DVD: 'Any Given Day'
2017 Race Results
|2/23||Can-Am Duel 2||Daytona Int'l Speedway||1||6||--|
|2/26||Daytona 500||Daytona Int'l Speedway||2||37||25|
|3/5||Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500||Atlanta Motor Speedway||12||30||33|
|3/12||Kobalt 400||Las Vegas Motor Speedway||18||16||27|
|3/19||Camping World 500||Phoenix International Raceway||3||14||23|
|3/26||Auto Club 400||Auto Club Speedway||--||--||--|
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Junior reflects on first race, more ahead of milestone 600th start
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his 600th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. And for all the glory, trophies and adoration, his two-time Daytona 500 winning career hasn't necessarily been as NASCAR's most popular driver imagined it to be.
Earnhardt's initial motives were simpler and his goals modest. But he's enjoying the long ride and the achievement and respect he's accumulated in 18 full-time seasons on NASCAR's main stage.
"I just wanted to drive," Earnhardt said of the milestone. "I wanted to race cars for a living. I wanted to do it well enough to be able to afford to make a living doing it.
"I didn't have vision or assume that I was going to make all of the money and success that we have made, but all I really wanted to do was to do it long enough so I didn’t have to get a real job. I mean that as sincere as I can. I'm real thrilled that I've had the opportunity to stay around and drive for some really great teams. Some really awesome owners. Worked with a lot of amazing crew chiefs and crew members."
Earnhardt, who missed the second half of the 2016 season recovering from concussion symptoms, returned to competition this year more grateful for the opportunity and with perhaps a different perspective.
He acknowledged Friday in California that he has had preliminary talks with team owner Rick Hendrick about extending his contract with the championship organization. Earnhardt has maintained that he wanted to see how he felt behind the wheel again before committing to a contract process.
"We have had some discussions about planning to get together," Earnhardt said. "It's not something I put on the shelf for sure. We are getting closer and closer.
"I have done some things that I really think have (given) me a lot of confidence in the car and in my ability to continue to race and so … yeah, I'm not in any hurry to sit down and have those discussions, but we have been chit-chatting a little bit about what we need to go ahead and start heading in that direction."
As for the weekend's important milestone, only Matt Kenseth has more (618) starts among active drivers. And despite the large number, Earnhardt concedes there are typically a few he hears about most -- and he gets it.
"They talk about wins," Earnhardt said of his fans. " 'I was at Daytona when you won in '04, I was at Daytona when you won in '14, I was at the All-Star race when you won or I've watched every race you've ran.' You know you hear … really, they remember the moments on the track more than anything. And I do the same thing.
"I think back about the wins and maybe not even the wins, some races are really fun and satisfactory, but you are the only one that will remember them because you ran third or fifth or something like that and they are kind of obscure in most people's minds.
"I think about winning the All-Star race as a rookie, just how fortunate we were to do that. Winning the Daytona 500 twice. I didn't know that I would even win it once and everything that has happened. The list goes on and on."
Despite the success -- the Daytona 500 wins, the dramatic Daytona summer race win in 2001 following his father's death in that year's Daytona 500, the All-Star race win, the streak of four consecutive Talladega trophies -- Earnhardt humbly and vividly remembers the first of his 599 starts.
"My first Cup race? I was really nervous," Earnhardt said. "I remember sitting on the starting grid or sitting in qualifying for the race and telling (then crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. that I would switch with him for a million dollars so he could do this instead of me because I was scared to death.
"Just they had made such a big deal about that whole thing."
And to think, that was only the beginning of the making of a superstar, the most popular driver -- a talent that earned his place in the record books. And in hearts.
Dale Jr prepares for 600th race after creating own legacy
While Dale Earnhardt Jr. prepared for his 600th NASCAR Cup Series race this weekend, he couldn't help thinking about his first time.
He still recalls his conversation with Tony Eury Jr., his cousin and crew chief, as he sat on that starting grid in Charlotte in 1999.
''I remember telling Tony that I would switch with him for a million dollars so he could do this instead of me,'' Earnhardt recalled Friday with a chuckle. ''Because I was scared to death. ... I was overwhelmed with the weight of the situation, and how much attention it was getting, and it made it really hard to soak in and enjoy it, I guess.
''We just wanted to do so well and not fail. It was fun. It was a wild time.''
The son of racing royalty once felt crushed by expectations, yet he persevered and established his own legacy in the sport. Along with being NASCAR's most popular driver for most of his career, Junior has 26 victories, 252 top-10 finishes and two Daytona 500 trophies in his first 599 races.
''I just wanted to drive,'' the 42-year-old Earnhardt recalled. ''I wanted to race cars for a living. I wanted to do it well enough to be able to afford to make a living doing it. I didn't have vision or assume that I was going to make all of the money and success that we have made, but all I really wanted to do was to do it long enough so I didn't have to get a real job.''
Earnhardt has done it effectively and consistently for 17 straight years. Only 24 drivers in NASCAR history have started 600 races, and Earnhardt would love to celebrate his entry into the club Sunday with his first win on the well-aged asphalt at Fontana, where he has typically run well for most of his storied career.
Earnhardt hasn't won a race since late 2015, and he has never won at Fontana in 24 starts despite finishing second twice and landed inside the top 12 in six consecutive outings at Auto Club Speedway.
He missed the second half of last season with a concussion, at least the fourth of his racing career. The absence was his longest break from competition since his debut season back in the 20th century, but he has returned with optimism and confidence, if not results: He hasn't finished higher than 14th in the first four races of this season, leaving him 23rd in the standings.
Yet Earnhardt has evolved into an elder statesman of the garage, and his easygoing personality even allows him to squash most beefs with a smile - and some beer.
After Ryan Blaney cursed him out on the radio last week in Phoenix, Earnhardt played it off by texting with his young rival - and forcing Blaney to furnish the beverages whenever they hang out this spring.
Blaney incurred the wrath of Earnhardt's legion of fans, particularly on social media, but Junior himself took it good-naturedly. Blaney had ample reason to make good with his neighbor in North Carolina.
''He owns the land that I live on,'' Blaney said with a grimace. ''So strategically, that may not have been the best thing for me to do that to him last week, but we're good. He's a great guy and a good friend of mine.''
While he crosses his latest historic mark, Earnhardt doesn't appear to be done soon. He confirmed Friday that he intends to begin talks soon with Hendrick Motorsports about a new contract to replace his expiring deal.
''It's only been a few races, but I feel really good and we have had some discussions about planning to get together,'' Earnhardt said. ''It's not something that I put on the shelf, for sure. We're getting closer and closer.''
Although he realizes some fans, including legendary driver Richard Petty, would have liked to see him retire for his health after that last concussion, Earnhardt is feeling new appreciation for the simpler aspects of this high-profile job.
''You get older, you start to understand how you prioritize the things that are most important to you about the sport,'' Earnhardt said. ''The camaraderie and the friendships that I've made kind of started down the list, and as I've gotten older, that has crept up the list. If it's not No. 1, I don't know what is.
''That probably is what you will miss the most once you are done driving, is the people.''
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg takes spin with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
(Video) Mark Zuckerberg sits in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Chevrolet with a huge grin on his face Tuesday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Facebook co-founder and CEO just finished a 175-plus-mph ride around the 1.5-mile track with Earnhardt Jr. as his driver.
And he's impressed.
"OK, if this is all we get to do in Charlotte, that will be enough," Zuckerberg says via Facebook Live. "What an amazing experience. … I think there were probably millions of people who would die to do what I just did."
He certainly looks the part, dressed in a white helmet and blue fire suit, the coloring similar to Earnhardt Jr.'s own ensemble. Zuckerberg has a relaxed, easy demeanor about him as he chats with cameramen, crew members and speedway employees.
But those initial laps with Junior behind the wheel were anything but a Sunday morning jaunt.
"Holy s---t!" he says, as Junior veers the No. 88 machine around Turn 2 and up the banking. "All right we're a little close to the wall."
"I wanted him to get a sense of the speed and the grip and the G-Forces," Earnhardt says on the ride-along. " … I'm sure it was exhilarating. I couldn't imagine getting into a car with a race car driver having never driven before myself."
Zuckerberg's foray into NASCAR began with his desire to learn more about the racing community. He has been traveling around the country throughout the year, visiting different states in hopes of learning about the diverse groups of people that make up America.
The NASCAR community is one that intrigued him.
"NASCAR and driving and sports in general form the basis of a lot of communities," Zuckerberg says. "You think about not only the community of drivers and the families around them, but NASCAR's probably, I think, the biggest sport in the country that people go to and attend live.
"… I have this big belief with Facebook and what we're doing to help people try to build community that we all need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and certainly all the fans -- I think you have three million fans on Facebook who follow Dale Jr. For them, NASCAR's a huge part of their identity and a lot of people pin their hopes on you going out and winning."
"They're very supportive," Earnhardt Jr. says of his fans later.
But Zuckerberg is privy to Junior Nation: "Well, you have good fans, though," he says with a chuckle.
• • •
Zuckerberg's quest to learn more about the NASCAR community began earlier that day in a sub-community of racing: The Hendrick Motorsports race shop in Charlotte, North Carolina.
He arrived at the Nos. 48/88 shop -- that builds and prepares race cars for Earnahrdt Jr. and reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson -- dressed in a gray hoodie, jeans and Nikes, with an appetite for racing knowledge apparent.
Who better to give it to him than No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus?
"The crew captain!" Zuckerberg exclaims as he walks into the shop and shakes Knaus' hand. Knaus is giving Zuckerberg a private tour today. The two walk into the shop, and almost immediately Zuckerberg begins asking questions. His brow furrows and there's a "Wow!" often dancing around his mouth.
Knaus leads the group from the shop and into a side room where the 7-post machine is testing one of the unpainted cars. Zuckerberg's face lights up when the car starts to rattle and shake.
"Super nice guy, shockingly normal," Knaus tells NASCAR.com after the tour. "Very inquisitive. He was definitely curious about what it is that we do and he had a ton of questions. They were actually very good questions. I was happy to hear that.
"... He was asking about what we do, how the cars are built, where we take them, the differences between a short track car and a high speed track car," Knaus continues. "He was asking about the tire stagger, how we choreograph our pit stops."
Hendrick Motorsports presents Zuckerberg with a personalized team jersey and signed helmet upon the conclusion of the tour.
"Now don't wear that when you're driving your car, that's for display purposes only," Knaus jokes.
No matter: In a few minutes, he'll get his own racing-ready helmet anyway.
• • •
After a few laps with Junior, it's time for Zuckerberg to wheel a race car on his own. He had a few practice laps earlier that day, with Dale Jr. coaching him via in-car radio.
"You're going to come down the apron, down pit road," Earnhardt said earlier.
"Where's that?" Zuckerberg asked.
"Where you came from," Junior said with a smile.
"Oh, that's a wall, there's nothing good over there," Zuckerberg said cheerfully, piloting the race car around Turn 4 and down pit road.
Now, he's relatively prepared, as he climbs into the car for another run.
"I kind of showed you the line," Junior coaches. "Down the front straightaway, nice and broad, good smooth arc down the front straightaway. And then on the back straightaway, you get out against that fence, as close as you're comfortable with."
"I think probably a little further away than you were," Zuckerberg says. "You got pretty close there."
"I know, I was doing that on purpose, we probably wouldn't race that close," Junior says with a grin.
Zuckerberg gets going, hitting 5,000 RPMs soon into his run. He hugs the white line, moving toward the high line later. He seems to grow more comfortable as his run continues.
"We're just down here hanging out," he says with a smile. "After driving with you, I don't feel that we're pushing it that hard here."
"Get a little more aggressive!" Junior urges, as Zuckerberg hits the rev limiter on the car.
"I don't think it wants me going faster than 5,000 RPMs," Zuckerberg says.
He takes a couple more laps and then comes down pit road, the grin still plastered on his face.
And he's worked up an appetite.
"I heard there was something about fried chicken," he says, inviting Junior to join him for a post-race meal.
• • •
Zuckerberg and Earnhardt engage in a conversation after their ride, a plate of fried chicken and a biscuit sitting by Zuckerburg. They talk for a while quietly, away from the cameras and lights from today.
It has been a day of immersion for Zuckerberg, whose knowledge about racing has significantly increased since he arrived in North Carolina.
But it was just as beneficial for NASCAR, too, as the worlds of racing and ever-growing social media industry merged on a different front.
"When you have someone that has that many touch points, that many people that he influences, having him come and experience what NASCAR was all about is a tremendous opportunity for our sport," Steve Phelps, NASCAR executive vice president and chief global sales and marketing officer, told NASCAR.com. "Watching him ride along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the expression on his face and truly to get to experience what it's like to be in car and how fast it is, how loud it is, how much the vibration of the car is.
"I think he has a newfound respect and we're trying to get new fans, one fan at a time. Having someone like Mark out here is certainly an opportunity for us to get more than one fan at a time."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. slammed into the wall and walked away unscathed, an early exit from the Daytona 500 that could be viewed as a positive step in his recovery process.
NASCAR's most popular driver missed 18 races, half the season, in 2016 because of lingering concussion symptoms that included nausea as well as vision and balance issues. He got back in the car in early December and gained medical clearance to return this season.
He was looking to make a triumphant return at Daytona, the track where his famous father died, but ended up driving to the garage and parking it for the day shortly after the midway point of the 200-lap event. He finished 37th, but made progress.
''I feel good,'' Earnhardt said. ''I don't have any symptoms or anything I've experienced in the past. It wasn't that hard of a hit, but it still doesn't mean you can't get injured.''
Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, others wreck hard at Daytona
Trouble arrived for several drivers at Daytona International Speedway, as Kyle Busch spun entering Turn 3 at Lap 104 of Sunday's Daytona 500, collecting Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ty Dillon and Erik Jones and bringing out the caution.
Elliott Sadler received contact as well, but assumed the race lead after the wreck.
Busch, whose No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was too damaged to repair on pit road and was declared out of the race due to NASCAR's new damage vehicle policy, said he had a rear tire going down that caused him to spin out.
"Just getting into Turn 3 as soon as we started picking up load it just started to come out from underneath me and started spinning," Busch said. "I could feel the rear tire kind of start to flap in there and I knew one of them was down. I couldn't tell left or right. I want to say it was a left because of how long it took it to spin.
"But man, we tore up three really good JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars there. We also tore up the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), so I feel horrible about that but man, it's nothing I can do. Nothing that I did wrong."
Earnhardt Jr. -- who was making his return to racing after missing half of last season due to concussion-like symptoms -- Kenseth, Dillon and Jones all were ruled out of the race.
"I really enjoyed the whole week," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We had a lot of fun. … Everybody's support meant a lot to me, just sorry we weren’t able to deliver a better result today for all our fans."
The race was ultimately red-flagged for clean up.
Prior to the wreck, Busch had won Stage 1 of the 500-mile event, collecting 10 race points and one playoff point at the Lap 60 mark.
At place of peace, Dale Jr. still 'craves' racing
He tested at Phoenix earlier this year, qualified on the outside of the front row for Sunday's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and on Thursday he led the bulk of his Can-Am Duel qualifying race before finishing fifth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is officially back.
Today marks his return to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points races, and no one is more pleased about it than the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
"I really had fun," Earnhardt said Thursday evening after a strong return at a track where he's typically one of a handful of drivers expected to run well. "I hated to lose but still we have to be aware of how far we've come to get back here. To go out there and lead all those laps and be able to make some good smart moves, it felt great."
The road back has been a long one for the 42-year-old Earnhardt, who missed the final 18 races of 2016 while recovering from concussion-like symptoms. It marked the second time he had been sidelined by such an injury, and he admitted there were times he questioned what his racing future held.
"There was a lot of time during the recovery where there were days I was 90 percent sure I wasn't going to drive again," he said. "There were days when it was 50 percent. It was just moving all over the place depending on what I felt that day. Your recovery is up and down, you have good days and bad days. …
"When it came down to it, I had to decide for myself if I wanted to drive anymore. I'm not going to race because of any other reason than I want to be out there."
Earnhardt will roll off second alongside Elliott, the pole winner, for the 59th running of the Daytona 500. He is a two-time winner of the "Great American Race" and one of the favorites based on past success and this year's efforts thus far.
Restrictor-plate races are breeding grounds for multi-car crashes, with cars running two-, three- and sometimes four-wide, a dozen or more rows deep at 200-plus mph. Earnhardt doesn't dwell on the possibility of another accident and what might result.
"I don't want to wreck to sort of quantify my recovery," he said. "I think should that happen and I come out the other side of it feeling great, that will add a ton of confidence. I can't sit here and say that I know exactly how I'm going to react in those situations with confidence. So yeah, when I go through that process, there's a box or two to check that aren't checked yet."
Three-time series champion Tony Stewart hung up his NASCAR uniform at the end of the '16 season. Two of Stewart's final four years driving for Stewart-Haas Racing were cut short due to injuries the Columbus, Indiana, native suffered in non-NASCAR events.
But there was no apprehension about climbing back in the car following lengthy recovery periods, he said.
"Never. It was more excitement to get back because you have to remember, we're drivers," Stewart, the winner of 49 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, said. "That's what we want to do, drive.
"When you have an injury, all it is is a pain in the ass. It's keeping you from doing what you want to do. That's why you heard so many drivers praise Junior last year (when) he chose not to run. And that's hard."
Fellow driver Martin Truex Jr. has a close relationship with Earnhardt -- the two were teammates from 2004-07 at Dale Earnhardt Inc. and spend time away from the track each fall on hunting trips.
"I know he's got a lot on his shoulders," Truex said. "A lot of people put a lot of pressure on him, obviously. I think in a lot of ways he sometimes feels like he needs to be here for other people. But hopefully he made the decision based on what's best for him. I think he did. I know he's excited about racing still. He obviously still loves it and wants to do it and hopefully things will all work out for him."
It has been 20 races since Earnhardt won his last race and just five -- due to his shortened '16 season -- since his last top five. Sunday affords the opportunity to reset both those streaks. After that? He's yet to win a championship at NASCAR's top level, but has finished as high as third. And, yes, he did say if he wins the title in '17 "it would be hard to not call it a career."
He has a new outlook and seems to be at peace with the road he's traveled. For the longest time, he said "I let racing be who I was instead of what I did.
"Like Richard Petty said, 'I've got a whole other life beyond driving' and I really believe that," Earnhardt said. "I've got a lot of things I'd love to do. Even outside of having a family, there are a lot of things in business that I'd love to see if I could succeed at. I think we got a glimpse of what that would be like; it looks pretty awesome."
For now, though, the Daytona 500 and another season of crisscrossing the country await. And Earnhardt is more than OK with that.
"Like I said, I crave to drive the car," he said. "I love the position I'm in with the team I'm with, (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the guys, and until that feeling … and that 'want' to be there is gone, I want to keep going."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. busy in final Daytona 500 tune-up
In Saturday’s final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran 30 laps at Daytona International Speedway, second only to the 36 posted by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne.
The No. 88 team changed from a qualifying engine to the race engine after practice on Friday, a practice customary at the Daytona 500. But Earnhardt found his car less responsive with the new engine; in addition, the car developed a slight vibration that led to the team changing drive shafts in the car.
"We changed the motor and went to the race engine today, took the qualifying motor out last night," Earnhardt explained. "I thought our car was a little better yesterday in practice. In the pack, it would develop runs a little bit better. It just seemed like I had to get a little luckier today with what was happening behind me, where yesterday the car would do some things or develop some things kind of on its own.
"The thing about that is every time you get out there -- you might not even change anything -- it just depends on what kind of pack you get in, what kind of cars are around you, and your car’s performance can change and kind of fool you a little bit. I’m just hoping that today was a little more laid back, not quite as many cars out there, not quite as active in the draft, and maybe that’s why we didn’t see our car respond like it did yesterday."
The vibration was of particular concern.
"You worry about that, because any kind of thing that is out of balance is going to hurt that straight-line speed," Earnhardt said. "We tried to work on that and were able to fix it right there on that last run. It’s just simple stuff like flipping drive shafts and things like that.
"You want to get all that out of there so you don’t have any doubts about anything holding your car back. Otherwise, it’s been really uneventful. We haven’t had any issues or problems with the car mechanically, and nothing happened on the race track, so it looks like we are going to get this thing on the grid tomorrow and ready to go."
The change in drive shafts won’t affect Earnhardt’s second-place starting position on Sunday.
Goodyear hands Earnhardt Jr. keys to Goodyear Blimp
In celebration of his return to racing at this Sunday's Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. donned a Goodyear Blimp pilot uniform and took a different kind of lap in the Goodyear Blimp on Wednesday, surprising a U.S. military veteran with the experience of a lifetime.
Earnhardt Jr., who missed 18 races last season while recovering from a concussion, will get behind the familiar wheel of his No. 88 car Sunday seeking his third Daytona 500 victory on the confidence of Goodyear tires. But it was an altogether different experience sitting at the controls of the iconic Goodyear Blimp.
"This was such a cool day -- being able to co-pilot the Goodyear Blimp and connect with a fan who has so honorably served our country," said Earnhardt Jr. "I'm proud to be involved with Goodyear. Ever since we started working together, I've wanted to ride in the blimp, so this was a great experience I will never forget."
With weather less than ideal in the Daytona Beach area Wednesday, the blimp was limited in flight and only got off the ground for a few minutes. But the day was all about Paul Siverson, a Vietnam and Gulf War veteran who served in the military for 30 years. Siverson describes Earnhardt as his "first, second and third favorite NASCAR driver."
Coupled with his Earnhardt Jr. fandom, it was Siverson's dedication to NCServes, a charitable organization that provides comprehensive services to veterans, service members and their families, that made Siverson the perfect candidate for the surprise ride with NASCAR's most popular driver.
In honor of soldiers like Siverson, Goodyear donated $10,000 to NCServes with Earnhardt Jr. on hand for the check presentation. In addition to the blimp flight, Siverson will receive access at Daytona Speedweeks including tickets to the Great American Race on Sunday.
Goodyear has more than 100 years of history building innovative tires and equipment to help support and protect U.S. troops and is the largest producer of military tires in the country. The tire manufacturer has helped build more than 150 blimps for the U.S. Navy and continues to recognize the skills of Veterans through a robust hiring program and was recently recognized with the Secretary of Defense Freedom Award.
"We're honored to celebrate the return of Dale Jr. to NASCAR and recognize an American hero like Paul," said Seth Klugherz, Goodyear's director of North America marketing. "Connecting American icons NASCAR and the Goodyear Blimp to provide an experience for a military veteran is a natural way to extend Goodyear’s unwavering support to the U.S. Armed Forces."
Tune-in to watch the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. ET on FOX, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and MRN.
Earnhardt's confidence sky high amid return for Daytona 500
Dale Earnhardt Jr. traded in his T-shirt, jeans and sneakers for a head-to-toe pilot uniform, climbed up the portable stairs and slipped into the cockpit of the iconic Goodyear Blimp.
He kept his head down and turned away from a 65-year-old military veteran who thought he was onboard for a once-in-a-lifetime ride. Retired Marine Corps sergeant major Paul Siverson settled into his seat near Earnhardt - unbeknownst that his ''first, second and third favorite NASCAR driver'' was at the controls of the 246-foot helium-filled airship.
When Earnhardt turned and said hello, Siverson jumped in delight .
''Been talking about you all week,'' Siverson said.
Everyone has, really.
Earnhardt is the biggest story of Speedweeks. While it's fairly common for the two-time Daytona 500 winner to be the center of attention at Daytona International Speedway, especially given his father's fame and tragic fate at the superspeedway, it's been considerably different this year.
All those cheers have been joined by fears.
NASCAR's most popular driver missed 18 races, half the season, in 2016 because of lingering concussion symptoms that included nausea as well as vision and balance issues.
He struggled to keep his eyes focused while simply riding in a car last July. During a ride from his home to Raleigh, North Carolina, to taste wedding food with his then-fiancee Amy, he couldn't look out the windshield. He had to stare at the floor for two hours each way.
He would pick something on a wall to focus on, but couldn't keep it in sight once he started taking a few steps.
''I could go sit on my couch and convince myself I was 100 percent,'' he said. ''That was my comfort zone. Nothing was happening there. No anxiety. Anytime I went out in the world, any little bit of anxiety would make everything crazy. ... I couldn't put one foot in front of the other without falling over like a drunk-driving test.''
Forget racing. Sudden movement, loud noises and busy places all made Earnhardt cringe.
Even in November, after months of treatment and recovery, Earnhardt went hunting with friend and fellow driver Martin Truex Jr. and would stumble to one side or the other after five or six steps.
But that was progress, albeit minor, and it continued every day for the next month.
His vision cleared. His ability to focus returned. He slowly started feeling better, and by early December, he was back in a race car and had gained medical clearance to return this season.
Now, he's back at Daytona, back in the No. 88 Chevrolet and back at the front of the field. Earnhardt was second in pole qualifying last Sunday, meaning he will start on the front row for the Daytona 500 for the fourth time in his career. He also was scheduled to start one of the twin qualifying races Thursday from the pole.
The real test will be after that first head-jarring crash.
''I don't want to wreck to sort of quantify my recovery,'' he said. ''I think, though, should that happen and I come out the other side feeling great, that will add a ton of confidence. I can't sit here and say I know exactly how I'm going to react in those situations with confidence. So yeah, when I go through that process, there's a box or two to check that aren't yet (checked).''
Earnhardt sat down with NASCAR officials recently to go over details about the inside of his car, specifically about how and where his headrest is mounted. He estimates having at least five diagnosed concussions during his 18-year Cup career.
''Am I nervous at all about it? I'm nervous about it until I get in the car,'' he said. ''When I get into the car, I can't have any concern. I can't have any worry or fret, or I'll drive completely different. ... I know what a result I can get by driving without fear, and I know what kind of result I can get if I have even a sliver of apprehension. I won't be able to win the race. Once you second-guess yourself one time, it snowballs and it just continues throughout the rest of the race.''
At least publicly, there has been no second-guessing of Earnhardt's decision to get back in a race car.
''Well, I hope he's competitive and he goes out there and has fun because he sure is fun to talk to these days,'' retiring driver and former teammate Michael Waltrip said. ''He's just really energetic and really open and honest and is really cool to be around. He's always been cool to be around if you know him, but it seems like he's opened up to the world more, and so to see him go out there and win a race, I'd like to see that happen.''
Earnhardt has 26 victories in NASCAR's top series, but he's still chasing that first championship. He created a stir this week when he told ''The Dan Patrick Show'' he would consider retirement if he won the title. After a day to reflect on something he initially said was a tongue-in-cheek statement, it started to sound like the perfect exit strategy for a 42-year-old driver who just got married and wants to start a family.
''I didn't expect people to be like, 'Seriously? You really mean that?''' he said. ''Yeah, if you want to really think about it, God almighty, yeah. If I retire and won this championship, it's be hard not to spike the football on stage at Vegas and call it a career. Why not?
''There's still a lot about it that I haven't done just the way I want to do it. I want to learn how to enjoy it all the way, fully. I've got a couple more years that I'd like to keep going. But, dang, yeah, if I won a championship, shoot, that's the motivation for me in competing. Once that's checked off the list, that'd be everything.''
With so much attention focused on Earnhardt, he's been the busiest driver in the garage this week.
He did a media tour in New York City on Tuesday, was bombarded with questions at Daytona 500 media day and then traveled to nearby New Smyrna Beach Airport for the Goodyear Blimp surprise.
Earnhardt spent close to two hours in and around the blimp and getting to know Siverson and his 47-year history of service. Siverson retired after 30 years in the Marine Corps in 2000 and now helps other veterans at NCServes in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Earnhardt presented Siverson with a $10,000 check from Goodyear for the charity.
Earnhardt, who had never been in a blimp, even joked about bringing home a keepsake from the experience.
''I'm going to keep this outfit for Halloween,'' he said.
Hamlin spoils Earnhardt return with last-lap pass for win
Denny Hamlin didn't need a Toyota teammate to grab another win at Daytona International Speedway.''We took chances and it worked out, so excited for Sunday.''
Duel win slips away, but no rust on Junior's return performance
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was two laps away from potentially winning for the first time since November of 2015, leading the second of two Can-Am Duel qualifying races here Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway.
Then Austin Dillon cleared the No. 41 of Kurt Busch, slid up in line behind second-place Denny Hamlin and Earnhardt's goose was cooked.
With no drafting help from behind, Earnhardt could do little but watch as car after car zoomed by on the high side. By the time the freight train had passed, Earnhardt was battling just to get back inside the top five with one more trip around the 2.5-mile layout remaining.
"I was hoping he would go with me but I would have probably done the same thing he did," Earnhardt said of Dillon's move. "He finished fifth. He pushed that 11 in the lead, he was in second; it didn't really work out that awesome for him."
Dillon's No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing finished just one spot ahead of Earnhardt's No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, which led 53 of 60 laps. It was Earnhardt's first competitive appearance since mid-season of last year. He sat out the final 18 races of the season after suffering concussion-like symptoms.
If there was any rust, it wasn't evident. Earnhardt, who will still start on the front row of Sunday's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR) battled briefly with Hamlin in the early portion of the qualifying race before settling down to lead 23 laps. Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing) won the race off pit road and led three laps before Earnhardt moved back on point at Lap 31.
And for most of the remaining laps, it was vintage Earnhardt, one of the series' best at restrictor-plate racing and a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 as he was able to move high and low to keep the lines of traffic in his rear-view mirror.
Until the very end.
"I felt great," he said. "I felt like I'm a really good plate racer, there are some guys out there that are sure picking it up. Denny is one of them, (Joey) Logano ... there are a few other guys that sure make it harder to win these things each time we come here. But I felt great out there."
Hamlin is the defending Daytona 500 winner. Dillon is a four-year veteran but still searching for that first trip to Victory Lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Both had capable rides Thursday evening.
"I think that we just worked together the entire race," Hamlin said of Dillon's move that got him to the front. "It's no different than if it was the other way around ... I'd have a hard time not pushing him to a win."
As long as the drivers ran side-by-side behind Earnhardt and Hamlin, the two lines of cars kept each other in check and unable to make a run on the front two. That changed when Dillon was able to slide in behind Hamlin and leave a big gap with no help behind the race leader.
"Maybe if he would have gone with me we might have run first and second," Earnhardt said. "You never know. He did what he had to do and I might have done the same thing.
"Denny had such an awesome run. The 3 (of Dillon) is feeding off that energy and had that same momentum. He's got to take his opportunities to try to get to the front. Hell, he might have won the race, you never know, if a couple of things had worked out for him."
Earnhardt Jr. would consider walking away as a champion
Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat on stage for his Daytona 500 Media Day interview session Wednesday morning and at the end of his 20-plus minutes taking questions, he conceded that if he were to win the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title, he would at least consider stepping away from full-time competition after this season.
Earnhardt, who will start on the front row for the Daytona 500, is returning to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup competition for the first time since last July -- sitting out the second half of the 2016 season while recovering from concussion-like symptoms.
The two-time Daytona 500 winner and restrictor-plate racing expert refused to call himself a shoo-in for Sunday's trophy even though he likes his chances. But he did allow that hoisting NASCAR's season-ending trophy may just present the ultimate racing exit for the newly married 42-year-old.
"Hell yeah. I would definitely not want to come back and race anymore if I won the championship, I'd be outta of here," he said smiling. "I've always wanted to win a championship so badly. And coming back from this injury, we've worked so hard. So to come back this year and win the championship, it would be hard not to hang it up.
"This is the last year of my deal. I would like to race more, but if I won the championship I'd have to consider going out on top."
Earnhardt smiled as he spoke but did pause often to reflect and think. The sport's 14-time -- and reigning -- Most Popular Driver has four top-five finishes in the championship standings, the last a fifth place in 2013.
His father, the late Dale Earnhardt, won seven championship trophies, and his Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson just won his seventh in November.
"It just really depends on a lot of different things," Earnhardt said, reflecting on the idea of the 2017 championship. "I said that a little tongue in cheek yesterday (that he would retire), but I'd definitely consider it because that's the last box I don't have checked really.
"There's a few races I'd like to win. But the championship would definitely be the icing on the cake for my career."
Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski deadlocked atop Daytona 500 odds
(Video) Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be aiming to bounce back from a 2016 season marred by inconsistency and injury on Sunday when he pursues a third career victory at the Daytona 500 as a +600 betting favourite at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.
It has been 15 months since Earnhardt took home the checkered flag at a NASCAR Cup Series event. The 42-year-old veteran claimed victory at the rain-shortened Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 in November 2015, but his sole victory of 2016 came in the Xfinity Series Toyota Care 250 last February.
Sunday afternoon’s 59th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway also marks Earnhardt’s first Cup Series race appearance since last July, when he was sidelined for the season with a concussion.
The 14-time defending Cup Series Most Popular Driver previously won the Daytona 500 in 2004 and 2014, but finished a career-worst 36th last year despite starting the race in the No. 3 position.
Earnhardt is joined as the Daytona 500 betting favourite by Brad Keselowski, who also sports +600 odds. Keselowski sits atop the odds despite finishing better than 20th just twice in seven career Daytona 500 appearances.
The 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion tallied four victories last year. However, he finished no better than 35th in three of his final six races.
2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano maintains strong +800 odds, ahead of three drivers at +1000, including Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch. Logano closed out last season on a strong note with top 5 finishes in five of his past six races, and has finished in the top 10 at Daytona on three occasions.
Johnson earned a record-tying seventh career Cup Series crown a year ago, and also has two Daytona 500 victories to his credit, but finished a disappointing 16th last year. Busch finished third last year, both at Daytona and in the standings, while Harvick finished fourth in last year’s race, and earned four victories on the season.
Defending Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin joins pole sitter Chase Elliott at +1200 odds, followed by Matt Kenseth at +1400, Martin Truex Jr. at +1600, and Clint Bowyer at +1800.
Other notables on the Daytona 500 odds include Kurt Busch at +2200, Danica Patrick and Ryan Newman deadlocked at +5000, and 53-year-old Michael Waltrip, who is a +10000 bet to claim his third career win at the race.
Get ready for the Daytona 500 with driver interviews
Drivers take center stage starting at 8:30 a.m. ET Wednesday for the Media Day live stream presented by NAPA as excitement builds toward Sunday's Daytona 500. Don't miss any of the stories, banter and laughs as NASCAR.com live streams the event til 3:30 p.m. ET. Watch here.
Hosts Jonathan Merryman and Kim Coon will talk with drivers about the Daytona 500 and the 2017 season.
Here's the event lineup (all times Eastern):
8:30 a.m.: Aric Almirola
8:40 a.m.: Austin Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto
8:45 a.m.: Chris Buescher
8:50 a.m.: Joey Gase
BREAK (35 min)
9:35 a.m.: Michael McDowell, AJ Allmendinger
9:40 a.m.: David Gilliland
9:45 a.m.: Joey Logano
BREAK (25 min)
10:20 a.m.: Chip Wile
10:30 a.m.: Brendan Gaughan, Darrell Wallace Jr.
10:35 a.m.: Cole Custer
10:40 a.m.: Blake Koch
10:50 a.m.: Brennan Poole
11:05 a.m.: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
11:10 a.m.: Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones
11:20 a.m.: Spencer Gallagher, Ben Kennedy
BREAK (1 hr. 40 min)
1:10 p.m.: Ryan Blaney
1:20 p.m.: Chase Elliott
1:50 p.m.: Kevin Harvick
1:55 p.m.: Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett
2 p.m.: John Hunter Nemechek, Denny Hamlin
2:10 p.m.: Ty Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch
2:20 p.m.: Landon Cassill, Kasey Kahne
BREAK (15 min)
2:45 p.m.: Erik Jones
BREAK (10 min)
3:05 p.m.: Ryan Reed
BREAK (5 min)
3:15 p.m.: Brad Keselowski
Dale Jr. regales podcast listeners with family storytime
(Listen) Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned his weekly Dale Jr. Download podcast into family storytime where he spoke for more than 50 minutes regaling listeners with tales of his famous father and the Earnhardt family history at the Daytona 500.
Among the gems Earnhardt Jr. shared was the story of how his father, Dale Earnhardt, taught him how to be fast in qualifying.
As Earnhardt Jr. tells it, when he was 16 years old, working in a dealership changing oil, his dad called and told him to come to Talladega, where he was testing.
Earnhardt was testing new V8 engines for the XFINITY Series, and told his son to take the wheel for a few turns around Talladega Superspeedway. Junior was astonished to be keeping time with his father during his first lap.
"So then I get out there and open the wheel up and get out to the fence on the straightaway, drive it down into the corner," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I'm letting the wheel kind of do what it wants to do on bumps -- and I ran a second slower."
As soon as he came in, his father stopped him.
"What the hell are you doing?" he asked.
"Well, I'm letting the car feed out off the corner against the wall," Junior responded.
"Don't do that, you're adding feet to the lap," his father scolded.
"I let the wheel be loose in my hands, kind of let it do its thing through the bumps," Junior continued.
"Don't do that; hold it solid and steady," his father reminded.
That experience changed how Earnhardt Jr. approaches qualifying -- and what helped him to qualify second for Sunday's Daytona 500.
"What I do now when I go to qualify is I hold the wheel as hard as I can and I do not let it move when the car goes through a bump," Earnhardt Jr. said. "And I run pretty tight, which everybody does now; everybody's figured that out."
Earnhardt Jr. also recounted some of his favorite moments from past Daytona 500s. Among those he talked about:
* The 2000 Daytona 500, which was the first he saw in person -- and the first he raced in. "I felt like I had joined a fraternity," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I was on the starting grid looking around at guys like Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett and going, 'Wow, I can't believe I'm here.' "
That was also a race where his father wasn't happy that his son didn't work with him. Earnhardt finished 21st while Earnhardt Jr. finished 13th.
"After the race he was very upset with me that I did not work with him," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I said, 'I don't want to work with nobody, I'm trying to get to the front.' ... He said, 'No wonder neither one of us did any good, you wouldn't work with anybody.' I said, 'You're not my responsibility, Dad.' He always took it out on me. When we raced together, if he had a bad day, in some way, it was my fault."
* The 1998 Daytona 500, which was his father's only victory in the race, despite 34 triumphs at the track. Earnhardt Jr. missed the race because he was recovering from a concussion.
* The 1990 Daytona 500, when Earnhardt blew a tire on Turn 3 of the final lap, and ended up finishing fifth. "What a badass," Junior said of his father. "Drove a damn car into Turn 3 with no right rear tire at 190 mph and didn't even hit the wall."
* The 1979 Daytona 500, which was his father's rookie season. Earnhardt finished eighth. "It's so funny how they talked about him then (compared to) how we know him and remember him now," Earnhardt Jr. said. "He wasn't the Intimidator. He was a young guy racing with the veterans."
Earnhardt Jr. also had one more comment about his family's history at the Daytona 500: "We got a lot of great history in Daytona. Hoping we can go down here and have some success and add to those wins. I'd love to go down there and pass Tony Stewart and be second (for most all-time wins at Daytona International Speedway)."
Dale Jr. jumps back into familiar surroundings with plenty of speed
Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't take any credit for his qualifying effort Sunday, a 192.864 mph lap that put his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the front row for next week's season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
"Ain't much to it," Earnhardt quipped. "The car does all the work."
Earnhardt, twice a winner of the "Great American Race," won't be on the pole, but he'll start alongside Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, giving the team a front-row sweep for the second time in the last three years.
His previous wins in the 500 came from third (in 2004) and ninth ('14).
Earnhardt is regarded as one of the best at restrictor-plate racing but qualifying is a solo effort. There are no other cars off which to pick up a push or gain an advantage. It's all about horsepower. But there's a bit of technique required as well.
"The transitions are kind of important as far as feeding the car into the corner and also running as tight as you can on the apron without bouncing the skirt off the apron or giving up any speed, or just time adding feet to your lap by running high, at least a little bit, can make a big difference," he said.
"But other than that, the driver, I don't think he's feeling like he's in control of too much. The car is doing most of the work."
Sidelined for the last half of the 2016 season after suffering concussion-like symptoms, Earnhardt is eager to be back behind the wheel. He chose not to compete in Sunday's Advance Auto Parts Clash, instead allowing Alex Bowman to field his entry. Bowman had won the pole at Phoenix driving in relief of Earnhardt last fall, a distinction that Earnhardt said earned the driver the opportunity.
But after spending "The Clash" working as an analyst in the booth for Fox Sports, Earnhardt traded in his suit and tie for a firesuit, and eased his way back into more familiar surroundings.
He was second-fastest in the opening round of qualifying; Elliott ended the session atop the board. In the final round, the No. 88 went to the top of the board with only one driver, Elliott, remaining.
"I certainly would have loved to have gotten a pole, but my boss man is happy," Earnhardt said of team owner Rick Hendrick. "I just talked to him on the phone and he's got to be thrilled with having his cars up front."
Elliott's final-round run, a lap of 192.872 mph, gave the Dawsonville, Georgia, youngster his second consecutive Daytona 500 pole. It was the third straight No. 1 qualifying effort for his No. 24 team, which also started out front here in '15 with four-time series champion Jeff Gordon behind the wheel.
"Obviously Dale is good down here, and we all knew he was going to be fast today," Elliott, 21, said. "That's no surprise. But I don't really care who it is. I'm not going to feel bad about beating somebody.
"It's cool to share a front row with a teammate is really the biggest thing I look at with that. But Dale is a good guy. I'm happy to share the front row with him, but happier to beat him, obviously, but regardless of who it is, that's what you're trying to do, you know."
Elliott and Earnhardt were the only two drivers to officially lock in their starting positions for next weekend's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The remainder of the field will be determined through the Can-Am Duels, a pair of 150-lap qualifying races scheduled for Thursday evening (7 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Dale Jr. waiting on 'confidence in my health' before signing new contract
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he intends to race "for more years," but NASCAR's most popular driver also said he won't sit down to discuss his contract with team owner Rick Hendrick until he's confident his health isn't an issue.
Earnhardt, 42, missed the final 18 races of the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season while recovering from a concussion suffered at mid-season.
He is in the final year of his contract as driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
"I told Rick (Hendrick) that I would like to get a couple of races, a couple of months under my belt to get confidence in my health," Earnhardt said Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, site of next week's season-opening Daytona 500.
"This is the only reason I feel that way. There's no underlying crap about it. When I got hurt last year, what I saw it put the company through, how I saw it frustrate certain aspects of the company -- maybe not frustrate but it put a strain on our relationships. Our partners were worried about my future, Rick and everybody was worried. I don't want to do that again.
"I want to get some races under my belt and get confidence in my health before I can commit to him. I don't want to make him a promise that I can't deliver on.
"Once I feel like, 'You know what? I think I'm good. I think I can withstand the wear and tear of driving these cars to do a couple more years,' I’m ready to do it. Because I want to race; I want to be here and I want to race."
Earnhardt joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 after eight seasons with Dale Earnhardt Inc., the company founded by his father, the seven-time series champion and inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee. Nine of his 26 career victories have come since the move to HMS.
In addition to competing for HMS, Earnhardt also co-owns JR Motorsports, a race organization that fields four teams in NASCAR's XFINITY Series.
He will make his first start since his injury next week here at DIS. He's a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 and considered one of the sport's best on the big superspeedways, where NASCAR mandates the use of restrictor plates to limit speeds.
Retirement has been on his mind, Earnhardt admitted, even before last season's setback. But he said the injury made him realize that it might now be best to put off such thoughts until he knows his health isn't a concern. Earnhardt said in December that he hoped to sit down and discuss a contract extension before the '17 season got underway.
"I've been trying over the last year or two to put a number on it, say, 'This is when I'm going to retire,'" he said. "'This will be the year or the day or the age.' But I've decided that maybe it's best that I don't. Considering my health, I can't even think about putting a date on it because I don't know what's going to happen to me going forward.
"I want to get a couple of races under my belt, a couple of months, and then we'll sit down and say, 'You know, if everything is going great and we haven't had any issues, I'm confident to continue to race.'"
Earnhardt has twice signed five-year contracts with HMS – the first from 2008 through '12 and the most recent, an extension which ran from 2013-17.
Hendrick Motorsports also fields Monster Energy Series teams for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott.
Earnhardt Jr. returns to action in Daytona practice
Great patience surpassed high anticipation surrounding Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s return to the race track Saturday morning at Daytona International Speedway.
Earnhardt's Hendrick Motorsports crew was still working feverishly on his No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet in the garage area as his competitors rolled out for Daytona 500 opening practice. Earnhardt, meanwhile, stood back still wearing a ball cap, his arms crossed as he alternated between glancing at the scoring screen and watching his team prep the car -- computers on the roof, hood up.
About 30-40 fans lined up four- and five-deep in the fan area behind the garage while a dozen photographers waited just outside his stall. The two-time Daytona 500 winner put his helmet on 30 minutes into the session and climbed into the car for his first official practice laps since July of 2016. (He missed the final 18 premier series races of 2016 because of a concussion.)
And then just as it looked like he would join competition for the first time in seven months, a caution flag came out for debris.
Earnhardt was the 36th car to roll onto the track, nearly 50 minutes into the almost four-hour session. His first lap was 17th-fastest at 190.504 mph.
NASCAR expands concussion protocol
NASCAR today announced updates to its concussion protocol for competitors, adding a consistent screening tool for all venues and increasing available neurological support for race event weekends through its new partnership with AMR.
"NASCAR has worked very closely with the industry to ensure our concussion protocol reflects emerging best practices in this rapidly developing area of sports medicine," said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. "We will continue to utilize relationships we’ve had for years with leaders in the neurological research field who helped to shape these updates."
NASCAR's protocol now includes:
• As part of the new rule regarding damaged vehicles, a driver whose car sustains damage from an accident or contact of any kind and goes behind the pit wall or to the garage is required to visit the Infield Care Center to be evaluated.
• The medical portion of NASCAR's Event Standards now require that Infield Care Center physicians incorporate the SCAT-3 diagnostic tool in screening for head injuries.
• AMR will provide on-site neurological consultative support at select NASCAR events during the 2017 season and will work directly with NASCAR in the continued development of concussion protocol.
The new protocol goes into effect immediately for all NASCAR national series.
Updated deterrence system aims to 'police within the event'
NASCAR competition officials issued an updated deterrence system Thursday for its three national series, shifting toward an officiating process that penalizes pre-race infractions within a given race weekend. The updated system is months in the making, with the sanctioning body and teams working concurrently on the new procedures.
The move was one of several fundamental changes made to the penalty structure ahead of on-track activity this week at Daytona International Speedway.
The new system replaces the P1-through-P6 penalty classification which had been in effect since the start of the 2014 season. The new structure grades significant penalties into Levels 1 and 2, both of which involve points deductions and crew chief or team member suspensions that increase with a given violation's severity.
Elton Sawyer, NASCAR Vice President of Officiating and Technical Inspection, said that in the event that less severe infractions are found before a race, teams or crew members would be disciplined from a menu of penalty options available to NASCAR's three series directors. Those range from the loss of practice time to loss of lap(s) at the start of a race.
"Our goal was to be able to, more like football or basketball or any sporting event to where we could officiate and police within the event," Sawyer told NASCAR.com. "I think the real message is that we want to get these infractions, the smaller infractions, we want to get them corrected at the race track.
"It's very similar to a 15-yard penalty. If you can get three 15-yard penalties and you can still win the game or drive down and score a touchdown, then good for you. If we can issue these penalties and you lose pit selection or you start at the back or a drive-through (penalty), and you can still come back and win the race, well then we feel like what that infraction was, the penalty fits the crime."
A chief reasoning behind the updated policy is to mete out potential penalties more closely to the time – and at the event – in which they occur.
"The Tuesday penalties, they wouldn't necessarily go away," Sawyer told NASCAR.com. "We're hoping that we don't have to write those penalties. That's not what we look forward to. We want all the positive storylines to be around the excitement of the race, and as the stewards of the sport -- or the umpires, if you will -- we want to kind of be in the background. But we have a role and responsibility in this as well to make sure it's a level playing field for all."
The updates also detail the schematics of a new pre-race inspection protocol, which requires that vehicles must proceed through all four inspection stations, regardless of whether issues are found in any stage in the process. Fixes must now be made in each team's garage stall, rather than off to the side of any given station, and then vehicles must proceed through all four inspection sites again.
Sawyer said that the additional time it takes to make a full inspection pass serves as a deterrent for teams, which could miss portions of practice or qualifying in the event of an issue. Eliminating repairs made off to the side of inspection stations also tightens up any gray areas on the fringes of the garage.
"I think it's fair to say that if we make them go back to the garage, then that's a central location for all cars to be fixed," Sawyer told NASCAR.com. "They know they have to come back through every station again, so it does put the deterrent back on the teams and puts the responsibility back on the teams to present their vehicles in compliance with the rule book."
Among the other highlights from Thursday's updates to the rule book:
• The penalty structure for violations that rise to the L1 or L2 level were unveiled, subject to enforcement at the following event(s):
L1 penalties concern areas of minimum heights and weights, the Laser Inspection Station (LIS), gear ratios, and flagrant lug nut violations where 17 or fewer are properly secured. L2 penalties involve more egregious infractions concerning tampering with the three "no man's land" technical areas of tires, engine and fuel. Major safety violations, the use of telemetry or traction control, plus breaches of the testing policy also fall under the L2 designation.
Penalty options for all three NASCAR national series call for the deduction of 10 to 40 points for L1 violations and 75 points for L2 infractions. In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, L1 penalties call for crew chief or team member suspensions for 1 to 3 races, plus a $25,000 to $75,000 fine. L2 penalties in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series come with a six-race suspension and fines ranging from $100,000 to $200,000.
The disciplinary action is scaled back in the other two national series. In the NASCAR XFINITY Series, L1 penalties will result in the same one- to three-race suspension range, but with fines from $10,000-$40,000. L2 violations in XFINITY events also come with a six-race suspension guideline, but a $50,000-$100,000 range for fines.
In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, L1 penalties carry a one- or two-race suspension with fines from $5,000 to $20,000. L2 infractions will result in a four-race suspension with monetary penalties of $25,000 to $50,000.
• Specific penalties were outlined for lug-nut and LIS violations in the Monster Energy Series.
LIS infractions discovered after Coors Light Pole Qualifying will result in a team's time being disallowed. Post-race, the violation falls under an L1 heading with a three-race crew chief suspension, a $65,000 fine and the loss of 35 championship points.
Teams with one improperly attached or missing lug nut post-race are subject to a $10,000 fine. That fine doubles and includes a one-race suspension for the crew chief if two lug nuts are improperly attached or missing. If three or more lug nuts are in violation of the rules, the penalty rises to the L1 level with three-race suspension for the crew chief, a $65,000 fine and the deduction of 35 championship points.
• "Encumbered" finishes -- a rules concept introduced before the Monster Energy Series' playoffs last year -- will remain in effect this season for post-race L1 and L2 violations. The rules allow a victory to stand in the event of an infraction, but a winning team will be stripped of the benefits associated with the win.
• The list of pre-race penalties within a race weekend at the series directors' disposal, in order of increasing severity: Loss of annual "hard card" credential, loss of practice time, loss of pit selection position, tail of the field penalty, a green-flag pass-through on pit road after the initial start, a green-flag stop-and-go in the pits after the start, and lap(s) penalty.
• Sawyer said that NASCAR competition officials will continue the practice of taking select cars back to the R&D center for further inspection after a race weekend.
Full stage lengths for every race revealed
NASCAR today announced the 2017 stage lengths for each race in all three of its national series. A number of factors went into determining the lap count for Stage 1, Stage 2 and the Final Stage of each race, with a singular goal in mind -- the best racing for NASCAR fans.
"Every track is unique for its characteristics in length, surface and overall racing conditions," said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. "We worked closely with race teams on expected fuel and tire runs over the entirety of an event when considering stage lengths. And in the end, stage lengths were decided based upon what would provide the best race for fans."
Last week, NASCAR announced the stage lengths for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season-opening DAYTONA 500 (Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). For "The Great American Race," the stages are scheduled to end on Lap 60, Lap 120 and Lap 200.
For the full list of stages for the remainder of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, as well as the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series seasons, see below.
* Note: Laps listed below are what lap each segment will end
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race Stage 1 Stage 2 Final Stage
Daytona 60 120 200
Atlanta 85 170 325
Las Vegas 80 160 267
Phoenix 75 150 312
Auto Club 60 120 200
Martinsville 130 260 500
Texas 85 170 334
Bristol 125 250 500
Richmond 100 200 400
Talladega 55 110 188
Kansas 80 160 267
Charlotte 115 230 400
Dover 120 240 400
Pocono 50 100 160
Michigan 60 120 200
Sonoma 25 50 110
Daytona-2 40 80 160
Kentucky 80 160 267
New Hampshire 75 150 301
Indianapolis 50 100 160
Pocono-2 50 100 160
Watkins Glen 20 40 90
Michigan-2 60 120 200
Bristol-2 125 250 500
Darlington 100 200 367
Richmond-2 100 200 400
Chicagoland 80 160 267
New Hampshire-2 75 150 300
Dover-2 120 240 400
Charlotte-2 90 180 334
Talladega-2 55 110 188
Kansas-2 80 160 267
Martinsville-2 130 260 500
Texas-2 85 170 334
Phoenix-2 75 150 312
Miami 80 160 267.
What's in a Number? Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Daytona 500 dominance
The 59th annual Daytona 500 is just around the corner, so we sifted through the numbers on Racing Reference to find some interesting tidbits for you to chew on while you wait for the Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) running of The Great American Race.
10: Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads active drivers with 10 victories on restrictor-plate tracks. That's double the amount for the next-closest competitors, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, who have five apiece. Two of Junior's 10 restrictor-plate wins have come in the Daytona 500, his last being in 2014.
9: Dale Earnhardt Jr. also leads active drivers with nine second-place finishes in restrictor-plate races. Tony Stewart had eight, followed by Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson all tied at six apiece. So in 19 of Junior's 67 restrictor-plate races, he has finished either in first or second place.
1967: The last time the Daytona 500 was run on Feb. 26 was 1967, and the winner was Mario Andretti. It was Andretti's only win in 14 NASCAR premier series starts. He drove for Holman-Moody and beat Fred Lorenzen in a race that ended under caution. Andretti, of course, was better known for his open-wheel career.
No. 11: When Andretti won the Daytona 500 he was driving the No. 11 car. That number has been on the Daytona 500-winning car just two other times: In 1977, eventual NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough drove it to Victory Lane. Last year, Denny Hamlin won in the race's closest finish ever (.010 seconds over Martin Truex Jr.).
22: The number of DNFs for Michael Waltrip in his restrictor-plate racing career, tying him with Bobby Labonte for third-most all-time. However, Waltrip has the most starts in restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega with 108 and has won four times, including twice in the Daytona 500 (2001 and '03). Waltrip will be making the final start of his career in this year's Daytona 500.
NASCAR will not permit damaged race cars to return to track
NASCAR will not permit damaged race cars to return to the track this season unless the repairs can be made on pit road within a tight window.
The ban on wrecked race cars continuing to compete was announced Wednesday in a series of a rule updates for the 2017 season.
Beginning later this month at Daytona, if a car receives enough damage during an on-track incident that it must go to the garage for repairs, the team will not be allowed to repair it in an effort to get back on track. Damaged vehicles can be repaired on pit road during a five-minute cumulative time limit.
Under the new process:
- Body repairs are limited to the removal or reattachment of original parts with fasteners and tape.
- Rods and supports may be used to reinforce original panels.
- New or previously unused body panels are prohibited.
NASCAR said the new rule prevents severely damaged race cars from returning to the track and creating a safety hazard for other teams. Under NASCAR's new format of running races in stages, it also means a car that wrecks in an early stage won't be eligible to return for the final race-winning stage.
Not allowing teams to repair cars in the garage should be a significant saving on costs for teams.
It also could have cost Jimmie Johnson the 2009 title. He was involved in an early accident at Texas Motor Speedway, and his crew worked feverishly in the garage to make enough repairs to get Johnson back on the track. That effort by the Hendrick Motorsports crew is widely considered to have saved his title chances.
NASCAR also announced that it will have a traveling safety crew starting this season, creating a consistent medical staff that drivers have been pushing for the last several years.
The safety crew will come from American Medical Response and ensure that a physician and paramedics are in the safety vehicle at all Monster Energy Cup events. AMR will also provide a small group that will travel to each race, and a physician who will serve as NASCAR's primary doctor.
NASCAR had long relied on local emergency crews to treat drivers while rival series have dedicated teams. IndyCar's team is lauded as the best in the business, and is credited with saving James Hinchcliffe's life when he crashed during a 2015 practice for the Indianapolis 500. That accident raised another round of calls from NASCAR drivers for a consistent and regular crew.
''This partnership further strengthens NASCAR's medical response capability, making our well-established, medical response system even better,'' said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. ''AMR is a leader in the emergency services sector, and its doctors and paramedics add another layer of expertise to the immediate response team.''
AMR will position doctors and paramedics in a chase vehicle along with two NASCAR Track Services team members for on-track incidents.
Length of stages announced for Daytona
This year's Daytona 500 will consist of two 60-lap stages, followed by a final 80-lap stage to make up the 200 scheduled laps in the annual season-opening race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The Daytona 500 is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
NASCAR officials announced last month that all points-paying races in its three national series -- Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series -- would consist of three stages and that the format change would include the awarding of points to the top 10 drivers after the first two stages.
Points will be awarded in much the same fashion as previous years upon the completion of the third and final stage.
Upon the completion of each of the first two stages, drivers finishing first through 10th will be awarded additional points (10th for first, nine for second, etc.) that will be included in their final total for that race only.
Additionally, one point per stage win will be awarded to those drivers qualifying for the 10-race playoff at the end of the season. Race-winning drivers also will earn five bonus points per win to be applied following the completion of the regular season.
Stage lengths for the season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 Truck Series race and Powershares QQQ 300 XFINITY Series race have also been announced.
The first and second stages of the Camping World Truck Series race will be 20 laps each, with a 60-lap final stage to round out the 100-lap event (not including any additional laps should the race go into overtime).
Stages 1 and 2 of the XFINITY Series race have been set at 30 laps, while the final stage will be 60 laps (also not including any additional laps should the race go into overtime).
Stage lengths for most races beyond the Daytona 500 have yet to be announced.
NASCAR announces updated damaged vehicle policy
Repairing damaged vehicles during a NASCAR race sometimes is as common a sight as pit stops, restarts and checkered flags.
But the extent to which teams can make repairs will be more tightly policed beginning with the 2017 season.
NASCAR officials unveiled a new Damaged Vehicle Policy on Wednesday at the sanctioning body's Research & Development Center, a policy that will be enforced in all three national series -- Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series.
Under the guidelines, teams no longer will be allowed to replace damaged body parts that are the result of accidents or contact. Repairs, such as fixing damaged sheet metal, will be allowed; however, teams will be given five minutes to fix damage once they enter pit road. If the damage requires the car to go behind pit wall or to the garage for repairs, the car will not be allowed to return to the race. Also, if the repairs take longer than the five minutes allowed, the car will not be permitted to return to the race.
Once repairs have been made, a car is still required to maintain the minimum speed determined for that event. Once that has been accomplished, the five-minute clock is reset in case the car needs to come back down pit road.
Previously, teams were allowed to replace any damaged panels or parts with no time limit and no penalty. Quarter panels, splitters, hoods and deck lids damaged in accidents were often removed and replaced. Some repairs were completed on pit road; more extensive damage often meant a trip to the garage. Each time, the driver was sent back out onto the track as quickly as possible.
That will no longer be the case.
"We have a lot of cars that are going back on the track that end up in 38th position, for instance, that probably don't need to be out there from a safety and competition aspect," Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told NASCAR.com, "because they always tend to bring out more yellows with stuff falling off."
Heavily damaged cars that need extensive repairs that can't be done on pit road, Miller said, "are essentially going to be out of the race.
"There will be many circumstances and many things happen and you will continue to see it where cars are in wrecks and never go to the garage area. They come down pit road, they work on things … and they go back out and make minimum speed. They continue to work on the car as the race goes on. That will still completely be in play."
Miller said the move is to help officials, who didn't often see what goes on in the garage but can better observe repairs on pit road.
Miller has worked "on the other side of the fence" as a crew chief and is aware of the hurried atmosphere surrounding a car undergoing significant repairs in the garage.
"I've been involved in crash repairs and that's not a great situation down there in the garage with 20 people running around, oil leaking on the floor, things catching on fire and sharp sheet metal being cut off," he said. "It's a fairly unsafe situation. And at times it would be unsafe really for the driver to get back in a car that was damaged that heavily. There's nothing that doesn't come with some downside, but I think there is a lot of upside to where we are going with this."
Safety is a crucial component of the policy, and for any vehicle undergoing repairs, the integrity of the safety systems "must be maintained."
Teams will be allowed to correct mechanical or electrical failures that aren't the result of an accident or contact without penalty. Such repairs may be done on pit road or in the garage area, and the five-minute clock will not be in play in those instances.
"We're not going to tell a guy who breaks his transmission at Watkins Glen or Pocono, for instance, and coasts into the garage area that he's out," Miller said. "Because that doesn't create an unsafe situation; that is a mechanical failure.
"It's more about crashed vehicles and all that is involved with that, from the crew guys to the drivers to dropping more debris on the track, which always happens. … So there are exceptions for mechanical failures, those things can be rectified in the garage. That's going to be up to the series director's discretion to make those calls, but it's not going to be that difficult."
There will be modifications to at least two pit-road penalties under the policy for those making repairs. Any driver receiving a pit-road speeding penalty (entry or exit) will lose 15 seconds from the five-minute clock. Any team sending too many men over the wall will result in that car being removed from the race.
"Speeding comes with an additional penalty because speeding in or out is a way to circumvent the clock," Miller said.
When a car is damaged and repairs are made on pit road, teams know they will be at the tail end of the longest line, so extra men often go over the wall. (Each team is allowed six to work on the car and one to service the driver and/or windshield.)
"That's another thing we discussed with the teams and internally," he said. "Too many men over the wall is also defeating the purpose of the policy; it would encourage teams to bring extra people well-versed in going over the wall to repair cars. So too many men over the wall just has to signal the end of that car's day."
What will race fans see with the new policy? It's what they won't see, Miller said, that is behind the change.
"What they won't see is stuff we don't like to see, cars running around out there with stuff flying off," he said. "We don't like that because it creates yellows, it creates debris for other cars to run over, it creates a dangerous situation. That's what they won't see. What they will see are quality cars on the race track racing one another."
The 2017 NASCAR season gets underway Feb. 24-26 with all three national series competing at Daytona International Speedway. The Daytona 500, the season's first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points race of the year, is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets 'Simpsons' treatment
(Pic) Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans watching Super Bowl LI on Sunday may have been surprised to see their favorite driver as a "Simpsons" cartoon character. Turns out the driver was surprised as well.
A short clip on FOX used animated series "The Simpsons" to promote the upcoming Daytona 500 on Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), and Earnhardt Jr. was in the driver's seat.
@AmyEarnhardt : Holy smokes Dale Jr Simpson wth
@AmyEarnhardt : Neither one of us were expecting that! ??
Apparently, Junior's camp gave the OK while Dale and wife Amy were attending to more important matters.
@MikeDavis88 : Y'all were honeymooning. Sorry. ?? https://twitter.com/amyearnhardt/status/828426440454598656 …
Earnhardt Jr. to join broadcast booth for The Clash at Daytona
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will serve as a guest analyst during the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona on Feb. 18, FS1 announced on Race Hub Thursday. The Hendrick Motorsports driver will join full-time FOX analysts Darrell Waltrip, Mike Joy and former teammate Jeff Gordon in the broadcast booth.
This isn’t Earnhardt’s first time in the booth; he called the premier series events at Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville Speedway in the NBC booth in October. He also offered commentary during the XFINITY event at Michigan International Speedway on June 11, 2015, marking his television debut.
Several other Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers have joined the broadcast group for XFINITY races, including Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer.
Alex Bowman, who qualified for The Clash (Feb. 18, 8 p.m. ET, FS1) with a Phoenix pole last season while filling in for Earnhardt, was previously announced as the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for the 187.5-mile event under the lights. After missing the final 18 races of 2016 due to concussion-like symptoms, Earnhardt will make his return to racing in the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX).
Teams leave Phoenix test ready to dissect data
Everyone had their checklists, some longer than others, and all left with more information than when they arrived.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams wrapped up a two-day organizational test here at Phoenix Raceway on Wednesday, and now all that data is in the hands of laptop-wielding engineers. Let the deciphering begin. It will be six weeks before teams return to put to use the majority of what was learned here.
"We … kind of put a test plan together based on all the different departments within Team Penske," said Todd Gordon, crew chief of the No. 22 Ford driven by Joey Logano. "Some of the stuff the aero group wants to test; there's stuff the motor group wants to test, there's stuff that we as the competition side in mechanical want to test. It's how you take all those pieces and put them into a test plan so that we can actually gather data."
Logano won here last November; this week's test, with a different rules package, produced somewhat similar results. You don't "win" a test, but Logano did his best. His Ford was among the fastest both days.
Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates), Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were also quick. Consistently so.
Such testing opportunities are limited – the organizational test was the first of only five provided to teams for the 2017 season. Another won't arrive until midpoint of the regular season, at New Hampshire at the end of May. Twelve races, nearly half a season's worth, will have been run by then.
"On a race weekend we can gather driver feedback but at a place like this we can gather all sorts of measurements on the car," Gordon said. "We're working through all the pieces that are hard to quantify when you don't have a data system on it.
"That's the biggest part here. I've gone through brake cooling pieces because it's a braking race track. Tire usage and what's going on there. Just gather data that we can bring forward to the next race weekend and look at in our development of the package that we'll come back with."
Thirteen teams couldn't pass up the chance to get a fender up on the competition. There were rookies and veterans and those who fall in between.
Harvick was among those on hand, getting acquainted with his tea'ms No. 4 entry that now carries the blue oval of Ford. An eight-time winner at Phoenix, Harvick knows what winning requires at the 1-mile track.
A new manufacturer and new aero package raises questions that require answers.
"The main thing is we have a starting point now," Harvick said. "There's not a lot of guessing anymore. You know what's going on and where you're at; going around the race track is what we needed to be doing so that we knew where to work from here."
There's little difference in driving a Ford versus driving a Chevrolet, he said. "But the balance of the car is definitely different than what we've had in the past.
"I think there's just not one reason for that though and I think that's a little bit of where we’re at right now. Just trying to say 'alright, is it the balance on the car? Is it the balance with the new aero package?' But that doesn't matter. Now you know the problems you're going to fight."
Whatever it is, he said, "is irrelevant at this point. It's just fixing those problems and start moving forward."
Some drivers want to be privy to the changes made on their cars as teams work through their checklists. Others do not. Dale Earnhardt Jr. falls into the latter category. Not because he does'nt care, but it's a carryover, he said, from his Late Model racing days. If you know the changes ahead of time, it might impact your feedback to your crew chief.
"A lot of times when we go through a certain section of changes I ask Greg (Ives, crew chief) not to give me what we're doing so I'm giving him direct, unfiltered feedback," Earnhardt said. "Then, when we get done, at the end of the day we'll go through the changes and comments. Then I can start to understand why those comments are the way they are, why I said what I said, start to understand how that particular change is working with the car."
Earnhardt missed the final 18 races of the ’16 season, the result of concussion-like symptoms following a pair of crashes. Getting back in the car this week wasn't a chore.
"I feel like I've had my vacation and it was over a long time ago," he said, "and I'm ready to go back to work."
Watch: Part 2 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. docuseries
(Video) The second episode of "Unfinished Business," a six-part series that documents Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s return to competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, was released Tuesday on the Nationwide 88 Facebook page.
Nationwide is the primary sponsor of Earnhardt's No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and came up with the idea for the series.
In Chapter 2: The Art of the Helmet, Earnhardt goes deep on the reasoning behind his colorful race helmets, and the man who designs the skull.
The episodes will air on Tuesdays between now and the Feb. 26 Daytona 500 (two episodes will air the final week).
Dale Jr. back behind the wheel at Phoenix test
Dale Earnhardt Jr., sidelined for the second half of the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, climbed back behind the wheel of a race car here at Phoenix Raceway shortly before 11 a.m. ET.
It was his first time in a race car since a private test at Darlington Raceway in December, a necessity to receive medical clearance to return to competition.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver and fan favorite is one of more than one dozen drivers taking part in a two-day organizational test for teams at the 1-mile track. His No. 88 Chevrolet was the first to put in a lap Tuesday morning, but others weren't far behind in rolling out onto the track.
"What are you guys doing?" Earnhardt asked reporters waiting outside his team's garage stall. Conversations with those waiting for his return were brief, and before long Earnhardt, 42, was easing his way into his vehicle.
Earnhardt missed the final 18 races of the '16 season after suffering concussion-like symptoms that came on the heels of on-track incidents at Michigan and Daytona. Alex Bowman and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon replaced Earnhardt for the remainder of the season.
Bowman was also on hand for Hendrick Motorsports as a test driver.
Harvick, Junior, Suarez highlight crucial preseason Phoenix test
Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick has won six of the last nine races at Phoenix International Raceway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Which is why, teammate Clint Bowyer said, it makes sense for the 2014 champion to represent SHR during next week’s organizational test at the 1-mile track located in Avondale, Arizona.
The two-day test is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 31-Feb. 1.
Only one team per organization is allowed to participate in NASCAR organizational tests and Bowyer, being the new kid on the SHR block, no doubt could use the seat time as he begins the next chapter in his racing career.
"I probably could have really pushed and pouted and tried to get that test, but ultimately here’s a guy that’s won out there eight times," said Bowyer, one of four drivers for SHR. "I would be a fool not to let him go out there and establish that baseline for all of us across the board, and then go out and try to beat him and everybody else with it.
"That’s the kind of teamwork that you have to have and that you can have when you’re at an organization like this -- as big as it is and the depth that it has with the drivers."
Bowyer joined SHR after a one-year stint with the now-defunct HScott Motorsports. He replaces team co-owner/driver Tony Stewart in the organization’s No. 14 entry. Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick round out the SHR driver lineup for 2017.
Thirteen Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams are scheduled to participate in the two-day test. Among them are Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, and Daniel Suarez, driver of the No. 19 Toyota, for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Earnhardt Jr., the series' most popular driver and for many the face of the sport, missed the final 18 races of the 2016 season due to concussion-like symptoms. His last official start came July 9 at Kentucky Speedway.
"Being out of the car, you hope you can jump back in … and not miss a beat," Earnhardt said. "But … this is the top series and any time you’re away you’re getting behind.
"I’m really anxious and curious where we shake up early in the season, how competitive we can be (and) what, if any, learning curve there is for me."
Suarez, the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, was scheduled to defend his title this year. The surprising departure of Carl Edwards, however, expedited Suarez's advancement into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The test will be the first for many teams with NASCAR’s newest rules package. Four teams took part in a two-day Goodyear tire test earlier this month at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the ’17 setup.
This year’s race package features reductions in the size of the splitter and spoiler height, a tapered rear deck fin and zero net rear steer.
On the safety front, enhancements include anti-intrusion plating and toe board foam in the footbox area of the car, the addition of a roof hatch and changes in steering column mounting. The structural changes resulted in NASCAR increasing the minimum vehicle weight by 20 pounds for all events.
The safety moves are mandatory for competition on superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega) and optional for all other venues. They will become mandatory for all tracks in 2018.
Other drivers scheduled to attend the test are Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing), Ty Dillon (Germain Racing), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing), Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing), Joey Logano (Team Penske), Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates), Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports), AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing), Erik Jones (Furniture Row Racing) and Michael McDowell (Leavine Family Racing).
Additional organizational tests for 2017 are slated for New Hampshire Motor Speedway (May 30-31), Chicagoland Speedway (Aug. 15-16), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 10-11) and Homestead Miami Speedway (Oct. 24-25).
A single-day open test for NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series teams is set for May 2 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Nationwide reveals primary races with Dale Jr., 88 team
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back behind the wheel of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, much to the delight of Junior Nation.
As activity for the upcoming season ramps up with media tour appearances, sponsor shoots and much more, Nationwide has unveiled the slate of races for which the insurance company will serve as the primary sponsor for the No. 88 team.
Below is the list of the 21 races that Nationwide will be the primary sponsor on the No. 88 -- including the exhibition event of the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona in which Alex Bowman will pilot the car (which is noted with an asterisk*).
2017 Nationwide primary races on the No. 88 car Date Track
February 18 The Clash at Daytona*
February 26 Daytona International Speedway
March 5 Atlanta Motor Speedway
March 12 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
April 23 Bristol Motor Speedway
April 30 Richmond International Raceway
May 7 Talladega Superspeedway
May 28 Charlotte Motor Speedway
June 4 Dover International Speedway
July 1 Daytona International Speedway
July 8 Kentucky Speedway
July 16 New Hampshire Motor Speedway
July 23 Indianapolis Motor Speedway
July 30 Pocono Raceway
September 3 Darlington Raceway
September 24 New Hampshire Motor Speedway
October 1 Dover International Speedway
October 22 Kansas Speedway
October 29 Martinsville Speedway
November 5 Texas Motor Speedway
November 12 Phoenix International Raceway.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. thrilled to be cleared for NASCAR return
There is nothing more tedious to a NASCAR driver than preseason promotional work, which can often be full-day photo shoots and interview sessions. It can be the most dreaded part of the job.
Consider Dale Earnhardt Jr. the rare exception. His turn Wednesday at the Charlotte Convention Center was like the first day of summer vacation for NASCAR’s most popular driver.
He was thrilled to be back at work after missing the second half of last season with a concussion.
“I’m excited to be here for media day, which is new for me this year,” he said. “I’m excited for the season. It can’t get here fast enough.”
Earnhardt was cleared to get back in a race car in December, shortly before he married his longtime girlfriend, Amy Reimann, on New Year's Eve and then embarked on a lengthy Hawaiian honeymoon. All this has him in a fantastic mood, eager not only to test drive next week at Phoenix but get to Florida next month for the season-opening Daytona 500.
All the time out of the race car gave Earnhardt time to reflect, and he recognizes how much life has changed.
"Getting married has been incredible. I wish I had figured all this out sooner," Earnhardt said. "I'm frustrated with myself that I took so long to grow up because I've got an amazing wife and she has changed my life. She has really helped me as a person become better on all fronts.
"Personally, in all my friendships and relationships, how I interact with people and meet people and obviously in my professional life she has helped me as a driver."
Earnhardt has suffered numerous concussions in his career, and his Hall of Fame father, the late Dale Earnhardt, was killed in a crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. As he was sidelined for 18 races last year, many wondered if he would ever get back in a race car.
But Earnhardt worked through an intense recovery process in which he challenged his brain -- and his desire to race.
"Mentally, you have to make the decision if you want to keep racing, and if you want to keep racing you've got to go in 100 per cent," Earnhardt said. "This is the top elite series for motorsports in North America. If you want to be out there you can't do it without 100 per cent. I had to answer a lot of personal questions of myself and buy in. All that was a big process and I'm really happy with what I've decided to do."
Retirement, he insists, is a decision he wants to make on his own and not because a doctor tells him he can't medically compete any longer.
"I don't know when I'm going to stop driving," he said. "I want to be able to make that choice and not have it made for me."
Earnhardt learned quickly how the sport can just go on without someone, even the 14-time most popular driver. He has grown up in NASCAR, and being relegated to spectator was difficult. He initially stayed at home and tweeted a bit during the races. Then he began showing up at the track and watching events from his Hendrick Motorsports pit box.
By the end of the year, he was in the broadcast booth as a guest analyst.
All the different roles made him appreciate his job much more.
"As a society we get better and better at complaining and drivers aren't any different," Earnhardt said. "We moan and complain about everything, but when you get the chance to step back and watch it -- it was a really eye-opening experience to see, almost an out-of-body experience. I got to see the drivers from a different point and got to see the whole sport from a different point of view.
"All that stuff really showed me how much I have going for me and how fun this really is. Driving the cars is fun. Doing the photo shoots, making the commercials, talking to the media, all those things are fun. You can make it not be fun if you want to and sometimes we've got a tendency to do that."
Junior: 'Season can't get here fast enough'
The Daytona 500 may be 32 days away, but that's not soon enough for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"I'm excited to be here for media day, which is new for me," Earnhardt said Wednesday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Usually you tell everybody Daytona will get here when it gets here. But I'm excited about the season. It can't get here fast enough."
The Hendrick Motorsports driver will be making his return to the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this season after missing 18 races last year with concussion-related symptoms.
The annual Charlotte Media Tour generally is the first opportunity for members of the media to interview drivers in more than a month. For Junior, it had extra significance given that he missed so many races.
Earnhardt also said it was an "out-of-body experience" having to watch the garage function without him there.
Beard wars: Jimmie Johnson vs. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
(Pic) Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won't compete against each other on track until next month at Daytona International Speedway, but that doesn't mean the Hendrick Motorsports teammates aren't already trying to best one another.
Johnson, the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, may have another trophy to add to his collection after stomping on the field in the beard category when he showed up at the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour on Tuesday, sporting a hefty mountain man look.
Junior, who typically sports a thick man mane of his own, would like to compete with Johnson in the face game, but conceded the W to Johnson on Wednesday during his media session.
"Jimmie, I told him. He sent me a picture of him skiing and he said 'Man, I'm getting ready to know this beard off.' I said, 'You better have that in Daytona, because you'll get more drafting help. That's a bad ass beard and I'd keep it if I were you,' " said Earnhardt. "He's hung onto it. I don't know if he's taking my advice or what. I'm certainly pro-beard. If I'd have known he was going to come so strong, I would've worked on mine a little more.
"Amy's got me keeping it pretty short these days. I certainly envy what Jimmie's got going on, it's awesome."
With 32 days left before the Daytona 500, there's still plenty of time for Earnhardt to up the ante.
What do you think -- does Johnson have the silver (gray?) standard for facial hair right now, or is Junior just being nice?