Dale Jr. celebrates joining his father in NASCAR Hall of Fame

0 Comments

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr., who said he once thought he was destined only to be a mechanic at a car dealership, joined his father in the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday night.

“Nothing that racing has given me will ever top this night,” Earnhardt said at the end of his speech. “The people enshrined in this building, they’re my role models and my heroes and one of them happens to be my father, so to join dad in the Hall of Fame is probably as good as it’s going to get.”

Joining Earnhardt in the Class of 2021 is 89-year-old Red Farmer, who will  begin his 75th season of racing when he runs March 18 at Talladega (Alabama) Short Track, and the late Mike Stefanik, a seven-time NASCAR Whelen Modified champion and two-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series champion. 

MORE: Ageless Red Farmer still racing and sharing tales 

MORE: Dale Jr.’s dedication to ill children leaves lasting impact

Broadcaster Bob Jenkins, who died last August after a battle with brain cancer, was honored as the recipient of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR media excellence. Ralph Seagraves, who passed away in 1998, will be honored with the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to the sport, partnering the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company with NASCAR in 1971 to sponsor the Cup Series, renaming it the Winston Cup Series. 

They were celebrated by a crowd at the Charlotte Convention Center that included 14 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The journey from Earnhardt’s home in Kannapolis, North Carolina, to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte is a short trip in terms of miles but long in terms of what it took Earnhardt to complete the journey. Earnhardt shared his journey by highlighting key people along the way that helped shape him.

Those people were Gary Hargett, his first Late Model crew chief, friend and NBC Sports colleague Dale Jarrett, crew chief Tony Eury Sr., sister Kelley, car owner Rick Hendrick, crew chief and NBC Sports colleague Steve Letarte and wife Amy.

Earnhardt then thanked the fans.

“JR Nation has always had my back,” said the 15-time most popular driver in his speech. “When I stumbled, you guys were right there to lift me back up. Man, there were times when I absolutely needed you and you never let me down and were always there. We won together, and we lost together. Because so, you should know that I don’t go into this Hall of Fame alone. I go with you, and I go because of you.”

A fan in the crowd then shouted: “We love you!”

“I love you, too,” he said.

When Earnhardt made his Cup debut in 1999 at the Coca-Cola 600, he was accustomed to the attention. He had won a title in what was then called the Busch Series the previous year and was on his way to a second consecutive crown that season. He also had signed to a six-year sponsorship deal with Budweiser. 

Even so, the night he qualified for that first Cup race — before a crowd of more than 40,000 fans — Earnhardt admitted to jitters.

“I’ll tell you what, I ain’t never been that nervous in my life,” he said after earning the eighth starting spot, seven positions better than his father. “I wasn’t really worried about my ability to run a fast lap, I just knew that there were a lot more people paying attention than normal.”

But the confidence in Earnhardt was immense. The promotional effort Budweiser had in motion for him was second only to its Bud Bowl promotion that centered around the Super Bowl.

“Dale Earnhardt Jr. has become an absolute phenomenon as an athlete, not just a race car driver, and so the interest level for him … is one of the most astounding I’ve ever seen,” Don Hawk, president of Dale Earnhardt Inc., said in 1999. “If the industry is telling me the truth, Dale Jr. is one of the most powerful things to come along in motorsports in years.’’

After he qualified for that Coca-Cola 600, Earnhardt was surrounded by about 35 reporters and photographers near his garage. Teammate Steve Park had to climb atop a cooler so he could reach over the crowd to congratulate Earnhardt.

All the attention was second to what Earnhardt wanted most to achieve.

“If there is one person whose respect I want to earn,” Earnhardt said, “it’s his,” referring to his father.

Less than a year later, Earnhardt won his first of 26 Cup races, taking the checkered flag April 2, 2000, at Texas Motor Speedway in front of more than 200,000 fans. A proud Dale Earnhardt Sr. beat his son to victory lane. Father pulled son out of the car and bear hugged him.

“He told me he loved me,” Earnhardt later said of what his father told him in their embrace.

Less than a year later, his father died in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. A family mourned. As did a sport.

Earnhardt’s win at the July 2001 Daytona race — the first Cup race at the track since his father’s death — is one of the most memorable moments in the sport, if not most memorable, in the 2000s. The victory was cathartic not only for Earnhardt but for the sport and its fans.

“I was almost blinded by the flashbulbs going off as Dale Earnhardt Jr. went across the finish line,” said Elliott Sadler after finishing third that night.

Said Earnhardt after that race: “I never would have imagined this would happen. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I don’t know why this is happening to me. I’m just going to stay close to my friends … and to the people that make me feel good and maybe I’ll figure it out.’’

Among Earnhardt’s highlights was winning the 2004 Daytona 500. The trophy is a part of his Hall of Fame display case. While that victory was special because he didn’t have to wait as long as his father to win the 500, it also had special meaning for a future Cup driver who was with Earnhardt that weekend.

Denny Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, got his first experience with what it was like to win that race as a guest of Earnhardt’s that weekend.

“We had just met online racing,” Hamlin told NBC Sports. “Not really sure why, but he invited me to come down and stay with him and his friends that weekend. … I’ll never forget going to victory lane and celebrating and then taking the trophy from there to the golf cart, rode with him and the bus driver back. Carried it in from the golf cart  to the bus, wondering if I would have my own.”

While Earnhardt’s career had its share of victories, including another Daytona 500 win in 2014, it was the way he treated people with compassion and kindness — whether competitors, officials, media or fans — that made him stand out.

Earnhardt’s Chance2 Motorsports team was a key starting spot for future Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., and Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports team elevated future Cup champion Brad Keselowski.

It is what Earnhardt has done for others that stand out to his friend Truex.

“You look at just his impact on the sport,” Truex told NBC Sports. “Now he’s a broadcaster (for NBC Sports). … I really admire his passion for the sport and how much he puts into everything he does and his commitment the people around that he cares about. Very special guy.”

Car owner Rick Hendrick told a story Friday about how Earnhardt, when he was driving for Hendrick during the recession, told Hendrick to take $1 million out of his salary to make sure his team members were taken care of financially.

Hendrick said the team didn’t do it. Earnhardt then went to the office and made sure they did what he wanted with his salary.

“That’s the heart of Dale Earnhardt,” Hendrick said. “it was taking care of the folks in the organization.”

After Hendrick shared the story, Earnhardt told his former boss: “I got to credit, obviously all the people that I’m around me that influence you to make choices like that. You would have done the same thing. I was influenced by you in that moment, by my sister, by anybody else that I’ve worked with and dealt with. You’re a product of the people that you spend time with and the environment that you spend time in. … It’s people like you that sets such a good example for people like me.”

Earnhardt continues to strive for more in his role as a broadcaster for NBC Sports since retiring from full-time Cup competition after the 2017 season.

Earlier this month, he took part in the NASCAR organizational test at Daytona International Speedway. He drove a Hendrick Motorsports car both days. Earnhardt told NBC Sports he wanted to learn as much about the car to help him convey that to fans when he’s in the broadcast booth.

“I’m going to stand around and listen to everything they’re talking about (at the Daytona test) try to learn everything I can about this car,” he said before the test. “Try to take notes and document my experience so when I’m standing up there in the booth and something pops up, I can lean on that a little bit.”

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

HELIO’S ‘DAYS OF THUNDER’ MOMENT: Recalling a memorable 2022 victory drive through the smoke

“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

0 Comments

A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

0 Comments

Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

0 Comments

Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

MORE: A better way to determine the Cup champion?

Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.