Alex Bowman to take over Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 car in 2018

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Alex Bowman, once told by a doctor that he couldn’t race for eight weeks after a severe crash but returned in half that time, saw his patience for sitting out this NASCAR season rewarded Thursday when Hendrick Motorsports announced that the 24-year-old will take over Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Cup ride next season.

“Ever since I was a kid, racing is all I’ve wanted to do,” Bowman said in a release from Hendrick Motorsports. “I’ve had so many people believe in me along the way. My family has sacrificed a lot and always been behind me. I would never have this chance without the support of Dale and everyone involved with the No. 88 team. To be part of Hendrick Motorsports and for Mr. (Rick) Hendrick to have this confidence in me, it’s just amazing.’’

Hendrick Motorsports also announced Thursday that Nationwide signed a one-year extension and will sponsor the car for 19 races. Axalta returns and will be the primary sponsor for 15 races, an increase of two from this season.

Bowman was among the favorites for Earnhardt’s ride because he drove 10 races in the No. 88 car last year while Earnhardt recovered from concussion symptoms. Bowman won a pole at Phoenix Raceway and had three top-10 finishes.

His performance last year earned praise from within Hendrick Motorsports.

“Alex impressed the heck out of us last year with his talent, poise and professionalism,” said car owner Rick Hendrick, in a statement from the team. “He stepped up in a very demanding situation and showed that he can run with the best and compete for wins. His ability to stay focused through it all, and the way he’s handled himself since then, has shown a lot of character. (Crew chief Greg Ives) and the team loved working with Alex, and that dynamic will get even better with more time together.

Earnhardt, who is in his final full-time season racing Cup, endorsed Bowman as the next driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet on Periscope in May.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Alex Bowman at Texas last year when Bowman drove 10 races while Earnhardt recovered from concussion symptoms. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

“Alex Bowman in the 88 car next year, is that what you want?’’ Earnhardt said on Periscope a day after the All-Star Race. “That would be pretty awesome. Alex in the 88. That sounds good to me. He earned it last year. He ran real good.”

Bowman’s hire adds another young driver to the Cup series — which already features nearly one-fifth of the starting lineup age 25 or younger.

His path to this ride comes in an unusual way. Rarely do drivers sitting out for an extended period of time get quality rides, let alone join one of the sport’s top organizations.

Bowman, who signed with Hendrick Motorsports in Oct. 2016, has only raced in the Clash in February — earning that spot for his pole at Phoenix last year — and a Camping World Truck race in March at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His primary duty has been as driver in the Chevrolet simulator and driving Chevrolet’s car at NASCAR-allowed tests.

His work in the Chevy simulator has been praised by his future teammates.

“We put a lot on him now,” Jimmie Johnson said last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I think he’d be a great fit to come in that car from a wide variety of angles.”

Bowman made his debut in the No. 88 car last July at New Hampshire after having run 71 Cup races for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing from 2014-15.

“When I look at how he stepped in seamlessly, it was really impressive for me,” Johnson said of Bowman’s performance in the No. 88 last year. “He handled the pressure, won a pole, was up there duking it out for race wins, had a heated moment or two with some of the veterans and wasn’t rattled.

“We all watched him evolve. You drive for a lower level team and unfortunately, people’s opinion about you can change. That cloud or stigma was there for a while, and he had a chance to reset the deck when he drove the 88. I think he’s plenty capable. He’s been a great teammate. He knows our system.”

While Bowman is most noted for running 10 races last year for Earnhardt, he has been tied to Earnhardt since 2014.

Bowman ran two Xfinity races for JR Motorsports in 2014 and returned to run nine races for the organization in 2016.

Bowman’s path to this point has been one full of gambles in a sport where few succeed. His father put a second mortgage on the home to fund Bowman’s racing and saw his used car dealership close during the economic downturn.

Bowman’s racing started when his father got him a quarter midget at age 7. Bowman went on to collect nine quarter-midget national championships before he moved to race midgets.

He was the USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year in 2009 but a crash the next year at the dirt track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway put his season in jeopardy. His midget tumbled several times. He cracked ribs, broke his collarbones and damaged blood vessels in his eyes. He was unable to see for three days because his eyes were swollen shut. When his vision returned, it was blurry. Eventually his vision returned.

Even with both arms in a sling, he wanted to race as soon as possible. Told it would be eight weeks at the earliest, Bowman said he had a race in three weeks. Bowman returned in four weeks.

He’s been focused on racing since — even with the decision to turn down rides this year to be aligned with Hendrick Motorsports even though there wasn’t a ride for him.

Beginning next year, he’ll be out of the simulator and back on the track.

“The No. 88 team is such a great group of people,’’ Bowman said in a release from the team. “I know we can pick up where we left off last year, and I truly believe we can win races and contend for a championship. I’m excited to build on the relationship with Nationwide and all of our partners. It means the world that they have faith in me, and I’m thankful to have them on my side. Now I just want to go win.”

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Stephen Nasse DQ’d, Travis Braden declared Snowball Derby winner

Photo courtesy 5FlagsSpeedway.com
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What was the greatest day of Stephen Nasse’s late model racing career turned into the biggest nightmare just over two hours later.

After roaring through the field from a next-to-last starting position (36th in the 37-driver field) to win the 52nd Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, Nasse and his car were disqualified due to an illegal equipment violation found in post-race inspection.

As a result, original race runner-up Travis Braden was ruled the winner, while 14-year-old Jake Garcia, making his first career Snowball Derby start, moved up from third-place to runner-up.

This marks the third time since 2013 that the Snowball Derby winner has been disqualified for violations: Chase Elliott was DQ’d in 2013, giving the win to Erik Jones; and then in 2015, Christopher Bell was DQ’d, giving the win to Elliott.

Nasse was DQ’d for a titanium violation in the brake system of his car, apparently the first time such equipment has been found in Derby cars. Here’s an interview with chief technical inspector Ricky Brooks, courtesy of AutoWeek.com’s Matt Weaver, explaining Nasse’s disqualification:

Braden, a West Virginia native, told Speed51.com about his victory, “It feels very special. But I know it’s going to feel more special with a little bit of time. It stinks we couldn’t have won the race outright, but I know these guys won the Snowball Derby. We brought a car here capable of winning this race outright.”

Nasse took to Twitter to express his feelings about being disqualified:

Nasse’s car was the only one to fail post-race inspection.

Had Garcia won, he would have been the youngest winner in Derby history (Chase Elliott holds that record at 16 years, 6 days old, in 2011).

Rounding out the top five were Canadian native Cole Butcher in third, Jesse Dutilly in fourth and Preston Peltier in fifth. The race was originally scheduled to be run Sunday, but persistent rain pushed the event to Monday afternoon/evening.

Braden adds his name to a long list of Derby winners including Kyle Busch (2009, 2017), Erik Jones (2012, 2013), John Hunter Nemecheck (2014), Chase Elliott (2011, 2015), Christian Eckes (2016) and Noah Gragson (2018).

Several other notables and their finishing positions included veteran Cup driver David Gilliland (27th), JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry (29th), and NASCAR Cup driver Corey LaJoie, who suffered early problems and finished 31st. Former Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity Series driver Ty Majeski finished 13th, and ARCA Menards Pro Series West (formerly K&N Pro Series West) driver Derek Kraus finished 18th.

Majeski appeared headed to the win with less than two laps to go when he was involved in a multi-car wreck on Lap 317, bringing out a red flag race stoppage.

That opened the door for Nasse, Braden and Garcia — before Nasse was disqualified.

As a result, instead of earning what would have been the 100th late model win of his career, the 25-year-old Majeski, a native of Seymour, Wisconsin, was left with a wrecked race car and finished 13th.

“I’m just extremely frustrated,” Majeski told Speed51.com. “We had a real good car, a car plenty capable of winning. This is a tough one. Man, it sucks.”

Here are the updated results:

52nd Annual Snowball Derby Official Results

Pos. # Driver
1 26b Travis Braden
2 35 Jake Garcia
3 53b Cole Butcher
4 30 Jesse Dutilly
5 48 Preston Peltier
6 51s Chandler Smith
7 22 Casey Roderick
8 18 Hunter Robbins
9 36 Dan Fredrickson
10 53j Boris Jurkovic
11 119 Dalton Zehr
12 12G Derek Griffith
13 91 Ty Majeski
14 9C Jeff Choquette
15 43 Derek Thorn
16 81 Giovanni Bromante
17 7d John DeAngelis
18 2 Derek Kraus
19 54c Matt Craig
20 9m Brad May
21 51a Michael Altwell
22 20m Cole Moore
23 75 Jeremy Doss
24 16 Lucas Jones
25 26p Bubba Pollard
26 10 Kaden Honeycutt
27 54g David Gilliland
28 112 Augie Grill
29 57 Josh Berry
30 14c Connor Okrzesik
31 7 Corey LaJoie
32 21p Jeremy Pate
33 11 David Rogers
34 15 Rodrigo Rejon
35 4 Kyle Plott
36 78 Corey Heim
37 51n Stephen Nasse DQ

 

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Oh baby: Austin Dillon and wife Whitney expecting their first child

Photo courtesy Austin and Whitney Dillon
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The NASCAR baby boom continues.

Austin Dillon and wife Whitney announced Monday on Instagram that they are expecting their first child. Baby Dillon is due in June 2020, the couple revealed.

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DILLON PARTY OF 3 ❤️ Coming June 2020

A post shared by Whitney Dillon (@whitneydillon) on

 

 

As part of a photo shoot at Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of Austin’s first career Cup win, Austin and Whitney Dillon made the baby news reveal on the same day as their second wedding anniversary.

They were married Dec. 9, 2017, at Childress Vineyards in Lexington, North Carolina.

Baby Dillon will be the second great-grandchild for team owner Richard Childress and wife Judy. Austin’s brother, Ty, and wife Haley welcomed daughter Oakley Ray Dillon on Nov. 22, 2017.

News of Austin and Whitney’s forthcoming bundle of joy comes on the heels of Corey LaJoie and wife Kelly are expecting their first child around Easter 2020, as well as the last week’s birth of the second child, daughter Autumn, to driver Brad Keselowski and wife Paige.

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NASCAR shocker: Cole Pearn resigns as Martin Truex Jr.’s crew chief

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In what is one of the biggest surprises of the NASCAR offseason, Cole Pearn has resigned as crew chief of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, the team announced Monday afternoon.

Pearn has decided to leave the organization to pursue other opportunities, the team said in a media release.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision,” Pearn said in a statement. “At the end of the day, I really want to spend time with my family and actually see my kids grow up.

“Being on the road, you are away from home so much and miss a lot of time with your family. I don’t want to miss that time anymore. I want to be there for all the things that my kids are going to experience while they are still young.

“I love racing and there isn’t a better place to be than Joe Gibbs Racing, but I don’t want to look back in 20 years and think about everything I missed with my wife and kids while I was gone. They are what is most important to me.”

Added Truex in a statement, “I cannot say enough good things about Cole and what he has meant for my career. I appreciate his hard work and dedication to our race team over the past six years going back to when he was my engineer at Furniture Row. Our friendship is what matters most to me and I’m happy that he’s doing what’s best for him and his family.”

About an hour after the blockbuster news was made public by JGR, Pearn appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s SiriusXM Speedway with Dave Moody and further expounded on his reasons for stepping down, saying:

“Everybody in the sport understands the grind of what the schedule is. To do it at the top level, you have to be all the way in. I was somehow making it work with my family until my kids got in school and once they’re in school and you have a day off on a Thursday, it really doesn’t matter. You pretty much go all week and you barely see ’em.

“I didn’t want to look back at my life and miss those moments. For me to get the opportunity to work in racing has been just a dream come true and then to have the success we’ve had just blows my mind. When you’ve achieved more than you’ve ever dreamt, you look at the other things in life you’ve been missing and I just felt like it was time.”

What’s next for Pearn?

“We’re working on that and going to let the dust settle a bit,” Pearn told Moody. “I’m must looking forward to being around the family. I’m going to keep myself busy. I’m definitely too young not to do anything so I’m definitely going to keep working, that’s for sure.”

Pearn conceded that both Truex and team owner Joe Gibbs were shocked when he revealed his plans to step away.

“Yeah, I definitely don’t think anybody saw that coming,” Pearn told Moody. “There’s no easy way to deliver that news, especially to people you respect and care about. I’ve been losing a lot of sleep trying to figure out the best way to do it, but at the end of the day, just being honest and speaking from the heart was the way to do it. They’re both amazing people and I think they took it about as best as anybody could.”

Truex joined Furniture Row Racing in 2014 and Pearn, who had already been with the team as an engineer, moved to the crew chief role for the 2015 season. In 179 races together, Pearn and Truex combined to reach the season- and championship-deciding Championship 4 race four different times, achieving one championship (2017), two runner-up titles (2018 and 2019), 24 wins, 70 top fives, 110 top 10s and 12 poles.

Of note, their 23 wins together from 2016 through 2019 are the most of any driver-crew chief combination currently active. During the most recent playoffs, the team claimed three wins, a pair of runner-up finishes and only finished outside the top seven once in 10 races.

The pair moved to JGR for the 2019 season from the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing. They compiled a NASCAR Cup series-best seven wins, 15 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s in 2019. During the playoffs alone, the Pearn-led No. 19 team claimed three wins, a pair of runner-up finishes and only finished outside the top seven once in 10 races.

JGR said in its statement that a replacement for Pearn as crew chief for the No. 19 will be announced at a later date.

Fellow crew chief Rodney Childers, of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team, along with others took to Twitter to express their feelings on Pearn’s departure:

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North Wilkesboro Speedway gets makeover for ‘date’ with iRacing

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Twitter
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North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina hasn’t hosted a NASCAR national series event since September 1996 and it’s not about to anytime soon.

But, thanks to the efforts of Dale Earnhardt Jr., the historic short track may soon have a second digital-based life on the iRacing simulator.

Earnhardt posted images on social media Monday showing the track’s aging surface cleared of debris that had grown up on it over the years.

With the images, Earnhardt said the track is “getting a trim for an important date with @iRacing.”

This comes a few months after Earnhardt discussed the subject of cleaning the racing surface and scanning it for use on iRacing with Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith on an episode of “The Dale Jr. Download.”