How much has changed since Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to Hendrick

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)

One of the funnier NASCAR related commercials of the last decade turned out to partially predict the future.

Once upon a time, Dale Earnhardt Jr., still competing in the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc., starred in an ad where the driver announced he was changing his number from 8 to 6.7.

Chaos reigned in the 30-second spot as Earnhardt fans altered tattoos, cut down tailor-made hedges and mourned over rooms full of obsolete merchandise.

Then, on June 13, 2007, it became a reality.

That was the day Earnhardt really announced he would be changing his number – to 88 – and that after eight years of driving for the team his father founded, he would join Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.

You can now draw a line down the middle of Earnhardt’s Sprint Cup career. Eight full-time seasons with DEI, eight with Hendrick.

His eight seasons with DEI included 17 victories. He has nine wins with Hendrick, seven of them coming in the last two seasons. During the first eight Hendrick years Earnhardt has worked with five different crew chiefs, starting with Tony Eury Jr. and ending with Greg Ives in 2015.

The only constant for Earnhardt has been the Most Popular Driver award, which he has been given every season since 2003.

BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 15: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 NationalGuard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Lifelock 400 at the Michigan International Speedway on June 15, 2008 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won just once in his first four seasons with Hendrick. He claimed the 2008 spring race at Michigan. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

But how much else has changed in the sport in the eight years since arguably the biggest free agent move in NASCAR history?

2008 also marked the first year of Sprint being the title sponsor of the Cup series, following up Nextel’s four years of service. That was also the second season the Cup series used the Car of Tomorrow, or Gen Five car. It would be put out to pasture after six seasons in 2012.

During the era of the CoT, Earnhardt won only two races and teammate Jimmie Johnson claimed five of his six championships.

In the last eight years the format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup has been through three different iterations.

Then, only 12 drivers were included in the post-season. Now, 16 drivers are trimmed down to four over the course of 10 races.

In 2008, Mark Martin still had five seasons in front of him before finally retiring after 2013.

Clint Bowyer was in his third full-time season with Richard Childress Racing and wouldn’t join Michael Waltrip Racing for four more seasons. MWR competed in its first full-time Sprint Cup season in 2008 with David Reutimann driving the No. 00 and Waltrip in the No. 55. Reutimann hasn’t driven full-time since 2013 and MWR shut down at the end of 2015.

Tony Stewart, who Bowyer will replace in 2017, still called Joe Gibbs Racing home in 2008. The next year, he was off to Stewart-Haas Racing where he would claim his third Sprint Cup title in 2011.

Other drivers who raced for different teams in 2008 than they would in 2015 included:  Ryan Newman, Sam Hornish Jr. and Kurt Busch (Team Penske), Kevin Harvick (Richard Childress Racing), Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards,  David Ragan and Jamie McMurray (Roush Fenway Racing), Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Aric Almirola (DEI), Casey Mears (Hendrick), AJ Allmendinger and Brian Vickers (Red Bull Racing), Kasey Kahne (Evernham Motorsports) and David Gilliland (Robert Yates Racing).

CONCORD, NC - MAY 25: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on May 25, 2008 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
2008 was the final season of Evernham Motorsports before merging with Richard Petty Motorsports in 2009. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR).

Drivers who have retired, left NASCAR or the Sprint Cup Series since 2008 include: Martin, Terry Labonte, Bill Elliott, Gordon, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dave Blaney, Kyle Petty, Marcos Ambrose, Sterling Marlin, Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler (racing for Earnhardt at JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series).

Including Earnhardt, the only drivers who competed for the same teams in 2015 that they were in 2008 were Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle (Roush), Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin (JGR).

But probably the biggest signifier of the passage of time is in who the Gillette Young Guns were in 2008. The five drivers were Newman, Bowyer, Hamlin, Edwards, Kahne and Kurt Busch.

Those “Young Guns” are now all 35 years or older.

Earnhardt ended his association with Gillette after the 2006 season.

The former “Young Gun” is now enjoying his early 40s, which so far has included getting engaged to girlfriend Amy Reimann and having his best on-track success in more than a decade.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.

NASCAR Friday schedule at Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s new Cup Series aerodynamic package for short tracks and road courses will be tested in competition on a road circuit for the first time this weekend as the tour stops at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

All three major national series will be in action at the 3.41-mile, 20-turn track this weekend. The schedule begins Friday with practice for all three series and qualifying for Xfinity and Trucks.

MORE: Drivers say North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will be challenging

The Friday practice was added for Cup teams because of the new competition package, providing 50 minutes of on-track time for adjustments. Teams also will be racing with a new tire compound this weekend.

Chase Elliott (2021) and Ross Chastain (2022) are winners from the previous Cup races at COTA. Elliott won the inaugural event in a race shortened by rain, and Chastain won after a last-lap battle with AJ Allmendinger and Alex Bowman. The victory was Chastain’s first in the series.

A look at Friday’s schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning. Mostly sunny later. High of 87 with an 80% chance of rain.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)