What’s in a name with Sprint Cup cars? Saying goodbye to Amelia and perhaps a tradition

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s goodbye to his beloved “Amelia” – retired after crashing in the season’s first two restrictor-plate races — also was goodbye to monikers for his Sprint Cup cars.

“No, we’re not going to be naming cars anymore,” Earnhardt said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway when asked if he had waved goodbye when passing by the “car graveyard” on his property where Amelia sits. “I knew as soon as we did that, it sort of took off and put a lot of pressure on that car and the team.”

“Amelia” was named for legendary aviator Amelia Earhart after the car won at Talladega and Daytona in 2015 because it was the first name that came to mind for Earnhardt when he thought of someone who accomplished a significant and inspiring achievement.

It’s a long-running concept for NASCAR drivers to name their cars (see this 2007 story by NBC Sports.com’s Dustin Long). When he drove for crew chief Ray Evernham, Jeff Gordon’s favorite in the No. 24 stable was nicknamed “Blacker” (because of its dark paint scheme).

At Team Penske, Rusty Wallace once nicknamed his cars after they won races – ‘Midnight’ was coined after he won the 1992 night race at Richmond International Raceway. “Mad Max” was spawned by an August 2000 win at Michigan in which Wallace won after leading the most laps with a car that had finished second four times (“I was madder than hell”). The car from his final win at Martinsville Speedway in April 2004 was christened “Predator.”

But in the new era in which multicar teams churn out fleets of standardized cars with production-line efficiency, the days of having a “favorite” car have been confined to the dustbin of history. It’s become easier for teams to produce virtual duplicates in shape and speed, and the constant progression of development and technology makes cars outmoded much more quickly.

“These cars just don’t stick around long enough to get names,” Earnhardt said. “You used to race cars for years and years, and they would show a personality. These days, you only keep a car for maybe a year before it’s unrecognizable or it’s cut out of the herd.

“We had so much success with that car last year that we ran it this year, and we probably shouldn’t have. There are newer ideas and theories and better ways to do things that car didn’t have. But we assumed, ‘Hey, it was doing so well, why wouldn’t it keep going?’

“But it seems like over the offseason there’s so much improvement and gains made by every organization that you can’t afford to rest on what you did the year before. Anyhow, we’ll see how this car does. We’ve got some good direction on trying to improve and built this car with some newer ideas and hopefully it’s going to go out there and be quick.”