William Byron's new reality at Hendrick Motorsports starts sinking in
CONCORD, N.C. -- For William Byron, this trip to Hendrick Motorsports was different. As a fan of the organization with 11 Sprint Cup championships, Byron had visited the Concord, North Carolina, shop before. He peered through the windows at an organization he dreamed of driving for one day. Thursday, his multi-year contract in partnership with JR Motorsports was made official. Friday, he was back at the shop -- only this time wearing a black Hendrick polo shirt and a bright smile. "I've got a bunch of apparel and things I'm trying out, so I'm really excited about that," Byron said. "It's like a kid in a candy store. That's the cool part about it, but I also can't wait to get to know some of the guys and meet the crew chiefs." Team owner Rick Hendrick will give Byron a personal tour of the shop after this weekend's events at Bristol Motor Speedway . Hendrick came calling a few weeks ago, which Byron had no inkling would happen. Not when his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owner, Kyle Busch Motorsports , also has Sprint Cup Series ties. "For Mr. Hendrick to put the deal together and to have the interest in bringing me along as a driver and not have any strings attached is just a really special opportunity," Byron said. "Not only was it a great fit meeting with them, but then when I heard what he had to say, what he was proposing, it's something that I just couldn't turn down." What was it like for an 18-year-old to meet the legendary car owner? "I was pretty nervous," Byron said with a laugh. "I was probably trembling a little bit. He just has such a good perspective on the sport and such good insight, so every minute that I got to listen and learn was really neat for me." There have been no talks or a timetable put in place for his future beyond 2017, when he will run in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in a JRM entry, Byron said. The immediate focus is the Camping World Truck Series championship. Byron leads the drivers points standings by 37 points after Bristol, on the strength of five wins. He also is locked into the series' inaugural Chase. "It's just one thing at a time," Byron said. "They want me to succeed at JR Motorsports and get to know the guys, get to know the culture, and that's the most important thing. But it's encouraging to know I have a future here, and that's really cool to me." The excitement of what's ahead will be hard for Byron to suppress. Chase Elliott set the bar with JR Motorsports in 2014 with an XFINITY Series championship, and Byron wants to try to match it. Teammates like Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Kasey Kahne are at his disposal. Jeff Gordon is still around, and his was one of the coolest phone calls Byron said he received. And Jimmie Johnson is someone Byron grew up idolizing and at whose house he once trick-or-treated. "Once we got up there, all the dads that were carting around the candy were really amazed," Byron said. "They didn't think he was going to open the door. It was really neat and something I'll always remember." As will this week, which Byron could only describe as a whirlwind. "It's such a surreal feeling," Byron said. "I'm really proud to be a part of it. It's fun to have something to want to race for like that, and it's going to really help the future because I'm so passionate about being here. That's always a good fit for everyone, and that's what I'm looking forward to the most."
Cain: No need to panic about struggling Hendrick
Who's panicking? Not the Hendrick Motorsports team, as some have suggested. Working overtime, brainstorming, gritting their teeth and rolling up their sleeves? Perhaps. But this organization -- which hasn't celebrated a victory since March -- knows a little something about challenging for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series championships, and it would be naïve and foolhardy to believe the team's summer doldrums are a definitive sign of playoff potential. At least that's what history has shown us. And what Jimmie Johnson tells us. And what team owner Rick Hendrick has assured. "A lot of hard work went on during the break that we had," Johnson said last weekend at Bristol, Tennessee. "Just judging by the excitement from (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and all the way through to Mr. Hendrick , we're definitely turning over some stones and are hopeful to bring a little better product to the race track week in and week out. "We've been struggling at times, trying to produce speed and lap times of late and making mistakes in the process. We're still rallying with some decent finishes from time to time, but then again, still having some bad luck. I think Watkins Glen kind of speaks to that as well; and also self-inflicted mistakes. "I think come Chase time, in the middle of the Chase, the way things are looking back at the shop, and the excitement I see in all the departments, we're expecting a good late-season surge for Hendrick Motorsports ." Labor Day -- which traditionally marks the end of summer -- can't come soon enough for this team. Johnson is the only member of this Fab Four lineup to hoist a trophy this season, and the six-time champ did it twice right off the bat -- winning the second race of the year at Atlanta, then three weeks later in California. Chase Elliott opened his rookie campaign with 11 top-10 finishes in the first 15 races, including pole positions for the Daytona 500 and at Talladega Superspeedway . And he capped off that season-starting run with a career-best runner-up at Michigan International Speedway -- where the series returns this weekend. Kasey Kahne is also seeking his first trophy of the year, but already has six top 10s -- more than halfway to his entire total (10) from last year. And he has won at both Michigan (2006 from the pole position) and at Richmond, Virginia (2005), where the Chase field will be formally set on Sept. 10. As the Chase Grid stands now, Kahne is tied with Kyle Larson , three positions shy of qualifying. They trail 16th-place Ryan Newman by 39 points. With Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s return still unknown as he recovers from concussion-like symptoms, the feared Hendrick foursome realizes it is a threesome come title time. But it remains a championship threat. "Our guys have been working really hard these past few weeks," said Elliott, who is Chase-eligible by being ranked 12th in the standings. "Everybody is fired up at Hendrick Motorsports . Mr. Hendrick himself is fired up -- he has been around the shop a lot. We are all just trying to give it the best effort we can to try and make the most of these next 14 weeks. "We are all working hard, we are all in. Hopefully, Michigan will be a step in the right direction." In the past -- such as during Johnson's jaw-dropping six title runs in eight years – this team has made it look almost too easy. So Toyota has stepped it up, winning its first Cup championship last year with Kyle Busch and collecting 11 trophies already this year. Ford's been every bit a player, as well, with Team Penske drivers -- Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano -- earning enough trophies (five) between the two of them to keep the others honest this season. And Hendrick's Chevy "alliance" partner, the Stewart-Haas Racing team, has certainly come to the party with at least three Chase entrants including 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick , who won his second race Sunday at Bristol and leads the championship standings; team owner Tony Stewart , who won at Sonoma , California; and Kurt Busch , who is ranked third in points. And while Johnson's two wins and Elliott's poles seem like it's business as usual, there is a new sense of urgency to right the Hendrick ship heading into the Chase. Johnson has the two wins, but he has only three top 10s in the last 14 races, a stretch that also includes four finishes of 30th or worse. Similarly, Elliott hasn't had a top-10 since his runner-up at Michigan. And Kahne has only one top 10 in that time. "We have been struggling this year, have not been as good as we want or should be," Hendrick said over the weekend while admitting he's even gotten up at 4:30 am to go to the wind tunnel with his team. "We know we have the ingredients and we're not satisfied, and we're going to do whatever it takes. That's been our motto all these years. We're at, what, 242 wins in Cup series? And we're not done. "Nobody's satisfied. We've wrecked more cars. … Haven't led races like we usually do. Not making any excuses, we've got to get to work. That's the deal. We're all committed and we're all excited. Nobody stays on top forever but we're not happy where we are and we want to get back." "I'm accountable," Hendrick continued. "They're accountable. "When you're not doing well, you can walk away and point fingers or you can jump in it and say, 'Let's get with it. We know how to do it. Let's get better working together.' "I'm proud of our company and we're going to be better. I like the challenge."
Hendrick : Move to ink Byron about future, not Dale Jr.
RELATED: Byron checks off boxes one milestone at a time BRISTOL, Tenn. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Rick Hendrick said this week's signing of Camping World Truck Series phenom William Byron has nothing to do with driver Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s recent battle with concussion-like symptoms, and he expects his driver to return to competition as soon as doctors will allow. "Dale looks great," Hendrick said Saturday night prior to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway . "I had lunch with him and his road crew Wednesday. … We are taking extra effort with the doctors making sure he's going to be 100 percent. He's got a doctor's appointment next week. He's coming along great and he wants to get back in the car. "William has nothing to do with Dale at all. William has all to do with our future down the road, what's going to happen in 3-5 years from now? Nobody knows." Earnhardt has been sidelined since early July after being diagnosed with concussion like symptoms following the Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway . In his absence, drivers Alex Bowman and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon have piloted the team's No. 88 Chevrolet. RELATED: Bowman to drive at Michigan -- not Gordon -- if Dale Jr. can't go Byron has won five times this season in the Truck Series while driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports . He will compete full-time for JR Motorsports , which is co-owned by Hendrick , Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller, in the XFINITY Series beginning in 2017. Hendrick fields Sprint Cup entries for Earnhardt, six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne and Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Chase Elliott , son of former series champion Bill Elliott . Johnson and primary sponsor Lowe’s signed two-year contract extensions with Hendrick in September of 2015, meaning next season is his last under the current contract. "Jimmie plans to retire there; we plan for him to retire there," Hendrick said of Johnson, who has 77 career victories. "Beyond that, we're excited about (William) just like we were Chase. "If you don't get someone in the pipeline, when it's time for someone to retire then you don't have them. I'd rather bring someone like William along so that we know that we've got someone for the future in our company."
Hendrick signs Byron to multi-year pact, earns XFINITY ride in '17
William Byron's NASCAR career accelerated again this week with the legendary Hendrick Motorsports team announcing Thursday it has secured a multi-year contract with the 18-year old driver, who will compete full-time in the XFINITY Series beginning with the 2017 season. The arrangement is in partnership with JR Motorsports , which will field Byron as an XFINITY Series regular. It is similar to the situation for young driver Chase Elliott , who won the 2014 XFINITY Series championship driving for the JRM team before moving up to the Sprint Cup Series ranks with Hendrick this season. "Being with Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports has always been a goal of mine," Byron said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "I grew up a Jimmie Johnson fan, so it's really a dream come true to be part of the organization. It's really neat also that I grew up in Charlotte (North Carolina) and they're down the road in Concord. I've been to the shop a few times as a fan." Byron said he signed the deal on Tuesday, prior to Wednesday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway . Hendrick called Byron "a few weeks ago," according to the driver, to start the conversation. This is a huge nod to Byron's already head-turning NASCAR career. He has a series-best five wins in the Camping World Truck Series this season driving for reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch 's team and he leads the championship standings by a healthy 37 points over Daniel Hemric after Wednesday night's race at Bristol. All this while Byron is currently enrolled as a freshman at Liberty University. "William is a special person and a special talent," Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said. "It's been impressive to watch him come up through the ranks and have success at every level. What he's already accomplished this season has been remarkable. "On top of all his ability, he's a terrific young man from a great family, and we think he has a very bright future with our organization." Byron won the 2015 NASCAR K&N East championship earning four victories and three pole positions leading more than 40 percent of all laps run in the series' 13 races. And Byron does have experience competing for the Hendrick and Earnhardt ownership group. He won two races driving a JR Motorsports late model in the 2014 and 2015 seasons -- his first times in a full-size stock car. "I owe so much to Dale Jr. and everyone at JRM for taking a chance on me in 2014," Byron said. "Looking back, I know none of this would've happened without that opportunity. I was there during Chase Elliott 's championship season and got to learn a lot. I know what they're capable of, and I'm going to work really hard for them." JR Motorsports currently fields cars for Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier in the XFINITY Series as well as a third car that is shared by multiple drivers and referred to as its "All-Star" car. There is no word yet whether the team will make the third car just for one driver or if Byron will take one of the other seats. "We are a three-car team, and we want to be three cars," JR Motorsports co-owner Kelley Earnhardt Miller said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "We've been holding hands with Elliott and looking at sponsorship opportunities for him and keeping that door open. He set the bar for our team this year, so we have a year to work it out and hopefully try to win the championship with him." Earnhardt Miller added that she hoped to have an announcement "toward the end of next week" on the team's full plans for next year. Both Hendrick and Byron will speak in a press conference Saturday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway to address this week's announcement. &amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Hendrick : 'William has nothing to do with Dale'
Hendrick Motorsports owner, Rick Hendrick , talks about how signing William Byron for 2017 has nothing to do with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s current condition and how it's all about the future of Hendrick Motorsports .
The Rundown: Michigan driver grades
RELATED: Full race results " Standings " Chase Grid Breaking down the full field for the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway : 1. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Twice, Larson had to overcome problems on pit road. Twice, Larson beat Chase Elliott on restarts from the front row. The second one, with 10 laps to go, was the difference. Larson gets his first Sprint Cup win in his 99th start and his ticket punched to the Chase. Well done. Grade: A 2. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Restarts, restarts, restarts. Elliott lost the first race at Michigan because of poor restarts and it happened again Sunday. And just like in June, Elliott finished second. Grade : A- 3. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . The native of Michigan posted his sixth straight top 10 at his home track but to his chagrin remained winless in the Irish Hills. Grade: A 4. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . Blaney needs a win to make the Chase, and he drove like it Sunday, posting his first top 10 in 10 races. Grade: A 5. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Harvick led 33 laps, and his 3.56 averaging running position topped the field. Grade: A 6. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Johnson was a factor -- and the leader -- until his green-flag pit stop on Lap 109. But his gas man had trouble refueling the No. 48, and from that point forward Johnson was playing catchup. His 37 laps led were second to Kyle Larson ’s 41. Grade: A- 7. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Edwards now has two wins, seven top fives and 15 top 10s in 2016. That’s what he had all of last season. Grade: A 8. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. McMurray finished eighth for the third consecutive week. He holds the last spot in the Chase standings by 15 points over Ryan Newman with two races to go before the field is set. Grade: A 9. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Hamlin’s sixth straight top-10 finish is the longest active streak. Grade: A 10. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . All of the polesitter’s strength came at the start of the race. A slow final pit stop left him 17th on the last restart. Grade: A- 11. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Biffle had a nice finish, but he was never a factor. Only Kyle Busch ’s 26 laps in the top 15 were fewer than Biffle’s 44 among drivers who finished in the top 20. Grade: B 12. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Borrowing a page from Greg Biffle … Busch was not a factor, either, and only his brother’s 24.84 average running position was worse than his 17.34 among drivers who finished in the top 20. Grade: B 13. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . In the first 12 races of the season, Kenseth led 398 laps. In the next 12, 79 laps, including eight Sunday, his first laps led since his victory last month at New Hampshire. Grade: B 14. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne is going to need a win -- or a miracle -- to make the Chase field. He trails Jamie McMurray by 52 points for the final Chase-eligible spot after finishing outside the top 10 for the eighth straight race. Grade: B 15. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . Allmendinger finished in the top 15 in four consecutive races for the first time since the end of the 2011 season. Grade: B 16. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Dillon is 15th in the Chase standings with a 21-point cushion over Ryan Newman in 17th. Grade: B 17. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Newman should consider himself fortunate to be only 15 points out of 16th with two races to go for the Chase field is set -- he hasn’t had a top-10 finish in his past five races. Grade: B- 18. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Regular readers of The Rundown know we have been enthralled by Menard’s propensity to finish 18th. He racked up his sixth of the season Sunday. Grade: C 19. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Busch's troubles at Michigan continued when he got loose in Turn 4 on the 26th lap and went for a spin. His average finish in his past seven starts at Michigan is 32.0 with one finish on the lead lap -- and it wasn't Sunday. Grade: C 20. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing . Truex's shot at winning or having a top finish ended on Lap 66 when the jack man lowered the car before the left rear tire was changed. The damaged left-rear quarter panel was an issue the rest of the day. Grade: C- 21. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . The driver with a win and five top fives in a seven-race stretch has finished 30th and 21st in his past two races. Is the mojo gone? Grade: C 22. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Mears finished outside the top 10 at Michigan for the 13th consecutive race. Grade: C 23. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . This marks the first time in Patrick's four full-time Sprint Cup seasons she has not finished in the top 20 in at least one of the two Michigan races. She finished 21st in June. Grade: C 24. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Bayne went into last week's race at Bristol eight points out of the final Chase spot. He leaves Michigan 58 points back. Grade: C 25. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Michigan is one of two tracks on which Almirola has made at least 10 starts and has yet to post a top 10. (The other is Pocono.) Grade: C- 26. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Smith posted his best finish at Michigan since a career-best 13th in August of 2011. Grade: C 27. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Since scoring a career-best 15th at Michigan in August 2014, Stenhouse's finishes at the 2-mile track are 25th, 26th, 29th and 27th. Grade: C- 28. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Sunday’s race was something to build on: In his first race at Michigan in June, Scott left with a 36th-place finish and a DNF (crash). Grade: C 29. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Because of Ragan's proximity to Chris Buescher in the standings, he will continue to be one of the most-watched drivers through Richmond. On Sunday, Ragan took a nibble out of Buescher's points lead and is now seven points behind Buescher for 30th in the standings. Grade: C 30. Alex Bowman , No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Bowman started sixth and was running in the top five when the car’s ignition failed. A day of promise ended right there, and Dale Earnhardt Jr .’s replacement finished five laps back. Grade: D 31. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . McDowell won Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Road America , but his string of top-20 Sprint Cup finishes ended at a season-best two. Grade: D 32. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . DiBenedetto battled brake issues all day. Grade: D 33. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . A blown tire brought out the fourth and final caution, and Annett finished five laps back. Grade: D 34. Cole Whitt , No. 98 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports . Whitt produced his worst finish in six starts at Michigan. Grade: D 35. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . With so much at stake, the No. 34 team could not afford the engine woes that dumped Buescher to 35th -- he finished 20th at Michigan in June -- but at least he didn’t finish last. Those extra five points might make the difference between making the Chase and major disappointment. Another positive takeaway: David Ragan could muster only a 29th-place finish. Grade: F 36. Reed Sorenson , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports . Sorenson finished seven laps off the pace. Grade: D 37. Jeffrey Earnhardt , No. 32 Ford, Go Fas Racing . Earnhardt had an accident in practice and was in a backup car. He finished eight laps back. Grade: D 38. Josh Wise , No. 30 Chevrolet, The Motorsports Group. Wise's finish was his worst at Michigan since a 39th-place run in August 2013. Grade: F 39. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Suspension woes limited Cassill to 174 laps and left him with his first DNF of the season. Grade: F 40. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Bowyer said before the race he had his best car of the year. Yikes! Vibrations sent the No. 15 behind the wall, but Bowyer avoided a DNF, although he did finish 40 laps off the pace. Grade: F
No. 24 pit crew shows off recent improvements
It's easy to criticize a driver, pit crew, or crew chief when performance doesn't meet expectations and you see a loss slip away. That was the case for driver Chase Elliott and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team this past weekend in Michigan. The silver lining? The pit crew did its job on the last stop and helped Elliott take the lead from Kyle Larson . The restart -- well, that's not our subject of expertise. The No. 24 has gone through some rough stretches over the last year, and changes were made at multiple positions. Adding new people and giving new roles to existing personnel have been moves made to help improve performance. This weekend was set up to be a reflection of their hard work. Things just didn't work out in the end. Elliott said it best after the race. "My guys did such a good job today of making the most of pit road. That was the only place you could make a large sum of ground in a short period of time. They did exactly what I asked them to do. I said, 'You guys are going to have to bail me out here, I messed up.' (And) they did. Elliott was referring to losing the lead to Larson on the track and then taking it back on pit road. The No. 24 is still in the Chase with two races to go, and if you're a No. 24 fan, it's a good sign to see the pit crew starting to peak at the right time. For more pit crew news, visit PitTalks.com .
Junior causes PR freak-out after 'married' Instagram photo
"DALE EARNHARDT JR. IS MARRIED. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. JUNIOR IS MARRIED." When the Hendrick Motorsports driver posted the above photo to Instagram on Friday, it sent off alarms that likely sounded a lot like the above in the heads of just about every commenter on the photo, but also to his public relations staff, whose collective blood pressures undoubtedly hit an all-time high. However, if you read the caption on the photo, it's clear that Junior is not married. Yet, anyway. "First time I've seen it in print. It's not quite official yet but sure is cool to think its about to be," Earnhardt said in the caption. Mike Davis, director of Brand and Communications for Earnhardt, gave the driver a hard time about it on Monday's edition of " The Dale Jr. Download ," saying,"You sort of caused a little bit of a ruckus over the weekend, did you know that? ... You sent off 100 fire alarms for the PR people." The photo was just a mistake on a form. Earnhardt was just excited to see it in print for the first time. "I did not know that people didn't read," Earnhardt said. Always read the fine print, people. Always.
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
Junior: Jimmie wanted to wear dad's fire suit
RELATED: Instagram post causes PR freak-out Dale Earnhardt Jr . said Monday that Jimmie Johnson had asked him to borrow one of his father's old uniforms to complete his retro look for this weekend's NASCAR throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway . Earnhardt Jr.'s remarks came on Monday's edition of the "Dale Jr. Download," a 70-minute episode that he co-hosted on his Dirty Mo Radio network. Earnhardt did not provide a health update on the concussion-related symptoms that have forced him to miss the last six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, but offered an anecdote about his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, who will be running a blue-and-yellow paint scheme on his No. 48 Chevrolet that pays tribute to Earnhardt's father and the legendary David Pearson -- both NASCAR Hall of Famers. "He's texting me, he's like, 'You got one of your dad's old uniforms and all that stuff?' " Earnhardt said of a recent exchange with Johnson. "He wanted to actually wear it to intros, and it would fit probably. It smells like … every bit of 40 years old." Earnhardt Jr. clarified that Johnson had asked about a different uniform than the one from the 1982 season that he recently modeled on social media. He also had to clarify for Johnson the level of Lowe's involvement with stock-car racing back in 1979, the elder Earnhardt's rookie season. "He sends me a picture of this car, and I said 'David Pearson ran second in that car at Talladega in relief for my father,' " Earnhardt Jr. said. "My father was out four weeks with broken collarbones (from a crash at Pocono), and David drove that car, ran second. That was the only race Lowe's was on the hood. I don't know why. Must've been a local chain, but they had Lowe's on the hood for that race, and that race only. "And so, it's kind of unique, kind of weird. Jimmie gets excited about it and then I have to tell him the story. He's like, 'Man, I'm going to run one of your Dad's throwbacks,' and I'm like, 'Well, David Pearson drove that car and Lowe's was on the hood for just that race,' but it's still really cool. I've always wondered what that paint scheme would look like on one of the modern cars." Earnhardt will be replaced by interim driver Jeff Gordon in this Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) as his recovery from concussion-related issues continues. Earnhardt said he was "real sad" he won't be driving his own throwback paint scheme, a No. 88 Chevrolet that pays homage to Buddy Baker's "Gray Ghost" look from the early 1980s. Alex Bowman made his second substitute start last weekend at Michigan International Speedway , placing 30th after slowing early with engine trouble. Still, Earnhardt Jr. gave him a vote of confidence. "That was disappointing. I know Alex was upset," Earnhardt Jr. said. "He doesn't know how many opportunities like that he'll get to show he's capable. I believe in him, and I know he's got the ability to do it, to be in the Cup Series and to be in a competitive car and do a good job behind the wheel. It was a shame because I think he could've shown again -- like he did at New Hampshire -- that he belongs." Though Earnhardt Jr. will sit out Sunday's event at Darlington, co-host Mike Davis -- brand and communications director for Earnhardt and his JR Motorsports team -- teed up what's scheduled to be a busy week for the 41-year-old driver. Earnhardt Jr. is scheduled to participate in competition meetings Tuesday, before traveling to a Wal-Mart in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, for a Wednesday driver appearance. Wednesday's schedule also includes an interview on Nickelodeon's "NASCAR Hammer Down" program, hosted by Karsyn Elledge, Earnhardt Jr.'s niece. Earnhardt's JR Motorsports organization in the NASCAR XFINITY Series also has a busy week on tap. Davis said JRM planned to unveil nostalgic paint schemes for its three Darlington entries, which will be piloted by XFINITY regulars Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler , plus Sprint Cup star Kevin Harvick . &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;gt;