Dale Jr. discusses flying again, how much he misses racing

Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will wave the green flag for today’s Daytona 500, explained Sunday what he’s done to feel more comfortable flying since his plane crashed on landing last year.

Earnhardt, a NASCAR on NBC analyst, also discussed in a session with reporters if JR Motorsports would ever move to Cup and how much he misses driving a race car.

Earnhardt, wife Amy and daughter Isla survived when the plane they were in bounced twice on landing and continued off the runaway, went down a ditch, through a chain-link fence and came to rest on a nearby road and burned last August on a trip to Bristol Motor Speedway.

Here’s what Earnhardt said:

About flying since his plane crashed on landing last year in Tennessee:

“It’s really tough for me to get back in the plane and it will never be the same now that you know the real realities and dangers. It will never, ever be the same again. It’s something you’ll never be able to forget and never lock out no matter how many flights you take.

“The only thing I can do, I guess, that helps me, everybody is different, this isn’t advice for everybody, this is just what I’ve done that helps me feel better, is before I flew I didn’t inquire about the weather or any details, any technical information about the length of the runaway we’re flying into. I didn’t know the performance of my own plane as far as its ability to land and take off and what kind of airstrips that it could do and couldn’t do that. There’s a lot of things that I just didn’t even think about and I just left it up to our guys that were flying the plane, that if they were comfortable I was comfortable.

“I think that for me to be able to get back in there and go and do and travel like I want, the only way I could do it really is to get into the details. I’m not flying the plane, I’m not a pilot, but I have as much control as I possibly can and what I’m doing and the decisions we’re making without flying the plane.

“I believe in the two guys that I’ve got up there. I’ve known them for two decades and in kind of searching out and seeking out this information and understanding how to read, the pilots, the information that they have is so through and detailed. … Some of these stuff goes over my head. I’m diving into the deep end to learn everything I can about the plane’s ability and the decisions they make and why they make it.

“It’s been extremely educational as you can imagine. I’ve learned so much in such a short period fo time It’s kind of empowered me and give me more confidence in what we’re doing and that we are safe and that I am going to be safe. I don’t want to just quit flying. I don’t want to just quit getting into an airplane.

“I need to get over that fear and work hard to get through it. That’s the advice I got from the people that I sought out, they said just keep getting back into the plane. The only way I can do that is by knowing everything I can possibly know about the exact trip we’re going to take and so that’s helped me a lot.

“I’m learning so much every single time we take off and land. I’ve learned more about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and the decisions they make. Now I’m a bit more involved in the trips we take and what I’m willing to do and not do when it comes to weather and what airports we’re flying in and out of and I’m extremely overly safe on my some of those decisions and it’s been probably annoying to my pilots, they would never admit to that, but I have to sort of figure this out on my own and it’s working out pretty good so far.”

About if JR Motorsports would ever move to Cup:

“We’ll probably never go to Cup. It just takes so many more employees. It’s difficult to find funding to be in the Cup Series. This is just me, my sister, we would have to sever our relationship with Rick (Hendrick, who is a co-owner of JR Motorsports) because he couldn’t have a fifth (Cup) car as an owner. There’s just too many roadblocks and hurdles and challenges to get to the Cup level.

“We really like the business model that we have for our Xfinity program. We’ve really honed it and tuned it to where we can do it efficiently. We would have to really relearn an entirely new budget and what we can and what we can’t accomplish, what we can afford and can’t afford. Our guys will come up with five ways we can get faster and we can’t have all five. We have to look at it economically and what makes the most sense for us as a company to balance our budget.

“I also think that the things I enjoy about being in the Xfinity Series would go away. We enjoy working with young guys. We enjoy working with old veterans, giving people their first opportunity or second chance. We enjoy graduating mechanics, crew chiefs and engineers up to the Cup level. That’s as fun to me, even more fun than winning races. … That’s what we’re trying to accomplish to get these guys to the next level. I wouldn’t have that if you were racing in the Cup Series. I really like where we’re at and we’re successful in the Xfinity Series.”

About how excited he is to drive in the Xfinity race next month in Miami and how he prepares:

“That’s coming fast. Typically I have all year. I’m nervous. I’ll be honest, I’m a little nervous. Being out of the car for a year and jumping back in there and get right back into it and understand exactly where the limits are. Luckily, we’re riding on the fence at Homestead and the limit is right there. Those cars are pretty tough … you can get into the wall a little bit and not have to worry too much about hurting your car. I’m sure I’m going to probably tear off the right side of that thing after practice, qualifying and through the race, I’ll hit it several times. …

“I really missing racing. I really miss driving and it’s getting worse. I thought as I got out of the car and the further I got from my full-time career the less that would bother me but it actually is getting worse for some reason. I really look forward to getting some seat time and smelling the smells and hearing the nosies and just enjoying being in the car.”

If he will race more than once a year since he misses it:

“No, not really. It’s a healthy thing to miss it and want to do it. I think it helps me in the booth to have that energy as a fan. I think one is plenty, probably one is more than I should be doing. I’ve got my wife and Isla and all that, I should devote as much as I can to them. One is just perfect.

“I think that it really helps me remember what drivers are thinking about, so I’m going to get in that car and as much as it will be about having fun, it’s also going to be about reminding myself of all the things that goes through a driver’s mind when he’s out there in the car so when I’m in the booth I’m really able to explain and remember and recall some of the things that emotionally that the drivers are dealing with. It’s so helpful.

“If anything I would love to maybe get an opportunity to test a Cup car, and I’ve talked to a couple of teams when they’re out there testing about hoping in for a few laps. I just really want to know what this package feels like at a mile-and-a-half (track) and I’ve never driven the car with the current package.”

Milestones in reach for NASCAR Cup drivers in 2023

0 Comments

While the countdown to the start of the 2023 NASCAR season in February continues, here’s a look at some of the milestones Cup drivers could reach in the upcoming season:

AJ Allmendinger

Allmendinger returns to drive the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing in 2023. He’s scheduled to make his 400th career Cup start March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, a race he nearly won last year.

Aric Almirola

Almirola is 26 laps away from leading 1,000 laps in his Cup career.

Ryan Blaney 

Blaney is scheduled to make his 300th career Cup start Sept. 24 at Texas in the playoffs. Texas was the site of his last Cup win, which came in the All-Star Race in May.

Chase Briscoe

Briscoe is scheduled to make his 100th career Cup start Sept. 10 at Kansas in the playoffs.

Kyle Busch 

Busch needs one win to set the NASCAR record for most consecutive seasons with a win. He is tied with Richard Petty with 18 entering the 2023 season, which will see Busch drive for Richard Childress Racing.

Busch is 92 laps away from leading 19,000 laps in his Cup career.

He is 34 starts away from tying Dale Earnhardt Sr. for 23rd on the all-time list of most career starts at 676. Busch is scheduled to tie Earnhardt’s mark Oct. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the playoffs and surpass the mark the next weekend at Martinsville Speedway in the playoffs.

William Byron 

Byron is scheduled to make his 200th career Cup start July 16 at New Hampshire.

Chase Elliott

Elliott is a win from scoring a victory in six consecutive Cup seasons.

He is 100 laps away from leading 5,000 in his Cup career.

Justin Haley

Haley is scheduled to make his 100th career Cup start Sept. 10 at Kansas in the playoffs.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin is two wins away from 50 career Cup wins. That would tie him with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett for 13th on the all-time victory list. 

Kevin Harvick

Harvick is scheduled to make his 800th career Cup start April 23 at Talladega.

He is 15 starts from tying Jeff Gordon for ninth on the all-time list for most career Cup starts at 805. Harvick is scheduled to tie Gordon’s mark June 4 at World Wide Technology Raceway and is scheduled to move ahead of Gordon on June 11 at Sonoma.

Harvick is 99 laps away from leading 16,000 laps in his Cup career.

He is five top fives away from having 250 in his Cup career.

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski is scheduled to make his 500th career Cup start June 4 at World Wide Technology Raceway.

He is 93 laps away from 9,000 career laps led in Cup.

Kyle Larson

Larson is scheduled to make his 300th career Cup start March 19 at Atlanta.

He is four top 10s away from 150 career top 10s.

Joey Logano

Logano is one win from having a Cup victory in 12 consecutive seasons, which would tie him for 13th on the all-time list with Denny Hamlin.

Logano is one top five away from 150 career top-five finishes.

He is nine starts away from tying Richard Petty for 19th on the all-time list of consecutive starts at 513. Logano is scheduled to reach that mark April 16 at Martinsville and surpass it April 23 at Talladega.

Tyler Reddick

Reddick is nine top 10s away from 50 career top 10s.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse is scheduled to make his 400th career start in the season finale at Phoenix.

He is five top 10s away from 50 career Cup top 10s.

Daniel Suarez

Suarez is one top 10 away from 50 career top 10s in Cup.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex is 16 starts from tying Jeff Burton for 10th on the all-time list of consecutive starts at 628. Truex is scheduled to reach that mark at June 11 at Sonoma and surpass it June 25 at Nashville.

Bubba Wallace

Wallace is scheduled to make his 200th Cup start June 25 at Nashville.

Sammy Smith to run full Xfinity season for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023

0 Comments

Sammy Smith will run the full Xfinity schedule in the No. 18 car, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Monday.

The 18-year-old Smith, a Toyota development driver, won the ARCA Menards Series East title for a second consecutive year in 2022 and also made nine Xfinity starts with JGR.

Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation and Allstate Peterbilt will be sponsors on Smith’s car throughout the 2023 season. Jeff Meendering will be Smith’s crew chief.

“This is an opportunity I have been working towards,” Smith said in a statement from the team. “I can’t wait to get behind the wheel full-time and am looking forward to a great season. I learned a lot in 2022 that will really help me to be competitive and run up front in the Xfinity Series. Thank you to Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation, Allstate Peterbilt Group, and Toyota Racing Development for supporting me in my racing career. I am excited for next year and appreciate the opportunity.”

Said Steve DeSouza, JGR executive vice president of Xfinity Series and driver development, in a statement: “Sammy is a fantastic addition to our 2023 Xfinity lineup. He proved to have the passion and the talent to necessary to compete for wins in the races he ran for us in 2022,” .“We are excited to get him in the No. 18 full time and know he will be competitive from the jump.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Racing through the numbers

0 Comments

Some drivers carry one car number throughout their racing careers. The most famous racers in NASCAR’s 75-year history typically are associated with one number, although some have raced under several.

Victories, championships and driver personalities give life to something as generally mundane as a number. And the most popular produce even bigger numbers, as in sales of T-shirts, caps and other souvenirs.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most iconic NASCAR numbers:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 43 — Since Richard Petty’s emergence as a superstar in the 1960s, the number 43 has been NASCAR’s most iconic. Although Lee Petty, Richard’s father, usually drove No. 42, he actually scored the first win by the 43, in 1959. The Petty blue No. 43 carried Richard to a string of championships. He scored 192 of his 200 race wins with the number. It rolls on today with Erik Jones, who took the 43 to the Southern 500 victory lane this season.

2. 3 — The fiercely facing forward No. 3 became ultra-famous while driven by seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt (although Earnhardt won his first title driving the No. 2). Earnhardt’s black Chevrolet carried the number to new heights, but Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker and Ricky Rudd, among others, also won in the car.

MORE: Where are they now? Buddy Parrott

3. 21 — The list of drivers who have raced Wood Brothers Racing’s famous No. 21, with the familiar gold foil numbers, reads like a history of NASCAR. David Pearson brought the most fame to the number, but Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, team owner Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett and Dale Jarrett also have driven the 21.

4. 11 — This number is responsible for more race wins — 228 — than any other. It also has scored eight championships — three each by Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough and two by Ned Jarrett. Other stars in the 11 over the years: Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, A.J. Foyt, Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, Bill Elliott and Denny Hamlin. And some guy named Mario Andretti.

5. 48 — This number was largely ignored until the arrival of Jimmie Johnson, who carried it to seven championships, including five in a row.

6. 24 — The number 24 was a lonely number until 1994 when a kid named Jeff Gordon drove it to its first win, in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The brightly colored 24 became a regular visitor to victory lane from that point forward, carrying Gordon to four championships and becoming one of NASCAR’s most decorated numbers.

MORE: Will Kyle Busch follow footsteps of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

7. 18 — Although Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte won in the 18, Kyle Busch, draped in the bright colors of sponsor M&Ms, took it into new territory.

8. 22 — NASCAR’s first Cup champion (Red Byron) and its most recent (Joey Logano) rode with the 22. The number has produced 87 wins over the years, including victories by Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Ward Burton, Kurt Busch, Byron and Logano.

9. 2 — Although the 2 carried Dale Earnhardt (1980) and Brad Keselowski (2012) to Cup championships, it is perhaps most identified with Rusty Wallace, whose menacing black No. 2 was powerful at Team Penske. Also successful in the 2: Bill Blair, Kurt Busch and Austin Cindric, this year’s Daytona 500 winner.

10. 9 — The 9 was basically nondescript until Bill Elliott roared out of the north Georgia mountains to turn it into a big winner in the mid-1980s. His son, Chase, continues the trend.

 

 

Truck Series: Rajah Caruth joins GMS Racing

0 Comments

Rajah Caruth will drive the No. 24 truck full-time for GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023, the team announced Tuesday.

The 20-year-old Caruth ran a full season in the ARCA Menards Series last year, placing third in points. He also made seven Xfinity starts and four Truck starts last year. 

“I am extremely honored, and really excited to join GMS Racing and be in the fold of a professional race team with so much history,” Caruth said in a statement from the team. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this throughout my whole career, and I’m going to do the best in my power to make the most of it.

“First and foremost, I can’t thank everybody at GMS enough for believing in me and believing that I have what it takes to drive one of their trucks. Same goes for everybody at Chevrolet for their support, we truly wouldn’t be able to make this happen without them. 

Caruth joins Grant Enfinger and Daniel Dye as GMS Racing’s full-time Craftsman Truck Series drivers. Chad Walter will be Caruth’s crew chief. Jeff Hensley will be Enfinger’s crew chief. Travis Sharpe will be Dye’s crew chief. 

The primary partner on Caruth’s truck will be the Wendell Scott Foundation. The foundation, named for the first Black driver to win a NASCAR Cup race, seeks to provide resources and services to underprivileged Black youth communities near Scott’s hometown of Danville, Virginia. Since the foundation’s formation in 2011, more than 25 students have been awarded more than $50,000 from the Wendell Scott Legacy Scholarship programs.

“We are excited for Rajah to compete full-time with GMS Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2023,” said Dayne Pierantoni, GM Racing Program Manager for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. “Through Chevrolet’s partnership with Rev Racing, we have been impressed with Rajah’s talent both on and off the track. He has proven his ability to compete at the NASCAR national level, and we look forward to seeing his continued success with a series championship winning team.”

The Truck season begins Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway. 

In other Truck Series news:

Dean Thompson will drive the No. 5 for TRICON Garage this coming season. The 21-year-old was a rookie in the series this past season. He had a season-best finish of 11th at Las Vegas.

“I am thrilled to start the next chapter of my career with TRICON Garage and Toyota Racing Development,” Thompson said in a statement from the team. “The team and manufacturer have quickly made a statement in the Truck Series as striving to be the best of the best. I’m ready to take on the challenge and live up to the expectations of being a driver for TRICON.”

McAnally Hilgemann Racing announced Tuesday that Christian Eckes and Jake Garcia will drive full-time in the Truck series for the team next season.

Eckes, who will drive the No. 19 truck, moves over from ThorSport Racing. Garcia will drive the No. 35 truck in pursuit of the series Rookie of the Year award.

NAPA AutoCare will continue as a team sponsor.

Garcia is 17 and is scheduled to make his first start March 3 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Because of NASCAR’s age restrictions, he will miss the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The team’s Daytona driver has not been announced.