CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Twenty-seven days after Dale Earnhardt Jr. informed Rick Hendrick he wouldn’t race in the NASCAR Cup Series after 2017, Hendrick said “no” plans have been set for the future of the No. 88 Chevrolet.
“We’ve got a lot of people to consider being partners, like our sponsors,” Hendrick said Tuesday at Earnhardt’s retirement press conference. “We’ve just been talking to them. Priority one is to get everything prepared and get the day over with and we’ll take time to decide what we do then.”
The three-year deal with Nationwide, which will sponsor the car for 20 races this season, expires after this season. Jim McCoy, director of sports marketing for Nationwide, said no decision has been made on what to do.
“It’s still pretty early in all those conversations,” McCoy told NBC Sports. “Today was about Dale. We’re still kind of absorbing everything that took place with that. He’s been a great partner. We’re looking forward to continue that partnership. We’re evaluating our 2018 program, much like we would in any renewal year. Hendrick is a great partner. We’ll continue to look at all of our options for ’18.”
The 14-time most popular driver joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 and has driven the No. 88 in 312 starts up to Monday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt is scheduled to make his 631st and final Cup start Nov. 19 in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Three months later, the next driver for the No. 88 will make their debut at Daytona International Speedway.
Not long after the news was announced, NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan broke down a list of potential successors for Earnhardt, which includes Alex Bowman, Xfinity Series driver William Byron and Carl Edwards.
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Saturday will be a busy day at Circuit of the Americas, as all three national series are on the track.
Cup will qualify ahead of the Craftsman Truck and Xfinity Series races.
The forecast Saturday calls for sunny conditions and no chance of rain all day. The high is expected to be 69 degrees during Cup qualifying, 76 degrees at the start of the Truck race and 81 degrees for the start of the Xfinity race.
Zane Smith looks to win his second consecutive Truck race at the road course in Austin, Texas. AJ Allmendinger seeks his second consecutive Xfinity win at COTA.
Saturday, March 25
(All times Eastern)
- 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
- 10:30 a.m. — Truck Series
- 2 p.m. — Xfinity Series
- 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
- 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.
Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.
He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.
Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.
Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.
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).
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 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.
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.