Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he is “real sad” that he won’t be able to drive the “Gray Ghost” throwback paint scheme in Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Sunday’s race on NBC will mark the seventh consecutive Sprint Cup event Earnhardt has missed because of a concussion that doctors pinpoint to a June 12 crash at Michigan International Speedway.
Jeff Gordon will drive the No. 88 car, which has been made to look like the car Buddy Baker drove to victory in the 1980 Daytona 500.
“Silver and black. Chrome numbers. It doesn’t get any cooler than that. NASCAR obviously does not allow chrome numbers anymore. We got as close as we could. The orange on the car is a nod to Nationwide and a bit of a throwback to them.’’
The car was nicknamed the “Gray Ghost’’ because its colors allowed it to blend in with the track. Driver complaints led to NASCAR forcing Baker’s team to put reflective decals on the car so it was easier to see after that Daytona 500 win.
Earnhardt did drive a “Gray Ghost” scheme in the 2008 All-Star Race. He finished eighth.
Although he won’t race, Earnhardt is excited about the second throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway and the paint schemes that are coming back for that race.
“Darlington could be forever a throwback weekend,’’ Earnhardt said on his podcast. “Whatever anybody’s interpretation is of a throwback, just let Darlington forever be that weekend where we kind of celebrate the past. I love this whole plan. I love this whole promotion.
“Last year, we saw the 43 team come in really strong (with its throwback scheme). (Aric Almirola) had the Fu Manchu. The Wood Brothers brought it. There’s a couple of teams that came in and did it right. What’s been interesting is that people saw that, other teams saw that, and everybody is coming really hard with all these great schemes. You’re even seeing it in the Xfinity Series, which didn’t happen a whole lot last year.
“This program is going to keep getting cooler and cooler. It’s great for Darlington and it adds to the history.’’
As for Earnhardt’s favorite throwback scheme, other than his car?
“There’s a lot of great ones out there,’’ he said. “I love the Busch car because I was a big Cale Yarborough fan. The Busch car is kind of cool.’’
Kevin Harvick’s car will look like the one Cale Yarborough drove in 1979 and ’80.