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After four wins in 2014, can Junior do even more with new crew chief? RELATED: Complete schedule for driver previews Team: Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet Rank in final 2014 standings: Eighth Wins: 4 ( Daytona International Speedway in February; Pocono Raceway in June and August; Martinsville Speedway in October) Year in photos: Recap Earnhardt Jr.'s 2014 season Strides: Earnhardt's eighth-place points finish was his third top-10 result in the past four seasons and his four wins was the most since 2004. He won for the first time in his career at Pocono, where he swept both events, and at Martinsville. The two Pocono victories marked his first sweep at a track since Talladega in '02. The Martinsville win upped his career win total to 23 and was especially gratifying. "This is so special," Earnhardt Jr. said of the Martinsville win. "I try not to get too caught up in the emotion of it because it's a team deal, but this is very personal and very special to me to be able to win here." Earnhardt Jr. qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the seventh time. In addition to the breakthrough wins at Pocono and Martinsville, he managed personal bests at Darlington where he was runner-up, and Sonoma where a third-place run was his first career top-10 on the California road course. He equaled his best finish at Las Vegas (second) for the third time in his career. Setbacks: Earnhardt Jr.'s struggles in the Contender Round saw his title hopes end early as he had finishes of 20th or worse at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega. Needing a victory to keep his championship hopes alive in the Contender Round finale at Talladega, where he has five career wins, Earnhardt Jr. was involved in a late-race accident that relegated him to a 31st-place finish. The 2014 season was also the first since 2009 that Earnhardt Jr. failed to win at least one Coors Light Pole Award. Quoteworthy: "I expect the cars to have more speed eventually; it may take us a couple of races or a couple of months to get there but I think our cars will be faster and give us an opportunity to run better (in 2015)." What's next: Besides a few changes among those going over the wall on race day, Earnhardt Jr. will have a new crew chief in Greg Ives and a new car chief in Travis Mack. Ives, who guided Chase Elliott to the 2014 XFINITY (formerly Nationwide ) Series title, steps in for Steve Letarte while Mack (Elliott's car chief) replaces Jason Burdett. The return of engineer Kevin Meendering to the No. 88 team is expected to help smooth the transitions. "That's going to help a ton," Earnhardt Jr. said, "because Kevin has all this information on what's worked with me. All drivers like things a little different. So Kevin's going to be real influential in getting Greg up to speed." While he won't rule out the possibility of a few rough spots as the team comes together, Earnhardt Jr. said he isn't worried. "I don't know that we will struggle," he said. "I expect us to come out and be competitive. By midseason I expect us to be a better race team than we were last year. "I think Greg is a talented crew chief. He has many advantages that will make us a better team. Steve was the strategist, one of the best guys on the box when it came to strategies, fuel mileage and stuff like that. It's too soon to tell exactly where we are there. Greg's been running in the Nationwide Series for a couple of years and their strategies are kind of mapped out already because of the tire rule and so forth. You can't really pull a lot of little levers and get things done, get crazy. … "But I know the engineering side is getting stronger because of Greg's history as an engineer." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Junior: 'We're gonna win this race' RELATED: 40 pictures of Dale Jr. on his 40th birthday CONCORD, N.C. -- Feeling good on his 40th birthday, Dale Earnhardt Jr . called his shot in a televised interview after Friday's first practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway . "We're gonna win this race. I've got a really good feeling about it," Earnhardt Jr. said. Earnhardt Jr. was 11th in the practice session at 188.633 mph and will line up ninth in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Despite being winless at Charlotte in 29 points starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Earnhardt Jr. has been optimistic about his chances to win the race throughout the week. "I'm really excited, actually," Earnhardt Jr. told the media on Thursday. "I was thrilled with how we ran last weekend. Super-fast car, this place is a bit similar. "We obviously know what the situation is with the points and how important it is for us to come in here and win the race. I have been winless at Charlotte in a points-paying race since I started my career, so it's bound to happen sooner or later. I always win at the weirdest times, in the oddest circumstances. So I feel like everything is lining up and feel real good about this weekend." On the season, Earnhardt Jr. has three wins, 11 top-fives and 17 top-10s. He finished 19th here in the spring in the Coca-Cola 600 and has not recorded a top-five finish at the track since 2008. Earnhardt Jr. led 45 laps at Kansas and was running the best he had in the Chase before a cut tire derailed his day and led to a 39th-place finish. With two races remaining in the Contender Round, Earnhardt Jr. is 11th in the standings and 25 points back of the final transfer spot to the Eliminator Round. A Chase driver must be in the top eight in points or have a win to advance to that round. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Dale Jr. wins Myers Brothers Award, Harvick earns seven honors DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.– In recognition of his career achievements as a champion driver, team owner and philanthropist, Dale Earnhardt Jr . was named the recipient of the 2014 NMPA Myers Brothers Award, a prestigious accolade recognizing those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing. "This doesn't even seem real," said an emotional Earnhardt after receiving the honor at the 2014 NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon held at Wynn Las Vegas. "The truth is obviously I’m extremely humbled by this award, but I feel like I share it on so many levels - my sister Kelley ( Earnhardt Miller) along with everyone at JR Motorsports is as deserving of this as anyone. I have a lot of passions with NASCAR, but I wouldn't be able to know how to make them realities without all those folks." An accomplished driver, evidenced by his 23 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories and two NASCAR Nationwide Series championships, Earnhardt was cited just as much for his achievements outside his No. 88 Chevrolet, namely as the owner of JR Motorsports and a tireless community benefactor. This season, JR Motorsports driver Chase Elliott became the youngest competitor to win a NASCAR national series championship after clinching the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series title. The 18-year-old will likely join Brad Keselowski , Aric Almirola , Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt as Sprint Cup regulars who have developed under Earnhardt full time at the Nationwide level. In addition to his Nationwide Series program, Earnhardt contributes to racing at its grassroots levels, fielding Late Model or Street Stock cars since founding JR Motorsports. His Late Model drivers Josh Berry and William Byron finished first and second, respectively, this season in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at Hickory Motor Speedway. Earnhardt's work extends off the track into the community. He has made 235 appearances on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a number that ranks in the top five among professional athletes. Furthermore, his Dale Jr. Foundation raised $913,000 to be distributed to more than 70 different charities. "I'm just as proud of what we've accomplished there as anything we've ever done on the race track," Earnhardt said about his foundation. The NMPA Myers Brothers Award has been presented annually since 1958 in the names of pioneer NASCAR competitors Billy and Bobby Myers and its winner is chosen by a vote of the National Motorsports Press Association. Past recipients are a virtual who's-who of the industry – drivers, owners, track operators, sponsors and members of the media – and include nearly every current member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Seventeen other awards were given out at the luncheon, spanning from achievements in marketing, performance on the track and exemplary work in the garage. 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick garnered seven honors, including the 3M Lap Leader Award and Mobil 1 Driver of the Year. "This is really the first time I've gotten to stand up here and actually realize what we've accomplished," Harvick said. "Thank you to everyone who has participated in making our sport what it is." Here is the complete list of Thursday’s award winners from the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon: • NMPA Myers Brothers Award: Dale Earnhardt Jr . • Buddy Shuman Award: Bill Joyner, Sunoco’s Manager of Automotive Events • NASCAR Marketing Achievement Award: Toyota • 3M Lap Leader Award: Kevin Harvick • American Ethanol Green Flag Restart Award: Kevin Harvick • Coors Light Pole Award: Brad Keselowski • Duralast Brakes “Brake in the Race” Award: Kevin Harvick • Freescale “Wide Open” Award: Kevin Harvick • Goodyear Tires Award: Kevin Harvick • MAHLE Clevite Engine Builder of the Year Award: Billy Davis, Hendrick Engines No. 4 team • Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew Award: Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team • Mobil 1 Driver of the Year Award: Kevin Harvick • MOOG Steering & Suspension Problem Solver of the Year Award: Luke Lambert, crew chief No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team • Sherwin-Williams Fastest Lap Award: Matt Kenseth • Sunoco Diamond Performance Award: Kevin Harvick • Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award: Kyle Larson • Champion Sponsor Award: Budweiser • Champion Crew Chief: Rodney Childers Champion’s Week will conclude tomorrow with the following events (all times local PT unless noted): Friday, Dec. 5 • Pit Pass Check-In: Beginning Wednesday, Dec. 3, fans can pick up a Pit Pass at NASCAR fan headquarters, Champion’s Week Live at The LINQ Promenade, and start checking in at various locations around the city where NASCAR partners will feature displays, including show cars. Running from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. each day, check-in locations include Tropicana (Ford), Treasure Island (Daytona International Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Auto Club Speedway ), Paris Las Vegas (Las Vegas Motor Speedway), Caesars Palace (Chevrolet), Lagasse Stadium at The Palazzo (Toyota), and Excalibur (Mechanix Wear). • 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards: This black-tie celebration will be held at Wynn Las Vegas, where the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion driver and owner and the other Chase drivers will be honored. The drivers and stars will walk the Red Carpet from 4 – 5 p.m. and NASCAR.com will live stream the arrivals from 4:30 – 5 p.m. FOX Sports 1 will air the show live beginning at 9 p.m. ET. Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will begin coverage at 8 p.m. ET. • Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Reveal: The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award will be given to one dedicated NASCAR fan who has made a profound impact on children in his or her community. The NASCAR Foundation will announce the national award winner during this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards. Fans can cast their vote for the 2014 Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award winner by visiting www.NASCAR.com/Award before 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 4. For more information on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week in Las Vegas, visit www.NASCAR.com/ChampionsWeek . MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Dale Earnhardt Jr. generates a landmark moment winning the Daytona 500 for the second time in his career.
An elated Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates his second Daytona 500 win in Victory Lane.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks with Alan Cavanna after his JR Motorsports driver Chase Elliott clinched the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship at Phoenix International Raceway.
Earnhardt Jr. has finished runner-up in three of the past four years
Dale Jr. led 31 laps, but ultimately came up short at Talladega RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s title hopes came to a disappointing end Sunday on the backstretch of Talladega Superspeedway . Caught up in a multi-car accident during the first of two green-white-checkered attempts, the Hendrick Motorsports driver wound up 31st in the GEICO 500 . A long shot became no shot. The opportunity to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup went out the window when contact from Greg Biffle sent Earnhardt's car spinning into the wall. Earnhardt joined teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne , along with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch , as those eliminated from Chase title contention. "I don't know if I came down on him or what," Earnhardt said of the contact with the Roush Fenway Racing driver. "I thought I was holding my line, but we were all kind of tight back there.” Earnhardt , Johnson and Brad Keselowski , bringing up the rear of the Chase points heading into the race, needed a win to advance to the next round. Keselowski accomplished the feat, on one of the most treacherous tracks on the schedule. Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet was out front twice for 31 laps, and when he wasn't leading he was often dicing up front among those who were. But getting shuffled back in the field during the final stage of the race left him in a precarious position. "We worked real hard all day long trying to run up front," Earnhardt said. "I knew we needed to be up front all day long. We got shuffled to the back. I made a move trying to get up front and it didn't work out. So, we lost a lot of track position and never got it back. "You need to be up front. You need to be in the top four the last few restarts. Those are the guys that have a shot at it. You know you're not going to pass 10 or 12 cars there in six or seven laps. We tried. It just didn't work out." In a race that saw 38 lead changes among 19 drivers, Earnhardt broke out on top on Lap 75 and stayed on the point for 29 laps. He lost the lead during a round of pit stops, then led briefly for two more laps shortly afterward. He was able to stay around the top 10 for much of the second half of the race, until only some 30 or so laps remained. Even then, given the unpredictable nature of racing on the 2.66-mile track, hope remained. "We worked hard to try to get back into the top five or so, and it just didn't work out," he said. "The car did get loose on one run. We made a good adjustment and it was driving good at the end." Crew chief Steve Letarte said it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "We just never could get a foothold; never could mount a charge back to the front," he said. "That's just how it is. Sometimes you get cycled out at the wrong time and that was definitely not the right time to get cycled out." While the car certainly seemed capable of winning, Letarte said the nature of racing here tempers expectations. "I'm not going to say it doesn't matter," he said. "I don't want to discount the hard work our company puts in the engines and these (crew) guys put into the car, but … a great car gives you very little guarantee." A winner of three races prior to the start of the Chase, Earnhardt came to Talladega on the heels of disappointing finishes at Kansas and Charlotte that put his team in a must-win scenario. That he was unable to advance was disappointing, but not crushing. "There have probably been worse things," he said. "I'm not retiring or anything, so we'll try next year. "We've had a good season and have a lot to be looking forward to. We're definitely not going to get too torn up about (it); we didn't run well." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
No. 88 team's win comes 10 years after fatal plane crash RELATED: Full race results " Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota MORE: Junior meets with another Junior MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- History exists in every turn, in every crevice of Martinsville Speedway . From the elegant grandfather clocks given as race trophies and the antiquated look and feel of the 0.526-mile track, the oldest on the circuit, to the historic black-and-white photos that populate the media center, there is always a constant reminder of the past here in the southern Virginia foothills. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., a lover of NASCAR history, made some of his own with Sunday's victory. The man who attended his first race at the track in the 1980s, who grew up playing with toy Matchbox race cars in the front hall of his childhood home, listening to a race on the radio as one of the clocks his father won chimed every hour, now has a timepiece of his own after Sunday's thrilling victory. "You know, I love the history of the sport and just can't get enough of it," said Earnhardt Jr., whose mood vacillated from euphoric to contemplative throughout a 30-minute press conference after Sunday's win. "I just know this place has a special meaning and a special place in the series and the sport. Dad won several races here, brought home several clocks. I always wanted one." "This is so special. I try not to get too caught up in the emotion of it because it's a team deal, but this is very personal and very special to me to be able to win here." He did so by charging through the field after starting 23rd, leading 79 laps and holding off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon over the frenetic final four laps in a race that had big wrecks and bigger swings. That it was Junior and Gordon finishing 1-2 made the day more fitting for Hendrick Motorsports. Yes, Martinsville is steeped in history. Not all of it is worth celebrating. It was 10 years ago when a Hendrick Motorsports plane crashed into the side of Bull Mountain en route to Martinsville, killing all 10 people aboard. Jimmie Johnson didn't go to Victory Lane that day after his win, and team owner Rick Hendrick's presence at this track is no longer guaranteed. Sometimes attending is too painful for Hendrick, who lost his son, brother and two nieces in the tragedy. The team owner was at this one, though, his mere presence a symbol of the same strength he showed in the days and years following that incident. Like so many in the stands, he nervously watched the dramatic final stages unfold as he wondered if either of his two drivers would win -- or if they'd wreck each other trying. "We miss those folks, family and friends, and they meant so much to the organization," he said as the race wound down. "Every year we think about it, but this year's (different) … 10 years." Then he was there in Victory Lane, the man who has built a four-car operation that is the envy of many, wrapping up the 11-time Most Popular Driver Award winner in a massive embrace. There they stood as confetti poured down around them, two men who have both endured unfathomable tragedy yet manage to still exude genuine gracefulness all these years later. "I could feel how important it was to (Hendrick) and his embrace, when he would hug me," Earnhardt said. "You just know, there's a hug and then there's a genuine hug. His was the real deal. "This is the 10th anniversary. It's more difficult. The 10th anniversary sort of has you reflecting and remembering. … Losing my dad was difficult. I can't imagine that loss that he went through, his family went through, the whole organization. I think I've paralleled my loss and his loss until I started working with him, then I started understanding it's quite a bit larger void that it created." Sunday's unforgettable victory was Earnhardt's fourth of 2014, his highest total in a decade. He's won at Daytona and Martinsville in the same year, and swept the Pocono races. His No. 88 Chevrolet constantly runs toward the front more than it ever has in his career. In his final year with crew chief Steve Letarte, the National Guard team has reached that rare stage where it is fast at every track on the schedule. Opening the season with a Daytona 500 win set a standard the group has consistently matched, and for a while it looked like this team was destined to win the 2014 title until a rough three-race stretch ousted them from the postseason. "I don't believe in fairytales," Earnhardt Jr. said of no longer being in control of his title aspirations. "It's only destiny in hindsight, you know? This wasn't our year. It's only magical after the fact, when you see it happen." Letarte agreed, saying the team had "no excuses" for why it's out of the championship running. That reality didn't keep smiles off either of their faces, though. Letarte may have been as excited as Earnhardt , simply because of how frequently he's heard the clock talk over years -- and how winning at Martinsville was something that Earnhardt needed to check off his career resume. Sure, it didn't come in a championship season, but Earnhardt will never again have a "0" next to the win column at this venue. His place in the Martinsville history book is secured, the man who loves NASCAR history helping to ensure his name will be etched among other legends 50 years from now. There's a different kind of history that comes with this win, too. Personal history. "Hopefully when I'm at his house having a cold one, we'll listen to the thing chime 10 years from now and smile," Letarte said. Now that sounds like a fairytale ending. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation