Hundreds of names, including NASCAR.com writer, to ride along
Watch as NASCAR.com writer Holly Cain rides along with Jimmie Johnson through Las Vegas on the NASCAR Victory Lap.
NASCAR.com writer Holly Cain's in-car video of her Victory Lap ride with Jimmie Johnson.
Motorsports journalist Holly Cain the first name to grace the No. 15 Toyota RELATED: Photos of how NASCAR is raising awareness KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Clint Bowyer 's rambling news conference Friday at Kansas Speedway touched all the bases -- from his days-old transition into fatherhood to his love of Kansas City sports teams and growing up in the area around the 1.5-mile track. But it also included a special guest and a heartfelt show of appreciation. Bowyer will tackle the fourth race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason at his hometown track with a special pink paint scheme on his Michael Waltrip Racing No. 15 Toyota, helping to raise awareness in the fight against breast cancer through a partnership with the Living Beyond Breast Cancer association. But in addition to the new look for the 5-Hour Energy livery, he'll be carrying a special name over the passenger door: That of NASCAR.com's Holly Cain . "She's a writer that's been in this sport since I've been in it, always a great personality among all the media members, who is going through breast cancer right now," Bowyer said. "To have her on the right side going with me around the race track this weekend means a lot to me." Cain , a veteran in the field of motorsports journalism, was diagnosed with breast cancer this summer. She continues to regularly contribute to NASCAR.com as a well-respected reporter, even as she undergoes a rigorous regimen of chemotherapy and other treatment for the illness. Friday, she joined Bowyer's news conference by phone to offer a touching thank-you for the team's contributions to the cause. "I have an 11-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son, and I was able to show them the car this morning," said Cain , whose name is flanked by a pink ribbon on the right and the flag from her home state of Florida on the left. "After what's been some difficult times for them watching me go through this as a breast cancer patient, it brought a huge smile to their face. They think it's pretty cool and I appreciate that on their behalf. "Now knowing about this on a very personal level, I really appreciate the work that organizations like Living Beyond Breast Cancer do, and I see what it can do firsthand." Bowyer said his car will feature the same paint scheme in the next two races, at Charlotte and Talladega. In each race, a new name of a person affected by breast cancer will adorn the right side of the car. 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
Holly Cain reminisces on her interactions with NASCAR's most popular driver over the years RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota So often, our strongest connections to a person lean on a first impression, an early interaction. I first met Dale Earnhardt Jr . when he was still "Dale," not "Juuuuuuuunior;" before he'd collected the Daytona 500 trophies and the NASCAR Nationwide Series championships, before Junior Nation rivaled the size of some small countries and boasted a frenzied fandom like no other in racing. And when I realized Earnhardt Jr. was turning 40 this week, it seemed implausible. The number sounds so officially adult. Listening to him recently reflect on the past, appreciate the present and size up the future makes you wonder: Can you even imagine walking in his shoes during the last 15 years? A pedigreed son full of promise and pressure was suddenly left to graciously handle unimaginable tragedy; to please and manage a massive fan base with soaring hopes, and then to shoulder the weight of unattainable expectations. Through all this heaped upon him, Earnhardt won two NASCAR national series championships, hoisted not just one but two Daytona 500 trophies and will now celebrate this milestone birthday on Friday as a legitimate and absolutely hard-earned contender for his first Cup title. It's been one helluva ride for Junior. My first handshake and interview with Earnhardt came in a setting that couldn't have more of a contrast to the high-wattage existence NASCAR's mega-star and 11-time Most Popular Driver leads now. It came in the small conference room of a Charlotte chain hotel in 1998 during the traditional preseason NASCAR Media Tour. And the 23-year-old Earnhardt wasn't even the primary focus of the interview session, scheduled to promote the upcoming Busch Grand National season, as the Nationwide Series was then known. Looking a little overwhelmed by his first "media tour," Earnhardt sat quietly at a table by himself, waiting patiently in case any of the handful of reporters wanted a one-on-one interview when the formal portion of the event was over. After nine mostly unremarkable part-time starts, he was set to make his full-time debut in NASCAR's Busch Series driving for his dad. Many of the NASCAR beat writers were in another room interviewing Cup drivers and it seemed like a great opportunity, so one other reporter and I grabbed our tape recorders and notebooks and joined Earnhardt Jr. at a table. I remember him being so thoughtful in his answers and very candid about his life as the son of a sports legend. His father was bigger than life, yet Earnhardt Jr. was quiet, reflecting and shy. In particular, I recall how his face lit up when he spoke about the misnomer that he grew up with a silver spoon. "More like a plastic fork,'' he joked with a huge grin. He spoke fondly about his tough-love childhood -- some time at a military school and days sweeping the floors at his dad's dealership, not test-driving new Corvettes. And you got the idea he was a little rebellious, but absolutely good-hearted. Having covered his father, I figured, "a chip off the ol' block," actually. A couple years later, I remember Earnhardt Jr. showing up for a news conference alongside his dad in Daytona. He was the last to arrive and dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, his baseball cap on backward. Not two minutes after he sat down, his father good-naturedly, but deliberately got up and turned the cap around and gave him a little grief for not wearing a collared shirt. I recall that moment so vividly because it was such a touching father and son moment -- not for the cameras. It was the "Intimidator" just being "dad." Another moment like that occurred high atop Daytona International Speedway . Earnhardt Sr. had just won a race during Speedweeks -- one of the qualifying races he so dominated. Back then, the race winners came into the press box for their interview session, not into the infield media center as they do today. That afternoon, reporters often had to repeat questions to Earnhardt because he was constantly turning around behind him and looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows. He was much more interested in watching his son turn practice laps on the superspeedway below than re-living another win at Daytona, a place where victory seemed routine for him. Earnhardt would talk out loud toward the track, coaching his son each time he whizzed by the start/finish line. And Earnhardt was clearly impressed with what he saw -- flashing a grin so big it made his famous moustache turn up. Two other times I remember a similar expression of pure joy: When Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 in 1998, and when he joined his son in Texas Motor Speedway Victory Lane when Earnhardt Jr. got his first Cup win in 2000. I've spent a few significant moments with Earnhardt Jr. since and it is striking the way he seems to stay as grounded as ever, while impressively balancing the adoration and critiques. Among a handful of journalists that landed on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier with Earnhardt Jr. (and his then-Nationwide Series driver Brad Keselowski ) several years ago, it was striking to see the servicemen and women's awe and excitement that this NASCAR star would travel mid-week to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to sign autographs and shake hands. Earnhardt Jr. was the one, however, offering the thanks. More recently, I spent some time back in Texas Motor Speedway 's Victory Lane with Earnhardt Jr. This time, he was standing off to the side watching another son of a legend, his Nationwide Series driver Chase Elliott , celebrate his first ever big-time NASCAR win. There was a lot of pride and personal connection in Earnhardt Jr.'s eyes as he watched the fireworks go off and the 18-year-old do interviews and the hat-swap victory photos. Afterward, Earnhardt Jr.'s advice to Elliott was to take it all in, and to make sure he enjoyed the moment. This is something Earnhardt Jr. knows about. "Definitely accomplished more than I thought I would when I was younger,'' he said last weekend when asked about his upcoming birthday. "I just wanted to make it and being the son of a guy that was so successful, the more success he had it seemed like the harder it would be for me to make it. I would just be sort of a chapter in that whole thing, but I'm real happy with what I've been able to accomplish and who I have been able to work with and the friends I've been able to make." He continued, "The accomplishments as far as just the statistics, it's definitely exceeded my expectations. We are still winning races and running good so maybe we can get a few more wins and have some more fun before it's over. "Definitely having this birthday come up makes you reflect quite a bit back on not so much the decisions or any regrets you have, just the fun stuff you have done and is the next 40 years going to be just as good, because the first 40 were pretty great." 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
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