Photo: Dustin Long

Daytona 500 victory 50 years in the making for Austin Dillon’s tire changer

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — The younger members of Austin Dillon’s team, full of adrenaline-fueled energy and excitement, celebrated their Daytona 500 victory Sunday with a late-night visit to a tattoo parlor to permanently etch their achievement on their rear end.

Terry Spalding didn’t make it that far. It was time to turn in.

That’s OK, Sunday was a big enough day for the 50-year-old front tire changer, who experienced his first Daytona 500 win.

Yes, Spalding is 50 years old and changes tires for a Cup playoff team. Age alone gives him a different perspective on the Daytona 500 victory.

“I’m really able to appreciate it,’’ Spalding told NBC Sports. “I’ve been doing it 20-some years. Only since I’ve been at RCR in the last seven or eight years have I really been able to win the races that I won.’’

Dillon says Spalding doesn’t need a Daytona 500 ring to note how special he is.

“Terry is just a champion in life, period,’’ Dillon said. 

Spalding grew up the son of a racer in Pennsylvania and moved to North Carolina to pursue a job in the sport in 1990 — the same year Dillon was born.

Along the way, Spalding has worked in Cup for car owners such as Travis Carter, Ray Evernham, Richard Petty, Michael Waltrip, Richard Childress. Spalding has gone over the wall to service cars for drivers such as Jimmy Spencer, Elliott Sadler, Tony Raines, David Reutimann, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Dillon.

Spalding went to in Victory Lane at Indianapolis in 2011 when Paul Menard won. Spalding was in Victory Lane last year when Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600.

That he is still going over the wall is a feat considering the radical changes for pit crew this season. With NASCAR eliminating one of the over-the-wall positions, pit crew members are having to redefine their roles. Those that haven’t adjusted as well have lost jobs or been dropped down a series. Spalding’s duties have changed. He now carries a 60-pound tire with along with his air gun.

He’s always managed to adjust through the years. When he turned 40, he often was asked how much longer would he wanted to change tires. He randomly said 50. It’s a nice round number. Realistically, as pit crews have become more athletic and younger — many are in their 20s — that seemed like a pipe dream.

Now that he’s 50, how much longer will he go?

“I feel as good as I did when I was 40,’’ Spalding said. “I thought about when I can’t go over the wall anymore, starting to coach.’’

He’s got to find time. He plays in the same basketball league Denny Hamlin hosts at his house that includes Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Blaney and others. In recent years, Spalding competed in slalom ski races. He’s also played in a roller hockey league. He’s competed in mountain bike races.

“I still go in the weight room, I don’t hit it as hard as I used to,’’ Spalding said. “I like to do things … and stay active that way.’’

He’s not ready to quit any time soon.

“I want to go as long as I can,’’  he said. Barring some freak injury, I honestly think 55 is no problem.’’ 

That would be at least five more Daytona 500s.

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NASCAR connections to Monday’s college football National Championship

Talladega Superspeedway
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The 2017-18 college football season ends tonight with the National Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The game (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) pits the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs, two Southeastern Conference teams.

We decided to take a look at the two schools and their connections to the NASCAR world.

If we missed any NASCAR connections, let us know.

The paths of Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski crossed last year.

In September, the driver of the No. 2 Ford visited the school’s Tuscaloosa campus, which is located just under 110 miles west of Talladega Superspeedway.

Saban actually served as the grand marshal of the 2009 spring Cup race at the 2.66-mile speedway, when Keselowski won his first Cup race.

During the visit, the two swapped jerseys, with Keselowski receiving a No. 2 jersey with his name on it.

“I can tell you this, I hope the tide rolls us right into victory lane when we get back to Talladega,” Keselowski said. “Like Coach Saban and his teams at Alabama, there is a winning tradition at Team Penske. We hope to add to that legacy with another Talladega Superspeedway triumph, and ultimately another championship.”

Two weeks later, Keselowski claimed his fifth Talladega win.

Saban will be looking for his sixth national championship tonight.

Hendrick Motorsports has a few team members who have ties to the game.

Rowdy Harrell, a former walk-on linebacker at Alabama, is a rear tire carrier on the No. 88 team. He won three championships with the Crimson Tide, the last coming in 2013. He joined Hendrick in September of that year.

Harrell was brought to the team by Chris Burkey, a pit crew coach for Hendrick. Burkey is a former scouting assistant for the Miami Dolphins from Saban’s time as head coach of the team.

The colors of the Crimson Tide have made their way to the high banks of Talladega multiple times over the last 17 years.

The first Alabama-themed scheme belonged to Scott Pruett and his No. 32 Tide car in 2000.

Michael Waltrip Racing was the vessel for three more schemes in 2010, 2012 and 2013, the seasons following Alabama National Championships.

2010 – David Reutimann

(Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2012 – Clint Bowyer

(Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2013 – Michael Waltrip

There are far fewer connections between NASCAR and the University of Georgia, but they’re there.

Chase Elliott, the Hendrick Motorsports driver and native of Dawsonville, Georgia, is a noted fan of the Bulldogs.

Hendrick’s strength and condition coach, Darius Dewberry, was a Georgia linebacker from 2006-09 and joined Hendrick in June 2013.

NASCAR on NBC’s own Rutledge Wood is a native of Alabama, but he moved to Georgia in 1995 and graduated from the school with a degree in marketing.

Bulldog sports teams have interacted with the NASCAR world a few times.

In 2014, the football team was part of the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina, playing against the University of Louisville. As part of their bowl week festivities, the teams visited Charlotte Motor Speedway to participate in the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Two years later, the Georgia baseball team visited Charlotte to play the University of North Carolina – Charlotte 49ers.

As part of their visit, they visited Hendrick Motorsports to get a taste of the life of a NASCAR pit crew.

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Austin Dillon returns No. 3 to victory lane for first time since Dale Earnhardt’s last win

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CONCORD, N.C. – Austin Dillon scored his first Cup victory in his first start with a new crew chief, bringing an iconic number back to victory lane in NASCAR’s premier series.

Stretching his last tank of fuel 70 laps, the Richard Childress Racing driver won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I can’t believe it,” Dillon told Fox Sports. “I was just really focused on those last laps.”

It was the first victory on the circuit for the No. 3 Chevrolet since the late Dale Earnhardt’s win at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2000. Richard Childress Racing mothballed the number after Earnhardt’s death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 but brought it back with Dillon in 2014.

Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, was making his debut with crew chief Justin Alexander, who replaced Slugger Labbe last week.

Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Jimmie Johnson was leading before running out of fuel with three laps remaining, handing the lead to Dillon.

“I was just trying to be patient with (Johnson),” Dillon said. “I could see him saving (fuel). I thought I’d saved enough early where I could attack at the end, but I tried to wait as long as possible. And when he ran out, I figured I’d go back in and save where I was lifting, and it worked out.

“I ran out at the line and it gurgled all around just to do one little spin and push it back to victory lane.”

With the victory, Dillon qualified for the playoffs, joining RCR teammate Ryan Newman (who clinched a berth by winning at Phoenix International Raceway).

Dillon becomes the 10th driver to score his first Cup win at Charlotte, joining David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and David Reutimann.

Who had a good race: Kyle Busch charged to second in the closing laps, following up a win last week at the All-Star Race. … Truex dominated Charlotte for the third straight year, leading a race-high 233 laps. … Joe Gibbs Racing placed three drivers in the top five, and rookie Daniel Suarez was 11th. … Rookie Erik Jones finished seventh, giving Furniture Row Racing two top 10s in a race for the first time.

Who had a bad race: It was over for Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski on Lap 20 when they were collected in a bizarre wreck as a result of a chain reaction from Jeffrey Earnhardt’s engine failure. …  Points leader Kyle Larson finished a season-worst 32nd after a crash. … Danica Patrick hit the wall twice (at least once because of a tire problem) and placed 25th.

Quote of the race: “My fiancée wrote in the car, ‘When you keep God in the first place, he will take you places you never imagined.’ And, I never imagined to be here.” – Dillon after scoring his first Cup victory.

What’s next: 1 p.m., June 4 at Dover International Speedway on FS1.

Real estate company posts signs at Michael Waltrip Racing, noting its availability

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A real estate company has posted signs at Michael Waltrip Racing proclaiming that the shop is “Available.”

A sign on the building and one near MWR’s signboard lists a phone number for inquiries with Lincoln Harris, a full-service real estate company based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

MWR officials announced last year that the NASCAR Sprint Cup team would cease after the 2015 season with co-owner Rob Kauffman leaving to become a co-owner with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team filed paperwork in September with the state of North Carolina that 217 employees would lose their jobs at MWR. The layoffs are scheduled to conclude by April 15.

The Cornelius, North Carolina, shop – located about 30 minutes from Charlotte Motor Speedway – features two buildings and sits on 11.479 acres. A sign proclaims the facility has more than 142,000 square feet of space.

No price is listed. NBC Sports’ calls to Lincoln Harris were not returned Friday.

The Mecklenburg County Assessor’s office lists the shop’s value as $12,807,200 – based on an assessment in 2011.

Public records show that the property had a tax bill last year of $137,909.73. That bill was due Sept. 1, 2015. Public records listed the bill as delinquent Jan. 8. Public records indicated Monday that the bill had been paid.

Waltrip converted a former movie theatre into his race shop and officially opened the facility to the public in May 2007. Michael Waltrip Racing won seven races, including the 2009 Coca-Cola 600 with David Reutimann, while housed there. The team’s final Cup victory came July 14, 2013, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Brian Vickers.

How much has changed since Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to Hendrick

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)
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One of the funnier NASCAR related commercials of the last decade turned out to partially predict the future.

Once upon a time, Dale Earnhardt Jr., still competing in the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc., starred in an ad where the driver announced he was changing his number from 8 to 6.7.

Chaos reigned in the 30-second spot as Earnhardt fans altered tattoos, cut down tailor-made hedges and mourned over rooms full of obsolete merchandise.

Then, on June 13, 2007, it became a reality.

That was the day Earnhardt really announced he would be changing his number – to 88 – and that after eight years of driving for the team his father founded, he would join Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.

You can now draw a line down the middle of Earnhardt’s Sprint Cup career. Eight full-time seasons with DEI, eight with Hendrick.

His eight seasons with DEI included 17 victories. He has nine wins with Hendrick, seven of them coming in the last two seasons. During the first eight Hendrick years Earnhardt has worked with five different crew chiefs, starting with Tony Eury Jr. and ending with Greg Ives in 2015.

The only constant for Earnhardt has been the Most Popular Driver award, which he has been given every season since 2003.

BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 15: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 NationalGuard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Lifelock 400 at the Michigan International Speedway on June 15, 2008 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won just once in his first four seasons with Hendrick. He claimed the 2008 spring race at Michigan. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

But how much else has changed in the sport in the eight years since arguably the biggest free agent move in NASCAR history?

2008 also marked the first year of Sprint being the title sponsor of the Cup series, following up Nextel’s four years of service. That was also the second season the Cup series used the Car of Tomorrow, or Gen Five car. It would be put out to pasture after six seasons in 2012.

During the era of the CoT, Earnhardt won only two races and teammate Jimmie Johnson claimed five of his six championships.

In the last eight years the format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup has been through three different iterations.

Then, only 12 drivers were included in the post-season. Now, 16 drivers are trimmed down to four over the course of 10 races.

In 2008, Mark Martin still had five seasons in front of him before finally retiring after 2013.

Clint Bowyer was in his third full-time season with Richard Childress Racing and wouldn’t join Michael Waltrip Racing for four more seasons. MWR competed in its first full-time Sprint Cup season in 2008 with David Reutimann driving the No. 00 and Waltrip in the No. 55. Reutimann hasn’t driven full-time since 2013 and MWR shut down at the end of 2015.

Tony Stewart, who Bowyer will replace in 2017, still called Joe Gibbs Racing home in 2008. The next year, he was off to Stewart-Haas Racing where he would claim his third Sprint Cup title in 2011.

Other drivers who raced for different teams in 2008 than they would in 2015 included:  Ryan Newman, Sam Hornish Jr. and Kurt Busch (Team Penske), Kevin Harvick (Richard Childress Racing), Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards,  David Ragan and Jamie McMurray (Roush Fenway Racing), Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Aric Almirola (DEI), Casey Mears (Hendrick), AJ Allmendinger and Brian Vickers (Red Bull Racing), Kasey Kahne (Evernham Motorsports) and David Gilliland (Robert Yates Racing).

CONCORD, NC - MAY 25: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on May 25, 2008 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
2008 was the final season of Evernham Motorsports before merging with Richard Petty Motorsports in 2009. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR).

Drivers who have retired, left NASCAR or the Sprint Cup Series since 2008 include: Martin, Terry Labonte, Bill Elliott, Gordon, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dave Blaney, Kyle Petty, Marcos Ambrose, Sterling Marlin, Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler (racing for Earnhardt at JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series).

Including Earnhardt, the only drivers who competed for the same teams in 2015 that they were in 2008 were Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle (Roush), Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin (JGR).

But probably the biggest signifier of the passage of time is in who the Gillette Young Guns were in 2008. The five drivers were Newman, Bowyer, Hamlin, Edwards, Kahne and Kurt Busch.

Those “Young Guns” are now all 35 years or older.

Earnhardt ended his association with Gillette after the 2006 season.

The former “Young Gun” is now enjoying his early 40s, which so far has included getting engaged to girlfriend Amy Reimann and having his best on-track success in more than a decade.