There are things that are neat and cool and awesome, but Talladega Superspeedway and the state of Alabama went way beyond those superlatives Friday when they thanked Dale Earnhardt Jr. for all the memories he’s given fans there.
The track and state honored Earnhardt Jr. — who will race at ‘Dega for the last time Sunday — by presenting him with one of his father’s former race cars as both a going away and belated birthday (he turned 43 on Oct. 10) gift.
That’s right, not a replica, but the actual car., a 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that Junior’s father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., drove to his first career Cup win at Bristol in 1979.
David Pearson also won in the same car that season in the Southern 500 at Darlington when he filled in for the injured Earnhardt.
When the senior Earnhardt returned, he also drove the same car for several races en route to his first Cup championship in 1980.
While this particular car – emblazoned in gold and blue and wearing the No. 2 on the doors – never raced at Talladega, it still was a treat for Junior to receive.
To say he was surprised is an understatement.
“That was great,” Dale Jr. told NBCSN’s Marty Snider (see full video above). “I’m pretty surprised. I didn’t think I was going to take home a race car this weekend.
“The state of Alabama owns this car but they’re going to let us take it to Mooresville, N.C., and show it around in our shop, so it’s going to be fun for the guys. I got to take it for a couple laps, that was fun, drove it through the garage so all the guys could see it.
“It was pretty neat just trying to imagine what it’d be like running one around here at 180, 190 mph.
“They ran a Monte Carlo here in 1979, but in 1980 they ran an Oldsmobile 442 (at Talladega). This was the car he ran at Bristol and all the short tracks and mile-and-a-half’s.”
It was one of the few times in Junior’s life that he actually drove a car that his father had previously competed in, he told Snider.
“I drove his No. 3 Goodwrench car a couple times in tests that first year we were together, but never anything old like this, with some real history,” he said. “I love to be able to sit in the car and just see the perspective of how much the view was like. It’s so different than our cars today, no head rest or nothing like that. You see everything, you feel the wind blowing around, it’s pretty crazy.”
Earnhardt then added, “I just want to thank Talladega Superspeedway, the state of Alabama. They’ve been really good to me and hopefully we can get ‘em a win this weekend.”
Off-camera and before he climbed into the car, Junior joked about the 38-year-old car: “Are we sure the brakes are working before we take it for a ride?”
Power rankings after Bristol: Brad Keselowski is new No. 1
1. Brad Keselowski (30 points): Right place, right time at Bristol, taking advantage of contact between Chase Elliott and Joey Logano to sail on to victory lane for second time in last three races. Last week: second.
2. Kevin Harvick (26 points): Saw his streak of 13 consecutive top 10s end at Bristol with an 11th-place finish. Last week: first.
3. Chase Elliott (25 points): Won once in the past week and was in contention for a second win until he hit Joey Logano late at Bristol. Last week: tied for third.
4. Kurt Busch (20 points): The elder Busch brother has gone from third to 10th and back up to fourth in the last three power rankings. Last week: 10th.
5. Jimmie Johnson (14 points): The seven-time champ has been knocking on victory’s door for each of the last four weeks, including finishing a season-best third at Bristol. Is that 104-race winless streak ready to end? Last week: unranked.
(tie) 6. Kyle Busch (13 points): Rebounded from a cut tire and 29th-place finish at the second Charlotte race to take fourth at Bristol. Last week: tied for third.
(tie) 6. Austin Dillon (13 points): Eighth at second Charlotte race and followed up with a strong sixth at Bristol. Last week: unranked.
8. Denny Hamlin (11 points): Much like the rest of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, his streak of up-and-down results continues. Runner-up at second Charlotte race and 17th at Bristol after a late incident. Last week: seventh.
9. Ryan Blaney (4 points): Continues his search for consistency. Finished third at second Charlotte and was strong at Bristol until spinning while running second and then was hit, ending his race. Last week: unranked.
10. Christopher Bell (3 points): After rough first five races of rookie season, has bounced back with three finishes of 11th or better in his last four races. Last week: ninth.
Nashville Superspeedway, a 1.333-mile oval, is owned by Dover Motorsports, which also owns Dover International Speedway. The track hosted Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Series races from 2001-11.
The Associated Press stated that the idea of Nashville Superspeedway hosting NASCAR races again came after the city hosted the Cup Awards in December for the first time.
“Especially after the awards banquet, it was, how do we get to Nashville as soon as we possibly can?” Dover CEO Mike Tatoian told The Associated Press. “It made it a fairly easy discussion that it was through Dover Motorsports.”
Tatoian told the AP that updating the track would cost $8-10 million. He also stated that capacity would be between 25,000-50,000.
Dover has hosted two Cup races a year since 1971. It has had a race weekend postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dover is expected to host a Cup doubleheader Aug. 22-23.
“It looks more and more like we’ll be hosting a doubleheader,” Tatoian told the AP. “That’s a strong scenario and that’s what we’re focused on.”
The first nine races of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season have been a long, strange trip.
Beginning with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 16 – a race that concluded the following Monday due to rain – and ending with Sunday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, it took 106 days to conduct nine races at seven race tracks. That was after NASCAR endured a 71-day COVID-19 imposed break from action.
Here’s a look back at the first quarter of the season and where the series stands ahead of race No. 10 Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Fox).
– Through nine races there have been six different winners and three repeat winners. Not among them are three of the last four Cup champions: Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. Since Truex’s rookie year in 2006, this is the first time all three have been winless through the ninth race of the year.
– The three races on 1.5-mile tracks have seen three different winners: Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott. They are part of a stretch of nine different winners in the last nine races on 1.5-mile tracks. The last time there was nine in a row was in 2008-09. The last time there was more than nine was 2001-02 when there was 10.
– Elliott, who has just one win, has the best average running position: 7.748.
– The driver with the best average average finish who hasn’t won yet is Kurt Busch: 11.6
– Only four out of 19 times has a stage winner finished in the top 10 (Hamlin won after winning Stage 2 at Daytona, Alex Bowman won after winning Stage 1 at Auto Club Speedway and Harvick finished second at Phoenix after winning Stage 1 and Logano finished sixth after winning Stage 1 at Charlotte 2).
– The Stage 2 winner has finished 11th or worse in each of the last eight races.
– Hendrick Motorsports has led the most laps this year (780) and won the most stages (10), but has just two race wins.
– Las Vegas: Ryan Blaney was leading late when a caution came out for a Ross Chastain spin. It set up a two-lap shootout for the win. When pit road opened, Blaney and Alex Bowman, who was running second, both went to pit road. Joey Logano, running third, stayed out. Logano went on to win and Blaney finished 11th.
“We were in a position to finish it off, and we got destroyed for no reason. You would think these guys would be smarter than that. We all cause wrecks. I get in wrecks all the time and I cause them. The same one over and over again. It’s the same thing. Somebody throws a stupid block that’s never going to work and wrecks half the field and then goes ‘eh’. Maybe we need to take the helmets out of these cars and take the seat belts out. Somebody will get hurt and then we’ll stop driving like assholes. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out I guess.” – Brad Keselowski after he was eliminated in a large wreck in the Busch Clash, which began when his teammate Joey Logano threw “a stupid block.”
“He wrecked me. He got loose underneath me. The part that’s frustrating is that afterwards a simple apology, like be a man and come up to someone and say, ‘Hey, my bad.’ But I had to force an apology, which, to me, is childish. … I passed him clean. It’s hard racing at the end, I get that. It’s hard racing, but, golly, man, be a man and take the hit when you’re done with it.” – Joey Logano after Sunday’s race at Bristol, when contact from Chase Elliott while racing for the lead took them out of contention