Photo courtesy Dale Earnhardt Jr. Twitter account

The one and only time Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced in a Ford and not a Chevy

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In addition to being a great race car driver – well, now-retired, that is – one of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s best attributes is he’s one of the best storytellers in NASCAR.

He could easily write several books – and still have plenty of material left over for more, his tales are so numerous and prolific — and enjoyable.

We awoke Sunday morning to Earnhardt taking to Periscope to remember the late Bobby Hamilton, who passed away 11 years ago today.

And Junior told one of the best stories we’ve ever heard from him.

As he related, back in 1996 Earnhardt was racing Late Models at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. Even though his crew chief said to bring the car into the pits, Earnhardt wanted to make one final practice lap when all hell broke loose: a wreck occurred in front of him and as Earnhardt tried to avoid it by going low, he was rear-ended by another car, with both his and the other car bursting into flame.

The Speedway had a fire truck that responded to the scene, but it didn’t have any water or foam to put the fire out! As a result, both Earnhardt’s and the other driver’s cars “burned to the ground,” Earnhardt said. “Our cars were ruined. I had to haul that thing home, and we were done.”

Junior was uninjured, but still wanted to race. The problem was, he didn’t have a spare car.

Enter Hamilton, who offered Earnhardt a ride – in a Ford, decked out in Petty blue color and with the No. 43 on the door.

Earnhardt was in a major quandary. He never had driven a Ford before.

“I’m thinking, ‘I can’t drive it, because it’s a Ford,’” Earnhardt related on the Periscope video. “But I want to race real bad.

“So I’m calling my dad trying to see if I can get a hold of him and try to ask him if I can drive this Ford. It’s a Petty blue, because Bobby at the time I think must have been driving for Richard in the Cup Series and it had No. 43 on it.

“I couldn’t get a hold of dad, but I got a hold of dad’s general manager. … He said, ‘Yeah, go ahead and drive it. Just don’t talk about it and try not to make too big of a deal about it.’”

Earnhardt had to do some cosmetic alterations before he climbed inside.

First, he used duct tape to cover all Ford emblems – although he left the huge STP emblem on the hood.

Then, he used additional blue tape to cover the 4 on the door, leaving it to be just a “3”, the same number that his father raced in the Cup series.

Even thought the car’s previous driver, Casey Atwood, didn’t care for it, Earnhardt fell in love with his new ride and quickly took the lead.

He appeared ready to cruise to a win. He had lapped all but one car in the field.

And then disaster struck.

The transmission broke with 30 laps to go and what could have been Junior’s only win ever in anything other than a Chevrolet, wound up on the back end of a tow truck.

Even though Junior wasn’t happy with how the day ended, he certainly helped Hamilton feel good, as he sold the car after the race “for quite a bit of money,” Earnhardt said.

And thus ended Earnhardt’s first and only race in anything but a Chevrolet.

But it has to make you wonder, what might have happened if the trans didn’t explode and Junior won — in a Ford. Could history have turned out different?

“Bobby was a good man, so that’s my story,” Dale Jr. said in conclusion.

Great story, Junior. Keep ‘em coming.

Denny Hamlin hopes teams don’t shoot selves in feet with pit guns

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Denny Hamlin is the hottest driver on the Cup circuit. He has two wins – including Saturday night at Bristol – as well as two runner-ups, and a third- and fifth-place finish in the last six races. He’s also moved up to third in the rankings in that string.

But Hamlin isn’t taking anything to chance, particularly some of the smallest details – such as loose lug nuts and wheels.

Hamlin appeared Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On-Track” show and was asked about how not only his team, but also other Cup teams, can overcome the loose lug nuts and wheels issues.

Hamlin said a significant part of the problem – particularly at a place like Bristol Motor Speedway – is pit guns, which are allocated and issued in a pre-race lottery by NASCAR, rather than have teams use their own guns.

MORE: Denny Hamlin earns hard-fought win over Matt DiBenedetto at Bristol

Hamlin does not like that system and explained why:

“(Bristol) puts probably some of the biggest loads we have on our tires. Truth be told, over the last two years since we’ve had these guns issued to us, they’re not capable of getting all the wheels tight, they really aren’t.

“It’s a lottery whether you get a gun that’s good enough to get ‘em tight. Through JGR, Stewart-Haas and other teams that have documented it, in the spring race there were over 20 loose wheels. This is not just a team thing. It’s just that the equipment is not quite up to par as far as what it’s capable of.

“We keep track of all the guns and how good they are and how bad they are. It’s a lottery system of whether you’re going to get (a good or bad one). It doesn’t matter how fast you go, you can hold the gun on there and it’s just not going to get the torque quite tight enough.”

Hamlin experienced a loose wheel that forced him to pit under green on Lap 186 of Saturday night’s race at Bristol, leaving him two laps behind the leaders. Hamlin had another loose wheel on Lap 374 and pitted while running 10th.

Thus far this season, in addition to several loose wheels in races, Hamlin’s team has also been penalized four times for loose lug nuts after races: Fontana, Bristol spring race, Chicagoland and the July race at Pocono.

This isn’t the first time Hamlin has publicly complained about pit guns and loose lug nuts and wheels.

NBC Sports has reached out to NASCAR for comment.

Check out what Hamlin said about that after Saturday night’s race in the video above (Hamlin talks about this issue starting around the 6:00 mark).

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Preliminary entry lists for Xfinity, Trucks this weekend

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While the NASCAR Cup Series will be off this weekend, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any racing.

On the contrary, the Xfinity Series will be racing Saturday at Road America and the Truck Series will compete Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Here are the entry lists for both series:

Xfinity – CTECH Manufacturing 180 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

There are 39 cars entered.

Regan Smith will be in the No. 8 J.R. Motorsports Chevrolet.

A.J. Allmendinger will drive the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Saturday’s Cup runner-up, Matt DiBenedetto, will drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

There is no driver listed yet for the No. 117 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Chevrolet Silverado 250 (2:30 p.m. ET FS1)

There are only 28 Trucks listed for the entry list.

All seats are filled.

Click here for the entry list.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Dale Earnhardt Jr. thanks all who have ‘lifted us up’ since plane crash

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. issued his first public comments Monday since he and his family survived a plane crash last Thursday afternoon at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport.

Earnhardt offered thanks to “everyone who has lifted us up with phone calls, messages and prayer since last Thursday. We are truly blessed that all on board escaped with no serious injuries, including our daughter, our two pilots and our dog Gus.”

Earnhardt also thanked the pilots, emergency personnel, law enforcement and hospital staff.

He stated that wife “Amy and I continue to be very appreciative of the privacy extended to us to process everything. It has been important to do that together and on our own time.”

Earnhardt stated that because of the ongoing investigation “we will not be speculating or discussing the cause of the accident.”

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board is expected this week. Ralph Hicks, a senior investigator for the NTSB said in a briefing last Friday that “the airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right wing landing gear. You can actually see the right wing landing gear collapsing on the video (from nearby buildings). The airplane continued down the runway, off to the end, through a fence and came to a stop … on highway 91.”

Both pilots have been interviewed and Hicks stated that what they said was “very consistent” with what the video showed. Hicks also said investigators had talked to the Earnhardt family.

NASCAR America 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Recapping Hamlin’s Bristol win

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs on NBCSN at a special time, from 6-7 p.m. ET, and will recap Denny Hamlin’s win at Bristol.

Steve Letarte will be joined by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and A.J. Allmendinger to discuss Hamlin’s win and other storylines.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here for the special start time at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.