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Rex White : Small stature, giant legend
Looking back at the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee's career MORE: NASCAR Hall of Fame profile of Rex White " NASCAR Hall of Fame by class (Note: This release is part of a series in advance of the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Jan. 30, broadcast live at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network, Motor Racing Network Radio and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White are the five 2015 inductees.) DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.– Over the years, NASCAR premier series champions have come in all shapes and sizes – tall, short, muscular and lean. The single constant? It’s impossible to judge a book by its cover. Based upon first impressions, Rex White – at 5 feet 4 inches, weighing just 135 pounds and with his right leg withered by childhood polio – might have seemed the unlikeliest championship contender of all. White , however, was tough as nails fearing neither competitor nor track conditions. He won the 1960 premier series title and posted 28 victories over five seasons, finishing among the top five in nearly half of his 233 starts. "He looked more like a jockey than a race car driver," fellow competitor Buddy Baker told the Gaston Gazette, "but he lived large once they started the race. On short tracks, he was very aggressive. He didn't mind going in the turn with (NASCAR Hall of Famer and three-time premier series champion) Lee Petty and saying, 'I'm inside and if you come down we’re not going to agree on stuff.' "He raced hard." NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, the 1983 premier series champion, said, "I admired Rex as a race driver because he was a little guy. I started out small. Seeing him winning encouraged me to chase my dream." What might have been a handicap to many only served as motivation to White , born Aug. 17, 1929 in Taylorsville, N.C. "Most of the lessons I have learned (from childhood illness) have stayed with me all my life," said White in his autobiography "Gold Thunder," written with Dr. Anne B. Jones. "The biggest one was how to conquer fear." White learned to drive at age six, driving a neighbor's truck in surrounding fields. Two years later he was working on his family's Ford Model T. “I was unaware the car on which I labored represented hope to people around me (and) frustration to those trying to stop illegal moonshine," said White . "I saw automobiles as transportation, not the symbol of an upcoming billion-dollar sport." White dropped out of school, moving to the Washington D.C., area where he found employment as a cook and, after marriage, a service station job. A poster advertising stock car races took White to Lanham (Maryland) Speedway where he caught on as an unpaid crew member for 1952 NASCAR Modified champion Frankie Schneider. A year later, White returned to the track with a 1937 Ford purchased for $600 lettered "X." He won his heat race, the semi-main and the feature. "I'd never won a trophy at anything," said White . White made his premier series debut in 1956 on Daytona's beach/road course. In 1958, he teamed with crew chief Louis Clements in an "off the books" program by GM's Chevrolet Division. They won twice in 1958 and five times the following year. The 1959 season also saw the debut of White's iconic No. 4 gold and white Chevrolet. The 1960 season was the first in which White ran a full schedule, going to the post only after he and Clement built a car for a competitor, the sale of which netted $2,000 for their own Chevrolet. White won six times finishing 35 of 40 races among the top 10. White's ninth-place finish at Birmingham, Alabama on Aug. 3 was his worst performance in the year's final 15 races. The championship was a runaway, White beating NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty by nearly 4,000 points. "The thing about Rex is he thinks," said Clements in a 1960 interview with Sports Illustrated. "When he's out on the track, he's planning and figuring out which cars he has to race to stay ahead." Car owner and engine builder Smokey Yunick, quoted in the same article, said, " Rex is not a cautious driver but he know when to use caution." White didn't disagree. "I couldn't run quite as fast as some of those other guys," he said. "So long as I was smart and kept running; if any of those other guys had trouble, I had a chance." White nearly defended his title in 1961 winning seven times but finished second to NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett. He added two more top-10 championship finishes before retiring at the conclusion of the 1964 season. Between 1959 and the 1963 seasons, White won more races than any other driver. He won 36 premier series poles – at least one in eight consecutive seasons – and finished second in NASCAR's Short Track late model championship in 1959. In retirement, White has owned an automobile dealership and for 25 years a trucking company, both in the Atlanta area where at age 85 he continues to reside. Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998, White holds membership in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
NASCAR Hall of Fame: Rex White
NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Rex White reflects on his career and winning a NASCAR championship.
Hall of Famer White short in stature, tall in talent
Oldest living premier series champion gives his thoughts on induction, Abreu Rex White , still keeping busy at age 85, reigns supreme as NASCAR's oldest living champion. He might also rank as its shortest. But White , who stands just a few inches above five feet, never saw his height as any sort of disadvantage, even in the rough-and-tumble days of stock-car racing's infancy. "I really wasn't built or the size for fighting, so I kind of avoided any physical contact with any drivers," White said. "In the race car, though, I was probably about the same height as all of them." White's stature will take another step up come Friday night, when he'll be enshrined as part of the sixth class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He'll be inducted with three drivers he competed against -- Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott and Joe Weatherly -- and latter-day star Bill Elliott. It's an honor that left the 1960 champion of NASCAR's premier series at a loss for words. "It's just unbelievable because I didn't really think I was going in that early," White said of his emotions upon hearing the news. "Just unbelievable -- I don't even know the correct word to use for it, but I was really flabbergasted." White won 28 races in NASCAR's top division, all but two of which came in a four-year heyday from 1959-62. He never regarded his diminutive size as a hurdle, a point that was underscored just last weekend with a modern-day corollary. A popular victory by Rico Abreu, who stands 4-foot-4, in the Chili Bowl Nationals sprint car showcase has opened the doors for a driving opportunity in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. White said if Abreu's talent speaks for itself, all other factors should remain equal. "If they build the race cars and get him adjusted and sitting in there where he can operate everything," White said, "I would say he's just as capable of winning races as any other driver." White's ascension to the top of the NASCAR ladder came during a time when the sport was expanding its reach, growing beyond the dirt bullrings and entering a major speedway boom. Atlanta Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway opened in the year White was crowned, and Daytona International Speedway 's 2.5-mile high banks debuted for business the previous year. Though he could see the sport transforming, White said he couldn't have envisioned what NASCAR would look like in 2015. "No earthly idea that it was going to grow to where it is today and be as popular as it is, and draw the money and pay the purses that they're paying," said White , who picked up a $13,000 check for winning the 1960 title. "I'm not even sure that Bill France had enough foresight to see that. I don't know. He may have, but I sure didn't." If White happens to cross paths with current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick during the Hall of Fame ceremonies, a link between the two will come full circle. White -- who drove a "Gold Thunder" car noted for its pristine gold and white paint scheme -- was the last champion to carry the No. 4 before Harvick accomplished the feat last season. White , like Harvick, was particularly loyal to driving for Chevrolet. The story goes, White needed to change his number from No. 44 once he stopped driving Chevrolet factory cars. Noting that Billy Myers -- an early star driver from Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina -- was a hero of his, it made White's choice all the easier. "Naturally, I grabbed it," White said. "It was a great number. Still is today." Though White hung up his helmet after a part-time schedule in 1964 and retired from his job at a car dealership in 2003, he said he's yet to slow down. His active schedule has picked up recently with appearances and interviews ahead of his Hall of Fame induction. Come Friday night in Charlotte, his stature as one of the sport's all-time greats will be secured, complete with a personalized blue blazer and the presentation of his NASCAR Hall of Fame ring. White says he's looking forward to the festivities, even if there might be the potential for stage fright. "Probably as ready as I'll ever be," White joked. "I'm sure there's something that I'll screw up on, so anyway, I'm going to do the best I can. It's a great honor, and it's a pleasure to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame."
White happy to be mentioned with big names
Rex White talks with Bob Dillner about what it means to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
White : 'Words can't express how honored I am'
Rex White acknowledges the team effort that helped earn him a spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
At Martinsville, Hendrick embraces memories while motivating
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Rick Hendrick probably knew the answer. That didn't keep the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner from asking the question. Standing inside the No. 48 hauler, shoulder to shoulder with team members, Hendrick glanced at driver Jimmie Johnson . "I'd like to have another clock," he said matter-of-factly. "Jimmie, how many clocks do you have?" "Not enough," came Johnson's rapid reply. "That's the right answer," chimed in crew chief Chad Knaus. Officially, Johnson has eight career victories at Martinsville Speedway , where the race winner receives a grandfather clock for his or her efforts. Driver introductions were less than an hour away, and Sunday's STP 500 would not start for another 90 minutes or so. Hendrick, 66, was making the first of several stops on a sunny but cool Sunday morning at Martinsville -- which is the site of both some of his greatest highs in racing and his most devastating heartbreak in life. His Hendrick Motorsports organization fields four teams in NASCAR's premier series. The No. 48 of Johnson, the No. 5 of Kasey Kahne , the No. 24 of Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Chase Elliott , and the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr ., the series' most popular driver. On race days, Hendrick visits them all. After chatting with Johnson's group Sunday, Hendrick ducked into the No. 88 hauler, then the 5 and finally the 24. That the HMS transporters are parked next to one another helps expedite the process. Later, he speaks again briefly with the drivers and others out on the starting grid before the beginning of the race. "I start at the back of the grid and work my way to the front speaking to the drivers," Hendrick said of his own personal weekly grid walk. "It makes it hard sometimes when you've got one in the back, one in the front, one's going to the bathroom, things like that. It's tight between the time they get out of the truck (after driver introductions) and they start the race." That's the case at Martinsville, with Johnson starting uncharacteristically deep (24th) in the 40-car field, and Kahne pitting at the front thanks to a No. 2 qualifying effort. Slowing the process to a crawl are the fans and fellow competitors with whom Hendrick stops to chat as he makes his way from the frontstretch to the Turn 2 side of the series' smallest venue. The founder of a hugely successful NASCAR operation and automotive sales group, Hendrick remains an incredibly humble person. Fans that stop the team owner seeking an autograph get an autograph; those who ask for a photo get their picture taken with the team owner. The only request, coming again and again from those who help ferry their boss from one location to the next is a simple: "Give him room to walk, please." After stopping to offer Johnson and Earnhardt, who rolled off 21st, encouragement, Hendrick stops to speak with owner/driver Tony Stewart on pit road. Stewart remains sidelined after a back injury in a non-racing incident before the start of the season. His Stewart-Haas Racing organization purchases engines and much technical information from HMS, though that will change next season when SHR moves to Ford. SHR driver Kevin Harvick speaks briefly with Hendrick as well, then crew chief Rodney Childers. A few yards farther and it's Felix Sabates, minority owner of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, who steps around the cars on the grid to greet Hendrick. The team owner is still two teams shy of completing his task by the time the national anthem has ended and the planes in the flyover have flown over, colored smoke trailing from each. Elliott and Kahne are already behind the wheel, but Hendrick manages to lean in and speak to each before the window nets go up on their respective cars and the command is given to start engines. Hendrick will often visit each of the four teams' pit boxes, joining the crew chiefs, car chiefs and engineers for varying periods of time throughout the race. When the green flag finally falls, he's poised atop the No. 24 box of Elliott, standing in the background and watching the action unfold. Team owner Rick Hendrick, center, speaks to all of his drivers before a race -- Dale Earnhardt Jr . (left) is one of four. WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT "I just tell them good luck," Hendrick says of the pre-race conversations with his drivers. He offers words of encouragement to those who might be struggling, as well those who aren't. Staying out of trouble, making good adjustments and driving smart can pay off, he tells each one. Do that "and then you're going to be there," he says. "We've won a lot of races that way." Johnson, who has driven exclusively for Hendrick at the Sprint Cup level, calls his boss "a great motivator." "He can say a lot in a few words," the six-time champion said. "Here it would be, 'You know I won my first race here.' And just smile at you. "Yes sir. Message delivered. Let's go win another." RELATED: Top moments from Martinsville Of course, conversations can sometimes take a delightfully unexpected turn. "I can think back to my rookie year at Charlotte for qualifying," Johnson said. "There was some cool car I wanted to buy. He knew that I had ordered it through his dealership; I was going to lease it, and he stuck his head in (the window) just as I was getting ready to roll off for qualifying, and said 'You know how much I love to win the pole at home,' and I said 'I'm sure you do.' "He goes 'You won't have to worry about paying for that car if you win the pole.' " Johnson indeed wound up winning the pole for the 2002 Coca-Cola 600 . It was his first pole at a non-restrictor plate track. It wasn't until he was headed home, he said, that he remembered the owner's comments. "I was like 'Damn! I got a car out of this!' " Johnson said. "So I call him and go 'Hey what about that car?' and he goes 'No problem. A deal's a deal.' " There have been similar deals, some that paid off and some that didn't. But the primary message on Sunday for each team was straightforward and simple. "I'm here to support you," Hendrick said. "Give them that moral support and acknowledge how hard they work. "It's easy to be positive when you're winning every week, but when you're not, to come back with the right attitude to work together, figure it out and not point blame. We're a team. Drivers are going to make mistakes, crew chiefs are going to make a bad call, and pit stops are going to be bad. Nobody's perfect. Just keeping them all motivated. That's it." THE TRIP THAT NEARLY WASN'T Winning at Martinsville is special for Hendrick. At only .526 miles, it is the smallest venue on the Sprint Cup Series circuit. From an emotional standpoint, it might well be the biggest for him. As a kid, Hendrick traveled with his father, Joe, from their home in South Hill, Virginia, to watch the races. The younger Hendrick got Richard Petty's autograph "in Turn 4 down there," he said. "I don't remember how old I was. "I used to pull for Rex White here in the convertible (division)." Martinsville eventually became the launching pad for Hendrick Motorsports , known as All-Star Racing in 1984 when a former Modified driver from Chemung, New York, named Geoff Bodine put the team in Victory Lane for the very first time. "Had we not won this race in 1984, I wouldn't be here today," the car owner said. "That's how close it was. We had made the decision to close the shop until we got a sponsor. You know, usually when you do that, you never come back. "But Harry (Hyde, crew chief) talked me into coming up here and Bodine won the race. The rest is history. We owe the track a lot." There have been 22 more wins at Martinsville for the organization since Bodine’s victory. Most were celebrated. Jimmie Johnson' s win in the Subway 500 on October 24, 2004 was not. It was Johnson's first short-track victory. It was the day Hendrick, feeling under the weather, chose to stay home. And it was the day a company plane carrying 10 passengers, including son, Ricky, and brother, John Hendrick, president of the company, crashed while attempting to land at Blue Ridge Airport in nearby Stuart, Virginia. There were no survivors. Saturday, the day before this year’s STP 500 , was Ricky Hendrick's birthday. He would have been 36. "It was kind of one of those days where -- I really thought about this morning just not coming," said Hendrick, adding that returning to the spring race each year is difficult but that "it's really hard to come back in the fall. "Once I'm here with the guys, that's what those guys would have wanted me to do," he said. "When you come back and fly in you think about that." He returned for the spring race in 2005, and the reception from fans, officials and other competitors "just blew me away," Hendrick said. Skipping the fall race, he learned that "sometimes it's harder not to be here than to be here. "As tough as it is, at home it's worse. You're watching it or maybe you don't want to watch it. It's hard to explain," he said. "But I think I've learned that it's going to be tough because it was so much of a loss that day. But being here is easier than being at home thinking about it." 'LET'S GO TO TEXAS' A constant, cool breeze eventually pushed Hendrick inside one of his team's haulers for the completion of Sunday's race. It had been a trying day, and while a glimmer of hope remained in the closing laps, it turned out to be a rare un-Hendrick-like day in the series' first of two annual stops at Martinsville. Johnson finished ninth, Earnhardt Jr. 14th, Elliott 20th and Kahne 22nd. "When you have days like this, I do more trying to console them than anything else," Hendrick said, removing the radio headset that had kept him in contact with each of his four teams throughout the day. "I always just try to tell them, 'Let's go to Texas.' " The teams will gather Tuesday to go over what worked and what didn't, filing it away for later in the year when the series returns. But the focus will be on the upcoming race this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway . "We've been good on the mile-and-a-half stuff," he said. "They'll just have to decipher where they think they were off here." The man whose teams have won 11 premier series titles and 242 races -- including nearly two dozen here -- headed back outside into the fading light and growing shadows. "This is," he admitted, "a humbling sport." MORE: Key takeaways from Martinsville
Rex White | Class of 2015
Inductee for 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame class
Keselowski and Hendrick: What might have been
On April 18, 2009, Mark Martin won the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway . It was the 36th NASCAR premier series win for the 50-year-old driver and his first with team owner Rick Hendrick. A week and a day later, Brad Keselowski won the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway . It was the first career win for the 25-year-old, and the first premier series victory for independent car owner James Finch. Two distinctly different races won by two distinctly different drivers. Martin's NASCAR career was beginning to wind down; Keselowski's, on the other hand, appeared to have only just begun. But there was one string that tied the two together -- Hendrick Motorsports . HMS was home to Martin, Jimmie Johnson , Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr . And it was expected by many to be the future home of the up-and-coming kid from Rochester Hills, Michigan. But a collection of factors that came together throughout the course of that season altered the racing landscape as well as the career path of Keselowski. It would be nearly three years before the next driver change at HMS. By then Keselowski had not only found a new home, but he was also on his way to winning the Sprint Cup championship. 'I WAS NOT GOING TO LOSE' The sun was out and the grandstands were packed when the 2009 Aaron's 499, the season's ninth Sprint Cup race, went green for the final time. As race leader Ryan Newman tried to keep Earnhardt Jr., the crowd favorite, in check, Keselowski darted to the inside behind Carl Edwards on the track's massive backstretch. It was a move that didn’t seem to mean much at the time. But at the start-finish line with two laps remaining, Edwards and Keselowski shot to the outside entering Turn 1. "Here they come; look at the 99 and ..." NASCAR on FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip began. " Brad Keselowski ," lead announcer Mike Joy and co-analyst Larry McReynolds chimed in. When the white flag appeared, Edwards and Keselowski had caught and were beginning to pull away from Newman and Earnhardt Jr. Racing back through the tri-oval, Keselowski turned his No. 09 Chevrolet to the outside, and then quickly dropped to the bottom as Edwards moved up to block. Realizing the bottom lane was now open, Edwards reacted quickly -- but not quickly enough. Contact sent the No. 99 Ford spinning. Edwards' car came off the track briefly and was beginning to settle back onto the track it was struck by Newman's Chevrolet. The impact sent Edwards roof-first into the frontstretch catch fence. Meanwhile, Keselowski kept his foot in the gas, racing across the finish line for the win just ahead of Earnhardt Jr. "I was not going to lose," Keselowski said in his post-race winner's interview. "I was not going to lift and (I was going to) hold my ground and consequences be damned." A full-time competitor at the time for JR Motorsports (which, coincidentally, counts Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick among its ownership group) in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Keselowski said he didn't know what the future held after his first premier series win. "I know I don't have anything locked in," he said. "That's really all I can say ... I don't have a job secured for next year, and everything to this point has been wait-and-see. I know this certainly can't hurt." But behind the scenes, moves were already underway. Finch's Phoenix Racing, which purchased it engines from HMS, had put Keselowski in the car at the suggestion of Hendrick. And the JRM/Hendrick pipeline, which grooms talent in the lower series to help restock the Sprint Cup program, was taking root. Keselowski had made two starts for Hendrick the previous year, and would make seven all together in '09, in addition to five races with Finch. Perhaps his future wasn't as cloudy as it appeared. "Rick had come out and told me, actually had made it a point to say to the media that he thought I was a future driver at Hendrick," Keselowski told NASCAR.com recently. There was only one problem. SWAN SONG? On July 4, 2008, HMS officials announced that Martin had signed a two-year agreement to drive the organization's No. 5 Chevrolet. According to the news release, Martin, who would run a full schedule in 2009, would "run a partial Sprint Cup schedule ... in 2010, sharing the No. 5 Chevy with a to-be-determined second driver.” By most accounts, that driver was expected to be Keselowski. But in May of '09, less than three weeks after Martin's Phoenix victory, HMS officials announced a revision to the '08 agreement. The veteran driver would return in 2010 to once again run the entire season. With Keselowski waiting in the wings and Martin winning and agreeing to return the following year, "Rick was kind of half pregnant," Keselowski said. "He (was) stuck. "My feeling was, after I had won Talladega, I'm going to get this 5 car ride partially next year, pair it with something else, let's go. I didn't know what it was going to be. We'll figure it out; let's go." A phone call and subsequent meeting with Hendrick, however, changed all that. "I was kind of expecting more of a 'Hey, we're going to expedite the process of clearing out the rest of this,' " Keselowski said of the meeting, "And instead I got a 'Hey, I don't have a ride for you. You need to figure something else out. I'll try to help.' "That was late April, early May of that year. My intent ... was to give him that time to kind of make right on it somehow, find a ride because he had made me the promise that I would have that car. It didn't sit all that well, but I understood the circumstances and so forth." Months passed and Keselowski busied himself with his full-time XFINITY Series effort at JRM while making a handful of Sprint Cup starts for Hendrick and Finch. Hendrick, in the meantime, was exploring the various avenues that might keep Keselowski in the HMS camp. Possible scenarios included Stewart-Haas Racing , at the time a two-team effort, and Red Bull Racing. Consideration was even given to fielding a Sprint Cup entry out of the JR Motorsports shop, according to the owner. But the pieces didn't fit and as the summer wore on, Keselowski's future remained uncertain. "I wanted him to wait a year," Hendrick told NASCAR.com. "... I don't remember all the details, but I do remember that Mark had done so well, and I had tried to talk (Mark) into staying. "I've told all our guys, the first time I sat down with Brad he impressed me because he was so intense about the whole car and wanted to be involved in everything. He was just so committed. I told our guys he's got the right attitude about racing and driving. I just needed him to wait." Waiting, though, wasn't part of Keselowski's plan. "My perception is a driver is a lot like a perishable fruit," Keselowski said. "You've got so much time, then he spoils and goes bad. There are a lot of variables, much like anything." PENSKE COMES CALLING The Keselowski family has always been involved in racing. Brad's father Bob was an ARCA Series standout and a former winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Ron Keselowski, an uncle, scored two top-five finishes in 68 premier series starts while older brother Brian Keselowski has one or more starts in all three of NASCAR's national series. "We knew the Keselowski name from being here in Detroit," Walt Czarnecki, an executive vice president at Penske Corp., said. "His dad, his uncle, all that. They would run out at MIS ( Michigan International Speedway ) when (Penske) owned the track." But it was a business associate, lawyer/agent John Caponigro, who brought up the young driver's name during a conversation in 2009. "We thought he was committed to Hendrick," Czarnecki said. "He'd been on loan to James Finch to run several races. But some things were changing." Conversations with Keselowski ensued, in Michigan as well as Mooresville, North Carolina, where Team Penske is headquartered. "All this time," Czarnecki said, "Still having this somewhat uncertain situation with Mr. Hendrick." Team Penske had grown from a two-team to a three-team organization in '08, fielding cars for drivers Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr . In '09 Newman departed to join owner/driver Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing and 32-year-old David Stremme was brought on board to fill the open seat. But the Keselowski opportunity was intriguing, according to Czarnecki. "We've tried to sign on what we consider to be the best available young drivers with a great deal of potential that we could mold and have them grow in our organization," he said. "And I think that Brad certainly fit that description. "But above and beyond that, he had a bigger vision as to what role he wanted to play in terms of the development of the team. ... Just how he saw different things coming together ... "Some of it may have been a little unrealistic; some of it was certainly the enthusiasm of a young man who had a goal in mind. ... But he had this great enthusiasm and he had this great desire and this great commitment. And that appealed to us." With the Hendrick effort seemingly stalled, Keselowski went back to Penske with a request -- to compete full-time in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series. In addition to its Sprint Cup effort, Team Penske was fielding one full-time XFINITY Series team with driver Justin Allgaier . Expanding that program to two teams running all the races was problematic, given the economy at the time. Told such a scenario was unlikely, Keselowski was left to consider his few available options. But Penske officials continued to work until enough of the appropriate pieces were in place. "Sure enough, Roger called me one night and said 'Alright, I've got it put together,' " Keselowski said. "It kind of caught me off guard. I was sold. That's it; he made it happen." "I couldn't sit around and wait. ... Roger had gone above and beyond to put something together that I felt like was the opportunity I needed. ... The economy was on its way down fast; Roger (through his various businesses) had a lot of immunities to the economy. Rick made it very clear to me that he was not going to invest himself without having a sponsor, and the economy was not in a spot where he could facilitate that." Hendrick had been aware of the Penske interest from the beginning, having had conversations with his fellow team owner about Keselowski's status. "Roger called me and asked me could he talk to him," Hendrick said. "I didn't want to stand in his way. Brad's a hell of a talent. It was a timing issue. "It's worked out for him. At his age it would have been nice if we could have kept him. ... If I got a call from Roger and I was in his spot I would have done exactly what he did." POSTSCRIPT On Sept. 1, 2009, Team Penske officials announced that the organization had signed Keselowski to compete full-time in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series beginning the following season. Since then, Keselowski has won 17 Sprint Cup races, 28 XFINITY Series races and championships in both series. "I don't want to sound mercenary but he brought us our first Sprint Cup championship (in 2012)," Czarnecki said. "Because that vision that he outlined, we tried to work with him and bring people along, bring people into the organization, have him work with people like (crew chief) Paul Wolfe, it was really the realization of that vision. That's what it (has) meant. "And his intensity hasn't changed." Former teammates Busch and Hornish have departed, and fellow driver AJ Allmendinger has come and gone. Keselowski, now 32, is the veteran of a Penske group that now includes 25-year-old teammate Joey Logano . "I wasn’t looking to switch," Keselowski said. "If things would have gone the way they were supposed to go before Mark won that race at Phoenix, I would still be there."
Junior talks plate success that others still seek
RELATED: Full schedule " Dale Jr.'s 'Amelia' ready to take flight again TALLADEGA, Ala. -- In his mind, the best race Dale Earnhardt Jr . ever ran at Talladega Superspeedway won't be remembered for one simple reason. "Because I didn't win," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said Friday during a day of practice on the 2.66-mile layout. "I'm disappointed because of what happened in that race and what we were doing with the car and what the car was doing was amazing. It sucks because we were just 6 inches short of being declared the winner. … We've lost a lot of races here, but I can't even remember any of them that stand out like that." A winner in the spring race at Talladega, Earnhardt Jr. returned in the fall needing another victory to keep his championship hopes alive. Although he led a race-high 61 laps, officials determined that Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) was the leader and thus the winner when the caution came out on a green- white -checkered restart that froze the field and ended the race. Fifty-five. That's how many races the 41-year-old Earnhardt has lost on tracks where NASCAR requires the use of restrictor plates to keeps speeds in check. However, 10 wins during a career that launched full-time in 2000, puts the son of a seven-time champion in the role of the favorite in plate races. That's twice as many as the soon-to-be-retired Tony Stewart and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson . It's as much a statement about the car, Earnhardt said, as the driver. And what one does with it. "If the car can't complete the passes that my mind mentally wants it to make, then I won't be as offensive and as confident in making those moves," he said. "When I was driving the (Budweiser) car, around 2003, '04, '05 when we were winning all those races, I raced as hard in practice as I did in the race. …You kind of can set the tone early in the weekend with your competitors that this is who you're going to be out on the track; plus this is the car you've got." It certainly helped that his father, Dale Earnhardt, was a master of plate racing, winning 13 times combined at Talladega and Daytona. RELATED: See all of Earnhardt Sr.'s wins "I learned a tremendous amount because I solely watched him whereas, someone else who grew up around the sport may not have focused as much on one particular driver," Earnhardt Jr. said. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards have combined to win the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races heading into Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Fellow JGR teammate Denny Hamlin scored the win in the season-opener at Daytona, the most recent restrictor-plate race. MORE: Edwards: 'Kyle and I haven't talked' since Richmond "You can't make stupid mistakes," Edwards, still searching for his first plate-track win, said. "I learned that early on." Caught up in an incident during one restrictor-plate race, Edwards said he told then-car owner Jack Roush afterward "something like, 'Man, there's just nothing I could do to miss the wreck.' " At which point Roush gave his driver a piece of advice. "He said, 'You might want to go look at the tape because you drove right past Tony Stewart into the wreck and he somehow missed it.' "I went back and watched and I learned from that," Edwards said. "You really have to be watching ahead and you have to pay attention." That he's yet to win a restrictor-plate race is perplexing, considering the 36-year-old has 27 career victories. "I don't need to see my stats at these places," he said, "because they're not good. … I'd like to get a superspeedway win. We've got great cars and we've got great teammates. I feel like I know how to run these races, but I just haven't been able to get the victory out of it. Hopefully we can do that." Edwards isn't the only notable still searching for that first plate win. Former series champion Kurt Busch (2004) and Martin Truex Jr ., who lost to Hamlin by a nose at Daytona, are as well. "We've seen Dale over the years just really show everybody how it's done and that's because he has a really good understanding of the air, the way it works and knowing how to use that to his advantage," Truex Jr. ( Furniture Row Racing ) said. "For me … I've kind of had good races and bad and lately I feel like I've learned a lot more and gotten better at it, but there's still a lot to learn. MORE: Five to Watch: Sleeper picks " Wildest Talladega wrecks
Sprint Most Popular Driver voting update
RELATED: Cast your vote today Less than one week remains before voting ends in the annual NMPA Most Popular Driver award, which means it's crucial for NASCAR fans to vote. And they've answered the call recently. Last week saw a 14.9 percent increase in total number of votes cast from the previous week. That number speaks to how deep the passion runs for NASCAR fans -- and also how passionate fans remain digitally savvy. Voting has never been easier, either at www.mostpopulardriver.com or the NASCAR Mobile App. Are you doing your part for your favorite driver? Remember, the NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver award is the only major NASCAR award determined solely by fan vote. Voting ends Nov. 22 at 11:59 p.m. ET, so make sure your voice is heard. Voting is limited to one vote per person per email address per day. The winner of this year's award will be announced during the NBCSN broadcast of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards on Dec. 4 in Las Vegas. A $10,000 donation will be made to the winning driver's charity of choice. And just in case you need any extra motivation … Sprint has revealed the top 10 vote-getters thus far. Where is your favorite driver? The list below is in alphabetical order. Kyle Busch Dale Earnhardt Jr . Carl Edwards Jeff Gordon Kevin Harvick Jimmie Johnson Kasey Kahne Matt Kenseth Danica Patrick Tony Stewart Previous winners of the NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver Award: Year – Recipient 2014 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2013 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2012 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2011 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2010 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2009 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2008 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2007 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2006 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2005 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2004 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2003 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 2002 – Bill Elliott 2001 – Dale Earnhardt 2000 – Bill Elliott 1999 – Bill Elliott 1998 – Bill Elliott 1997 – Bill Elliott 1996 – Bill Elliott 1995 – Bill Elliott 1994 – Bill Elliott 1993 – Bill Elliott 1992 – Bill Elliott 1991 – Bill Elliott 1990 – Darrell Waltrip 1989 – Darrell Waltrip 1988 – Bill Elliott 1987 – Bill Elliott 1986 – Bill Elliott 1985 – Bill Elliott 1984 – Bill Elliott 1983 – Bobby Allison 1982 – Bobby Allison 1981 – Bobby Allison 1980 – David Pearson 1979 – David Pearson 1978 – Richard Petty 1977 – Richard Petty 1976 – Richard Petty 1975 – Richard Petty 1974 – Richard Petty 1973 – Bobby Allison 1972 – Bobby Allison 1971 – Bobby Allison 1970 – Richard Petty 1969 – Bobby Isaac 1968 – Richard Petty 1967 – Cale Yarborough 1966 – Darel Dieringer 1965 – Fred Lorenzen 1964 – Richard Petty 1963 – Fred Lorenzen 1962 – Richard Petty 1961 – Joe Weatherly 1960 – Rex White 1959 – Jack Smith 1958 – Glen Wood 1957 – Fireball Roberts 1956 – Curtis Turner 1955 – Tim Flock 1954 – Lee Petty 1953 – Lee Petty