Junior endears himself to fans by being the real deal
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond RELATED: Reactions " Relive every Dale Jr. win " Top quotes from day How appropriate that after an emotional, heartfelt press conference to formally share his decision to retire at the end of the 2017 NASCAR season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. walked outside into the Hendrick Motorsports parking lot to find a large crowd waiting for him. Some were there to ask him for his autograph, but many more had come to give Earnhardt their support and appreciation as he competes in his final season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The adoration is something Earnhardt, 42, receives in bulk every time he goes anywhere in public. The fan love and positive feedback have translated to more than 2 million followers on Twitter. Sure, two Daytona 500 trophies, the amazing run of restrictor-plate victories and the racing lineage have helped earn him these loyal fans. But perhaps it's the real triumphs and real struggles of Earnhardt's career -- the high highs and low lows -- that the masses of people relate to and appreciate most. "One thing that's made this career the incredible ride that it's been, is Junior Nation," Earnhardt acknowledged. "The fan support that I received straight out of the gate, was in large part because of my famous last name. "But throughout the ups and downs it occurred to me that the fans that stuck it out and the new ones that joined us, they were there because of the person I was and not who they wanted me to be." While Tuesday's news may have caught some off-guard, the sport's reigning 14-time Most Popular Driver seems genuinely content about the decision. And that should give his fans some peace. MORE: Junior: A kid, a son, a racer and fan favorite Earnhardt openly shared the process behind his decision and then answered questions from the media. Often there were long pauses between question and answer and that's because Earnhardt actually thinks about his responses instead of replying with clichés and soundbites. He is honest and heartfelt -- even in the moments after he's just climbed out of his race car. He is genuine. And that -- not just his ability to win big races or even his racing lineage -- is what fans seem to appreciate most about Earnhardt. His time behind the wheel has evolved -- much as the sport's fan base has as well. There was the "Junior" I first met in the mid-1990s -- young, worry-free and sporting bleach-blond highlights. He was learning about the sport, winning Busch Grand National races and hoisting championship trophies under the watchful eye of his dad, seven-time premier-series champion Dale Earnhardt. It was fun to watch their interaction and see the pride on the elder Earnhardt’s face. I remember vividly the way Earnhardt shut down an interview in the Daytona press box one afternoon during Speedweeks just so he could watch his son run practice laps on the speedway down below. Fans were intrigued by the young Earnhardt then -- those that cheered for his father and those that cheered against him. He was a "typical" 20-something making his way up the ranks, having fun and winning. After his legendary father passed away on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Junior's world naturally shifted. Almost immediately he received new fans. So many felt for this young man who had suddenly lost his beloved dad. Many others had already taken him in as "their guy." And Junior never disappointed. Whether he won or not. His career highlight reel includes winning the summer Daytona Monster Energy Series race five months after losing his father and a streak of four consecutive Talladega victories from 2001-03. He has collected 26 trophies in all -- huge triumphs at Daytona and Talladega and workmanlike wins at Phoenix and Pocono. He has challenged for season championships -- finishing a career-best third in 2003. TAKE A DEEPER LOOK: Complete Junior stats It's the success he's collected without trophies that will be remembered most -- the way he has shown how to persevere after tragedy, overcome doubt and recover from injury. Perhaps Earnhardt's announcement this week wasn't honestly a total surprise to his fans and friends. He is 42 years old, just got married on New Year's Eve and maybe there's a "Dale III" in the future. MORE: Dale, Amy's wedding album " Dale and Amy through the years As Junior stressed on Tuesday, his decision to retire after an incredible career came of his own free will. It was not dictated by injury or loss of ability, team orders or even a sponsor decision. It is what Junior wants to do. It is best for him. And what more could you ask. He deserves that. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Victory Lane: James Buescher
James Buescher wins the Fan Appreciation 200 Presented by New Holland at Iowa Speedway.
NASCAR enlists 14-year-old to direct new NASCAR Acceleration Nation spot
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In search of a director to oversee filming for its latest NASCAR Acceleration Nation television creative, NASCAR® turned to a 14-year-old rising star in advertising. Amelia Conway of Temecula, Calif., developed the treatment and directed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series™ driver Austin Dillon in the new spot promoting the sport’s national youth platform. The 30-second ad, titled "Tutelage," debuted today online and will air beginning this weekend during the Richmond races on FOX and FS1. "As a filmmaker, Amelia is a special talent and we loved her vision for this project," said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "She represents the youth audience that is important to our sport, so having that unique perspective guide the creative process for us was invaluable." Born in California and raised in rural Texas, Conway began acting and performing at an early age and in 2014 was signed to Adolescent Content, a youth-focused production agency. She's directed several music videos and short films, and recently shot commercials for Target, Toms Shoes and Beats Music.
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>
Bruce on Junior: A kid, a son, a racer and fan favorite
RELATED: Junior announces retirement after '17 season " Reaction to news The pressure was probably there from the first time he slid behind the wheel of a race car. Before that, he was just "Dale's kid." No real burdens, few expectations. Hanging out at the track on occasion, playing with the kids of other competitors. He was a child, the son of a racer for sure, but just a child and nothing more. But once he became Dale Earnhardt Jr., racer, everything changed. Once he became a racer, he became the son of a seven-time champion, the son of one of NASCAR's most legendary figures. Once he became a racer, nearly every single thing took on an entirely different meaning. Expectations didn't grow, they exploded. He raced and he won and his popularity grew, in part because of folks that were also fans of his father, but maybe more because he was new and fresh and cutting edge, and younger fans in the sport found someone with whom they could relate. He listened to Nirvana. He was featured in "Rolling Stone" and "Playboy." MTV featured him on its popular "MTV Cribs" show. He was the new face for the sport. And then the horrific 2001 accident took the life of his father and fans of his dad flocked to Earnhardt Jr., hoping to keep the memory of their hero alive, hoping to keep "their" sport alive through the son. MORE: Dale and Dale: Pictures of father and son Earnhardt Jr. never, ever discounted those who came to him as fans of his father. He embraced them, understood them and welcomed them. They were old school and as Earnhardt Jr. matured and grew and became more and more involved in all aspects of the sport, he became old school, too. Maybe he didn't "become" old school as much as he began to embrace it. You want a history lesson on NASCAR? Earnhardt might not be a professor, but his depth of knowledge and his love of the sport's colorful past are unrivaled. Now he's stepping out of the driver's seat after winning two XFINITY Series championships in 1998 and '99, 26 career races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and two Daytona 500 victories. RELATED: Recap every win " Full Dale Jr. stats It's been an incredible journey for Earnhardt Jr., who in addition to his duties as driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports is also co-owner of an XFINITY Series operation -- JR Motorsports -- that fields four full-time entries. But it's been an incredible journey for his fans as well, who have voted him the series most popular driver for 14 consecutive years. Most saw him win for the first time in the top series at Texas in 2000 and then weeks later when he got the big ol' bear hug from his father in Victory Lane after winning the series' All-Star Race at Charlotte. Fifteen years later he was still winning, and who knows, perhaps his winning hasn't stopped just yet. His father's passing and the eventual surprise move to Hendrick Motorsports, and through it all the winning and contending for wins and his fans yearning and hoping and wishing for a championship that has yet to arrive. He's been a kid and a son and a racer and a champion and fan favorite. And now a husband and he's talked about children so yeah, he may be a father some day, too. MORE: Dale and Amy through the years " Wedding album He's a brand and a spokesperson and there are many in the garage that share their time and talent and resources with those less fortunate, but Earnhardt is among those at the top of the list. And the entire time he's let everyone in, let 'em come along for the ride, because the kid who used to change oil in cars at his father's dealership knows race fans about as well as he knows himself. He's traveled his own path and enjoyed a racing career and at the end of the day you look back and say, well, that's life. One chapter ends and another begins. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;&lt;span _rtetemp=&quot;spchk&quot; style=&quot;background-color: #ffffaa;&quot; _rtespchksugg=&quot;Lt"alt"ult"flt"let"lit"lat"lot"ltd"t&quot;&gt;am&lt;/span&gt;p;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Actor Morris Chestnut on Austin Dillon, how NASCAR, Hollywood relate
Actor and star of FOX's police crime drama "Rosewood" Morris Chestnut noticed that the cast seemed nervous while filming a portion of the Season 2 finale in March. For good reason, too. "There was a huge explosion and the explosion was so big that everyone on the set was nervous because it was on the second level of this parking structure," Chestnut recalled Monday to NASCAR.com via telephone. "And it was such a big explosion that everyone thought the second level was going to drop down to the first." But one guest star -- Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Austin Dillon -- seemed quite unnerved by the exploding car behind him, Chestnut noticed. It seemed his day job lent a hand to dealing with crashes, fires and loud noises on the set of a television show. "He was actually in the scene when this happened," Chestnut said of Dillon. "And to see his reaction -- he was just like a pro, didn't flinch. It was great, he did a great job." In the "Rosewood" season finale, Dillon portrays Wayne Cirito, a character that is associated with a crime gang that the show's protagonist Dr. Beaumont Rosewood (played by Chestnut) is trying to interrogate. As for Dillon's acting skills? Chestnut was impressed by the 27-year-old driver's versatility on-screen. "That's one thing that's great about Austin," Chestnut said. "It was a very tough scene because he goes from this hard, tough-as-nails guy, to relating to (character Captain Ira) Hornstock and talking about things he may not have been comfortable (talking about)." But as Chestnut learned after talking with Dillon off-screen, race car drivers have to be tough in a variety of facets in their own jobs -- as well as focused, sharp and able-bodied. It's a familiar area for the 48-year-old actor, as he just released a health and fitness book this month entitled "The Cut: Lose Up to 10 Pounds in 10 Days and Sculpt Your Best Body." "It was great to talk to him about some of the insight toward NASCAR," Chestnut said. "I didn't know some of the things that he goes through as (a driver), that they go through in the cars and everything, so it was great to talk to him about that. "…One thing when I was talking to Austin is the endurance factor. Not only do you have to have a healthy body, but you have to have a healthy and sharp mind because a one-second lapse can not only cost you the race, but you can get into some very bad, brutal accidents. So, health and fitness is a huge part of being sharp and being ready when you're on the track. "These guys are athletes, these drivers are athletes," Chestnut continued. "I didn't realize that. They're not just sitting in the car Sunday driving like I do on the freeway. (They're hitting) 200 mph, going around these tracks and turns … you have to be in tip-top shape and (have) a razor-sharp mind." His conversations with Dillon on set gave Chestnut, who has never attended a NASCAR race, a greater appreciation for the sport of racing. "To be honest, I didn't get (NASCAR)," said Chestnut, who also plans to attend Dillon's 3-on-3 charity basketball tournament this year. "I didn't really get it. But he was breaking everything down to me about the whole entire experience. It's not just about the race -- it's even before the race, everyone coming, meeting the drivers, being right on the track. He was breaking so many little intricate things down to me just about the sport in general to where it really, really piqued my interest. So I'm looking forward to getting out to (a race) … (There were) so many interesting things that he was talking to me about, I was like, 'Man, I have to see one of these.' " The connections between NASCAR and Hollywood have grown deeper in recent years, as more drivers have briefly traded their fire suits and race cars for Hollywood scripts and bright lights for cameo appearances in movies and television shows. Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and Carl Edwards notably nabbed cameo roles in the upcoming Steven Soderbergh-directed, racing-themed film "Logan Lucky;" which stars Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig and Riley Keough among others. Likewise, several movie and television stars have flocked to the often-unfamiliar race tracks, particularly the Southern California-based Auto Club Speedway and Wine Country's Sonoma Raceway. RELATED: NASCAR meets Hollywood in 'Logan Lucky' movie While he is just starting to learn more about NASCAR, Chestnut already sees parallels between NASCAR and Hollywood, primarily the storytelling aspect of both. "I think they're both very entertaining," Chestnut said. "Like I said, I didn't understand the sport … but once he told me the intricacies of the storylines that are involved and how intimate the fans can be with the drivers, it's a whole other level of entertainment. Even the story within the story, the story within the races with some of the drivers and what happens before they even come to the race. "There's just so many interesting things, I think it's just a natural relationship the two can have. Hollywood has stories -- we tell stories with our show every week. The more you know about our show, the more interested you may be. The more I know about NASCAR drivers, the more interested I am in the sport. It's very similar. They're both very strong forms of entertainment." Catch Dillon and Chestnut on the season finale of "Rosewood" on Friday, April 28 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
NASCAR Silver Bullet Bash takes center stage in Charlotte
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For the first time, the NASCAR Silver Bullet Bash presented by Coors Light will take center stage in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday, May 18. Celebrating the first half of the NASCAR season, the Silver Bullet Bash will lead off the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race weekend festivities with live music, special guests and unique experiences. As part of this year's event, Maren Morris, who recently won New Female Vocalist of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards, will rock the crowd with a headline performance at the legendary Fillmore Charlotte. The Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter will take the stage for a special performance playing hit songs like "My Church" and "80s Mercedes" along with others from her new album HERO. The NASCAR Silver Bullet Bash Presented by Coors Light has traditionally taken place during Champion's Week in Las Vegas as a private invite-only event. This year's bash marks the first time that NASCAR and Coors Light will open the doors to fans. Beginning today, a limited number of fans 21-and-older can receive passes to this exclusive event by attending participating Charlotte area bars and restaurants that serve Coors Light, the Official Beer of NASCAR. "The NASCAR Silver Bullet Bash was specifically designed for Coors Light to connect and engage with our fans at participating bars and restaurants in the weeks leading up to the event," said Lou Garate, vice president, partnership marketing, NASCAR. "This year's event will build excitement and set the stage for the Monster Energy All-Star weekend festivities taking place in Charlotte." Two of NASCAR's young, up-and-coming drivers, Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., will attend the NASCAR Silver Bullet Bash and engage with some lucky fans. Both drivers will be actively promoting the event and encouraging fans to visit participating venues for a chance to attend the event. Fans are encouraged to visit the following venues for a chance to claim one of the limited number of passes available to attend the event: • Sports Page Food & Spirits : 8400 Bellhaven Blvd # H, Charlotte, NC 28216 • Bourbon N Burgers : 2200 Park Rd, Charlotte, NC 28203 • Leo’s 49 Sports Bar : 7801 University Center Blvd., Charlotte, NC 28277 • Fitzgerald's Irish Pub : 201 E 5th St, Charlotte, NC 28202 The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season will continue with the Toyota Owners 400 on Sunday, Apr. 30 at 2:00 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Matt Kenseth, JGR welcome new sponsor in Circle K
RELATED: Kenseth's career stats CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Circle K, an international chain of convenience stores, will serve as the primary sponsor for six races this season with driver Matt Kenseth and the No. 20 Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The multi-year sponsorship was announced Wednesday by JGR and Circle K officials at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "It seems like today, in general and not just in racing, there's always more negative stories than positive so for me it's always exciting to get a new sponsor into the sport at whatever level it's at," Kenseth said. "… I always feel like that's a positive for whole industry. I'm glad they're on my car." The Circle K sponsorship will debut on the car at this month's race at Richmond, and will return for races at Talladega and Charlotte in May, Kentucky in July as well as Texas and Phoenix in November. According to officials, the company will have associate branding on the car for those races in which it is not the primary sponsor. Kenseth was sponsored by Dollar General through 2016 before that company left NASCAR. The No. 20 entry has featured branding from DeWalt (Daytona, Atlanta), BlueDEF (Las Vegas), Tide Pods (Phoenix, Martinsville), PEAK (Auto Club) and Toyota "Let's Go Places" (Texas) thus far this season. RELATED: Tide back on Kenseth's No. 20 car " PEAK to sponsor JGR duo "In a perfect world you'd have your car fully-funded at a high level (for) years in advance," Kenseth said. "That would be the best case for everybody. But in today's environment, there are very few cars that are actually like that." Circle K has stores in 41 states and is owned by Canadian-based parent company Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. While the company has had previous NASCAR affiliations, this year's sponsorship is a first in the role of a primary sponsor. "It's an exciting day for us, for all of our other sponsors as well," team owner Joe Gibbs said. "It's also a huge benefit for Circle K to be matched with these companies." JGR, which also fields teams for Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Daniel Suarez in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, still has open inventory on the No. 20 entry, but Kenseth said he's been more focused on competition issues of late. "I've been more worried about how we get our season turned around, running up front and hopefully winning some races," said the 2003 series champion. RELATED: Kenseth likens himself to Super Bowl-winning QB Since joining JGR in 2013, Kenseth has won 14 times. He won twice last year and finished fifth in the points standings. So far in '17, he's managed three top 10s, but three finishes of 36th or worse as well and sits 22nd in points as the series heads to Bristol this week for Sunday's Food City 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). When it was suggested his season has been hit or miss, Kenseth noted that he's "hit a lot of stuff. We haven't missed much." "I think looking at just the (No.) 20 that we’ve been off," he said. "… (Other than Atlanta), we just have not run very well really. … Some things are circumstances but I think if we can get running better, that solves a lot of your problems. "We're off a little bit for sure. It seems like the window is pretty small right now; it's easy to miss it." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
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>
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.
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