Rick Hendrick gives an update on Junior
Rick Hendrick talks about the status of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and says that Earnhardt visited his team this week.
Hendrick on Dale Jr.: 'We want him for a long time'
RELATED: Support for Dale Jr. LOUDON, N.H. – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Rick Hendrick said driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will undergo additional tests early next week as the popular driver works through concussion-like symptoms that sidelined him for Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "I'm not a doctor but he's running through a bunch of tests, going to have some more tests the first of the week and he's doing good," Hendrick told members of the media Sunday morning at NHMS. "He wants to be in the car. The doctor's going to tell him when it's OK for him to be back. I know he's anxious, and we want him back as soon as the doctor gives him clearance." Team officials announced July 14 that Earnhardt, winner of 26 Sprint Cup races, had not been cleared to race this weekend after visiting doctors for what he thought was a possible sinus infection. JR Motorsports driver Alex Bowman was tabbed to drive the team's No. 88 Chevrolet in Sunday’s race. "Dale is special to me, taking the driving part away," says Hendrick , who has fielded a car for Earnhardt since 2008. "I just want him to feel good when he gets back in the car. I don't want him to push himself. He's kind of an ironman, he doesn't want to let the team down, he doesn't want to let his fans down. But we need him for the long pull, and he wants to be in the car. "The best thing the doctors can do is go through all the protocol and do all the tests, and there's a bunch … to do. When they say 'You’re good to go,' he'll be back." Should Earnhardt not be cleared to return in time for next week's Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon will handle the driving duties. Gordon stepped away from full-time competition at the end of 2015 to join the NASCAR on FOX broadcast team as an analyst. He was on vacation with his family when Earnhardt’s condition was announced. "He thought I was kidding at first," Hendrick said of his conversation with his former driver. "He was on vacation and I asked him what he was doing next week. He said 'I'll be in Indy, that's one of my appearances I have to make.' And I said, 'Well, bring your driver's uniform. Just in case.' "He said, 'Are you kidding?' and I said 'No, I'm serious.' " "If Dale can't go, then Jeff is ready to step in." Hendrick said Gordon could fill in beyond next week's race if necessary, but added that "we're just taking it a week at a time." "Hopefully Dale is going to be back next week and it's not even something that we think is going to happen," he said. "But if it does … Jeff is a team player, he wants to support the organization and I'm sure he'll do whatever he has to do." READ MORE: Bowman keeps missing Junior's calls The latest incident marks the second time Earnhardt Jr. has missed races for a concussion or concussion-like symptoms. In 2012 he missed two races late in the season after suffering two concussions in a six-week stretch. Hendrick said he didn't believe the latest incident raised a red flag and would possibly be something that could curtail his driver's racing career. "He and I talked about years beyond next year, around I guess Daytona," Hendrick said. "If there was something major, major wrong I think (the doctors) would have seen it already. "I'm very hopeful and he's very hopeful and I think the doctors want to err on the side of being sure. We want him for a long time. He loves the fans, he loves the sport, he loves to race and we love him in the organization. I'm proud of him." Earnhardt was 13th in points prior to missing Sunday's race. He is winless this season, meaning he would need a victory to possibly secure a spot in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The field of 16 will consist of this year's race winners and, if there aren't at least 16, additional positions to fill the field would be determined based on championship driver point standings. Hendrick said his organization has not requested a medical waiver from NASCAR. "I haven't even thought about a waiver or any of that right now," he said. Chase eligibility includes the requirement that drivers attempt to qualify for all points races prior to the start of the Chase. Such waivers have been provided by NASCAR in the past. &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;gt;
Hendrick on Dale Jr. 'We want him for the long haul'
Rick Hendrick talks before the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway about Dale Earnhardt Jr. being out and the possibility of Jeff Gordon filling in for Earnhardt at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Gordon talks return, Dale Jr. at Indianapolis
SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Fans lined up two- and three-deep outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center hoping for autographs from four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon , who is returning to NASCAR competition this weekend. The five-time Indy winner will drive for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. for two races -- at Indy and next week at Pocono -- while Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Gordon, 45, was all smiles and admittedly still a little overwhelmed with the new part-time job as he addressed the media for the first time Friday morning. He was primarily concerned with his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Earnhardt's recovery. "Most of all, I'm proud to be here and help this team out," Gordon said. "This is his team and what we want the most is to have him healthy and strong for the long term. My goal is to come here and give this team the best effort I can." Gordon said the whole opportunity to fill in for Earnhardt began with a simple cell phone text he received while vacationing with his wife in France. "Call me," read the text from team owner Rick Hendrick . "I can tell you, you sit down when you call," Gordon said smiling. "It hasn't happened a lot, but when it does, it's usually something big. "I was in the South of France at that time, second day of our vacation. I got that text and looked at my wife and said, 'Oh, boy, here we go.' " Rick said to me, 'Are you coming to Indianapolis?' And I told him I was coming on Saturday. He said, 'You better bring your uniform.' Then he started telling me what was happening, and I told him, 'You're messing with me. I know you're messing with me.' "I knew right away the seriousness, that he wasn't joking. That this was serious. I honestly didn't have to think twice." So Gordon flew back from Paris to New York on Tuesday, a day earlier than expected and Hendrick had a plane waiting on its "new" driver to transport him to the team's headquarters in North Carolina. Once in Charlotte, Gordon had to get a NASCAR driver's license -- he currently held one as a team owner -- and get the required physical tests to certify he was ready for competition. The team still had Gordon's seat and steering wheel from last season's Cup finale at Homestead. Gordon said he spent time studying data and GoPro video from inside the cars of Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott when they tested last week at Indy. Gordon said he also spent time speaking with crew chief Greg Ives. "The cool thing about Greg Ives is he reminded me that he worked for Robbie Loomis when Robbie was my crew chief and he was telling some great stories about working with Robbie," Gordon said. "I've known Greg for a long time and always been impressed with him. But, I have never had the opportunity to work with him. I'm looking forward to working with him. I think he's a great crew chief and they have a great race team." An hour before Gordon and Hendrick spoke to the media in Indianapolis, Earnhardt sent a message to his fans on social media. "Today is the 1st day in many that I sensed improvement. Seen small gains during my physical therapy as well. Light at the end of the tunnel," Earnhardt wrote on Twitter. RELATED: Earnhardt gives update on his health "I certainly woke up feeling good when I saw Dale Jr.'s tweet, that he's seen progress," Gordon said. "I texted him right away as soon as I saw that. So, that is great news. Great way to start the day." Hendrick also reiterated how proud of Earnhardt he was for recognizing a problem and taking correct and cautious measures in terms of racing. And, he noted, Earnhardt was in the race shop Wednesday spending time with his team. "He looks good and he's in great spirits," Hendrick said. "He's encouraged and following the doctors' orders and we're really excited. He wants to get back in the car. "He wants to race, but he also knows that the regimen they have him on will get him right for a long time. So he's following doctors' orders, but I can tell he's getting a little antsy. But he's going to do well." Gordon conceded that in addition to getting used to the 2016 Cup cars -- and the digital dash, which he has never used -- was the simple and obvious thing of remembering he's driving the No. 88 Chevrolet. For 24 seasons, Gordon drove the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick , earning four series titles and a record five Brickyard 400 trophies. Now, rookie Chase Elliott drives that car. "I'm going to be racing against the No. 24 car out there," Gordon said, allowing a slight smile. "It's a race car and I'm going to be focused on driving, not focused on anything else. "To me, once I get behind the wheel and I'm inside the car I don't know what is on the outside of that car." RELATED: Other times legendary athletes wore different numbers In addition to this role driving for Earnhardt, Gordon revealed he was asked in February to fill in for then-injured Tony Stewart in the season-opening Daytona 500 . He couldn't because of contract obligations with his new on-air role with FOX Sports. Certainly, few of Gordon's competitors Sunday have any doubt whatsoever that he will be competitive here. "He has the best stats of anybody or as good of stats as anybody here at this race track as far as top fives and top 10s," Richard Childress Racing driver Ryan Newman said. "I think that he is driving the same equipment, it's not like he's in somebody else's race car. He knows what he's driving, he knows the people he is driving for, so I don't see any reason why he is not one of the guys to beat." Teammate Jimmie Johnson echoed the prevailing sentiment in the garage. With both Stewart and Gordon in their final Brickyard, there will be plenty to watch. "It is big, the way it worked out obviously, but to have Tony Stewart in his final race, Jeff Gordon in his final race -- Part Two, it is a big time," Johnson said. "Jeff has always been so well supported by the fans at this race track. I can only imagine how loud they are going to be at driver intros -- and how bonkers this place would go if he is able to win." RELATED: Stewart would consider substitute role in '17 In another nod to the team's regular driver, track crews took down a sign the Speedway had placed above the No. 88 team's garage that identified Jeff Gordon as the driver of the car instead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon insisted that it was Earnhardt's car regardless of who was driving it this weekend. Gordon looked good in opening practice for Sunday's Brickyard 400 with the ninth-fastest speed, and no one has proven himself better here. "I'm certainly a little overwhelmed over everything that has happened over the last week," Gordon said. "But, most of all, I'm proud to be here and help his team out. This is his team. What we want most is to have (Earnhardt) healthy and strong for the long-term. Today is a great sign of things to come for him. "For me, my goal is to come here and give this team the best effort that I can, and give them the best result ... hopefully a good one. So really, this is just me helping out the organization. We will see what happens on Sunday. If we are out there having fun, and put a good result together, I can tell you what is in it for me is to make that team proud, and not let them down." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Dale Jr. tweets update: 'I sensed improvement'
RELATED: Dale Jr. injury timeline " Views of Gordon behind the No. 88 SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. took to social media Friday morning, updating his fans on his condition as he sits out his second consecutive race since being diagnosed with "concussion-like symptoms." Today is the 1st day in many that I sensed improvement. Seen small gains during my physical therapy as well. Light at the end of the tunnel. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) July 22, 2016 No determination has been made concerning Earnhardt's return to competition. At Indianapolis Motor Speedway, team owner Rick Hendrick said an appearance at the team's headquarters in Concord, North Carolina, earlier this week by his driver was a good sign. "Wednesday he came by the shop, and we got to visit," Hendrick said. "He looks good; he is encouraged. … We're really excited. He is in great spirits." Hendrick , whose HMS organization fields entries for drivers Jimmie Johnson , Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne in addition to Earnhardt Jr., said Earnhardt is eager to get back in the car, but is also following doctors' orders. "He wants to race," Hendrick said, "but he also knows the regime they have him on will get him right for a long time. He's following doctors' orders but I can tell he is getting antsy. But he is going to do what they say." Earnhardt initially visited doctors prior to this month's race at Kentucky for what he thought was a sinus infection. Eventually, however, it was determined his condition was likely the result of an impact (or impacts) in recent races. As a result, he was not cleared to return to competition. Alex Bowman , who has competed for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports team this season in the XFINITY Series, was tabbed to fill in for the team last weekend at New Hampshire, where he finished 26th. Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon is taking over the driving duties for this weekend's Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard at IMS (3 p.m., NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). He is also scheduled to be in the car next week when the series moves to Pocono Raceway. It is the second time Earnhardt has been sidelined for a concussion or concussion-like symptoms. He sat out two races in 2012 following a hard crash during a test at Kansas Speedway. "I really enjoyed spending time with him Wednesday," Hendrick said. "He misses this. He misses his team. He went to see his team. He saw the guys and it really lifted them. "I think between Jeff agreeing to drive the car and Junior walking in the shop, the team is really excited. Jeff's situation with our company, everybody there knows him; and when some unknown person is going to get in the car, or clearly not anyone of the talent that Jeff has here at Indy, so that excited the team. But more than anything, when (Earnhardt) walked in that building it just lifted everybody up. So, we're really excited. Everybody is there for Junior and his health is number one priority. But we feel good about where we are right now." It was also announced by HMS officials earlier this week that Earnhardt had "underwent further evaluation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program." Gordon has not competed since stepping away from driving at the conclusion of the 2015 season. He is a five-time winner of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at IMS, making him the winningest NASCAR wheelman at the track.
Gordon: SHR reached out before Daytona 500
RELATED: Full schedule for Indianapolis " Gordon through the years SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Jeff Gordon 's "un-retirement" from competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series began in earnest Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion is filling in for Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Indianapolis and next weekend at Pocono Raceway while Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Almost as surprising as Gordon's return to the driver's seat -- he retired from full-time competition after the 2015 season -- was his disclosure that he had been approached about filling in for the injured Tony Stewart in this year's Daytona 500 . Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet and co-owner of the four-car organization, missed the first eight races after suffering a broken back in an off-road driving incident prior to the start of the 2016 season. Gordon's role as a FOX NASCAR analyst (the network provides coverage of the season's first 16 points races) prohibited him from returning to competition. "The crazy thing about all of this (is) I was asked to drive Tony Stewart 's car in Daytona to start the season," Gordon said Friday. "I wasn't able to do it because of my commitments to FOX. Now Rick ( Hendrick , team owner) has some amazing ways to convince people into things that the average person might not be able to. I don't know, maybe he could have called Eric Shanks or something, but no, I don't think so." Shanks is President, COO and Executive Producer of FOX Sports. Stewart is competing in his final season as a driver. Sunday's Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard will be his final appearance at the famed 2.5-mile track, where he has earned two of his 49 career victories. That Gordon was asked about filling in earlier this season was news to Stewart. "I wasn't (aware)," Stewart said, "but that would have been awesome. That probably would have been one of the coolest things to happen this season. If that happened, I would have been all for it. … "I wasn't aware of that, but that would have been a really cool deal for us." MORE: Dale Jr. out, Gordon in No. 88 at Indianapolis, Pocono
Gordon talks for the first time at Indianapolis
Jeff Gordon describes his feelings about getting back into the car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and talks about how he was asked by Rick Hendrick to be the substitute driver.
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."
Similarities undeniable in friends, competitors Childress, Hendrick
CONCORD, N.C. -- Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick have more in common than being long-time car owners in NASCAR. Both men have seen their teams win multiple championships. Both have fielded entries for some of NASCAR’s most talented drivers. And both are going into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame as members of the Class of 2017. Their friendship has been built on respect for each other’s accomplishments as well as years of fierce competition. Sometimes, what has taken place on the track has tested the limits of that friendship. But it remains unchanged. "We’ve had some situations where we’ve had to go up to each other and say, 'You know, we’re not driving the cars,' " Hendrick said Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway , site of the Coca-Cola 600 . Specifically, in 1988 when Dale Earnhardt, driving for Childress, and Geoff Bodine, driving for Hendrick , were embroiled in a feud that became so intense it resulted in all four being summoned to NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida, to meet with CEO Bill France. It was a rivalry that had been building for quite some time. It all came to a head here at CMS. "That was back when Dale and Geoff were wrecking each other, right here (at Charlotte), and it was costing us a lot of money," Hendrick said. It was the Coca-Cola 600 race weekend, and during the Saturday race, the Winn-Dixie 300, contact from Earnhardt sent Bodine spinning and into the wall. Afterward, Bodine made a trip to Earnhardt’s garage stall, drawing an imaginary "X" over the car. "That was his engine builder next to the car. I was just wishing him good luck for today," Bodine said during a pre-race television interview. In Sunday’s 600, contact between the pair sent Bodine’s No. 5 Chevrolet to the garage. This time, NASCAR officials penalized Earnhardt, holding the driver of the black No. 3 Chevrolet on pit road for five laps. The following week, both drivers and the two car owners were summoned to Daytona. The incident was recreated for the movie "Days of Thunder." "They made a movie about it," Hendrick recalled. "We got summoned to Daytona; Bill France brought us in a room … Dale, Geoff Bodine, Richard and myself. "I’m not going to use all the words he used but he said, 'There aren’t two monkeys that are going to mess up our show. … We can sit here and watch videos all day.' … but Richard and I had already agreed that we couldn’t control it; we tried to, but it was costing us a lot of money. "Mr. France said, 'We’re going to go have dinner.' Dale said, 'I’ve got some plans.' Mr. France said, 'There’s the phone, change your plans.' "Richard and I rode together; Dale and Bodine rode together and we never did have any more trouble." Childress, who won six premier series titles with Earnhardt at the helm of his cars, said such incidents weren’t exactly "great," but said it was a fun time in the series. "That wasn’t fun that night," Hendrick said. "That wasn’t any fun at all," replied Childress. "He (France) was serious. He definitely said 'I don’t care if one of you has to run on one side of the track and the other run on the other side, you better not do it again.' He was pretty serious. "But you look back on that … to be part of it and build the friendship we did … it was quite a trip." In addition to Childress and Hendrick , drivers Mark Martin and Benny Parsons, along with former car owner Raymond Parks, will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January 2017.
Car owners Childress, Hendrick , Parks chosen for Hall of Fame
RELATED: See the induction ceremony in photos CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Three team owners accounting for 18 premier series titles and 349 victories in NASCAR's top series headline the NASCAR Hall of Fame's class of 2017. Raymond Parks, Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick were named, along with drivers Mark Martin and Benny Parsons, Wednesday. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France made the announcement in the Hall of Fame's Great Hall. Parks, Childress, Hendrick and Parsons have been among the nominees on all eight previous Hall of Fame ballots. Martin was nominated for the first time this past year. "That's a load off my mind; I feel relieved, totally," Vi Parks, widow of Raymond Parks, said afterward. "It was a long time coming and I just wish he were here to appreciate it. It's just a great feeling. NASCAR meant so much to Raymond. He loved racing, he loved to be with the people; he always went as long as his health would allow him to go." Parks, who passed away in 2010, became the first championship-winning team owner in 1949 when his driver, Red Byron, won what was then known as the Strictly Stock division. A successful Atlanta businessman who was responsible for helping NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. move forward with the formation of the sanctioning body, Parks and Byron marched to NASCAR's first Modified title as well. Childress won six premier series titles with driver Dale Earnhardt, a member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class inducted in 2010. His Richard Childress Racing organization, located in Welcome, N.C., has earned championships in NASCAR's XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series as well. "I really didn't expect to get in because I was told the only way you're going to get in is to retire or be deceased," Childress said via telephone Wednesday evening. "I sure like the first one better … I haven't gotten plans to retire yet either. "Just to be in there with the class that I'm in, it's unbelievable." Often during speaking engagements, Childress said he would tell the crowd, "Only in America could a kid with a $20 race car and a dream be here speaking to a group like this today," a reference to his humble beginnings as a young racer. "Now I can say only in America could a kid with a dream be in the NACAR Hall of Fame," he said. Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won 11 premier series titles and 242 races. And the team owner said he has no plans for slowing down. "You get tired to the point your body is telling you that you need to slow down," Hendrick said, "but all the people that have worked there that are working there now … you want to keep it going; you want to see it continue. "It's kind of like when you build something and the momentum is there and you want to keep it going. When you sign a young guy like Chase Elliott , you (are) kind of committed to keep it rolling. You want to see Jimmie (Johnson) win his seventh (championship); you want to see Chase win his first, (Dale) Earnhardt (Jr.) win one, Kasey (Kahne) … . "I'd love to see the 250 wins and maybe end up with another Cup championship or two. You know I'm super competitive; I don't want to just go show up, I want to be competitive. "We've accomplished so much. I'm very appreciative of where we are but the competitive side in me and with the team we have we want more. You just have to go dig every day." In addition to the five Hall of Fame inductees, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway track founder H. Clay Earles was selected as the recipient of the 2017 Landmark Award for Outstanding Achievement in NASCAR.