Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Jr. says Luke Kuechly made right decision on retirement from NFL

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CHARLOTTE – As a professional athlete who understands the impact of concussions on career longevity, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an understandably emotional connection to Luke Kuechly’s stunning retirement from the NFL.

“Relief,” Earnhardt said Wednesday when asked about his reaction to the Carolina Panthers star linebacker walking away from pro football at 28. “I think my feeling for Luke is relief.

“He had an amazing career. Obviously, I’m sure he would have loved to have played longer, but he’s made some amazing, great choices for himself and for his family and his future.”

Though Kuechly didn’t reference concussions during a poignant 5-minute video posted Tuesday night by the Panthers to announce his decision, he cited no longer being able to play the game “fast, physical and strong” as he always had. A history of concussions plagued an eight-year career for Kuechly, who missed the last six games of the 2016 season and another in ’17 with a head injury.

I still want to play, but I don’t think it’s the right decision,” he said in the video.

That’s a similar sentiment to when Earnhardt announced nearly three years ago that he would be ending his career as a NASCAR driver at 43. Though healthy enough to have driven beyond the 2017 season, the 15-time most popular driver said the long-term quality of life with his family and the risk of another head injury weighed heavily in a decision to trade in his helmet for a headset as an NBC Sports analyst.

Earnhardt suffered several concussions during his Cup career. He admitted to hiding one for a few months while racing in 2002. Multiple concussions in the 2012 season sidelined him for two races, and he missed the final 18 races of ’16 while recuperating from another concussion.

“When you get in those types of situations that (Kuechly) was in, you have to make some difficult choices, and I think he made the right one,” Earnhardt said. “I feel like that a lot of people can learn from that. I think he set an amazing example for a lot of young folks to follow.”

Earnhardt has used his injuries as a platform for raising awareness about concussions, particularly in his candid 2018 autobiography, “Racing to the Finish.”

“It’s all improving across the board,” Earnhardt said about how concussions are handled in pro sports. ‘Especially when you see what Luke’s doing and making the choices he’s making, it’s obvious that we’re all a lot better off because of what we’ve learned as a society over the last decade about concussions and the seriousness of those situations, and how we need to take care of our bodies and when to step away and when to know that you need to take a break.

“I feel like we’re all much better off today than we were five or 10 years ago. And I can only see that improving. The understanding about concussions is always improving. The science behind it. Everything is getting better year after year. And that’s exciting. It’s good for our competitors today, no matter what sport you’re playing. It’s great for our veterans and guys who have retired because the science is just improving for everybody to diagnose and treat even years and decades after your playing days or being in a race car. You can still improve your quality of life and that makes me really, really happy.”

Earnhardt’s departure from the No. 88 Chevrolet received virtually universal support in NASCAR, and he was pleased by a similar reaction for Kuechly.

“(Kuechly) gave everything he could to when he was out on the field for the better of his team,” Earnhardt said. “If you listen to comments from his coaches and the players that he’s played with, you understand exactly what kind of person he was and how much of a teammate he was to the guys he played with. That speaks volumes.

“You just have to want to support his decision. (I’m) excited about his future and what he might do next and the next chapter for him. It’s going to be positive and successful, you’d imagine, because of the type of person that he is.”

As a broadcaster, Earnhardt has moved into a more ambassadorial role in his life after driving. That was evident Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which unveiled a new Glory Road exhibit that highlighted 18 championship cars personally selected by Earnhardt (including two driven by his late seven-time champion father).

“I do love to be acknowledged for the passion that I have for (NASCAR) history,” Earnhardt said. “If you’re a bit of a historian of the sport, any involvement in anything the Hall of Fame is going to be doing is awesome and going to be a great experience. I’m just glad that they asked me and hope that people appreciate what we created. I feel great and confident about it and hopefully feel good about it adding a lot to the experience when you come through here.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. set for Xfinity Series start at Miami in March

Dale Jr.
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will compete in the March 21 Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, JR Motorsports made official Tuesday.

Earnhardt will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Hellmann’s. Since he retired from full-time Cup Series racing after the 2017 season, Earnhardt’s two Xfinity starts – in 2018 (Richmond) and 2019 (Darlington) – have been with Hellmann’s as his primary sponsor. Now a NBC Sports analyst, Earnhardt finished in the top five in both races.

Daniel Hemric and Jeb Burton will pilot the No. 8 the rest of the season.

JR Motorsports

Earnhardt’s last Cup Series start came at Miami. His last Xfinity start at the 1.5-mile track was in 2008. In five Xfinity starts there his best result is second in 1999 before the track was changed to its current banked configuration.

The confirmation of Earnhardt’s race for 2020 is part of an extension between JR Motorsports and Unilever, JRM’s longest-tenured partnership, which enters its 12th season.

As part of the deal, Justin Allgaier and the No. 7 Chevrolet will have sponsorship from Unilever in five Xfinity races.

“In our sport, partnerships are everything,” Kelley Earnhardt Miller, JRM’s general manager said in a press release. “We don’t throw the words ‘cornerstone partner’ around a lot, but when we do, Unilever exemplifies its meaning.”

The 18 cars Dale Jr. chose for NASCAR Hall of Fame

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Saturday will mark the debut of a new lineup of cars for the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s “Glory Road” exhibit.

It will be the fourth set of cars to grace the Hall of Fame’s main atrium since the museum opened in 2010.

The difference with the new batch of 18 cars is they were specifically chosen by former Cup driver and NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt, the first guest curator of “Glory Road,” chose 18 cars that were driven by Cup champions. The exhibit, called “Dale Jr: Glory Road Champions,” will be on display for about three years.

The car lineup was slowly revealed over the last week on social media, culminating in tomorrow’s exhibit opening.

Here are the 18 cars that Earnhardt chose.

 

Richard Petty’s 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

 

The car Petty drove to a win in the historic 1979 Daytona 500, which marked the first live flag-to-flag TV coverage of the “Great American Race.”

Petty claimed the win after last-lap crash between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison as Petty ran in third. Petty would race an Oldsmobile and a Chevrolet in 1979, winning five times on his way to his seventh and final Cup title.

 

 

 

 

Dale Earnhardt’s 1994 Chevrolet Lumina

(Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)

 

Fifteen years after Petty’s seventh title, Dale Earnhardt became the second driver to reach that mark, winning four times in 1994 along with 20 top fives and 25 top 10s in 31 races. It marked the end of Earnhardt’s run of six championships in nine years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimmie Johnson‘s 2016 Chevrolet SS

(Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It took a little longer for Jimmie Johnson to join Petty and Earnhardt as a seven-time champion, doing so 22 years after Earnhardt. Johnson won five times and earned 11 top fives and 16 top 10s through 36 races. Three of those wins came in the last seven races of the season.

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Gordon’s 1997 Chevy Monte Carlo

(Getty Images)

The actual car Gordon won the 1997 Daytona 500 with – his first of three wins in the “Great American Race” – will be on display. The win kicked off Gordon’s second championship campaign. Gordon, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, would go on to win 10 races for the second year in a row.

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Elliott’s 1988 Ford Thunderbird

(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

“Awesome Bill from Dawsonville’s” lone Cup title came in 1988. That year he won six times, including the Southern 500 for the second of three times.

He also won the July race at Daytona, at Bristol, Pocono and swept the Dover races.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tony Stewart’s 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images).

The car Stewart drove to his first of three Cup titles and the second Cup title for Joe Gibbs Racing following Bobby Labonte’s in 2000.

Stewart only won three times (Atlanta, Richmond I and Watkins Glen), but had a 13-race streak that included two wins, five top fives and eight top 10s. He took the points lead for the first time after the 30th race of the 36-race season.

 

 

 

 

Benny Parsons’ 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle

(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

A former Detroit taxi driver, Parson’s lone Cup title came in the 1973 season despite him only claiming one win (Bristol II). But in the 28-race season, he finished outside the top 10 just seven times.

The championship was part of a nine-year stretch where Parsons did not finish outside the top five in the standings.

 

 

 

 

Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 Ford Thunderbird

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

One of the most celebrated championship stories in NASCAR history, the independent driver-owner Kulwicki won the 1992 Cup title in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, besting four other drivers who entered the race with a shot at the championship, including race winner Bill Elliott.

Kulwicki, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, died in a plane crash on April 1, 1993 on his way to Bristol Motor Speedway.

The car that will sit on “Glory Road” is the car Kulwicki drove to his fifth and final Cup win on June 14, 1992 at Pocono Raceway.

 

 

 

Bobby Allison’s 1983 Buick Regal

(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Allison claimed his lone Cup title in 1983 off of six wins, 18 top fives and 25 tops 10s in 30 races.

Allison’s wins included three in a row late in the season, with the first in the Southern 500. His title came after he had placed runner-up in the standings five times.

 

 

 

 

 

Cale Yarborough’s 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

In 1978, Cale Yarborough became the first driver to claim three consecutive Cup titles, an achievement that’s been repeated only once since with Jimmie Johnson as part of his five straight titles.

Driving for Junior Johnson, Yarborough won 10 races (for the second time in his career) and earned 24 top 10s in 30 races.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buck Baker’s 1957 Chevrolet 150

(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Baker won his second consecutive Cup title in a car nicknamed “The Black Widow.”

Baker competed in 40 of the season’s 53 races, winning 10 times and earning 30 top fives plus eight more top 10s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rusty Wallace’s 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

Wallace’s lone Cup title came in 1989 when he drove the No. 27 car for owner Raymond Beadle. Wallace claimed six wins and 13 top fives during the 29-race season, his last before he teamed with Miller Genuine Draft as a sponsor.

Wallace won the championship by just 12 points over Dale Earnhardt.

 

 

 

 

 

Darrell Waltrip’s 1981 Buick Regal

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

Waltrip claimed his first of three Cup titles in five years in 1981 while driving the No. 11 car for Junior Johnson. That year he won 12 races (which he would also do in 1982) and earned 21 top fives in 31 races.

His wins included four in a row late in the season at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte and Rockingham.

 

 

 

 

 

David Pearson’s 1968 Ford Torino

Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Pearson claimed his second of three Cup titles in 1968 driving the No. 17 car for Holman-Moody Racing. He claimed 16 of his 105 career Cup wins that season, his most in any year.

Pearson also earned 36 top fives over the course of the 49-race season. He started in 48 races.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimmie Johnson’s 2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Johnson started his historic five-year championship streak in 2006. That year he claimed five wins, including his first victories in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

This is the first car on the new version of “Glory Road” representative of NASCAR’s playoff era.

 

 

 

 

Dale Earnhardt’s 1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

The car Earnhardt drove to his first of seven Cup titles in 1980 while he raced for owner Rod Osterlund.

Earnhardt won five times and led the point standings for all but one of the season’s 31 races, leaving the season opener at Daytona second in points.

This car was gifted to Dale Earnhardt Jr. by Talladega Superspeedway in 2017 as part of his farewell tour before he retired from Cup racing.

Dale Jr. helped complete a restoration of the car so it would be historically accurate.

 

 

Richard Petty’s 1964 Plymouth Belvedere

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

The car “The King” raced to his first of seven Cup titles, totaling nine wins and 37 top fives over 61 starts, including his first of seven victories in the Daytona 500.

In the 500, Petty lapped the entire field of 46 cars while leading 184 of 200 laps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herb Thomas’ 1951 Hudson Hornet

Thomas won 48 races in his Hall of Fame career, including seven times in his first of two championship campaigns in 1951. Thomas raced a Plymouth for much of the first half of the season before switching to the Hornet. His seven wins included a victory in the Southern 500.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to guest curate NASCAR Hall of Fame’s ‘Glory Road’ exhibit

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will get to leave his personal touch on the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020.

While he’s not being inducted – yet – into it, the Hall of Fame announced Thursday that the former NASCAR driver and current NBC Sports analyst will guest curate the museum’s “Glory Road” exhibit.

“Glory Road” is located in the Hall of Fame’s main atrium and displays historic race cars in race formation on a curved “track” representing the different levels of banking found where NASCAR’s national series competes, along with some of NASCAR’s historic tracks.

NASCAR Hall of Fame
(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The exhibit, “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions,” will debut on Jan. 11 and will feature 18 premier series championship cars personally selected by Earnhardt. It will be on display for approximately three years.

“We are excited to present some of NASCAR’s most iconic premier series championship cars from the eyes of one of our biggest fans and ambassadors, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.,” said Winston Kelley, Executive Director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, in a press release. “I have always been inspired by Dale Jr.’s sincere interest in, and appreciation for, the history of our great sport.

“Having Dale guest curate one of our most recognizable exhibits following his days as a full-time driver has always been one of my personal goals. With so much from which to choose, selecting a theme, and narrowing that theme to 18 cars from a list of 75 – 100 available cars, is a very tough task. I know I can speak for my fellow NASCAR fans in thanking Dale for once again giving back to the sport he so dearly loves.”

The complete list of the new cars installed on “Glory Road” will be announced on the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s social media channels prior to the exhibit opening, starting on Jan. 6 and leading up to the exhibit’s opening.

“Having the chance to help choose the cars for the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s newest installment of Glory Road was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” Earnhardt said in the press release. “Everyone knows how much I enjoy learning about the history of our sport and sharing that history with people, and with this, I’m able to play a small role in what we share with fans who visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“I knew when Winston and his team first met with me that if I was able to pick the cars for the exhibit, I wanted it to focus on the champions of our sport. I felt like that was a no-brainer,” he continued. “I picked cars for this exhibit for many different reasons. But I definitely wanted to represent a broad history of the sport as a whole, so we could also see the progression of the cars. It’s really cool when they’re all there together and you can see all that’s changed in the technology from where we started to where we are today.”

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Darlington Raceway unveils theme for 2020 Throwback Weekend

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Darlington Raceway on Wednesday announced the theme for its annual throwback weekend, Sept. 4-6, 2020.

The “Track Too Tough To Tame” will be “Celebrating NASCAR’s Champions … Past, Present and Future” and will recognize NASCAR champions in both the Cup and Xfinity Series during the weekend.

The three days will culminate in the opening race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, the legendary Southern 500, on Sept. 6.

“When you look back at the history of the sport and all the champions that have won our great championship and all those drivers that have won at Darlington, there’s almost 20 drivers that were champions in the same year that they won one or more races at Darlington,” track president Kerry Tharp said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

Tharp continued, “I think this gives teams a real opportunity to honor champions, whether it’s paint schemes or something on their car that honors champions of our sport. … We really thought this was the way to go and allows us to celebrate the past, celebrate the present and oh by the way, that first race in the playoffs at Darlington will be the first step towards the 2020 champion.”

This will be the sixth consecutive year that Darlington has held its award-winning throwback weekend, and also marks the 71st running of the Southern 500. The Xfinity Series will also host the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200.

“There is so much history and correlation between NASCAR champions and Darlington race winners that this Throwback theme makes our 2020 event that much more special for our fans, teams, partners and stakeholders,” Tharp said.

The NASCAR Cup Series has seen 33 different drivers capture 71 total championships since the series began in 1949. Drivers with multiple championships include Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson (all with seven championships apiece); Jeff Gordon (4); Lee Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Tony Stewart (all with three championships apiece); Buck Baker, Joe Weatherly, Ned Jarrett, Terry Labonte and Kyle Busch (all with two championships apiece), and 17 other drivers have won one championship each.

In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, 29 different drivers have won the championship since the series began in 1982: Jack Ingram, Sam Ard, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Tyler Reddick have all won two Xfinity championships apiece. There have been 20 other drivers who have won one championship each.

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