car there the last several times,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a team release. “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.”

    Texas Motor Speedway provides special scoreboard section to Dale Jr.

    (11/4/17) Texas Motor Speedway provided a Lone Star State-sized gift to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s season-long send-off, giving him part of the track’s scoreboard from his first win.

    Track president Eddie Gossage supervised the festivities on horseback before opening practice for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 (2 p.m. ET, Sunday, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM).

    Earnhardt is set to make his likely final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at the 1.5-mile track, where he scored the first win of his premier series career as a rookie in 2000. Gossage unveiled a large scoreboard segment, with his former No. 8 illuminated in the first position as a parting gift.

    “That’s it. That’s the one,” Earnhardt said. “Isn’t that something?”

    The track also made the gift of naming a horse from a nearby therapeutic horse ranch in his honor as part of the Jr. Nation Apprecia88ion Tour. Gossage also provided a baby gift for Earnhardt and his wife, Amy — a kids’ hot-rodded push car stroller.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. says Ryan Blaney is a leader in engaging with fans

    (11/4/17) As each week passes in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final full-time NASCAR season, he is asked about not only his legacy but also about the new generation of drivers who will crowd the Monster Energy Cup Series grid for the foreseeable future.

    Judging by Earnhardt’s remarks and smiles Friday morning at Texas Motor Speedway, he feels like the future is in great hands — both on track and away from the track. Specifically, he had high praise for second-year Monster Energy Series driver Ryan Blaney, one of two young drivers (Chase Elliott is the other) still challenging for this year’s championship.

    “I’m excited about all these guys, Alex (Bowman) and William (Byron) and (Ryan) Blaney — he’s just so much fun outside of the car just to observe and watch,” Earnhardt said, speaking at length about his high expectations of the 23-year-old Blaney. “We all kind of enjoy seeing what he’s up to. He’s doing something every week.”

    This year’s Pocono winner, Blaney may be NASCAR’s version of the “Most Interesting Man in the World.” The son of sprint car legend Dave Blaney, Ryan has established himself as a big fan favorite and is always a candid interview — win or lose.

    His “Glass Case of Emotion” podcast on NASCAR.com is so popular, it just topped 1 million listens this season.

    “He’s the guy I think that’s taking the lead and a lot of guys could follow as far as how he self-promotes and engages with the fans,” Earnhardt said of Blaney. “He does such a good job with it and he’s up for anything. I think that’s a great example if those guys want to look for somebody to follow.”

    And best of all for Blaney, his performance on the race track has only legitimized and stoked his popularity away from it. He finished runner-up in the Daytona 500 and won the pole position at Kansas earlier this year before claiming his first Monster Energy Series win at Pocono three weeks later. | Blaney’s career stats

    He moves to Team Penske next year, teaming with former champion Brad Keselowski and perennial title favorite Joey Logano.

    He is ranked fifth among the eight drivers still playoff-eligible – only six points below the cut-off line with two races remaining to set the Championship 4 for the season finale Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami.

    Preview: Dale Jr.’s final Texas run

    (11/1/17) Race: AAA Texas 500

    Date: Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

    Previous five results at Texas: 5th, 2nd, 6th, 3rd, 6th

    Notable: Earnhardt Jr. won the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points race of his career at TMS, but he has failed to repeat the feat in the 28 other visits to the 1.5-mile track. However, statistically speaking Texas has been a good track for the Hendrick Motorsports driver, with seven top-five and 18 top-10 finishes there. His average starting and finishing positions are identical — 13.1 and second best among all 24 tracks he’s raced on in the series through the years. His fifth-place run at TMS in the spring was his first top five since June of 2016.

    Memorable: Earnhardt Jr.’s victory in the DirecTV 500 at TMS came in his 12th career start in the series. After qualifying fourth, he led 106 of the race’s 334 laps, including the final 53. His winning margin over Jeff Burton was a comfortable 5.920 seconds. It was the first win for crew chief Tony Eury Sr., as well as the first victory for Dale Earnhardt Inc., the MENCS organization fielded by seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt. “He’s like a wild horse,” Eury said of his young driver. “He’s something else; we knew the kid could do it,” the elder Earnhardt said.

    Quotable: “Dad wasn’t one to waste a lot of time. There were some race tracks where he’d drive out of the race track in his uniform. He’d jump out of his car and into the rental car; he’d tell Teresa (Earnhardt) — I think he’s actually said over the radio before the race was over with to tell Richard (Childress, team owner) to tell Teresa to get the rental car ready. He was in a hurry to get out of the race track no matter what. So we won the race in Texas and he comes in there and he grabs me, said he was happy and all that. He said ‘I’m proud of you, I’m happy, enjoy this but you’ve got to find another ride home.’ He didn’t stay around for pictures or nothing. He was out of there.”

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. opens driver confessional with #IWreckedEm

    (10/31/17) After admitting on his Dale Junior Download podcast Tuesday that he has wrecked several drivers intentionally during his career — including himself — Dale Earnhardt Jr. opened the Twitter confessional to his fellow drivers Halloween night, using the hashtag #IWreckedEm.

    In the podcast, Junior addressed the race- and playoffs-changing incident at Martinsville in which Denny Hamlin put his No. 11 Toyota’s bumper to Chase Elliott’s No. 24 Chevrolet, after Elliott had just taken the lead with four laps to go and appeared on target to claim his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory before wrecking.

    Junior said, “I’d be surprised if there’s a driver who hasn’t intentionally wrecked somebody in their career.” Then he admitted to wrecking Kerry Lawrence, Stanton Barrett and Kasey Kahne over the years — and lastly Kyle Busch in 2008 at Richmond. The No. 88 driver admitted he was fined for a self-spin at Bristol because he bragged about the strategy play too much afterward.

    He opened up the floodgates of self-cleansing with a reply to Landon Cassill later on social media, who tweeted, “In light of Dale’s humble admissions, I want to be the first to say to anyone I may have wrecked in the past, … you probably deserved it.”

    Amy Earnhardt: Pace car ride ‘incredible’ at Martinsville

    (10/29/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. had twice the luck on track with him before the green flag dropped ahead of his likely final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

    Leading the field in the pace car, Amy Earnhardt, who is pregnant with the couple’s baby girl, wheeled her way around the .526-mile track like a natural … and with a smile from ear-to-ear.

    “It was incredible,” Amy Earnhardt told NASCAR.com. “I had no idea what it was going to be like. Everyone told me that the perspective of the (track) was going to be the best part, and they were totally right.”

    It’s not unusual for the drivers behind the pace car to give an innocent tap. Martin Truex Jr., good friends with Dale and Amy, qualified second for the First Data 500 and started on the front row. He told Earnhardt to check her rearview mirror just in case she saw the No. 78 coming behind her.

    “He threatened to, and he got pretty close a couple of times, but he didn’t,” she said laughing. “He was easy on me.”

    With the Earnhardt family expanding by one, all eyes were on the track when Amy wheeled the pace car off pit row. It was the first time the littlest Earnhardt would take a ride in a race car — and it may not be the last, either.

    “I’m not sure if she’ll be into or racing or not,” Amy Earnhardt said. “We’ll just have to see, but she got to go for a ride around the race track with me, so that’s pretty neat.”

    Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said having Amy as the honorary pace car driver was a way to give back to Dale Jr. for all of his contributions to the Virginia track, and for everything he has done for NASCAR.

    “The Earnhardt family has meant so much to Martinsville Speedway through the years, Dale in particular, and we wanted for him to be able to share his last Cup race here with the person closest to him,” Campbell said. “Dale has often talked about how much Amy has meant to him and this is one small way in which we can say thank you to the both of them; to Dale for what he has meant to the sport and to Amy for what she has meant to Dale.”

    Earnhardt: ‘It would be great for the sport to have an Andretti’

    (10/29/17) 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.”

    (Earnhardt) Junior on (Truex) Junior: ‘I’m not surprised by his success’

    (10/29/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s history with Martin Truex Jr. has plenty of depth, dating back to Truex’s first forays into NASCAR’s national ranks. They’ve grown closer in the years since they were first teammates back in the middle of the 2000s, but Earnhardt has always had an appreciation for Truex’s talent at driving a stock car.

    That recognition was so strong that Earnhardt said he lobbied current team owner Rick Hendrick to hire Truex during a time of transition for his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series organization.

    “There was a particular time when I think when Rick was making a change on the 5 car, whether it was before Mark (Martin) or after Mark, I’m not real sure, but I like begged Rick,” Earnhardt said Saturday before practice at Martinsville Speedway. “I was like, ‘(I’m) telling you if you get Truex in here, he can do anything that any of these other guys in your company are doing, myself included. I think that he’s got that kind of talent. You’d be surprised at how well he’ll do.’

    “And he didn’t have the track record or statistics to be in that conversation, but I tried to push him into that conversation. So, I believed in him since the first race we ran together. …”

    So count Earnhardt among the least surprised at Truex’s current tear through the 2017 campaign, a march that’s included a series-best seven victories, a regular-season championship and a surplus of playoff points that make him a sizable favorite for his first premier-series title.

    The two were first closely connected by the Earnhardt family-owned Chance 2 Motorsports, where Truex won two championships in what is now called the XFINITY Series. When Earnhardt suffered burns in a sports-car accident in 2004, his Dale Earnhardt Inc. team turned to Truex as a relief driver making his first premier-series appearance.

    From his rookie Cup season with DEI in 2006, Truex’s career has had its share of highs and lows — his six-year wait between his first two wins, his split from Michael Waltrip’s operation and his agonizing first season with Furniture Row Racing, the Colorado-based team he still calls home. The adversity off the track has been gut-wrenching, standing beside longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex in her fight against ovarian cancer.

    Though Truex and Earnhardt went separate ways as on-track teammates after the 2007 season, the two remained close. It’s given Earnhardt an intimate look at Truex’s perseverance.

    “The way he ran in our cars in those two seasons when he won the championship and knowing the equipment that he’s been in his entire career and how he performs in it and to me, he’s always overachieved and always at least gotten everything out of the car that the car was capable of getting, if not more,” Earnhardt said. “And so, also, I think he had a lot of years there where he could have allowed himself to get frustrated. I think his ability to remain professional, his ability to be strong-willed and see opportunity down the road says a lot about his personal character.

    “He is a guy where if you get a chance to go hang out with him, go deer hunting with him, he’s a tough, tough person mentally. And so, I think that has served him really well. I’m not surprised by his success.”

    Truex’s ascension from upstart to championship heavyweight has paralleled Furniture Row’s rise. The Barney Visser-owned organization — a geographical outlier in Denver — made its first postseason appearance with Kurt Busch in 2013, a year before Truex’s arrival.

    Truex led just one lap in his first season with Furniture Row, struggling to a career-worst 24th-place finish in the yearlong standings. Buoyed by a new crew chief (Cole Pearn) in 2015 and a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing in its switch to Toyota in 2016, Truex clawed back into week-in, week-out contention.

    With all the pieces in place, Truex won four times last year in a breakout performance that foreshadowed this season’s stunning star turn.

    “I think I’m more surprised by the team and how far that team has come,” Earnhardt says. “I think that’s an incredible story. As hard as it is to come into this sport and create a team out of thin air and be an owner that succeeds amongst the teams that are solidified in this sport, it’s so impossible to do that. It’s so hard. There are so much financial resources that have to be poured into it and I think that team should be commended. They found an incredible crew chief and he’s done an amazing job building great chemistry and it’s just incredible to watch.

    “Personally, I’ve pulled for Martin to have this chance and this opportunity. And when he went over there I thought this could be the start of something great. And I know I’m not the only one to feel that way. It’s awesome to see.”

    That’s a tough admission to make when Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott are also locked into the Round of 8, scrapping for one of four slots in the championship phase at Homestead-Miami Speedway next month.

    “It makes it harder for me because I want my teammates to do well,” Earnhardt said. “I’m a company man. I want them to win the championship and here’s one of my best friends, regardless of racing, we’re incredibly good pals and it’s hard not to want to see him win it too, you know? I’ve loved seeing him win and celebrate his success. They’ve had such a difficult journey over the last couple of years.”

    Going ‘ghost:’ Earnhardt Jr. gets another chance to drive iconic scheme

    (10/26/17) (Pic)This weekend at iconic Martinsville Speedway, the “Gray Ghost” will ride again. This time Dale Earnhardt Jr. will indeed be behind the wheel.

    Junior’s personal history with this particular paint scheme dates back to 1980. Buddy Baker won the Daytona 500 that year in a black-and-silver entry that a young Earnhardt Jr. (he was 5 at the time of Baker’s win) never could quite get out of his head.

    The car was named the “Gray Ghost,” a reflection of its color scheme, which blended in with the racing surface of the track and its apparent ability to appear out of nowhere, speeding past unsuspecting rivals at a moment’s notice.

    “He just seemed to be a great match with the car,” Earnhardt Jr. said last year. “They were just so good, so fast. When they won the Daytona 500 after such a devastating loss after 1979 — they were the greatest thing down there, nobody could touch them throughout the entire weekend and then they didn’t even really get to race.

    “And then they went back in ’80 and won, it was pretty neat; I know that was pretty special for Buddy to get that win. You can tell in some of the interviews from back then how important the Daytona 500 win was to him.”

    Prior to the 2016 Darlington throwback race, Earnhardt Jr. unveiled a Nationwide-sponsored car that paid homage to the “Gray Ghost.”

    He never got to run it.

    Lingering effects from a concussion forced the Hendrick Motorsports driver to sit out Darlington that year. Instead, Earnhardt Jr. watched as Jeff Gordon drove the No. 88 to a 14th-place finish in a substitute driver role.

    For his final full-time season as a driver, Earnhardt Jr. and Nationwide held a fan poll to determine Earnhardt Jr.’s livery for the Martinsville fall race (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

    The winner? The “Gray Ghost,” which would appear to delight Junior, who responded to a @NASCAR Instagram post in kind — check out his comment below (we’ve highlighted his user name).

    “Martinsville this weekend should be a lot of fun. We’ve got the Gray Ghost — I appreciate everybody voting for that paint scheme so I can run it,” Earnhardt Jr. said earlier this week on his podcast. “I didn’t get to drive that car last year and I love that car, so I may have swayed the vote because I went on social media and said, ‘That’s the one I’d love to run.’ I’m excited to get the opportunity to drive that car this weekend. Martinsville is a great track for us. I love the short tracks and short-track racing.”

    The old-school, black-and-silver scheme belongs perfectly at the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit, a facility that celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.

    Imagine how it would look under the lights.

    Preview: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Martinsville run

    (10/25/17) Race: First Data 500

    Date: Sunday, Oct. 29, 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

    Previous five results at Martinsville: 34th, 14th, 4th, 36th, 1st

    Notable: In 34 starts at Martinsville, Earnhardt has just one victory at the short track, but he has finished in the top 10 18 times, including four times in the last seven races. The No. 88 team was forced to exit April’s race early after a crash on Lap 418. Sunday’s Martinsville finale will be extra special for the Earnhardts as wife Amy, who recently announced the couple would be expecting a baby girl, will drive the pace car. Earnhardt will also wheel the ‘Gray Ghost’ paint scheme that the fans voted on.

    Memorable: Earnhardt’s lone Victory Lane celebration at the .526-mile track came in October 2014. The No. 88 team sat in fifth position for a restart with just five laps to go. He had just been eliminated from the playoffs the week before at Talladega, but stole the coveted grandfather clock trophy from several drivers still in the hunt, including former teammate Jeff Gordon. Earnhardt credits his team’s decision to take tires with eight laps left as a key to grabbing the win he had desperately wanted. The win also came on the 10th anniversary of the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of several Hendrick Motorsports employees.

    Quotable: “Martinsville this weekend should be a lot of fun. We’ve got the Gray Ghost – I appreciate everybody voting for that paint scheme so I can run it,” Earnhardt said in a team release. “I didn’t get to drive that car last year and I love that car, so I may have swayed the vote because I went on social media and said, ‘That’s the one I’d love to run.’ I’m excited to get the opportunity to drive that car this weekend. Martinsville is a great track for us. I love the short tracks and short-track racing.”

    NASCAR Champion’s Week schedule announced

    (10/25/17) Soon after the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series™ champion is crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup will head to Las Vegas as NASCAR hosts its annual Champion’s Week festivities. Fans will gather in Las Vegas for events honoring the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Playoff Drivers, Sunoco Rookie of the Year and other season-ending award recipients.

    Beginning on Tuesday, Nov. 28 and culminating Thursday, Nov. 30, NASCAR Champion’s Week will feature the annual NASCAR National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) Myers Brothers Awards at the Wynn Las Vegas as well as the return of the NASCAR Fan Lounge at Beerhaus located at The Park, situated between New York-New York Hotel & Casino and Monte Carlo Resort and Casino.

    This year, a special celebration of the storied driving career of Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Appreci88ion An Evening with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Presented by Nationwide” will take place at Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28. The exclusive fan event will feature surprise guests from Earnhardt’s career with proceeds benefitting Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

    Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs drivers will take to the famed Las Vegas Strip when they get behind the wheel of their race cars for NASCAR Victory Lap Fueled by Sunoco on Wednesday, Nov 29. Fans will be treated to burnouts along Las Vegas Blvd. at the Spring Mountain Rd. and Harmon Ave. intersections before finishing with a post-lap driver tell-all on Toshiba Plaza outside T-Mobile Arena. The event will be simulcast live on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and NASCAR.com.

    NASCAR and live music rev up the Las Vegas night at NASCAR After The Lap Supporting the Vegas Strong Fund, Wednesday, Nov. 29 at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. This year, the fan event will feature a concert by country music star Lee Brice and the first-ever live-on-stage episode of Glass Case of Emotion, with Ryan Blaney as a host and guests to include Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff drivers. VIP areas hosted by event sponsors, Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota will feature appearances by Playoff drivers. All ticket proceeds from this event will benefit the Vegas Strong Fund assisting victims & strengthening the Las Vegas community.

    Festivities will conclude with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards, a star-studded event featuring the Champion, 16 Playoff drivers and a fan red carpet at Wynn Las Vegas. NBCSN presents this year’s awards on Thursday, Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. ET, while Motor Racing Network (MRN) and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, will carry the award show live beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. shares details on his best day ever

    (10/24/17) The 2017 season is not over yet but Dale Earnhardt Jr. already has his favorite moment.

    “Probably the day I found out Amy was pregnant,” Earnhardt said to answer a fan question on his latest Dale Jr. Download podcast episode.

    But Earnhardt revealed that day ended up being extra special because he was informed of the big news after arriving home from another exciting trip. A huge Washington Redskins fan, Earnhardt spent that day, Aug. 30, at the team’s luncheon as a guest speaker.

    “I go to this Redskins luncheon, freakin’ having a blast, right? Hanging out with the whole team and all the execs; just incredible to be able to be there. Fan-boying like crazy. Thinking, what a great day,” Earnhardt describes.

    “Come home. Excited. Telling Amy all about it and then she tells me that she’s pregnant. It was a lot going on. I came home, just like that tweet that the guy said, this is the greatest day ever, Amy! And she’s like, well, let me tell you.”

    Oh, and don’t worry Earnhardt also has some favorite memories from what he’s done on track, too.

    “I think getting the poles at Daytona and Talladega,” he said. “We don’t have a win to brag about or we usually have a win at this point that sticks out, so I’ll say getting those two poles. I mean, when’s the last time we won a pole, much less two poles in same season?”

    That’d be 2013, Dale. But we can blame it on pregnancy brain.

    Keselowski announces Talladega T-shirt proceeds will go to Dale Jr. Foundation

    (10/24/17) Brad Keselowski stole the show at Talladega with a win in the throwback paint scheme that honored Dale Earnhardt Jr., who drove in his final race at the Alabama track — a place nicknamed ‘Earnhardt Country’ rightly so.

    Just weeks later, the No. 2 Ford driver is going above and beyond (again) to show his admiration for Junior’s career and their friendship.

    Keselowski announced on Twitter that all proceeds from his Talladega victory T-shirts will be donated to the Dale Jr. Foundation to show his appreciation to the No. 88 driver and JR Motorsports.

    @keselowski :Out of respect to @JRMotorsports and @DaleJr I’m donating my proceeds from this to Dale Jr foundation https://twitter.com/team_penske/status/922815826658516992 … Earnhardt Jr. responded to Keselowski’s kind gesture with a tweet of his own thanking him.

    @DaleJr : Brad! You da man. https://twitter.com/keselowski/status/922820049945219073 …

    In his pre-Talladega blog, Keselowski gave thanks to Dale Jr. and added, “Dale, there’s not a doubt in my mind that you’ll excel at whatever it is you do next, but it’s not going to be the same out there without you. I’m going to miss racing against you, my friend. I’m going to miss seeing you out there in the 88 on Sundays.”

    Is there a bromance brewing for a good cause? Cheers to this.

    Video message from family friend Ned Yost moves Dale Jr.

    (10/21/17) For a few minutes, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t the focal point of his own press conference Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

    As has become customary in 2017, the Hendrick Motorsports driver came into the media center ahead of his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at a particular track to humbly accept a gift – often an 88-themed charitable donation on his behalf — which Kansas did, in the form of a paperback copy of “The Expectant Father” and a check for $8,800 to the University of Kansas Health Systems Pediatric Unit.

    The projector screen then lowered, a familiar face shone brightly, and perhaps the most heart-warming message Earnhardt has received yet began to play.

    “Hey Dale, I’m always amazed at how time flies by,” boomed the voice of affable Kansas City Royals manager and great friend to the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., Ned Yost. “I sit back and I think about being with your dad and walking into the old (XFINITY Series) shop and seeing you and Tony (Eury) Jr. underneath the late model stock cars, beating and banging trying to get a piece of weight out from the frame.

    “But watching you develop as a race car driver, I remember being with your dad, driving around the farm in the winter of ’97 and he was telling me he was going to put you in an (XFINITY) car full-time. And I asked him, ‘You think he’s ready for that?’ Dale said, ‘You’re damn right he’s ready for that.’ Of course, you proved him right, winning the championship in ’98 and then again in ’99. Then it took 12 whole races for you to win your first (Monster Energy Series) victory at Texas.”

    Earnhardt, sitting in the media center crowd, took it all in. Moved.

    “It’s been fun to watch that. It’s been fun to watch you grow. It’s been fun to watch you become a two-time Daytona 500 champion,” Yost, who chose to wear No. 3 in honor of Senior, continued. “But more than anything, I can flash back to that win in Texas and yeah, it was great that you won, but what was more impressive to me was how proud your dad was that day. It’s been a wonderful experience sitting back and watching you accomplish what you’ve accomplished. What you’ve accomplished is kind of hindsight to what you’ve become, for me. You’ve become an outstanding person. You’ve become an outstanding man. It’s just been a fantastic career. I just wanted to take a few minutes to congratulate you on that. I know you and Amy are going to have a blast in your retirement. It’s been fun watching you compete. It’s been fun watching you grow up. Once again, congratulations on a tremendous career, and a tremendous life. Good luck, Dale.”

    The track then presented Junior with his own Royals home jersey with not his, but his dad’s number on the back.

    As the final weeks of Earnhardt’s full-time career wind down, much of it will likely be a frenzied blur when he recounts his final season in the coming months, years, decades.

    Saturday will be a moment he’ll carry with him.

    “Yeah that is really emotional,” Earnhardt said. “Ned has been a great family friend and just so supportive of me and it is really nice to hear his memories and his thoughts, and I appreciate the track for the donation within their community here. That means a lot to me. That is really what we were hoping the tracks would take the initiative to do and it’s been great all year to see that happen.

    “So, I’m glad you guys did that and that really makes my heart full.”

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. overwhelmed with joy about baby news

    (10/21/17) As NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver and the sport’s all-around biggest superstar, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is typically enthusiastic and quite comfortable discussing his place in the sport heading into his retirement at season’s end.

    However, his demeanor noticeably changed some Saturday morning at Kansas Speedway. Listening to him speak about his wife Amy’s recently announced pregnancy was both moving and memorable.

    He bowed his head for several moments to collect his thoughts when asked about the fantastic news he and his wife Amy would be welcoming their first child, a daughter, come May 2.

    “We’ve known since actually August and oh man, it’s just been really hard keeping that in and wanting to share,” Earnhardt said smiling.

    “I just couldn’t wait to tell everybody. … We have a lot of check-ups and we’re thankful and I’m looking forward to the whole process of watching and being involved.

    “I’m just trying to be as supportive as I can for Amy, making sure she feels well and is comfortable. I’m trying to soak in all the experiences of going to the doctor and hearing the heartbeat. They are incredible.”

    At one point Earnhardt, 43, pulled out his cellphone to try to play the audio recording he keeps of the baby’s heartbeat.

    “I mean it made it more real,” he said grinning. “We are pinching ourselves even still. We look at each other if we’re sitting on the couch or walking around the house or something and just have to remind ourselves we’re going through this pregnancy and we just can’t believe it.

    “So, anytime you hear the heartbeat or go to an ultrasound or something like that, it makes it like ‘Hey, it’s happening.’ You get a little scared. You get excited, you know?”

    And he animatedly recalled that first doctor’s visit to confirm that Amy was pregnant. She had taken some at-home pregnancy tests, but Earnhardt joked that he wasn’t gonna believe the news until he heard it from the doctor.

    “We went to the doctor and I’m still thinking man, I’m not believing crap until this doctor tells me,” he said smiling. “So, we’re sitting in there for like 20 minutes. And their talking woman language and I’m not understanding (laughter). They are just talking about things and I’m like well, when is she going to say it? I want to hear it from the doctor’s mouth (laughs) that she’s pregnant, so we can rejoice.

    “It took them a while. I was scared to speak up. Finally, they said something that confirmed it for me and I was like, ‘Awesome.’

    “And then we had the ultrasound and got to hear the heartbeat and all that right there, and that was great. We go back for another checkup here soon, in a couple of days, and those are awesome.

    “They are so much fun because it’s like the closest you can get to it before they’re born and I’m looking forward to each and every one of them.”

    And he spoke at length about the efforts he’s made to keep Amy comfortable and happy during the pregnancy. From letting her rest to keeping her company to sharing in the happiness and big plans, Earnhardt seems to be living in the most happy of moments.

    “Everybody says obviously, to try to get your sleep now because the first several months are very difficult, but we can’t,” Earnhardt said. “We’re lying in bed and can’t sleep. We’re so excited.

    “You can read books and I’ve got an app on my phone and am trying to get as much information as I can to understand how to make Amy as comfortable as I can.

    “I think some of the most helpful advice for me is probably what can I do to make it easier for Amy. And the advice that I’ve gotten is that she doesn’t care what you did that day. She doesn’t care how your day was (laughs). So, don’t try to tell her. If you had a rough day or whatever, just shelve it and try to keep on being an assistant to whatever she needs at all times.

    “And that’s pretty easy to remember because I feel that way already about her.”

    Preview: Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Kansas

    (10/18/17) Race: Hollywood Casino 400

    Date: Sunday, Oct. 22, 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

    Previous five results at Kansas: 20th, 15th, 21st, 3rd, 39th

    Notable: Kansas is one of 11 active tracks where Dale Earnhardt Jr. has not won, and his performance hasn’t been too memorable in America’s heartland — he has just three top-five finishes and nine top 10s in 21 starts. He has one pole at the track, coming in 2002. His average finish of 16.2 ranks in the lower third among his all-time average finishes.

    Memorable: Earnhardt only qualified 28th for the 2011 STP 400 at Kansas Speedway. Still, he managed to race his way through the pack to be in contention as the race wound down at the 1.5-mile track. But Brad Keselowski held on for a fuel-mileage victory in what was just the second win of his career at the Monster Energy Series level. Earnhardt crossed the finish line second — and that remains his best finish at Kansas.

    Quotable: “Kansas is a great racetrack for me,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a team release. “That place has widened out pretty good and you can run against the fence there, which is a line that I like to run. It’s a very fast race track and very smooth – a lot of fun, so we should have a good time.”

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. Reveals the Adorable Way He and Wife Amy Found Out the Sex of Their Baby

    (10/17/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. used a pair of pink baby Converse to announce that he and wife Amy are expecting a daughter — their first child! And the way the couple found out about the sex of the baby is even more adorable.

    “You get an email with a link to click to find out the gender. We actually sent that to Amy’s sister in Texas and she ordered the shoes and mailed them to us. We opened the box on the front doorstep,” said Earnhardt, who publicly spoke about becoming a father for the first time on Tuesday during an interview with NBC Sports Network.

    The couple, who were married last New Year’s Eve, shared the happy news on Instagram Monday afternoon.

    “It is a very exciting thing. Amy and I are thrilled and over the moon,” the father-to-be said, joking: “I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into.”

    “I’m hearing so much advice already, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. This is something that Amy and I have been working toward for a long time,” added Earnhardt, who is retiring from full-time Cup Series racing after the season finale Nov. 19.

    “There are so many cool little moments. We have been sitting here giddy for so long, it is finally good to be able to tell everybody,” he concluded.

    And a new baby isn’t the only joint project the parents-to-be has in their future.

    In May, the stock car racing champ tweeted that he and Amy will star in a home renovation series on the DIY Network.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Amy expecting first child

    (10/16/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. has told us how much he wants to start a family, and he and Amy shared the good news with NASCAR fans Monday that they are expecting a little girl.

    Junior is retiring from full-time driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after this season. He talked at Dover recently about how much he is looking forward to having children.

    “I’m excited to start a family, and I hope I’m fortunate enough to do that with Amy,’’ he said. “We definitely want to do that. And it would be weird not being a race car driver if I have a daughter or son, I think about that, would they understand what I’m telling them or what I did for a long time. I’m hoping to find out all that stuff soon.’’

    DALE EARNHARDT JR. JOINS NASCAR AMERICA LIVE FROM THE NASCAR HALL OF FAME – TOMORROW, OCTOBER 17, AT 5 P.M. ET ON NBCSN

    (10/16/17) As part of NBC Sports Group’s continuing coverage of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, two-time Daytona 500 winner and NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for an unprecedented 14 consecutive years (2003-16), Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join NASCAR America tomorrow, October 17, at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

    Earnhardt Jr. will join NASCAR America host Marty Snider (@HeyMartySnider), “The Mayor” of NASCAR Jeff Burton, and Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett (@Dalejarrett), live from the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. thrills, finishes seventh in likely final Talladega start

    (10/15/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed out of his No. 88 for the last time at Talladega Superspeedway as the sun began to set on Alabama.

    After an immediate inspection of the damaged right-front splitter that plagued his final laps and left him with seventh instead of first, Earnhardt debriefed with his team, shaking their hands in a circle.

    There was plenty riding on this race for the undeniable crowd favorite. For many drivers, a seventh-place result at a place like always-unpredictable Talladega is considered a good day. It’s different for Earnhardt.

    Ultimately, he wanted the win for the folks in the grandstands.

    “It’s been better than the last couple of trips here, the last couple of trips we had a lot of trouble in wrecks and hadn’t been able to come home with a decent finish,” Earnhardt said. “I would have loved to have won the race for all the fans that come out here. I know a lot of folks came to see this race just for the fact that it was my last plate race and trust me, I wanted to win it for all those folks more than myself, but just couldn’t get it done.”

    Earnhardt was one of 14 cars that made it through the perils of Talladega on Sunday afternoon in a race that saw three red flags. Indeed it seemed that the No. 88 driver certainly seemed to have a guardian angel on his shoulder throughout the afternoon; he squeezed through a multi-car melee with minimal damage at Lap 171 that took out 16 cars then just barely avoided hitting a crashing Ryan Blaney and Trevor Bayne near the yellow line at Lap 178.

    Four laps later, he escaped a wreck that collected his teammate Chase Elliott and rookie Daniel Suarez.

    The No. 88 team “got lucky,” he said.

    “I (was) carrying Stevie Waltrip’s scripture in the car,” Earnhardt said, referring to the Bible verse that Darrell Waltrip’s wife places in his car each week. “She probably had me a little luck there. So, it never hurts to have an angel on your shoulder.”

    A portion of this week’s verse, coming from Lamentations 3:22-24, read, “By His mercies we have been kept from complete destruction,” which seems eerily fitting in regards to Earnhardt’s day of near misses. After the verse, Stevie wrote “Hope you feel loved and hugged.”

    He was certainly loved — and has been loved — at Talladega on Sunday. The roar of the grandstands when he led the field to green as the polesitter at the start of the race or when he made a move for position is a testament to that.

    He loves it here, too — that started even before he won six races at Talladega in the premier series, when he was a young child running around the garage as his father made a name at the Alabama track.

    “I really do owe a lot to this track and the support that we have had here from the fans, owe a lot to them,” Earnhardt said. “You know, it just has been a very fun place. When I was a little kid going to -- we got to go to a handful of race tracks throughout the year, and this was always a fun trip. There was a pay-to-ride go-kart track down where the hotels were where all the drivers and everybody stayed, and me -- I’d get a hundred bucks from Dad maybe, and then … a bunch of us would run over there and spend all our daddies’ money riding go-karts … Me and the boys, we’d run around the garage looking at the cars that came in there, they were broke or wrecked or whatever, and they’d just bring them in there and park them and leave them.

    “Just so many good memories as a kid coming here, and that was back before hot passes and pit passes, garage passes. Man, you could run anywhere you wanted to go, and we were all over the place having fun and goofing off … A lot of great memories here, and then obviously the career in Cup here, four in a row, all those things mean a lot to me.”

    Even though his career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has come to a close at NASCAR’s largest track, the Earnhardt connection will remain; he’ll be back in a different form.

    “I hope to always have a great connection here, and trust me when I say that whatever the track needs from me, anytime they want anything, I’ll be here to help promote and support this place no matter what the request is,” Earnhardt said. “They’ve done so much for me, and I want to remain very close.”

    This last one is a bag of mixed emotions for him; his slight disappointment is evident, but he maintains a slight smile and cheerful spirits during interviews. He finished the race, earned a top 10 and gave his devoted fans something to watch up until the very end.

    “I’m always disappointed when we don’t run well at tracks I know we should, but we did run well today, but I know that everybody was probably -- is a little bit of air out of the bag there at the end to finish seventh,” Earnhardt said. “I hate to leave slightly disappointed, but hopefully they enjoyed everything else they saw. I mean, we ran as hard as we could, did the best we could.”

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes pole for final Talladega race

    (10/14/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won the pole for his final scheduled Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

    Earnhardt is retiring from full-time competition at the end of the season, and the Alabama crowd has always embraced NASCAR’s most popular driver. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has declared race day "Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day" across the state.

    The field will be led to green by Donnie Allison, a two-time Talladega winner and original member of the Alabama Gang, while driving the late Dale Earnhardt’s No. 2 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Talladega officials presented Earnhardt Jr. with the car , which his father raced during his 1979 rookie season, as well as some races during his 1980 championship season, as a retirement gift.

    Now, with the pole — the first of his career at Talladega — it has turned into quite the special weekend for Earnhardt.

    "This place has meant a lot to me," he said. "It’s awesome to hear those fans happy for us and hopefully we’re going to give them a lot more to cheer about before this weekend is over."

    Could he add a seventh victory?

    "Certainly," he grinned. "You think about that every time you suit up and get in the car, you imagine if that’s going to be the day you get a win. But, this would be a real important one if we could win for all the fans, all year long, we certainly owe them a win."

    Earnhardt is winless this season and didn’t make the playoffs. He’s got just six races left before he turns over his No. 88 Chevrolet to Hendrick Motorsports and replacement driver Alex Bowman.

    On Saturday, Earnhardt turned a lap at 190.544 mph to knock teammate Chase Elliott from the top starting spot. Elliott wound up second with a lap at 190.412 mph in a Hendrick Motorsports sweep of the front row.

    "We’ve been fighting our teammate Chase and his group for poles at these tracks for a long time and it’s been a lot of fun to be honest with you, how these two teams have pushed and elevated each other," Earnhardt said. "Really, all the credit for getting a pole at a place like this goes to the team. … I just hold the wheel straight and try not to bounce into the apron. There ain’t much to it as a driver."

    Joey Logano was third in a Team Penske Ford, followed by Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer. Ford drivers took positions third through seventh.

    Stenhouse knocked Earnhardt from the pole in May , and then went on to win his first career Cup race at Talladega. Stenhouse added a victory at Daytona in July, making him the winner of the last two restrictor-plate races. Busch’s victory in the Daytona 500 has made the Ford engines built by Doug Yates 3 for 3 so far this year in plate races.

    So Stenhouse wasn’t thrilled to qualify fifth.

    "That was a bummer," he said. "I was hoping we’d get another pole and I think it would have been cool to knock (Earnhardt) off the pole again. But obviously this shows our Ford is still fast. We’ve got speed."

    It was a rough qualifying effort for Toyota, with none of its playoff contenders advancing to the final 12. That’s an odd development considering Toyota drivers have won the first four playoff races.

    Eliminated in the first round were Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, as well as points leader Martin Truex Jr. Starting position doesn’t mean much at Talladega, and Truex won at Charlotte last weekend so he’s already in the third round of the playoffs.

    "You know it is superspeedway qualifying — just been a little bit off on superspeedway qualifying," Hamlin said. "We obviously race pretty decent. It looks like the Fords are pretty strong, so we’ll have to race those guys tomorrow and we’ll just kind of see how we all stack up."

    Historic car gift from Talladega leaves Dale Jr. beaming

    (10/13/17) It was an Earnhardt behind the wheel and it was at Talladega and one of the places that helped make his father a legend in the sport of NASCAR had a grand parting gift for the son.

    Talladega Superspeedway officials, in conjunction with the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the state of Alabama, handed Dale Earnhardt Jr. the keys (figuratively speaking) to the 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that his father drove to the Rookie of the Year title that year, and possibly wheeled in a few ’80 races as well.

    Earnhardt the elder won the first of his seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series titles in ’80 while driving for team owner Rod Osterlund.

    “This car is a 1979 Monte Carlo,” a beaming Earnhardt Jr. told NBC after taking the car for a spin on the 2.66-mile Talladega layout. “Dad drove this car in his rookie season; he probably ran it in his championship season too in 1980.

    “They ran a Monte Carlo here in ’79 but in ’80 they ran an Oldsmobile 442. This was the kind of car he ran at Bristol and all the short tracks and the mile and a halves.”

    The International Motorsports Hall of Fame is located on the grounds of Talladega Superspeedway.

    After climbing behind the wheel, Earnhardt Jr. drove the blue and yellow Monte Carlo, with its long front end and No. 2 emblazoned on the sides, at only moderate speed for a couple of laps around the track. But he did make a quick side trip after starting down pit road to drive it through the Monster Energy Series garage before heading back down pit road for pictures with dignitaries and a quick interview.

    “Actually the state of Alabama owns this car,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “They’re going to let us take it to Mooresville, North Carolina, and show it around in our shop so that’s going to be fun for the guys.

    “I got to take it for a couple of laps; that was fun. I drove it through the garage so all the guys on the team could see it. Pretty neat just trying to imagine what it would be like running one of them around here at 180-190 miles an hour.”

    In addition to the permanent loan of the vehicle, Earnhardt was presented two unopened magnums of champagne by track officials. The first was from the lot that was used during his father’s final victory here in 2000; the second came from the post-race celebration following Earnhardt Jr.’s first Talladega win in 2001.

    Earnhardt Jr. said he did get the opportunity to drive his father’s race cars previously, but none of the older models.

    “I drove his No. 3 Goodwrench car a couple of times, did some tests that first year we were together,” he said. “But never anything old like this, you know, with some real history. “I love to be able to sit in the car and just see the perspective of … what the view was like. So different than our cars today. No headrests or nothing like that. Just kind of see everything and a lot of wind moving around and pretty crazy.”

    Earnhardt Jr. will make his final Talladega start Sunday when the Alabama 500 gets underway here (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Six of his 26 career wins have come at Talladega.

    “I’m pretty surprised,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to take home a race car from this weekend. I just have to thank Talladega Superspeedway and the state of Alabama. They’ve been really good to me and hopefully we can get them a win this weekend.”

    Dale Jr. describes what it’s like to take the lead at Talladega

    (10/13/17) Racing fans know all too well when NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes the lead during a race.

    There’s the roar that suddenly arises through the grandstands, piercing the air over the already-loud sound of exhaust systems, and then often the standing ovation that unfolds like a choreographed routine.

    This is especially true at Talladega Superspeedway — or as it’s often dubbed, Earnhardt Country. The place where both Junior and his father Dale Earnhardt have always been held in high esteem, holding a combined 16 wins at the Alabama oval.

    NASCAR’s favorite son often sees it, too.

    “You can visually see a difference in the grandstands,” Earnhardt told NASCAR.com in June. “At Talladega, for example, when you take the lead. The difference visually between everybody sitting down and everybody standing up with their arms in the air is extremely easy to see.

    “You come off of Turn 4, if you get the lead on the back straightaway and going into Turn 1 or something, the next time you come off Turn 4, you see everybody kind of waving their arms in the air and going crazy.”

    It’s something that sticks with Earnhardt, giving him a bit of motivation while out front.

    “It kind of makes that pass for the lead a lot more memorable and more fulfilling,” he said. “And it certainly motivates you to try as hard as you can to keep the lead and stay toward the front, keep fans excited and glued to what’s going on.”

    So, Junior Nation: Stand up if Dale Jr. takes the lead in Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

    He’ll likely notice.

    Alabama governor declares Oct. 15 ‘Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day’

    (10/12/17) Race: Alabama 500

    Date: Sunday, Oct. 15, 2 p.m. ET (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

    Previous five results at Talladega: 22nd, 40th, second, first, 31st

    Notable: It didn’t take Dale Earnhardt Jr. long to pick up where his father left off at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, winning four times in his first seven visits to the track. That includes four straight victories that began in the fall of 2001 and went until the spring of 2003. Since then, Earnhardt has added two more wins to his resume, making him the winningest active driver at Talladega. Of course, he’s also the active leader in top-five finishes (12) and laps led (960). In other words, Talladega really is “Earnhardt Country.”

    Memorable: Winning at Talladega does not come easy and Earnhardt has had his share of dramatic moments. The 2004 season was the inaugural year of a playoff format in NASCAR, and Earnhardt arrived at Talladega third in points and looking for some momentum going into the final few races. The dominant car on the day, Earnhardt lost his track position when the caution flew on Lap 180 (of 188) as he made his final pit stop and crew chief Tony Eury Sr. quickly called for two tires. With five laps to go, Earnhardt restarted 11th, but he didn’t stay there long. Charging to fourth with four laps to go and to the lead with three laps to go, Earnhardt picked up his fifth victory at Talladega and leaped into the points lead. At least he did for a few days as Earnhardt would be fined and docked 25 points for having used a four-letter word in his Victory Lane interview.

    Quotable: “I’d like to fly under the radar a little bit,” Earnhardt said in a team release. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on us – it messes up the way you think, the way you use strategy in the race, everything. But Talladega is a great track and a great opportunity to win. I think we’ll also have a chance to win at Martinsville and Texas, and some of these other tracks we go to.”

    Alabama governor declares Oct. 15 ‘Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day’

    (10/10/17) With the Alabama 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway just days away, Governor Kay Ivey has declared this Sunday, Oct. 15th as ‘Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day’ in the state of Alabama.

    Ivey, who also will serve as Grand Marshal for the Alabama 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) made the announcement in celebration of six-time Talladega winner Earnhardt Jr. and his legacy at the superspeedway. This Sunday — Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day — will be an emotional one for Earnhardt Jr., who will make his final start at the track he calls a “second home.”

    “Nowhere else in the world are there more Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans than in the state of Alabama,” said Ivey, the 54th Governor of Alabama, who will give the command “Drivers, Start Your Engines” to get the Alabama 500 underway. “He has always made it clear of his love for Talladega Superspeedway and the millions of fans that lay claim to him as their favorite NASCAR driver. He has been an impressive, positive role model for so many and we are proud to honor him this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, but also across the entire state.”

    Dale Jr. scored his first Talladega Superspeedway Monster Energy Series win in October 2001, igniting a seven-race stretch that is unprecedented in the history of the 2.66-mile venue. Between the fall of 2001 and fall of 2004, Earnhardt Jr. won five out of seven races, including a record four straight. The other two races ended in runner-up finishes. His most recent triumph came in the 2015 GEICO 500.

    “We are thrilled that Governor Ivey has proclaimed Sunday, Oct. 15 as ‘Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day’ in the State of Alabama,” said Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch. “Dale Jr. has meant so much to Talladega Superspeedway. He’s one of us, and has left a mark on our state for many years to come.”

    A victory in the Alabama 500 would move Dale Jr. into sole place on the all-time Talladega MENCS wins list, trailing only his father – Dale Earnhardt Sr. – who had 10 Talladega Superpseedway triumphs.

    Brad Keselowski’s throwback tribute to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    (10/10/17) (Pic1, Pic2) Brad Keselowski will run a throwback paint scheme, but at Talladega, not Darlington — and it’s honoring Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    Brad Keselowski's Talladega paint scheme

    Keselowski announced Monday via his blog that he will run a No. 2 Miller Lite Team Penske Ford that resembles the No. 88 Navy Chevrolet he drove for JR Motorsports in what is now the XFINITY Series from 2008-2009. Keselowski had six wins and 33 top-five finishes in that stretch.

    In conjunction with the announcement, Keselowski republished his first blog entry, which was a history of his friendship and personal relationship with Earnhardt. He added, “Dale, there’s not a doubt in my mind that you’ll excel at whatever it is you do next, but it’s not going to be the same out there without you. I’m going to miss racing against you, my friend. I’m going to miss seeing you out there in the 88 on Sundays.”

    This weekend’s Alabama 500 (2 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be the last race at the superspeedway for Junior, who has six wins at the track.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. to be inducted into Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame

    (10/10/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Texas Motor Speedway will forever be synonymous as the NASCAR superstar captured milestone victories in two national series at the world-renowned motorsports facility.

    That connection from his first career wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and XFINITY Series coming at Texas Motor Speedway will be further strengthened by Monday’s announcement of his induction into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame during November’s AAA Texas 500 NASCAR tripleheader playoff weekend.

    Earnhardt Jr. will become the 19th member inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame when he is honored during a special ceremony held in The Grand Ballroom of The Speedway Club on Saturday, Nov. 4, beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET. Other honorees during the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame event include Vice Chairman of NASCAR Mike Helton, Texas Motor Speedway’s winningest NASCAR driver Kyle Busch and Verizon IndyCar Series driver James Hinchcliffe.

    The Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame ceremony serves as a major fundraiser for Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas. Tickets are appropriately priced at $88 to reflect Earnhardt Jr.’s iconic No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and admission also includes a barbecue lunch buffet.

    Earnhardt Jr. took an immediate liking to Texas Motor Speedway, earning his first career XFINITY Series win on April 4, 1998 at the 1.5-mile speedway. He earned the victory with a thrilling last-lap pass of Joe Nemechek and then held off Elliott Sadler to capture the Coca-Cola 300.

    Nearly two years later to the day Earnhardt Jr. would strike again, winning his first Cup Series race on April 2, 2000 in the DIRECTV 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Earnhardt Jr. proved to be the class of the field, leading 106 of 334 laps to become the first Cup rookie driver to win at Texas Motor Speedway. The celebration that ensued in Victory Lane on that day with he and his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., provided moments that are embedded in NASCAR history.

    “This place definitely has always been one of my preferred stops because of the success we’ve had in the XFINITY and Cup Series in our first races here,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “You never forget where you won your first race and neither do your fans. I always look forward to coming here.”

    Helton will receive the Bruton Smith Legend Award for his leadership in his role as NASCAR President and shaping the legacy of the sport. Helton was instrumental in expanding NASCAR to new markets, both nationally and internationally. New tracks in Chicago and Kansas City were added to NASCAR’s schedule in 2001. Later, NASCAR’s presence grew with the addition of series in Mexico and Canada in 2007. He also was a key figure in the formation of the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C. Dedicated to strengthening NASCAR’s competition and safety initiatives, it is the first R&D center owned and operated by a sanctioning body of a major motorsports series.

    Busch will be honored with the 2016 Racer of the Year award following yet another impressive overall performance at Texas Motor Speedway last season. For the second time in his career, Busch swept both the Cup and XFINITY Series races at Texas in the same weekend after winning April’s Duck Commander 500 and O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. The wins were his 12th and 13th at Texas Motor Speedway among NASCAR’s three national series, the most among any driver.

    For more information or to purchase tickets, call Speedway Children’s Charities at (817) 215-8421 or visit www.scctexas.org.

    The Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame event, traditionally held during Texas Motor Speedway’s April NASCAR weekend, will now become part of November’s NASCAR playoff tripleheader weekend. The race weekend features the Camping World Truck Series JAG Metals 350 Driving Hurricane Harvey Relief on Friday, Nov. 3; XFINITY Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 on Saturday, Nov. 4; and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA Texas 500 on Sunday, Nov. 5.

    For more race information or to purchase tickets, please visit www.texasmotorspeedway.com or call the speedway ticket office at (817) 215-8500.

    Dale Jr. on helmets, race cars — and who gets his own at season’s end

    (10/7/17) He’ll keep the car, but the helmet will go to his team owner.

    That’s the season-ending scenario for Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s 14-time most popular driver who steps away from full-time competition following this year’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway.

    The race, scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 19, will be the final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the season and the final MENCS race of Earnhardt Jr.’s career.

    At each stop along this year’s MENCS trail, tracks have presented the Hendrick Motorsports driver with a “parting gift” of some sort — Friday at CMS, track officials in conjunction with Speedway Children’s Charities announced the establishment of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Concussion Research Fund at Levine Children’s Hospital and are launching the initiative with a $100,000 donation.

    As Earnhardt Jr., soon to turn 43 and the son of seven-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Dale Earnhardt, eases toward the conclusion of one occupation, what’s happening with some of his own racing “memorabilia” such as the helmet he wore in his final Daytona 500? Or the fire suit he wore for his last start in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

    “Well, if you want to know the truth, I only have one helmet and I’ve only used one helmet each year for a long time,” Earnhardt said Friday at CMS. “So, when people come asking for helmets, it is kind of hard to give them away because that is the only helmet I have from that season. And I like to keep it myself and store it away. So, I don’t have a whole lot of helmets floating around.”

    Perhaps, he said, he should have taken a page from three-time series champion Tony Stewart, who had a number of helmets produced for his final year behind the wheel in ’16.

    “I know that Tony was really smart wearing a different one each week; I probably should have done something like that,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “The Stilo’s (brand of helmet) I’ve got are $3,000-$5,000 apiece and I ain’t buying them. So, I just wear the same one all year.”

    Uniforms are likewise less than abundant, he said, and used ones typically get cut into small pieces and included in trading cards or used in similar ways. Others might be donated for charitable causes.

    “We get one or two and Hendrick (Motorsports) gets one or two, we split them,” he said. “And I like to keep one of those. I do give them to … usually I give the uniforms away to drivers for their charity events, Clint (Bowyer) called this week wanting one for his and so, we will give him a uniform out of our allotment.

    “So, there is just not a lot of that stuff floating around.”

    A special paint scheme will adorn the No. 88 Chevrolet for his final start and there will be a unique scheme for the helmet at Homestead as well. Barring any problems, Earnhardt said, the helmet will go to his boss and he’ll get to keep the car.

    “That is our deal,” Earnhardt Jr. said of the agreement struck with team owner Rick Hendrick. “That is the same deal he had with Jeff (Gordon) … that Jeff gave him the helmet and Jeff got the car. And so, I think that is the same deal I’m going to get with Rick.”

    Gordon, a four-time champion, retired at the end of the ’15 season.

    Charlotte track’s $100,000 gift to honor Dale Jr., fund concussion research

    (10/6/17) As he moves through his final season of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had one consistent request — that gifts and recognition in his honor have a broader societal impact.

    On Friday, Charlotte Motor Speedway honored Earnhardt’s wishes — and then some — with a gift of $100,000 to establish and underwrite the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Concussion Research Fund at the Carolinas Healthcare System’s Levine Children’s Hospital.

    During two separate seasons, Earnhardt missed races because of concussion symptoms. In 2012 he was sidelined for two events, and last year he sat out the final 18 races after his symptoms from a wreck at Michigan worsened drastically in subsequent weeks.

    During Friday’s presentation, the football team from Mooresville High School, Earnhardt’s alma mater, was ushered into the media center as part of the surprise.

    “We have a lot of history with concussions and awareness and rehab and all that good stuff, so this is something that is actually very close to my heart,” Earnhardt said. “I hope to be able to continue to help others going forward. This is a great way to do that, so thanks again.”

    Earnhardt didn’t play football at Mooresville. In fact, his Twitter profile lists him as “Former backup fullback for Mooresville Blue Devils varsity soccer.”

    “I was four 4-feet-10-inches tall at the time,” Earnhardt said of the year he entered high school. “I think I was 5-foot-3 when I got my driver’s license. So I was real short, and we were driving by the football field — well, the practice field — and they were out there practicing, and I said, ‘I want to play football.’ And the guy said, ‘I’m going to take you down and introduce you to the soccer coach, because I don’t think you need to be playing football.’

    “So I played soccer anyways. I got me a letter jacket and all that. We went to State and lost, but it was a lot of fun. I played one year, and I was the back-up, so I sat on the bench all year and I got to play a couple of games. We were a pretty good team, so we would get a big lead, I would get in a couple of games.”

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashes in practice at Charlotte

    (10/6/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final weekend as a full-time driver at Charlotte Motor Speedway got off to a rough start when he crashed moments into Friday’s opening practice.

    Earnhardt drove into the high line of the track and slipped in the grippy substance Charlotte officials had used on the surface. It caused him to hit the wall and his Hendrick Motorsports team had to pull out his backup car.

    Earnhardt wasn’t very happy about his misfortune and felt the substance — known as PJ1 — was too slick.

    He had to make a quick visit to the care centre before he was cleared to return to practice.

    Earnhardt is retiring at the end of the season, in part because of multiple concussions he’s received while racing.

    Preview: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last race at Charlotte

    (10/6/17) Race: Bank of America 500

    Date: Sunday, Oct. 8, 2 p.m. ET (NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

    Previous five results at Charlotte: 10th, 14th, 28th, third, 20th

    Notable: Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never scored a points-paying Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Sunday afternoon at the 1.5-mile D-shaped oval will be Earnhardt’s final opportunity to make it happen. In 34 races, NASCAR’s 14-time Most Popular Driver has earned six top fives and 13 top-10 finishes — which equates to an average finish of 18.8.

    Memorable: Although Earnhardt has never won a points race at Charlotte, he is still familiar with Victory Lane at his home track. Earnhardt’s first Monster Energy Series victory came during his rookie season at Texas Motor Speedway in April 2000, which locked him into the All-Star Race at Charlotte. The Kannapolis, North Carolina, native went on to have a special night on May 20, 2000 by winning the event. After making a late-race pit stop, Earnhardt rocketed to the front of the field in his No. 8 Chevrolet, passing Dale Jarrett with two laps remaining to take the checkered flag. His father, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, was there to greet him in Victory Lane after the race.

    Quotable: “The challenge at Charlotte is not landing too tight in Turns 1 and 2 and being too tight in the center there,” Earnhardt said in a team release. “Something that I think we all fight and we all have to work on there is trying to get your car to roll the middle of the corner, have that front grip and keep the car turning in the middle. You get into the corner so fast in Turn 1 and transitioning into that banking, the car really lands hard and gets tight, so trying to make that transition is a real challenge. Charlotte is our home track and I haven’t won a points race there yet, so that’s certainly something I would like to do. We have been seeing some improvements in our performance and our speed, so I’m looking forward to Charlotte.”

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. confident for Sunday after stellar Dover qualifying run

    (9/30/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. was all smiles and high hopes as he walked down pit road following qualifying for Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway.

    NASCAR’s reigning Most Popular Driver qualified seventh Friday on the Monster Mile — his best start since March on any non-restrictor plate track.

    His No. 88 Nationwide Chevy will be the second-highest Chevrolet on the grid — best of his Hendrick Motorsports team and one of only three non-playoff drivers who advanced to the final round of qualifying.

    And the good news for both him and his loyal legions? Earnhardt — the 2001 Dover winner — thinks his car could easily finish better than it starts.

    “Heck yeah I’m happy,” Earnhardt said while walking down pit road as fans in the grandstands cheered and shouted their approval.

    “I didn’t know what to expect. Our car was real fast off the truck. We had some pretty good comfort in practice. So I was feeling pretty confident about it, but yet we’ve had the same thing happen week after week where we’ve been confident and not backed it up. But this car was really nice right off the track. We ran some really good laps in the first run in practice and was right there with the 4 [Kevin Harvick], which I think he’ll be great.”

    Earnhardt got a slightly late start to qualifying as NASCAR officials spent extra time inspecting his car. As he walked back toward the garage following the qualifying session, he said he anticipated an extra “hold” time by NASCAR for tomorrow’s final practice session.

    “We ran some good laps on our qualifying mock runs and actually ran the mock runs on our race tires so we saved another set for tomorrow and we’ll have more stickers for practice tomorrow, but it came at a cost,” Earnhardt said.

    “Thankfully our car is good and comfortable. If we were really struggling with speed and balance I’d be real upset because we need all the practice we can.

    “I’m thankful the car is fast. So, hopefully we’ll learn what we can in the little bit of practice we’re going to get. I think we’ve got a chance at a real good run this weekend. I really do.”

    Just call Junior ‘William Bonney’ next year

    (9/30/17) Dale Earnhardt Jr. stressed Friday afternoon at Dover International Speedway that any post-Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing days will be the result of a mutual decision between him and his wife, Amy.

    But should he be inclined to enter a local short-track weekend feature, NASCAR’s 14-time and reigning Most Popular Driver grinned and confirmed he has used aliases before – a favorite, he revealed was “William Bonney,” Billy the Kid’s name.

    But, he conceded with a grin, “I doubt I’d even try it. I’d just come in there and race. I really don’t have any reason to hide I suppose.’’

    The two-time Daytona 500 winner Earnhardt is retiring at the end of the season and indicated he fully intends to enjoy his post-competition days. In addition to his work on NBC’s Cup Series telecasts next year, it would be only natural for him to still include an occasional short-track visit — to race or to watch.

    “I might enjoy signing some autographs and just kinda being in that environment as a driver,’’ he said. “It might be hard to just quit cold turkey. It might do me some good to hold those feelings again.”

    “I could be in the pits rumbling around. I’ve been there as a car owner. I was lucky enough to be there at one particular race we won and got some pictures in Victory Lane, which is a lot of fun. I’m sure I’ll miss that as a driver.

    “I don’t want to make this sound like I have plans to do this. I have a wife at home that’s part of this discussion. I have to make sure it’s good for both of us and fun to do and maybe I’ll go do that.’’

    Earnhardt mentioned several times during his press conference that he is most hopeful that he and his newlywed, Amy, will soon have children to consider.

    “I’m excited to start a family, and I hope I’m fortunate enough to do that with Amy,’’ he said. “We definitely want to do that. And it would be weird not being a race car driver if I have a daughter or son, I think about that, would they understand what I’m telling them or what I did for a long time. I’m hoping to find out all that stuff soon.’’

    Earnhardt won’t judge athletes who don’t stand for anthem

    (9/30/17) Two NASCAR team owners who said they would fire employees who do not stand for the national anthem do not speak for the sport, star driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday.

    Several owners and executives said last weekend they wouldn’t want anyone in their organizations to protest as NFL players have done to indicate their concern with social injustices, particularly against African-Americans. Richard Childress, who was Dale Earnhardt’s longtime team owner, said of protesting: "It’ll get you a ride on a Greyhound bus." Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty said anyone that refused to stand for the anthem "ought to be out of the country."

    Earnhardt, NASCAR’s most popular driver who will retire at the end of the season, tweeted Monday in support of peaceful protest . Earnhardt said he hasn’t discussed the issue with his teammates, crew or other employees