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Young drivers prepare to step up as Dale Jr . readies for goodbye
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond RICHMOND, Va. -- The cyclical churn of talent in the NASCAR garage took another turn this week with Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s announcement that 2017 will be his final year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. His impending departure follows those of household names Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards -- all in short order since the end of the 2015 season. In outlining his decision to leave the cockpit, Earnhardt was asked about NASCAR's ability to reload with a new generational thrust in driver star power. He named Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott among the sport's several young aces in waiting, offering assurance that the NASCAR roster remained vibrant and strong. As for those young stars? Asked upon their Friday arrival at Richmond International Raceway about their readiness to assume the mantle, the newest and brightest of those newer drivers might not be waiting much longer. "Although it's sad that we have all our veterans and heroes retiring, I think NASCAR is in a great position with all the young talent that they have in the (Monster Energy) Series currently, and really in every feeder series below them, there's a lot of young guys with great equipment and good backing," said 24-year-old Kyle Larson, the series' current points leader. "So, I think the competition will be good. And, there's a lot of personalities, too, with people getting themselves out there on social media and stuff like that, showing their personalities. So, I feel like we're in a good spot to have some new stars step up." Larson and Elliott -- both 20-somethings -- have already begun to make that push on the track, sitting 1-2 in the series standings. They've been joined by 23-year-old Ryan Blaney, plus rookies Erik Jones, 20, and Daniel Suarez, 25, as just some of the newest faces in the garage. The current transition of the sport's paradigm isn't a new phenomenon. If the genealogy of NASCAR stardom read like the Book of Chronicles, it would include a traditional biblical list of "begats." The career of Lee Petty begat Richard Petty's, Fireball Roberts' and Ned Jarrett's careers begat David Pearson's, which begat Cale Yarborough's, Bobby Allison's and Darrell Waltrip's. Then came Earnhardt and Elliott and Wallace, then Gordon, then Stewart and then Jimmie Johnson -- all with a host of other dynamic personalities in between. Mere mention as a part of that incoming next wave, with the potential to join a list of stars with Hall of Fame clout ranks as heady territory. Being singled out by the series' 14-time Most Popular Driver as one of those candidates is too, something that Blaney -- Earnhardt's neighbor and friend -- accepts with a degree of pride and reverence. "He has a very big impact of what people think, whether it is fans or in the garage area," Blaney said. "Him talking up younger drivers or the sport in general is going to get his fans excited about the future of going forward even though he won't be driving next year. What he says will be very important. I know he has always said great things about the sport and drivers in it and been very positive, which makes him a great person and great ambassador for the sport. It means a lot to hear him say those things. "Like I said, I know he says that about a lot of young drivers and try to set everything up for the future, but it is nice to be a part of that conversation when he speaks." Gracefully making the transition to stardom is a multi-pronged challenge, requiring both on-track performance and a proficiency in engaging with fans new and old. The former requires both raw talent and a full team effort. As for the latter, Suarez said there's no secret code to making that connection. "I think it's very simple -- it's just being yourself," said Suarez, in his first year of replacing Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing. "I think every single driver out there in the garage has different personalities: Dale has his personality; Kyle has his personality; Jimmie Johnson has his personality; I have my personality; and everyone is different. When every single driver can go out there to be himself, I think that's very cool, and the fans like that. "You know, so far it's what I've been doing and I think it's the right thing to do. But like I said, overall, Dale has been more than a role model for the sport and it's great what he has done." </p>
Dale Earnhardt Jr .: By the numbers
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond RELATED: Dale Jr . announces retirement " Amy's message to Dale A statistical look at the NASCAR career of Dale Earnhardt Jr ., with numbers as of April 25, the day he announced his retirement from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season. For a deeper statistical dive, visit Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s page at racing-reference.info . 0 -- The number of laps completed in Earnhardt Jr .'s shortest race, the result of a first-lap crash in the 2001 Dura Lube 400 at Rockingham. The event was the first for NASCAR after the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500. 1 -- The number of NASCAR All-Star Race victories in Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s career. He became the invitational event's first rookie winner in 2000. 2 -- The number of Daytona 500 victories recorded by Dale Earnhardt Jr . 3 -- The car number made famous by his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt. Also, Earnhardt Jr .'s highest-ranking finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, in 2003. 6 -- The number of wins recorded by Earnhardt Jr . at Talladega Superspeedway, the most among active drivers. Also, the number of victories Earnhardt achieved in his winningest season (2004). RELATED: All of Junior's wins " Dale Jr . through the years 8 -- Earnhardt Jr .'s first car number in NASCAR premier-series competition. Also, his starting spot in his premier series debut in the 1999 Coca-Cola 600. 10 -- The number of seasons that Dale Earnhardt Jr . has driven for Hendrick Motorsports, which fields his No. 88 Chevrolet. 11.3 -- The best average finish in a single full season in Earnhardt Jr .'s career, recorded in his three-win campaign of 2015. 12 -- The number of tracks where Dale Earnhardt Jr . won in his premier-series career -- Talladega (6), Daytona (4), Phoenix (3), Richmond (3), Pocono (2), Michigan (2), and one each at Atlanta, Martinsville, Bristol, Chicagoland, Texas and Dover. RELATED: Best paint schemes " Junior plans to run two XFINITY races in '18 13 -- The number of Coors Light Pole Awards that Earnhardt has collected in his career in NASCAR's top division. 20 -- Over two seasons (2012 and 2016), the number of races that Earnhardt missed due to concussions. 21 -- The age at which Dale Earnhardt Jr . made his debut in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series. He finished 14th on June 22, 1996 at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway. 22 -- The number of top-10 finishes Earnhardt Jr . posted in both of his NASCAR XFINITY Series championship seasons. 24 -- The age at which Dale Earnhardt Jr . made his debut in NASCAR's premier series. 42 -- The age at which Dale Earnhardt Jr . made his decision to retire from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. RELATED: Dale Jr . explains his decision -- best quotes from the No. 88 driver and Rick Hendrick 50 -- The number of NASCAR national series victories for Dale Earnhardt Jr ., with 26 in premier-series competition and 24 in what is now known as the XFINITY Series. 88 -- The car number the Dale Earnhardt Jr . has campaigned since moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. 100 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr . reached this milestone number of premier-series starts on Sept. 1, 2002 in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He finished 16th. 143 -- The number of races in the longest losing skid of Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s career, spanning 2008-12. Both wins that bookended the dry spell were recorded at Michigan International Speedway. 149 -- The number of top-five finishes that Earnhardt Jr has registered in his career at NASCAR's top level. 291 -- The number of starts that Earnhardt Jr . made for Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team founded by his father that gave him his start in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. 312 -- The number of starts -- as of April 25, 2017 -- made by Dale Earnhardt Jr . for Hendrick Motorsports. 426 -- The number of laps led by Earnhardt in his first full season (2000) in NASCAR's top division. 540 -- The number of times that Dale Earnhardt Jr . was scored as running at the finish in his career, an 89.6 percent rate. 595.5 -- The number of miles Dale Earnhardt Jr . completed in his big-league debut May 30, 1999 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Earnhardt placed 16th, three laps down in the Coca-Cola 600. 600 -- The milestone number of premier-series starts Earnhardt achieved in March 2017 at Auto Club Speedway. 1,131 -- The number of laps led in Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s most prolific season (2004) in that category. 8,195 -- The number of laps led in Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s career to date. </p>
Furniture Row's Martin Truex Jr ., Erik Jones top Richmond practice
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond RELATED: Practice 1 results " Top 10-lap times Furniture Row Racing came to play at Richmond International Raceway, as Martin Truex Jr .'s No. 78 Toyota topped the leaderboard at 124.178 mph in Friday's opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice. He was followed by teammate and rookie Erik Jones, whose No. 77 Toyota notched a top speed of 123.035 mph. Wood Brothers Racing's Ryan Blaney was third-fastest, his No. 21 Ford clocking in at 122.772 mph. Roush Fenway Racing's Trevor Bayne (122.084 mph) and Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin (121.726 mph) rounded out the top five, respectively. Hamlin won the most recent race at Richmond (September 2016) in his No. 11 Toyota. Despite notching the second-fastest speed, Jones spun with 74 minutes left in the opening session, his No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota making slight contact with the wall. With rain impacting on-track activity last weekend at Bristol, NASCAR deferred several holds and penalties coming out of Texas Motor Speedway to this weekend. The following teams sat out the first 15 minutes of practice, as they failed race inspection at Texas: No. 11 of Hamlin, No. 17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 37 of Chris Buescher, No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson and No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr . There were several holds and penalties out of Bristol as well that were enforced in this session: Ty Dillon's No. 13 team, AJ Allmendinger's No. 47 team and Austin Dillon's No. 3 team also abided by 15 minute-holds for failing LIS race inspection, as well as Aric Almirola's No. 43 group (failing race inspection, templates x 2, T1-T2 and T1). Dillon also will start Sunday's race from the rear. Joey Logano (No. 22 team) and Matt Kenseth (No. 20 team) were held for 30 minutes for swerving at Bristol. The Nos. 6 and 23 XFINITY Series teams of Darrell Wallace Jr . and Spencer Gallagher, respectively, will also have 15 minute holds. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back on track at 4:45 p.m. ET for Coors Light Pole Qualifying (FS1). &amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;
Dale Jr . opens up at Richmond after retirement announcement
RELATED: Dale Jr . announces retirement " Reactions " Relive every Dale Jr . win RICHMOND, Va. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr . said he had some concerns about how the bombshell news he dropped on the NASCAR world this week would be received, worried that it would be upsetting, met with a mix of emotions. He seemed relieved by the generally positive feedback and strong outpouring of support after making his decision to retire from full-time driving at season's end. With that part behind him, Earnhardt turns his attention to getting "back to my routine" this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, site of Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM Radio) for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. But his at-track habits might take on a more freewheeling approach, with little to lose in the 28 points-paying races left in his career. "The team, the guys, they all and myself we would love to win some races," Earnhardt said Friday after opening practice at the .75-mile track, where he is a three-time premier-series winner. "I'm going to say 'a race,' but 'some races' would be great going out in your last season to get some victories. We just want to go to Victory Lane one more time, just to get that experience one more time would be awesome for me and I think the guys would love it, for sure. "But, I certainly did feel a lot more relaxed now. I don't know whether it's because I finally got to tell everybody and let everybody know what we are doing, get that over with, but I certainly felt real relaxed today in the garage during practice. I felt like there was less pressure from somewhere and a large amount, a lot different." Earnhardt, 42, announced Tuesday that 2017 would be his final year driving the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Sunday's race will mark the unofficial start of his farewell tour, which is sure to come with a heaping helping of tributes and parting gifts. Earnhardt sits 24th in the series standings with just one top-five finish in the eight races so far this year, leaving him in need of a victory or momentous rally in the points to assure a playoff berth. Reaching the postseason by either method might require some risk-taking, something Earnhardt said is a ripe possibility. Earnhardt related the tale of his former crew chief Steve Letarte, now an analyst with NBC Sports' broadcast team. Letarte had announced before the 2014 season that he would mount one final campaign with the No. 88 group before making the transition to the television booth the following year. With his plans in place and a firm sense of direction, Letarte and Earnhardt picked their spots for well-calculated gambles and combined for their most successful year together -- four victories, including the driver's second Daytona 500 win, his first grandfather clock trophy from Martinsville Speedway and a season sweep of both Pocono Raceway events. "He called that whole season completely different," Earnhardt said. "He was more aggressive and I think it was because he had the freedom to be that way. He was like, 'What if it doesn't work?' And a lot of times it ended up working out. We won both of those Pocono races on pit calls that he made. We didn't just outrun everybody. There are things he did in the middle of the race that we might not have done had he not had his mind made up what he was doing and 'Hey, this is my last hurrah, we are going to go for it' kind of attitude. "I noticed that whole year he was a much easier going, approachable. I mean he's pretty damn likable, but he was much more likable and easier to be around. Everything rolled off his back, we didn't get frustrated as easily and I am anticipating that being similar for me." Also in the no-pressure department: The search for Earnhardt's replacement in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Tuesday's announcement included a note that Hendrick Motorsports would reach that decision at a later date. XFINITY Series rookie William Byron, a top Hendrick prospect, demurred earlier Friday when asked about the organization's soon-approaching driver vacancy, saying only that he was eager to get his chance to race in NASCAR's top division. For Earnhardt, he remains an interested party invested in the team's success, now and after his departure. He said he wouldn't demand to be included in the discussions to find his successor, but said he'd value the opportunity to offer his input. "I can't read their minds, but I'm sure they all have a direction that they want to go and they have ideas," Earnhardt said of Hendrick Motorsports' management team. "There are just things about the company that I'm not quite as in touch with that they are that will help them make that decision. They probably have everybody in the world telling them what they ought to do and they don't need me, but if they ask for it I'm certainly wanting to be involved in that. "I want the team to have more success. I want it to be … I said this every offseason: Every offseason is a chance to be better than you were the year before. It's an opportunity to make those personnel changes and those hard decisions. It's a chance to do it, the things you can't do in the middle of the river, in the middle of the season."
Truex Jr .: 'I might not be here today' without Dale Jr .
Martin Truex Jr . talks about how much Dale Earnhardt Jr . has meant to him after Junior announced he will retire from full-time driving after the 2017 season.
Dale Jr . discusses No. 88 team's future
Dale Earnhardt Jr . discusses whether or not he will give his input into who should take over the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in 2018.
Dale Jr . signs for fans after retirement press conference
Shortly after Dale Earnhardt Jr . announced his retirement, he walked out of the doors at Hendrick Motorsports to sign autographs for fans waiting outside.
Watch: Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s uncut opening remarks on retirement
Watch the uncut opening statement by Dale Earnhardt Jr . as he formally announced his retirement at the end of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Young drivers reflect on Dale Jr .'s retirement
Up-and-coming stars Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez share their thoughts on Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s retirement, his legacy and what it means for the sport's future
Kyle Larson reacts to Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s Retirement
In this excerpt from the Glass Case Of Emotion Podcast, Kyle Larson reacts to Dale Jr .'s decision to retire from driving. You can catch the full episode of the Glass Case Of Emotion Podcast every Wednesday on NASCAR.com/podcast.