Bowman thankful for opportunity in 'The Clash'
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: How 'The Clash' works DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Alex Bowman made his case for a spot in the season-opening exhibition for 2016 pole winners, claiming his first Coors Light Pole at his home track at Phoenix as part of his substitute stint in Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s place. But even though he'd earned eligibility, so had Earnhardt as a former winner. With only 10 starts as an interim driver in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet, Bowman didn't exactly feel like he could pipe up and volunteer. "I just kind of let it go quiet," Bowman said Friday at Daytona International Speedway . "I didn't want step on any toes, or ask anybody and have it seem like I was begging for something. I wasn't really asking." It didn't stop him from joking about a possible one-off effort with his crew chief under the banner of Greg Ives Racing so that both he and Earnhardt could be in the field. But the word came from Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt on the chilly December day at Darlington Raceway while Earnhardt completed the compulsory on-track preparations to gain medical clearance in his return from concussion. Earnhardt will defer his comeback one week, joining the FOX Sports team to call the action in Saturday night's Advance Auto Parts Clash (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) from the TV booth. But his influence will still resonate in his vote of confidence for Bowman's ability. RELATED: Dale Jr. to be in the broadcast booth for 'The Clash' "I am very thankful for the opportunity," Bowman said. "Dale's been so great to me. I wouldn't be here without him. He is the one that pointed me out when he wasn't feeling good. I feel like I owe a lot to him, and I am very thankful for him to put me in the car for this race." Bowman will start eighth in Saturday night's invitational, the only race currently on his 2017 schedule. The 23-year-old driver, who drove part-time in the XFINITY Series last year, participates in simulation tests for Hendrick Motorsports and some testing duty for Chevrolet. His 10-race stint during Earnhardt's recuperation was impressive enough to attract the eyes of a handful of prospective car owners with full-time positions in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series . But none were enough to make Bowman jump. "There was just really wasn't anything that was going to make me leave Hendrick Motorsports ," Bowman said. "I feel like I want to be part of a winning organization whether I am driving, just working for the team, doing testing or doing the simulation stuff. Whatever I'm doing, I want to be part of a winning team. Nothing was going to drag me away from here." With this event shaping up as a "one night only" performance, Bowman says he isn't treating the race as another audition. And the fickle nature of restrictor-plate racing has him prepared for all possible outcomes. The only additional pressure, he says, comes from having a superspeedway expert in Earnhardt observing his efforts with a vested interest from the TV booth. But much like last year, Bowman says he'll savor the moment. "It's another race," Bowman said. "It's another opportunity to have a lot of fun with Hendrick Motorsports . That is something I kind of tried to do all last season was just to have fun and that is what we are going to try to do on Saturday night and hopefully bring home a trophy."
Unifirst, Hendrick Motorsports strike 8-year sponsorship agreement
CONCORD, N.C. -- UniFirst and 11-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions Hendrick Motorsports have reached an eight-year agreement that will make the workwear and textile service company a primary sponsor of the No. 5 Chevrolet SS driven by Kasey Kahne . The contract runs through the year 2023. As the new Official Workwear Provider of Hendrick Motorsports , UniFirst will be a two-race primary sponsor in both 2016 and 2017, with the relationship increasing to three primary races annually from 2018-2023. In addition, UniFirst will be a full-season associate sponsor of the No. 5 team. UniFirst will make its Sprint Cup Series primary sponsorship debut later this season with back-to-back races Oct. 23 at Talladega Superspeedway and Oct. 30 at Martinsville Speedway . "UniFirst is excited to be a primary sponsor of Kasey and Hendrick Motorsports ," said Adam Soreff, director of marketing and communications for UniFirst. "This partnership is a great opportunity for our company because Hendrick Motorsports is one of the premier -- and most highly respected -- teams in professional auto racing. UniFirst's broad customer base, which includes 300,000 business locations across North America, employs thousands of enthusiastic NASCAR fans, so this relationship is a natural fit. We're extremely proud to have the UniFirst brand represented in such a dynamic atmosphere." UniFirst is one of North America's largest workwear and textile service companies, providing managed uniform, protective clothing, custom corporate image apparel, and ancillary facility services programs to businesses in virtually all industries. As part of the new relationship, UniFirst will supply work clothing and uniforms to Hendrick Motorsports and sister company Hendrick Automotive Group, which is the largest privately held retail automotive organization in the United States. "When a sponsor feels strongly enough to commit for eight years, it sends a clear message," said Rick Hendrick , owner of Hendrick Motorsports . "There's tremendous excitement about the opportunities our team and our sport present for UniFirst. They have a reputation for world-class service, the highest quality products and services, and having incredible people. We share a similar mindset and culture, and we're looking forward to working together across our entire organization." Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, Kahne, 36, has earned three Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berths and five race wins with the No. 5 team. The Enumclaw, Washington, native has 17 career victories, 27 pole positions and 166 top-10 finishes in NASCAR’s top division. "UniFirst will be a great addition to our partners at Hendrick Motorsports ," Kahne said. "They're a reliable company that we've worked with at Kasey Kahne Racing for a long time, so I was happy to hear they are coming on board. I'm looking forward to having them as part of the No. 5 team and working with them in the years to come."
Dale Jr. waiting on 'confidence in my health' before signing new contract
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr . said he intends to race "for more years," but NASCAR's most popular driver also said he won't sit down to discuss his contract with team owner Rick Hendrick until he's confident his health isn't an issue. Earnhardt, 42, missed the final 18 races of the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season while recovering from a concussion suffered at mid-season. He is in the final year of his contract as driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports . "I told Rick ( Hendrick ) that I would like to get a couple of races, a couple of months under my belt to get confidence in my health," Earnhardt said Saturday at Daytona International Speedway , site of next week's season-opening Daytona 500 . "This is the only reason I feel that way. There's no underlying crap about it. When I got hurt last year, what I saw it put the company through, how I saw it frustrate certain aspects of the company -- maybe not frustrate but it put a strain on our relationships. Our partners were worried about my future, Rick and everybody was worried. I don't want to do that again. "I want to get some races under my belt and get confidence in my health before I can commit to him. I don't want to make him a promise that I can't deliver on. "Once I feel like, 'You know what? I think I'm good. I think I can withstand the wear and tear of driving these cars to do a couple more years,' I’m ready to do it. Because I want to race; I want to be here and I want to race." Earnhardt joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 after eight seasons with Dale Earnhardt Inc., the company founded by his father, the seven-time series champion and inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee. Nine of his 26 career victories have come since the move to HMS. In addition to competing for HMS, Earnhardt also co-owns JR Motorsports , a race organization that fields four teams in NASCAR's XFINITY Series. He will make his first start since his injury next week here at DIS. He's a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 and considered one of the sport's best on the big superspeedways, where NASCAR mandates the use of restrictor plates to limit speeds. Retirement has been on his mind, Earnhardt admitted, even before last season's setback. But he said the injury made him realize that it might now be best to put off such thoughts until he knows his health isn't a concern. Earnhardt said in December that he hoped to sit down and discuss a contract extension before the '17 season got underway. "I've been trying over the last year or two to put a number on it, say, 'This is when I'm going to retire,'" he said. "'This will be the year or the day or the age.' But I've decided that maybe it's best that I don't. Considering my health, I can't even think about putting a date on it because I don't know what's going to happen to me going forward. "I want to get a couple of races under my belt, a couple of months, and then we'll sit down and say, 'You know, if everything is going great and we haven't had any issues, I'm confident to continue to race.'" Earnhardt has twice signed five-year contracts with HMS – the first from 2008 through '12 and the most recent, an extension which ran from 2013-17. Hendrick Motorsports also fields Monster Energy Series teams for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott . &lt;/p&gt;
Dale Jr. jumps back into familiar surroundings with plenty of speed
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! " RELATED: Junior through the years DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr . didn't take any credit for his qualifying effort Sunday, a 192.864 mph lap that put his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the front row for next week's season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . "Ain't much to it," Earnhardt quipped. "The car does all the work." Earnhardt, twice a winner of the "Great American Race," won't be on the pole, but he'll start alongside Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott , giving the team a front-row sweep for the second time in the last three years. His previous wins in the 500 came from third (in 2004) and ninth ('14). Earnhardt is regarded as one of the best at restrictor-plate racing but qualifying is a solo effort. There are no other cars off which to pick up a push or gain an advantage. It's all about horsepower. But there's a bit of technique required as well. "The transitions are kind of important as far as feeding the car into the corner and also running as tight as you can on the apron without bouncing the skirt off the apron or giving up any speed, or just time adding feet to your lap by running high, at least a little bit, can make a big difference," he said. "But other than that, the driver, I don't think he's feeling like he's in control of too much. The car is doing most of the work." Sidelined for the last half of the 2016 season after suffering concussion-like symptoms, Earnhardt is eager to be back behind the wheel. He chose not to compete in Sunday's Advance Auto Parts Clash, instead allowing Alex Bowman to field his entry. Bowman had won the pole at Phoenix driving in relief of Earnhardt last fall, a distinction that Earnhardt said earned the driver the opportunity. But after spending "The Clash" working as an analyst in the booth for Fox Sports, Earnhardt traded in his suit and tie for a firesuit, and eased his way back into more familiar surroundings. He was second-fastest in the opening round of qualifying; Elliott ended the session atop the board. In the final round, the No. 88 went to the top of the board with only one driver, Elliott, remaining. "I certainly would have loved to have gotten a pole, but my boss man is happy," Earnhardt said of team owner Rick Hendrick . "I just talked to him on the phone and he's got to be thrilled with having his cars up front." Elliott's final-round run, a lap of 192.872 mph, gave the Dawsonville, Georgia, youngster his second consecutive Daytona 500 pole. It was the third straight No. 1 qualifying effort for his No. 24 team, which also started out front here in '15 with four-time series champion Jeff Gordon behind the wheel. "Obviously Dale is good down here, and we all knew he was going to be fast today," Elliott, 21, said. "That's no surprise. But I don't really care who it is. I'm not going to feel bad about beating somebody. "It's cool to share a front row with a teammate is really the biggest thing I look at with that. But Dale is a good guy. I'm happy to share the front row with him, but happier to beat him, obviously, but regardless of who it is, that's what you're trying to do, you know." Elliott and Earnhardt were the only two drivers to officially lock in their starting positions for next weekend's Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The remainder of the field will be determined through the Can-Am Duels, a pair of 150-lap qualifying races scheduled for Thursday evening (7 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Chase Elliott captures back-to-back Daytona 500 poles
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Full results DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Winning back-to-back Daytona 500 poles is something of a family tradition, as Chase Elliott proved by the skin of his teeth Sunday at Daytona International Speedway . The last driver to take a lap in the second and final round of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, Elliott covered the distance in 46.663 seconds (192.872 mph) to edge Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr . by .002 seconds. The pole was the second straight for Elliott, who led the field to green last year as a Sunoco rookie. It was the third straight for Elliott's crew chief, Alan Gustafson, who won the pole with driver Jeff Gordon in 2015 in Gordon's last year as a full-time driver. With three straight poles as a crew, Gustafson shares a record previously held solely by Ernie Elliott, Chase Elliott 's uncle, who fielded cars driven by former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Bill Elliott , Chase's father. "Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has done a lot of work this off-season," said Elliott, who claimed the third Coors Light Pole Award of his career, all at restrictor-plate tracks. "This team definitely has a knack for these plate tracks, as they showed with Jeff Gordon and then last year with here and Talladega (where Elliott also won the pole). "But that stuff doesn't just happen by staying the same, as everybody knows. Everyone is always trying to get better and make their cars better and faster, and the engine shop is always finding new things. So I think that's just proof that they're improving with everybody else and taking that next step, which is really impressive. "I'm happy to be a part of it, and hopefully we can run good next Sunday." Elliott and Earnhardt are the only two drivers locked into their starting spots for next Sunday’s 59th running of the "Great American Race" (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). They will lead the field to the green flag in both Can-Am Duel 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) -- Elliott in the first Duel, Earnhardt in the second. Earnhardt is racing for the first time since a concussion sidelined him for the final 18 events of the 2016 season. The satisfaction of locking in a front-row starting position tempered his disappointment at missing the pole by the slimmest of margins. "I certainly would have loved to have gotten a pole, but my boss man (Rick Hendrick ) is happy," Earnhardt said. "I just talked to him on the phone, and he's got to be thrilled with having his cars up front." Brad Keselowski qualified third at 192.691 mph and will start on the outside of the front row in Thursday night's first Duel. Clint Bowyer , in his first competitive effort in a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, will start beside Earnhardt in the second Duel after posting the fourth-fastest speed (192.571 mph). With 36 chartered teams knowing they will race next Sunday, six Open entries are vying for the four remaining berths in the Daytona 500 field. Sunday's time trials brought good news for Brendan Gaughan and Elliott Sadler , who know they will race next Sunday as the two fastest qualifiers among the "go-fast-or-go-homers." Conversely, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Timmy Hill , who posted the two slowest times in the field, can race in the 500 only if they are the fastest Open drivers in their respective Duels. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Hendrick Motorsports welcomes 2017 pit crew class
MORE: No. 48 pit crew coach discusses recent pit road mishaps In a building filled with banners, trophies and famed race cars, five newcomers entered Hendrick Motorsports ' Nos. 48 and 88 shop as part of their induction to the decorated four-car organization, carving out their own slice of history. These five young men, coming from various backgrounds, stood together -- a united group -- as part of the Hendrick's 2017 pit crew class for its second annual signing day. Completing the class are: TJ Semke, Mason Harris, Austin Holland, Timmy Hall and Dylan Intemann. The quintet were joined by Andy Papathanassiou, Director of Human Performance, and Keith Flynn, Developmental Pit Crew Director. "To me the reason why we decided on a formal presentation of our pit crew recruits is because this really is, in my explanation, the completion of a dream, Papathanassiou said Thursday, looking at the 2017 class. "And to have something like NASCAR come in … and say, 'Hey, you can fufill your dream of being a professional athlete.' " The goal of this program is to have the recruits work their way up to eventually lining up behind the wall for one of Hendrick's Sprint Cup teams. "Over 100 guys came through and (only) five guys made it," Flynn revealed, highlighting the difficulties of the rigorous program that he manages. One of the inductees, Hall, says his four-year professional hockey career -- Hendrick's first hockey player recruit -- helped him prepare for not only the program, but also the NASCAR industry as a whole. "I think a ton of stuff translated over," the tire carrier hopeful revealed. "Obviously, just the practice and preparation that you are used to with hockey ... there's a lot of hand-eye coordination and hand skills involved. I think that really translates with tire changing, especially." All five Hendrick Motorsports recruits have extensive athletic backgrounds: Semke played football for three years at the University of Kansas; Harris was a four-year football player for the University of South Carolina; Holland briefly provided behind-the-wall support at Roush Fenway Racing ; and Intemann was an offensive lineman at Wake Forest University. Papathanassiou -- and the entire HMS organization -- are confident in this group, envisioning a promising future for the five in their motorsports careers. "They found us as much as we found them. And you're seeing the fruits of the labor of our constant year-after-year recruiting process."
Logano looks strong, Dale Jr. returns at Daytona
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Junior returns at Daytona " Practice results Dale Earnhardt Jr . returned to competition for the first time in seven months, but it was Joey Logano in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford who led qualifying practice for the Daytona 500 on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway . Logano's fastest lap of 193.116 mph held firm at the top of the leaderboard after the nearly four-hour practice session and gave him a boost heading into Coors Light Pole Qualifying on Sunday (3:10 p.m. ET, FOX). However, lots of eyes were on Junior, who missed the final 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races in 2016 because of a concussion. Thirty minutes into practice, Junior climbed into the car, then after a debris caution 20 minutes later the No. 88 Chevrolet SS for Hendrick Motorsports took the track. Earnhardt Jr.'s first lap was 17th-fastest at 190.504 mph. Junior finished the session in 11th place at 192.670 mph. "It felt good to just get out there and get to work a little bit and be with the guys and see all the familiar faces in the garage, other drivers and team members and so forth," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Yeah, just trying to put as many laps as I can behind me and get further and further into this deal to where the events from last year become more of a distant memory and don't define me as who I am so much anymore." Behind Logano in second and third place, respectively, were Aric Almirola and Brad Keselowski , both in Fords. Rounding out the top five at the 2.5-mile superspeedway were Kyle Larson in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and another Ford driven by Wood Brothers Racing 's Ryan Blaney . This was the only practice scheduled before Sunday's single-car, two-round qualifying that will set the front row for the 59th running of The Great American Race. MORE: How the field is set for the Daytona 500 &amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
The history of Hendrick Motorsports and full crews for Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Hendrick Motorsports plane forced to make emergency landing
A Hendrick Motorsports plane carrying team members was forced to make an emergency landing Monday morning as the team traveled back from Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway . According to a team spokesperson, the plane was diverted to Memphis International Airport after a presence of smoke was noticed in the plane's cabin. The plane landed safely and is being evaluated, according to the HMS spokesperson. No injuries were reported and none of the team's four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers were on board the aircraft. The passengers returned to North Carolina on another flight. Listen to the spotter for Jimmie Johnson 's No. 48 Chevrolet, Earl Barban, recount the flight in the video above. Jessica O'Brien, wife of Dale Earnhardt Jr . No. 88 engineer Tim O'Brien, tweeted the following reaction: This was scary to wake up to! Glad my hubby @tobrien82 & everyone at @hendrickfeedr are home & safe! https://t.co/8ZuwHQf92b — Jessica O'Brien (@EdgehillMgmt) March 7, 2016
Hamlin does his homework before doing battle
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: Lineup for 'The Clash' " Hamlin, Kes top practices DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have won the last three Advance Auto Parts Clash races at Daytona International Speedway and four of the last five. They've visited Victory Lane often enough, recently enough, to be considered the favorites when this year's 75-lap, non-points event gets underway Saturday night here at the 2.5-mile superspeedway (8 p.m., FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Two of those victories belong to Denny Hamlin , who won from 15th a year ago and first in 2014. More than a decade ago, the JGR driver won the non-points event for the first time -- also from 15th. "I was at the very back for the first 20-some laps last year," Hamlin said Friday before practice got underway at DIS. "We had some pit strategy, we worked a few things, we got up front and never left. "We've won it from the front (and) back; I actually can't remember starting up front in this race. I think I always start in the back, but we've been very fortunate. I actually had one ... I thought we had four wins but evidently we went below the yellow line in one of them." RELATED: Hamlin honors J.D. Gibbs on his car Hamlin sounds a familiar refrain when asked about the season's first on-track action -- the Clash is a "fun race" with no concerns about points clouding the picture. It's a chance, he said, "to knock that rust off, have fun and see if you can't win." This year Hamlin will start second in his No. 11 Toyota, alongside the No. 2 Team Penske Ford of pole-sitter Brad Keselowski . Jamie McMurray ( Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet), Austin Dillon ( Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota) round out the top five in the 17-car field. Starting positions were determined via blind draw Friday. Others of note include Daniel Suarez , who will start 16th, and Alex Bowman , who will line up eighth on the grid. Suarez, the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, replaces Carl Edwards in the No. 19 JGR Toyota this season. Bowman is making a one-race appearance in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr . in the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports . Bowman won the pole at Phoenix last fall while filling in for Earnhardt. RELATED: How 'The Clash' format works The 75-lap race will be run in two segments – an opening 25-lap segment followed by a 50-lap finish. It's an entirely different animal from the Daytona 500 , thus the approach is different as well, according to Hamlin. "I think you get a little more aggressive from Lap 1 (in the Clash)," he said. "In the 500 you're kind of working (your way) toward the checkered flag. "I think the race is so short, that's why you see a lot of the wrecks. ... A) because we're a little rusty and B) because we're all going for it because we know it's win or nothing." Stewart-Haas Racing 's Kevin Harvick also has three Clash victories. Jimmie Johnson (HMS), Kurt Busch (SHR), Kyle Busch (JGR) and Matt Kenseth (JGR) will be looking for their second career Clash win. "I haven't driven anything since my last lap at Homestead, no testing for me or anything, which is kind of the same as last year and we fired off and won the Clash," Hamlin said. "I'm pretty confident that it just takes a (few) reps during practice to kind of feel the car out. I've done all the homework that I can do at home, studying tapes, studying data to figure out the best moves to make. I always like to kind of picture myself in certain situations and look at the data and see what I need to do to succeed. For me, that's why we've had the success we've had on these tracks." &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;gt;
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