Dave Marcis on being friends with Dale Earnhardt and spinning him

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Editor’s note: This is part two of our interview with NASCAR driver Dave Marcis, where he discusses his relationship with Dale Earnhardt. Part one ran Monday and can be read by clicking here.

It was one of the more unlikely friendships in NASCAR, a guy from Northern Wisconsin and a guy from Kannapolis, North Carolina.

One had a pronounced Wisconsin accent – which remains even after living near Asheville, N.C. for the last 50 years – and was kind of quiet. And when it came to work, he’d rather work for himself than anyone else, even if it meant struggling financially.

The other one had a Southern drawl and countless smirks that belied a confidence – some might call it arrogance – that he was the best behind the wheel. The high school dropout also became a master at business to go along with his success on the track.

Dave Marcis, the wing-tipped shoe wearing wonder from Wausau, Wisconsin, and the man who would become The Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt, were an unlikely pair but that’s also what made them so close.

In addition to coming up through their respective short track ranks in the Midwest and Southeast, the two men shared common interests that included hunting, fishing and working on both their race cars and personal cars.

Here are some of the stories Marcis told NBC Sports about his friendship with Earnhardt:

“When I first heard of Dale racing down here, he wasn’t in NASCAR yet, but he was running the short tracks and had a good reputation – but he also had a rough reputation at the same time,” Marcis said. “A lot of people would say to me ‘you ought to go run this track and race against Earnhardt.’”

They would eventually do so on several short tracks before racing against each other in several hundred NASCAR Grand National and Winston Cup races. Marcis made his NASCAR debut in the 1968 Daytona 500, while Earnhardt made his NASCAR debut in the 1975 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

In 1978, Marcis was near the end of a one-year deal driving for owner Rod Osterlund when he found out that his contract would not be renewed. His replacement for 1979 was Earnhardt, who would go on to win his first of seven Cup championships in 1980.

Marcis wasn’t upset that his friend would replace him behind the wheel. Rather, he looked forward to returning to his roots as an independent team owner/operator and wished Earnhardt the best of luck.

But there were a few instances over their quarter-century of racing against each other in NASCAR where that friendship was tested, with one time in particular, Marcis recalled.

“We were at Martinsville and Dale was hammering at me and hammering at me, and I got ticked off about it and spun him out,” Marcis said, adding with a laugh, “he wouldn’t talk to me for two months. He was mad.

“But you know what, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I had to stand up for myself and I can’t let people run over me because if I did, then I was going to have trouble all the time.

“Finally one day, he walked up to me and grabbed me around the neck, had a big old grin on his face and said, ‘You know that deal at Martinsville?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir.’ And he said, ‘I had that coming. My daddy always told me if you have any problem with anybody, don’t carry it down the road. I guess you had a problem and you didn’t carry it down the road.’”

When Neil Bonnett was killed in a crash while practicing for the 1994 Daytona 500, Earnhardt turned to his friend Marcis to fill Bonnett’s shoes as his test driver.

“We became the biggest, greatest friends, hunted and fished together,” Marcis said. “After we lost Neil Bonnett, who had done a lot of testing for Dale, I did all of Dale’s testing. I was quite honored to have tested the car, worked with Larry McReynolds and all the guys on the team on the car Dale won the Daytona 500 with and he thanked me in victory circle for that testing.

“He was a great guy, did a lot of things for a lot of people that a lot of people didn’t know nothing about and he didn’t want publicity about.”

With others of their era like Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte and Jeff Gordon, Marcis admits he sometimes wondered why Earnhardt chose him to be so close to over the years.

“I think he had respect for me, and exactly why, I don’t know,” Marcis told NBC Sports. “But a lot of people told me, and I don’t know if there was any truth in it, but they said he kind of looked at me kind of like his father because I worked all the time on the car, drove it and hauled it like his father had to do.

“He was a great person. There are some people who would disagree with you, but you have to remember, he had a lot of respect for everybody but he made things happen on the race track. I remember when he bumped Terry Labonte at Bristol, he said he meant to tap him or bump him out of the way, he didn’t mean to wreck him.”

But that was Earnhardt, he was that competitive. And that same drive extended to things away from the race track. Marcis recalled one incident with a big laugh:

“We’d go somewhere to eat and he’d get in line and the first thing he would do, he would not want to be the last guy in that line,” Marcis chuckled. “He’d walk in front of every one of us that he knew and he’d be the guy to be first ahead of you. He wanted to be first.”

In addition to Earnhardt’s largesse off the track, he was especially benevolent to Marcis over the years, giving him parts, advice and money – but usually on Earnhardt’s terms.

“We were at Talladega one day testing and he asked what was I doing tomorrow?” Marcis recalled. “I told him I’d be home at my shop, getting (his own) car and working on it to get it ready to come back here.

“Dale wanted me to test his car for him but I told him I couldn’t, and I only had a couple of guys at that time. He didn’t say no more about it.

“Then that evening, when the track closed, he came up to me, pulled three $100 bills out of his pocket, stuffed it in my shirt pocket and said ‘Here, take your guys out to eat tonight and this will help pay for your motel room. I already called the people at the motel you’re staying at and told them you were staying another night,’ and then just walked away. So what are you going to do? The next day, where was I? I was at Talladega, testing for Dale.”

Being one of the last independent full-time team owner/operators in NASCAR, Marcis was perhaps more in constant search for sponsorship than better- and more fully-funded teams like Earnhardt’s GM Goodwrench Chevrolet.

One day, Marcis asked his buddy if he would be willing to sponsor his race car.

“We were at Darlington one time and I wanted to ask him to sponsor my car at North Wilkesboro,” Marcis said. “I finally got the nerve to go up to him and told him, ‘Dale, you need to sponsor my car at Wilkesboro with Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet.’

“He asked how much did I want. I told him $2,500. He said that wasn’t enough. He never said another word the rest of the weekend to me about it. Monday I’m at the shop working and the phone rang and it was Dale. He asked where did I want him to send the decals to, my address. I ended up outqualifying him. About two weeks later, the mail came and he sent me $5,000. You just never knew what to expect from him.”

Earnhardt also had a special bond with Marcis’ wife, Helen.

“Whenever my wife Helen would be in the garage, Dale never walked by her without giving her a hug. How many drivers would do that? That’s just the kind of guy he was.”

Helen also figured in a practical joke Earnhardt played on Marcis.

“One time, he called my wife at the house and told her, ‘Tell Dave to be ready at the Asheville airport tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. I’ll pick him up and we’re going to go hunting,’ Dave Marcis said. “When I came home for supper, she told me about the call and I said to her, ‘What are we hunting for?’ She said he didn’t say, where we were going or anything, just told her to tell me to be there.

“So I get out there the next morning, was there at 6 a.m. It was a little after 7 a.m. and he still hadn’t shown up. I kept asking (tower officials) if they had a clearance for his plane to land, that it would only take them about 20 minutes to fly from Statesville.

“By then it was about 7:30 a.m., they landed and Dale comes walking in, looks at me smiling and says, ‘I bet you were here at 6 o’clock, weren’t you?’ You know what I told him. We then went to Texas on a deer hunt.”

Earnhardt was proud to call Marcis a friend, to the point where unbeknownst to his buddy, agreed to put both of them on a set of racing trading cards in 1995, the only time The Intimidator did so with another driver.

“Earnhardt had some trading cards made with his picture on one side and my picture on the other,” Marcis said. “I don’t know why he ever did make them. It says on the cards, ‘Dual Jewels.’ He never told me about why he did it.”

When Marcis, then 60 years old, failed to qualify for the 2001 Daytona 500, he hung out with Earnhardt for the rest of the week leading up to the day of the fateful race that would claim Earnhardt’s life.

Earnhardt worried about his good buddy, who was 11 years his senior, and proposed Marcis hang up his fire suit for good and come to work for him.

“Dale was telling me that week that I need to retire,” Marcis said. “He was going to buy some hunting land around the country in different places and we talked about putting together a race team for Kerry (Earnhardt, Dale’s oldest son).

“Dale wanted me to look at hunting land, maybe even hunt it, and decide if it’s worth buying it because he said, ‘I’m going to start spending my souvenir money on hunting land. You’ve accomplished so much, there’ll never be anybody that’s ever going to accomplish what you’ve done with what you’ve done it with. You need to think about retiring and then I’m going to put you to work.’”

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Can Adam Stevens, Kyle Busch ‘get mojo back’ at Bristol?

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Kyle Busch is known for speaking his mind. He says what he has to say whether things are good, bad, successful or frustrating.

That kind of attitude has rubbed off somewhat on his crew chief, Adam Stevens.

After Busch finished a disappointing 29th in Thursday’s fourth Cup race in 12 days, dropping Busch from 8th to 12th in the standings, Stevens was asked in a Friday teleconference where he would assess the progress of the No. 18 team since returning from the COVID-19 hiatus.

Like his driver, Stevens didn’t beat around the bush – no pun intended.

“Overall, it’s been a disappointing start, I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Stevens said. “You have stretches like that and I think we need to get our program a little better and then internally as a team we have to do better.”

In the four post-hiatus races, Busch finished 26th at Darlington, accidentally knocked Chase Elliott into the wall to finish second in the return trip to the Lady In Black, was fourth in the Coca-Cola 600, and then things just fell apart in Thursday’s race, his 29th-place finish being the second-worst finish this season (worst was 34th in the Daytona 500).

“In general, I would say we’re not as competitive as we’d want to be,” Stevens said. “We haven’t executed like we’ve wanted to.

“We’ve managed to get a couple good finishes in there, managed to get a couple poor finishes – the poor finishes were probably more poor than what they needed to be because of mistakes or circumstances we fell into during the race.”

A potential part of the problem with the No. 18 team – it’s a likely problem for most teams that have struggled since the return to racing – has been fatigue.

By the time Sunday’s race at Bristol is over, that will make five Cup races in 15 days. Plus, wih limitations on personnel numbers both at-track and at the JGR shop due to the pandemic, fatigue is apparent.

But after Sunday’s race, NASCAR Cup teams get a luxury of sorts: no midweek races this coming week and a chance for everyone to collectively catch their breath and rest up for nearly a week until the next race on June 7 at Atlanta.

“There’s quite a few of my crew guys who have been worn out here and spread pretty thin,” Stevens said. “They could really use a day or two off for sure, and they’re going to get that early in the week.

“We have a race in Atlanta with no practice, so the prep is down, but no midweek race … will make it a lot more palatable next week. Next week will probably be a week to get caught back up and assess where we’re at and maybe do a little bit more leg work on some of the future races so we can be a little bit more ahead. For certain there’s a large group of guys who need a day off.”

Sunday’s 500-lap race at Bristol offers a chance at redemption — if not a kind of home track advantage — for Busch and Stevens. In 29 Cup starts there, Busch has eight wins — including three in his last five starts there — plus 12 top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes.

If there ever was a place to right the listing No. 18 ship, the world’s fastest half-mile may just be the place.

“What makes Kyle (Busch) good at Bristol doesn’t change,” Stevens said. “He’s just so good at adapting what he’s doing behind the wheel to suit how the track is changing. Hopefully he’ll get to showcase more of that this weekend.

“It’s the track and the nuances of the track and how that changes and the fact that it changes is what makes KB shine there. He can make time on the bottom, in the PJ1, he can make time around the top when that’s the place to be and he’s not scared to move around and really is exceptional at getting through the lapped traffic as well.

“If you had to circle a place to get your mojo back, this would probably be it.”

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, ‘I just like to race’

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In the new normal of NASCAR, there are a lot of things drivers are getting used to.

From health screens when they get to the track to carrying their own helmets and other chores that previously were done by assistants, drivers are adapting.

One thing that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likes is how, with the exception of one qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600, that the first four Cup races back since the COVID-19 hiatus have not had practice or qualifying.

Stenhouse, to paraphrase late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, wants to “just race, baby, just race.”

Even though NASCAR’s race-only policy is predicated upon keeping things simple and staying safe in the pandemic, Stenhouse definitely has embraced the mindset of climbing in the car, firing the motor up and slamming on the gas pedal. No warm-ups, no testing different setups, no nothing. He just wants to chase the checkered flag.

“I just like to race, I like to be in the race car,” Stenhouse said in a media teleconference Friday. “Practice and qualifying doesn’t do it for me as much as getting out and competing in the race, as (opposed to being) in the car on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Really there’s nothing like going out and racing. I enjoy racing as much as possible.”

Stenhouse, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has also enjoyed NASCAR holding two of its first four Cup races back since the coronavirus hiatus in mid-week and prime time.

While that type of schedule makes it difficult and even grueling for crew chiefs and the rest of the team, count Stenhouse as hoping NASCAR moves forward with more mid-week races next season and beyond once coronavirus and the limitations it has placed upon the sport are gone.

“I like the Sunday-Wednesday schedules; I wish we could kind of keep doing that,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of shortening the season because I just like to race.

“I’m going to try and sprinkle some more dirt races in when I can, if NASCAR lets me (he laughs). For me, I enjoy the racing aspect of it. I love being in the race car as much as possible. Like probably the other crew chiefs said, the guys at the shop definitely have a lot more work as far as getting cars ready week in and week out.

“So, that’s always been probably the biggest question mark of running these mid-week races to catch up our schedule is the toll that it’s taking on the crew guys. But it’s all been well received, they enjoy it and they love us back racing.”

In his first season with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse has admittedly struggled. In the first eight races, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two top-five finishes: Thursday night and third at Las Vegas.

Every other finish has been 20th or lower.

But Stenhouse sees light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since NASCAR returned from the pandemic hiatus, Stenhouse has seen improvement within his team that may not necessarily be reflected in the final result, but he definitely likes what he’s seeing from his team and the performance of his race car.

“Looking at the equipment that they have here, the people, the parts and pieces, the Hendrick power, the new Chevy Camaro body – I feel like those are all really good things to put together,” Stenhouse said. “Bringing my crew chief Brian Pattie over, bringing Mike Kelley over, with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to work in, they jumped right in. I felt like they’ve been working with these guys for a long time and it’s only been a short amount of time.

“So, I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10. I feel like last night was definitely a night that we hit it right. We had a really good car and I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.

“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.

“I told the boys that we needed a good run going into Bristol, my favorite race track, knowing that I really like the way these cars drive. And if it drives as good at Bristol as it has at these other race tracks, I feel like we’re going to have a shot at a win. I wanted a good solid top-15 run, no issues, no mistakes and it turned out to be way better than that. So, we’re looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum into Sunday.”

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Starting lineup for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race at Bristol

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Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Keselowski will start first and Almirola will start second.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., putting all three of Team Penske’s cars in the top five.

The field was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol

Race Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (half-mile oval)

Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: June 1 at Bristol (300 laps, 159.9 miles), 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1

Chase Elliott ‘Sent it, for Judd’ in Charlotte Cup Series win

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A rollercoaster week for Chase Elliott ended Thursday night with him in Victory Lane for the second time in three days and for the first time this year in the Cup Series.

But Elliott’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the seventh Cup victory of his career, had additional weight for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Not long after the race, Elliott posted a picture on Instagram of him celebrating on the frontstretch. At the bottom of the picture was a drawing of a character saying “send it.”

A sticker of that figure, which is a walrus, is located on the front bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet.

“Sent it, for Judd,” Elliott wrote in the Instagram post. “This ones for you brother, miss you my friend. That sticker will forever stay on the front of that 9 car, I promise y’all that.”

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked Elliott on NASCAR America at Home the meaning behind the sticker.

“Judd (Plott) was my best friend since I was a kid, he and I grew up together,” Elliott said. “His mom sang at my parent’s wedding and just my best friend since I can remember. Lost him last fall. That sticker is kind of remembrance of him. He had a tattoo on his leg of that little walrus and that was kind of his little logo.

“So I had a friend make up some stickers last fall after (Judd passed), and I just thought it’d be really cool to carry that moving forward. He was my best friend as long as I can remember and just always supportive and just felt like it’d be special to carry that for the rest of my career and always remember him and he was one of a kind and he was a genuinely good dude.”

The walrus decal and its placement on Elliott’s bumper is similar to one that can be found on the bumper of Jimmie Johnson’s car. It’s dedicated to his friend Blaise Alexander, an ARCA driver who was killed in a crash at Charlotte in 2001, and the 10 people who were killed in a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash in 2004.

The walrus decal isn’t the first time Elliott’s honored his late friend. Last November, he had a tribute to Judd on his nameplate above the driver-side window.

Following Thursday’s race, the Cup Series next competes Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Like the previous four races, it will be a one-day show. Elliott shared his thoughts on how a limited at-track schedule and condensed crew rosters are bringing the No. 9 team together.

“It’s brought an excitement back to it that I haven’t had in a little while, from the standpoint of I feel like I’m short-track racing again,” Elliott said. “I feel like it’s brought our team closer together because different guys on our team are having to do more jobs. Like (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson is) having to come off the box and catch tires during the pitstop. And that’s brought him closer to our pit crew. I’m having a couple more items to do and keep up with than what I had before and I think all that is bringing us closer together. And for me, it’s just been a lot of fun kind of condensing the group and doing more racing and less sitting around.”

The one-day show at Bristol has an added element to it. Without any prior track activity before Sunday’s green flag, the traction compound added to the lower lanes in the turns will be more difficult for drivers to navigate.

Elliott thinks it’s been “overlooked a little bit.”

“(The traction compound) does not like to be run on until it gets run in and those are two things that don’t go good together, right?” Elliott said. “Because it doesn’t have grip and nobody wants to run on it. But we all want it at the same time because we want another option. What I’ve noticed is it seems like it takes the leaders catching lap cars and forcing cars into a position that they don’t want to be in to start to run that stuff in. Until it gets run in, it’s really hard. It’s really slick. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just, you know, marrying up all those things, right? Do we have the splitter height, right? How slick is that stuff going to be? How long is it going to take it to come in. And when it does come in how long until it wears out and the top becomes the advantage because it typically does by the end of a race.

“But we typically have a full weekend to practice and qualifying and a Xfinity race. And a lot of times we don’t see that top line come dominant until late in the Cup race on Sunday. So I’m really curious to see how all those things play out.”