Jerry Bonkowski

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Jeffrey Earnhardt doing all he can to keep famous surname going in NASCAR Cup

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His famous uncle may have retired at the end of the 2017 season, but Jeffrey Earnhardt is doing all he can to keep the Earnhardt surname going in NASCAR in 2018.

Earnhardt, who lost his ride last month when The Motorsports Group parted ways with partner Circle Sport, is pursuing sponsorship for a 2018 Cup ride.

Earnhardt is a fourth-generation racer, preceded by great-grandfather Ralph, grandfather Dale Sr., father Kerry and uncle Dale Jr.

If the youngest member of the Earnhardt racing clan does not appear in the Daytona 500 — or any race in 2018, for that matter — it would mark the first time since 1975 that a member of the famous Earnhardt family has not appeared in at least one Cup race in a season.

It would also be the first time since 1979 that there hasn’t been an Earnhardt who has raced full-time in the Cup ranks.

According to a post on Jeffrey Earnhardt’s Facebook page by a crew member, “We found an incredible opportunity that requires a certain level of sponsorship to make things work. In a very short period of time we’ve put together most of the puzzle. Out of respect for all involved Jeffrey has to maintain confidentiality until there is 100% certainty in sponsorship. With the Daytona 500 not far away this deal has to come together in weeks not months. Urgency to execute is understatement.”

 

The one and only time Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced in a Ford and not a Chevy

Photo courtesy Dale Earnhardt Jr. Twitter account
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In addition to being a great race car driver – well, now-retired, that is – one of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s best attributes is he’s one of the best storytellers in NASCAR.

He could easily write several books – and still have plenty of material left over for more, his tales are so numerous and prolific — and enjoyable.

We awoke Sunday morning to Earnhardt taking to Periscope to remember the late Bobby Hamilton, who passed away 11 years ago today.

And Junior told one of the best stories we’ve ever heard from him.

As he related, back in 1996 Earnhardt was racing Late Models at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. Even though his crew chief said to bring the car into the pits, Earnhardt wanted to make one final practice lap when all hell broke loose: a wreck occurred in front of him and as Earnhardt tried to avoid it by going low, he was rear-ended by another car, with both his and the other car bursting into flame.

The Speedway had a fire truck that responded to the scene, but it didn’t have any water or foam to put the fire out! As a result, both Earnhardt’s and the other driver’s cars “burned to the ground,” Earnhardt said. “Our cars were ruined. I had to haul that thing home, and we were done.”

Junior was uninjured, but still wanted to race. The problem was, he didn’t have a spare car.

Enter Hamilton, who offered Earnhardt a ride – in a Ford, decked out in Petty blue color and with the No. 43 on the door.

Earnhardt was in a major quandary. He never had driven a Ford before.

“I’m thinking, ‘I can’t drive it, because it’s a Ford,’” Earnhardt related on the Periscope video. “But I want to race real bad.

“So I’m calling my dad trying to see if I can get a hold of him and try to ask him if I can drive this Ford. It’s a Petty blue, because Bobby at the time I think must have been driving for Richard in the Cup Series and it had No. 43 on it.

“I couldn’t get a hold of dad, but I got a hold of dad’s general manager. … He said, ‘Yeah, go ahead and drive it. Just don’t talk about it and try not to make too big of a deal about it.’”

Earnhardt had to do some cosmetic alterations before he climbed inside.

First, he used duct tape to cover all Ford emblems – although he left the huge STP emblem on the hood.

Then, he used additional blue tape to cover the 4 on the door, leaving it to be just a “3”, the same number that his father raced in the Cup series.

Even thought the car’s previous driver, Casey Atwood, didn’t care for it, Earnhardt fell in love with his new ride and quickly took the lead.

He appeared ready to cruise to a win. He had lapped all but one car in the field.

And then disaster struck.

The transmission broke with 30 laps to go and what could have been Junior’s only win ever in anything other than a Chevrolet, wound up on the back end of a tow truck.

Even though Junior wasn’t happy with how the day ended, he certainly helped Hamilton feel good, as he sold the car after the race “for quite a bit of money,” Earnhardt said.

And thus ended Earnhardt’s first and only race in anything but a Chevrolet.

But it has to make you wonder, what might have happened if the trans didn’t explode and Junior won — in a Ford. Could history have turned out different?

“Bobby was a good man, so that’s my story,” Dale Jr. said in conclusion.

Great story, Junior. Keep ‘em coming.

Kyle Larson finishes New Zealand swing with win, earns 3 checkers in 4 races

Photo courtesy Kyle Larson Instragram page
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If he was a baseball player, Kyle Larson just completed a road trip with a fantastic .750 batting average – all home runs, you might say.

The NASCAR Cup star on Friday completed a four-race exhibition series racing his midget car in New Zealand – two other races were rained out – with a win Friday at Western Springs Speedway in Auckland, N.Z.

It was Larson’s third win in the four races he was able to compete in that race did not interfere. He spun out late in the only race he did not win.

Larson boarded a plane early today to fly back across the Pacific Ocean, destination Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he’ll take part in next week’s 32nd annual Chili Bowl.

Doug Richert leaves BK Racing after seven seasons as crew chief, R&D director

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After seven seasons with BK Racing as a crew chief and Director of Research and Development, Doug Richert has left the organization.

Richert’s wife, Robin, made the announcement on Facebook. Neither Richert, 57, nor his wife said what he would do next.

Richert, was crew chief for 21 races in 2017 for a rotating group of drivers that included Joey Gase, Gray Gaulding, Corey LaJoie, Stephen Leicht, Brett Moffitt and Ryan Sieg.

Richert first came to NASCAR in 1977 as a then-17-year-old. Three years later in 1980, at 20 years old, he served as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt’s first of what would eventually become a record-tying (along with Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson) seven NASCAR Cup championships.

Richert also led Greg Biffle to a runner-up crown to Tony Stewart in the 2005 NASCAR Cup championship.

On the NASCAR Cup level, Richert has served as crew chief for 560 races, being part of 13 wins, 66 top-5s, 119 top-10s and 5 poles. Three wins were with Earnhardt, while 10 were with Biffle.

Richert also spent 46 races as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series with one win (Biffle), six top-5s, 15 top-10s and 1 pole

He also spent 64 races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as a crew chief, being part of 12 wins (8 with Ron Hornaday Jr., 3 with Carl Edwards and 1 with Mike Skinner), 35 top-5s, 45 top-10s and 7 poles.

During his NASCAR career, Richert worked for a number of team owners including Rod Osterlund, Richard Childress, Jack Roush, Dale Earnhardt, Robert Yates, Joe Gibbs and Junior Johnson.

Chip Ganassi named grand marshal for Rolex 24 at Daytona

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Daytona is like a second home for Chip Ganassi, he’s there so often.

Not only is he there at Daytona International Speedway in February for NASCAR’s Speedweeks, and again for the early July races there, he’s also there quite a bit this month for this weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24, and then back again in a few weeks for the prestigious Rolex 24.

Now, the Pittsburgh native will receive yet another honor to add to his illustrious career as a motorsports team owner, and before that, as a competitive driver.

Ganassi, who owns teams in NASCAR Cup and the NASCAR Xfinity Series, IndyCar, the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA, was named Friday as grand marshal of the Rolex 24 sports car endurance race on Jan. 27-28.

Ganassi, who will field two cars in the race, has owned an IMSA team since 2004. Since its formation, Ganassi’s IMSA teams have won the Rolex 24 seven times: 2006, 2007, 2o08, 2011, 2013, 2015 and last year.

“This is a really big honor for me to be recognized by a race that has meant so much to me over my career, both as a driver and an owner,” Ganassi said.