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Dale Jr. Download: Joe Gibbs and the mystery of Carl Edwards’ retirement

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It’s been roughly two-and-a-half years since Carl Edwards stunned the NASCAR world in January 2017 with the announcement he was stepping away from the sport.

No one was more stunned than his owner at the time, Joe Gibbs.

“I would have to say that conversation might have been (in) my top five as far as shocks for me in life,” Gibbs said on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download (airs at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“They said, ‘Hey, Carl’s outside,'” Gibbs recounted. “It was after the season. I figured he was going to come in and wish me a happy offseason and good Christmas.”

Instead, Edwards sat down and said, “Joe, I think I made up my mind. I’m going to step out of racing.”

“I was sitting there and I go, ‘You do realize that every young guy your age wants to drive a race car and make a ton of money? Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?'” Gibbs asked Edwards.

What’s even more shocking is that in June 2019 Gibbs still isn’t fully aware of the reasons behind Edwards’ departure after the 2016 season.

“Never really ever really got to the (reasons),” Gibbs said. “He said, ‘I’m not going to share with you, I’m not going to share with anybody the real bottom lines.’ … I will say this right now, I feel good about it from the standpoint, we still talk every now and then. Last time I called him he was on his boat in the Bahamas. I said, ‘Well, you’re doing pretty good.'”

Edwards sudden departure sent ripple effects through the sport that are still being felt today when it comes to drivers.

Martin Truex Jr. now drives the No. 19 Toyota that Edwards piloted for JGR, having replaced Edwards’ successor, Daniel Suarez, after the 2018 season.

With a drivers stable of Truex, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, Toyota and JGR find themselves with the challenge of what to do with Xfinity Series star Christopher Bell beyond 2019.

“That’s one of the challenges you’ve got, particularly in bringing along young guys,” Gibbs said. “It’s happened to us before and man, you get caught up in that, what’s the right decision? There are options there. We’re kind of considering everything. You’re trying to work your way through them. Of course, what we just talked about, the sponsor. How does the sponsor fit in all that. It gets to be really complicated.”

Gibbs discussed Toyota’s influence on Bell’s future.

“Honestly we don’t make any decision (without them), we’re constantly talking back and forth,” Gibbs said. “It’s a real partnership from a standpoint, we’re the ones that have to get the sponsors. So the race team is hard after it. … Some of these problems, if you remember back when we took Erik and he wound up going to the 77 over at (Furniture) Row (in 2017) and everything that happened there, those are tough decisions to go through and work through, but that’s the challenge of our sport. You can say what you want, but you’re not going to go anywhere unless you have great drivers.”

Also discussed in the episode:

  • Gibbs’ Hall of Fame NFL coaching career
  • Why Gibbs returned to coaching the Washington Redskins in 2004
  • Being elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame with his former drivers, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte

 

Hybridization of NASCAR cars not expected by 2021, Toyota executive says

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NASCAR and manufacturers have discussed the hybridization of future cars but one manufacturer executive said it won’t happen soon.

Relative to hybridization and electrification, quite simply, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of how and when,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said Thursday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “A hybrid type of strategy is absolutely something that we’re looking at.

“Candidly, it won’t be something that we see as early as ’21. That’s, realistically, a little further down the road.”

NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton said May 20 on the Dale Jr. Download that a key to the Gen 7 car — expected to debut in 2021 — would be to “make room for what might happen next. Not in the short-term, but if the automobile industry and the racing industry go down the road with some type of electrification, the chassis should have room for that. In the motor component, whatever evolution we go to in the next generation of power plants for the cars … we have the opportunity with a clean sheet of paper to build a chassis that can accommodate that easily without having to tear a car apart.”

Brad Keselowski wrote an essay last May titled: It’s time: The NASCAR hybrid. Keselowski wrote: “Not only am I sure that hybrids are the future of NASCAR — I believe it’s essential to the success of the sport that we embrace hybrid technology as soon as possible.”

Hybrids have become more important for manufacturers, Wilson said on “The Morning Drive” on Thursday.

“You look across the motorsports landscape, you’re seeing hybridization and electrification everywhere you look,” he said. “That again is simply a reflection of the automotive culture on a global basis. Today, Toyota has eight different hybrid vehicles in their lineup.”

Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, also was on “The Morning Drive” on Thursday and expressed the value of the Gen 7 car being able to incorporate hybrid elements in the future.

“I think Gen 7 gives an opportunity to bring more relevant elements of the car and the technology to what we’re selling in the showroom or what we’ll be selling more of in the future,” Campbell said. “Along with that is the ability of if we do that have an opportunity to attract more (manufacturers). So it all does really fit together. There’s still much work going on with the Gen 7.

“In terms of hybrid, I will tell you that every series we’re involved in, every single series Chevy is involved in … is looking at what is the opportunity to package protect or what are the options to include some element of hybridization. That’s really where it is right now. It’s in a discussion phrase. It hasn’t been locked down.”

In regards to hybridization coming to NASCAR, Wilson said on SiriusXM: “It is an inevitability from our perspective.”

Before the season, Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, said of hybrids: “As we change road cars, we’re not going directly from an internal combustion engine to electric. We’ll have hybrids along the way. I don’t know NASCAR needs to go full electric.

“Even if you continue racing the internal combustion engine, we get a ton of benefit from that and connection with the fans. The ability to put the hybrid in when the time is ready, that’ll continue to connect as fans’ cars and trucks go hybrid.”

NASCAR America: Dale Jr. Download with Mike Helton, 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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On today’s Dale Jr. Download, which runs from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Dale Earnhardt Jr. welcomes NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton.

Earnhardt has known Helton his whole life, and while the two consider each other good friends, Junior told one story where that friendship was tested a bit. 

Here’s a brief segment of what Junior had to say about Helton:

You can be an incredible friend, but the funny thing is when you need to chew somebody’s ass, you can get that done, too. There was one time you had to get after me pretty hard at Bristol Motor Speedway. … We had a car explode a brake rotor on the race track and threw brake parts all over the place.

There was about 15 laps to go and we were running under caution. Typically, NASCAR red flags the race and I was wanting them to do that, but they didn’t. I don’t see the brake stuff, everything’s great, I’m raising hell. This was in the Bud days. Tony (Eury) Sr. was on the radio and I think he was encouraging me a little bit. Our spotter came over and said they want you and Tony Sr. to come to the truck after the race. I stopped talking immediately.

That’s when I learned that Mike Helton and the guys in the booth listen to the drivers and I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, they heard me.’ … We go up in the hauler and me and Tony Sr. still feel like we’re in the right and that we’re going to tell ‘em this and tell ‘em that, and that we’re going in there thinking we’re going to tell Helton and he’s going to say ‘you’re right, we should have red-flagged the race.’

As soon as Helton’s head comes into the door jamb, Tony Sr. and I both started pleading our case. And Mike Helton said, ‘Both of y’all hush. Y’all aren’t going to talk, I’m going to talk.’ You were so mad, so angry, and when I realized how mad you were, I was so disappointed in myself for disappointing and angering him. … I realized now what I had done.’”

Tune in to hear the rest of the story on the Dale Jr. Download (the above portion starts around 51:00).

And then stick around for the following show, IndyCar Live, from Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 6-6:30 pm ET with Kevin Lee.

If you can’t catch either of today’s shows on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Dale Jr. Download: Drag racer John Force shares many stories

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If you thought the recent episode of the Dale Jr. Download that featured Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. shotgunning beers was wild, you haven’t seen anything yet. Tuesday’s edition of the Dale Jr. Download may go down in history as one of the wildest, most raucous episodes ever.

What else would you expect when your guest is legendary drag racer John Force – who talks almost as fast as he drives.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion, who is one win away from earning his 150th career national event victory, joined Dale Earnhardt Jr. and co-host Mike Davis on this week’s DJD. Catch the video portion of the podcast today from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

They covered a number of topics, from gators to golf, to all of the crashes and fires Force has endured in his career, his racing family, and much more.

The ever-so-chatty Force had so much to talk about that this week’s DJD lasted over two hours.

Click here for the full Dale Jr. Download. But before that, here’s some of the top highlights:

Force on Dale Jr.’s new book, Racing to the Finish: My Story: “Hey, I read your (book). Unbelievable. I got an education. And you know what, I thought it’d be all about racing, but it really was all about the things that happen to race car drivers. And people don’t get it, but I got it. I’ve been doing this for 100 years, before you were born son. And I look at this and said, ‘Oh God, I never realized so many things.’ I called up my shrink and said I needed to be committed today. But I learned so much. If you get a chance, buy this book. I’m not trying to plug it (Dale Jr. said go right ahead). But it was great. I got it, took it. My daughter Courtney joked. We went to Tahiti … and it was painful for me. But I got up every day and started reading the book because I needed something to do. My daughters will tell you, I got hooked on it. I started underlining things so I could remember how things happened. It was just really cool. I never fell asleep reading your book. I spent a couple hours every day reading your book. It was really cool reading it and the education I got.”

Force on some of the songs that are played over drag strip public address systems when he brings his car to the starting line: “(They used to play) ’Jesus Take The Wheel’ and they used to play ‘Take This Job And Shove It’ and they played it at every race when I got ready to start my car. Now, they play, ‘I Don’t Want No Rockin’ Chair’ and half the fans in the stands say ‘I never heard these songs. Who is this guy?’”

Force turns 70 this Saturday. What keeps him going: “There’s reasons why I stay in this sport. We lost a young driver, Eric Medlen, and three months later, the cars had gone through a transition. We lost (Scott) Kalitta and a number of other drivers. … We’re warriors, but that ain’t the truth, that ain’t the way the world really works. … You start realizing things can go ugly here. You’re not Superman and you get through it. But I looked at Eric and I thought there must be a reason for me, why would the Good Lord take a beautiful kid like him and keep a guy like me. There must be a reason. When we lost your dad, it broke my heart. When you watched the funeral, you thought it was the president. In the middle of it, there must have been a reason for me to build safety, now I have chassis shops and motor programs in Indy.”

Who will fill Force’s shoes when he retires – that is, IF he ever retires: “I’m doing okay in the points, but the last couple years I’ve been struggling. I think they’ve all filled my shoes already. But I love these young kids and yeah, we have arguments and fights and things that go down, but they love what they do and they want to be the best. … Matt Hagan, (Jack) Beckman, (Ron) Capps naturally, the Pedregon brothers (Cruz and TV analyst Tony). … Next week, I’m going to be 100 in Atlanta. I’m embarrassed to say my age anymore. But I don’t know where to go, I’m just kind of lost out there. New stars are growing. (Steve) Torrence, the kid who won the championship (Top Fuel, last season), J.R. Todd. … They’re speaking out from the heart because you have to talk from the heart.”

When asked about whether he has any hobbies, Force went from golf to gators, both with near-disastrous results: “I don’t have a life. I go fishing with my grandsons and they say ‘You don’t know how to fish, do you? You don’t know nothin’ but a race car.’ Tried golfing once. I was on the golf course. I hit the ball from the tee and it went to the right. Tiger Woods couldn’t have done that. It bounced off the golf cart. Wally Parks, founder of the NHRA, was sitting there and he didn’t see the ball and it just missed him. So they said, ‘You drive the beer cart.’ Me and my buddy drove the beer cart and drove it all day and we were so drunk.”

Now, as for the gators: “So we went swimming in a big old pond. A guy come by and said, ‘Hey, get out of there, there’s (water) moccasins in there.’ I almost got ate by a gator in Florida a couple weeks ago. If it’s a gator, it’s put there on a rail. … I was in a restaurant once in Florida with my brother, we looked out a window and saw a gator walking around across the back of the restaurant. So we went out there and a guy said, ‘Are you nuts?’ I said how could they just let a gator walk around there. They said, ‘You better be afraid.’ If I’m going to go down, if it ain’t in a race car, I want to tangle with a great white (shark).”

While there’s still plenty more to come in the podcast, we’ll leave you with one last Force comment that presents a strong visual: “And then I watched the ‘The Exorcist.’ Oh man, I got a real problem. I sat in my bedroom, hugging my teddy bear, waiting for the exorcist to come in.”

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Dale Jr. Download: ‘Are you $150,000 confident that this is the car?’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. likes to collect racing memorabilia. Especially when it comes to items closely connected to the career of his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr.

He owns the No. 2 car his father won the 1980 Cup championship with, as well the Corvette they shared in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2001.

Dale Jr. recently added to his collection in the form of a No. 8 Goodwrench car that Dale Sr. won with a handful of times in the Busch Series (now the Xfinity Series) in the 1980s.

But his journey to claiming ownership of the car was a stressful and costly affair, which he recounted on this week’s “Dale Jr. Download.”

“I’ve seen this car … pop up for the last 15 years,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been to Monterey, it’s been raced as a vintage racer for many, many years. It’s been to Goodwood (Festival of Speed) twice. I’ve seen this car over and over and over. I’ve never seen it in person. I’ve always wondered is it the real car? They’re claiming it’s the real car, but how do you know?

“Obviously, the car came up for sale recently at Barrett Jackson. I’m getting all kinds of text messages from everybody, even my sister (Kelley). Talking about, ‘Man, you seen this car?’ …

“I wonder why, of course, it’s getting sold. We’ve seen in the past, especially recently, a lot of dad’s cars and my cars going on auction. Some real, some not real. It’s pretty easy to be honest with you to know what’s real and what’s not.”

Earnhardt explained his attachment to the car was due in part to where it was constructed.

“This one in particular is important because it was built in the shop next to (his grandmother’s) house,” he said. “This was before (Dale Earnhardt Inc). … I would beg dad to take me (to the shop).”

Earnhardt’s detective work began with a relative, Robert Gee Jr., an uncle on his mother’s side of the family who worked on the No. 8 car.

“Robert Gee Jr. had verified that this car was legit,” Earnhardt said. “This car was brought up to Robert Gee Jr. to be looked at (in the late 90s). And the reason they would bring it to him is because he put the body on the car. He did several things on the car and would go to the race track with the team as well. I’ve got him at the race track in a photo with the rest of the team standing next to this car. Robert Gee Jr., who works here at JR Motorsports, has worked on this car, put the body on it.”

When Earnhardt asked him if the car was the real deal, Gee said, “Yep, it is. I’m pretty confident this is the car.”

“Well, this car is probably going to go for $150,000,” Earnhardt said. “Are you $150,000 confident that this is the car?’

Gee was “pretty sure.”

Gee explained that when he first verified the car in the late 90s it was via the car’s drive shaft hoop.

Also of note: who had made the hoop.

“He watched my dad make that hoop,” Earnhardt said. “It’s unique because my dad made it and the way it was made. The way dad chose to make it, he heated it up with an acetylene torch and wrapped this thing around an oxygen tank, which is quite dangerous, and made it himself right there in front of Robert in the shop.”

It wasn’t enough for Earnhardt.

“He couldn’t give me enough confirmation to make me completely sure that this was the real car,” Earnhardt said. “I got some encouragement from within my family that I should purchase this car. I called Tony (Eury) Sr. and talked to him about it.”

Then Earnhardt “swung for the fences.”

He called his former owner Rick Hendrick, who was at the auction.

“I said ‘I got one I need you to get for me if you can and he goes, ‘Sure.’ It’s probably going to go for ($150,000). If it’s under ($200,000), try to stay in the fight.”

$190,000 later, the car was his. It eventually arrived at Earnhardt’s home and was unloaded.

“I have been climbing all over this car, alright? Trying to find some identification,” Earnhardt said. “Something, anything, that would make me feel confident 100% that this was the car.”

He first looked at the floorboard of the car. His father often beat the floorboard of cars with a ball peen hammer to get his seat low.

“You can see the ball peen hammer marks in the bottom of the car,” Earnhardt said. “It’s obviously been hammered down a ton, all the way across the back to get his back of the seat lower.”

But it still wasn’t enough confirmation.

“Somebody else could have beat their seat down,” he said. “It’s a very Earnhardt thing. But I can’t find another picture of the car from 1986 of the bottom showing this exact same hammer marks. That doesn’t do it for me.

“I’m the one who has spent the money, I need more.”

Earnhardt turned to his phone, which has thousands of photos of his father’s career.

“There’s a couple photos of me that I’ve collected as well and there’s one of me in 1986,” Earnhardt said. “I’m sitting in the car … That gives me a view of the driver’s window. Some of the interior of the car, as far as the rear sheet metal in the back interior of the car, the roll cage. One of the things I look at in this photo is how they hooked up the widow net at the top of the window. Back then, everybody would have done that differently. When you put the body on, you made that yourself, how you were going to hook up the window net. So when you see those mounts, they’re unique to the car. I would look at those mounts and go, ‘That’s exactly like the mounts on my car.’ That’s a pretty good confirmation, but … that’s 99% maybe, or 95% sure this is the car.”

But Earnhardt found another photo from the same day of him sitting in the car taken from the passenger window.

“I can see the seat, the seat belts, the steering wheel, the steering shaft, the dashboard,” Earnhardt said. “If you draw in, look closely, above the steering shaft there is a radio box. It’s riveted to a roll bar with two rivets and then to a piece of sheet metal by two rivets as well. If you look, it’s kind of cocked counter-clockwise just slightly. It’s not level with the roll cage or the car. So I go into the car quickly with my camera. … I dive into that car with my camera, alright? I take a picture of the car today. There’s the rivet holes and they’re off angle. That’s it.

“I don’t need anything else. That to me locks it down that I’m holding the real thing.”

Earnhardt ran up to his house to tell his wife, Amy, the news.

“I was almost in tears getting that type of confirmation that I have the car,” Earnhardt said. “I was calling my sister, I was calling Rick. I called Robert Jr. I texted Tony Sr. I’m telling everyone, ‘I got it. I got what I needed.”