Earnhardt Jr. to retire following 2017 season
RELATED: Reactions " Relive every Dale Jr. win " Top quotes from day CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his retirement from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after the 2017 season on Tuesday, saying that he wanted to leave stock-car racing competition on his own terms. But his words also struck a tone of optimism, that his involvement with the sport would remain strong. The emotional, engaging hourlong press conference came six hours after his Hendrick Motorsports team made the surprising news public Tuesday morning. That six-hour stretch included an outpouring of support through social media; which a gracious Earnhardt recognized in his opening statement. It was a decision not easily reached and a day that was "bittersweet," but one that he indicated brought a certain degree of peace. "I accomplished way more than I ever dreamed, way more than I ever thought I'd accomplish," Earnhardt said. "So I'm good, you know. I'm good on that front. I'm so blessed and fortunate on what I was able to achieve but I'm very sad because it's definitely disappointing for a lot of people to wake up to that news this morning." Hendrick Motorsports indicated that team owner Rick Hendrick and Earnhardt Jr. first met to discuss the driver's decision on March 29. Earnhardt acknowledged that his recent health concerns -- which caused him to miss half of the 2016 season -- were a factor in making his choice now, to finish out the final year of his contract with the team. Junior says 'hardest part' was telling Hendrick " Hendrick: Junior 'like a son' "I wanted to honor my commitment to Rick, to my sponsors, to my team and to the fans," Earnhardt said. "I'll admit that having an influence over my exit only became meaningful when it started to seem most unlikely. As you know, I missed a few races last year and during that time I had to face the realization that my driving career may have already ended without me so much as getting a vote at the table. Of course, in life we're not promised a vote and that's especially true in racing." Earnhardt, 42, returned to competition in the No. 88 Chevrolet this year after a concussion and lingering symptoms sidelined him from NASCAR's top series for the final 18 races last season. Through his rehabilitation process, Earnhardt has become a vocal advocate for research of sports-related brain injuries. But his stint away from the drivers' seat, he said, also gave him the benefit of time "to understand what's important to me, time to realize the incredible support system I have in my wife, my team and my doctors, and time to work like hell to wrestle back some semblance of say-so in this whole matter." The 14-time Most Popular Driver has won 26 times in 603 starts over a career that began at age 24 in 1999. Among his accomplishments are two Daytona 500 crowns (2004, 2014) and two championships (1998, 1999) in what is now called the NASCAR XFINITY Series. RELATED: Go deeper in Dale Jr.'s career stats Earnhardt said he'd return to the track for two races in that series next season with the JR Motorsports team that he owns through an alliance with Hendrick. And while he described himself as "eager" to see what the next wave of racing talent can do in NASCAR's national ranks, he said his plan was to maintain a strong presence in the sport as it reaches future generations. "I don't see myself really detaching from NASCAR," Earnhardt said. "My intention is still to be involved in the sport on some level. ... Even after this season is over, you have not seen the last of me on the race track. But more than that, I want to be a part of the future of the sport for years to come." Earnhardt's best finish in eight starts this season was fifth place at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9. He is currently ranked 24th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, with finishes of 30th or worse in half the races. He indicated a faster start to the season wouldn't necessarily have changed his mind about retirement. "I'm excited about the races that I have left," Earnhardt said. "It's like the practices in the mornings that I get excited for, I used to complain about the season and how long it is, but this one here can drag on for a while if it's all right." Hendrick Motorsports said in a news release that it would announce its 2018 plans for the No. 88 team at a later date. KENNY BRUCE: Junior as a kid, a son, a race, a fan favorite Earnhardt began his premier-series career on May 30, 1999 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a 16th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. That step in his NASCAR career came after years of driving Late Models at the weekly and touring level before making his mark in the XFINITY tour. Earnhardt followed the steps of his famous father, initially driving cars owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer and icon Dale Earnhardt. His earliest entries in the premier series carried No. 8, the number favored by his grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt. The early part of Earnhardt's career was met with tragedy, with the death of his father in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt Jr. won in the series' return trip to Daytona International Speedway that summer, going 1-2 with teammate Michael Waltrip in an emotional victory for Dale Earnhardt Inc. MORE: Junior ponders what his dad would think of him " Pictures of father, son Earnhardt's most prolific year with DEI was a six-win season in 2004 that included his first Daytona 500 victory. By then, he had exhibited a mastery on the sport's biggest and fastest ovals, winning six times at Talladega Superspeedway, including a four-race win streak that stretched from 2001-03. After an acrimonious departure from his father's race team -- which continued under the leadership of his stepmother, Teresa Earnhardt -- Earnhardt's free-agency period in 2007 ended with his choice of Hendrick Motorsports. That move fulfilled a half-joking "lifetime contract" he'd jotted down on a napkin and issued to team owner Hendrick as a teenager in 1991. That relationship with Hendrick, who joined Earnhardt on the stage Tuesday, has budded into more than a driver-owner partnership. Hendrick said when Earnhardt informed him of his intentions late last month, he told him he loved him and offered his support. "He's like a son and we've had many, many years of a tremendous relationship," Hendrick said. "I really appreciate what we've been able to do together, and I appreciate the kind of guy you are and what you've done for the sport, for NASCAR, for me personally, our company, the sponsors and everyone." Earnhardt is now in his 10th season driving for Hendrick, a span that has ebbed and flowed with both triumph and setbacks. After winning at Michigan International Speedway in his first year with the team, he went four seasons before winning again -- also at Michigan. Earnhardt caught stride again in 2014 and '15, combining for seven wins in that two-year stretch. That included his second Daytona 500 crown in 2014. VOTE: Your favorie Dale Jr. win But his tenure with Hendrick was also marked by injuries. After a pair of concussions in a six-week stretch, Earnhardt sat out two races in the 2012 playoffs. Two severe wrecks during the middle portions of last year left him sidelined for the final 18 races of the season. The time outside the car gave him a new perspective about the effects of brain injuries on athletes, and Earnhardt advocated for change in working with NASCAR to develop its concussion protocol. Just two months before his 2016 injury, Earnhardt announced that he would donate his brain for scientific research upon his passing. Even as his rehabilitation lingered through the second half of 2016, Earnhardt expressed an interest in returning to competition. Last December, he was certified to return to the track after a test session at Darlington Raceway. Those preparations came during an offseason of personal change as well, as Earnhardt wed Amy Reimann in a New Year's ceremony. RELATED: Photos from Reimann-Earnhardt wedding Through it all, Earnhardt has remained wildly popular, first inheriting his father's legions of fans and attracting new ones with his authentic personality and more recently, through his folksy, humorous and straight-shooting approach to social media. Earnhardt made his grand entrance onto Twitter from Victory Lane in the 2014 Daytona 500, and has since used the app as a forum for showing both his appreciation of stock-car racing history and for expressing his thoughts with unwavering honesty. Earnhardt has also interacted through recent forays into broadcast media, with appearances on FOX Sports' race coverage and through his popular radio podcast, the Dale Jr. Download. The engagement with his fans has led to 14 straight seasons of being voted the National Motorsports Press Association's NASCAR Most Popular Driver. Only Bill Elliott, a 16-time recipient, has more most popular awards. Which is why Earnhardt was quick to thank his supporters, the "nation" that has been among the sport's most vocal fans. "One thing that has made this career the incredible ride that it's been is Junior Nation," Earnhardt said. "The fan support that I received straight out of the gate was in large part because of my famous last name, but throughout the ups and downs, it occurred to me that the fans stuck it out and the new ones that joined us, they were there because of the person I was and not who they wanted me to be." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;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;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Crown Hamlin as the king of Halloween
RELATED: More Inside Groove blog content It appears that part of Denny Hamlin 's in-race diatribe on Jimmie Johnson ... uh, is sort of true. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver blasted "Six-Time" on the scanner when trying to make a pass Sunday at Martinsville. ( You can listen to all of that here .) Among the choicest lines: "He thinks he's a (expletive) king." Well, Jimmie, who won Sunday's race, was a king on Monday. In fact, his whole family was royalty in a Halloween photo. All of which led to the below jovial jab from Mr. Hamlin. The life of a father with daughters! #HappyHalloween pic.twitter.com/wpFUgVPmud — Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) October 31, 2016 Yea I knew you wore a damn crown to bed. https://t.co/Ptz614qidN — Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) November 1, 2016 Well done, Denny. But "Six-Time" was quick to fire back. Yea I knew you wore damn floppy ears to bed @dennyhamlin . pic.twitter.com/0X0Ks26HWY — Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) November 1, 2016 Another classic. Call this one a draw?
Martin calls selection 'the crown jewel' of his career
RELATED: Photos from the induction day Mark Martin told the tale more than once on NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Day this week, about his connection to fellow inductee Benny Parsons. Martin was a teenager -- "a nobody," as he termed it -- with racing dreams carved from his earliest days of wheeling cars on dirt. Parsons, in the prime of his driving career in the mid-1970s, took time for the Arkansas youngster and his father, sharing advice over lunch in his hometown of Ellerbe, North Carolina. Talk about a follow-through. Martin, 57, joined Parsons among the five chosen for induction in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Class of 2017. "It hasn't soaked in yet," Martin said by telephone Wednesday after the Hall's announcement. "I didn't expect it. It is, by far, the crown jewel of my career and I'm so grateful for the people that helped me get there." Martin wasn't in Charlotte to hear his name called; instead, he was on his way to Indianapolis, reasoning that he wouldn't be among the five inductees this year. Martin was named on 57 percent of the voting panel's ballots, third-most among the 20 nominees. Still, he took the unexpected nature of being selected to heart, saying, "If I would've been on the voting panel, I would've probably voted another way." Martin's credentials -- both his success and his longevity across four decades in NASCAR competition -- eventually won out in just his second year on the ballot. Martin won 40 times in NASCAR's top division and combined for 56 more victories in its other two national series. But Martin acknowledged the gaps in his resume, those that he came heart-wrenchingly close to achieving. Among those were his five runner-up finishes in the championship standings and his 0-for-29 career streak in the Daytona 500 , the sport's most prestigious race. After Wednesday's accomplishment, Martin said that Hall of Fame induction fills any potential voids. "Look, I don't have a Daytona 500 trophy and I don't have a championship trophy, and I said many times that when people would complain about my not having one of those, I would ask the question: 'How would my life be different if I had one?' " Martin said. "And I truly believe that my life would not be very different. But my life will be different from now on because I'm in that Hall, because that is my crown jewel. "That speaks of not one year worth of success, not one great achievement, but a body of work, and that's what I'm proud of."
Pursuing NASCAR's triple crown intrigues Bobby Labonte
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Bobby Labonte quietly bowed out of full-time Sprint Cup Series competition at the tail end of the 2013 season. No retirement tour, no gifts. Certainly no ponies. The 2000 premier series champion has selectively dabbled in the sport since, however, with a handful of unremarkable starts at Indianapolis and the restrictor-plate tracks, knowing the pack racing may be his last remaining shot at picking up his first -- and likely final -- Cup victory in more than a decade. Labonte will run in Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Talladega Superspeedway , his second of a scheduled four-race slate in 2016. While not sure if this same type of deal will continue to be available to him in future years, the brother of NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte hinted at an interestingly hush-hush opportunity that could be coming down the pipeline later on this season. "I do have a couple other possibilities I am excited about that might come to fruition later on in the year that I didn't see coming around the corner but they are opportunities that might lead to something that I have been more excited about than anything I have done in my career," Labonte said Friday at Talladega. "Racing is still a big passion of mine and I know I am not going to go do a lot of things I used to do but there are still some opportunities out there that are still up on my radar that I would like to do." But what does he have left to prove? What racing goals remain? "That is a great question, too. Winning any race. It might be a bicycle race. Racing at the Sprint Cup level has gotten so intense that if you can't do it every weekend … (Talladega) is different as we all know. Last weekend and next weekend is different than here," Labonte said. "It is one of those things that I guess I kind of want to race more in a way but I don't want to race more in some ways. I don't want to do it every weekend but I know there are different series you can do that aren’t quite as strenuous as this. "My brother told me one time after about two years of retirement, 'You know, you will have a lot more friends later that you didn't know you had.' And that is true. I am enjoying that. As far as racing goes I am enjoying it and my opportunity is only four times right now through a little bit of what I want to do and a little bit from other people." One remaining goal is obvious: becoming NASCAR's first Triple Crown winner by notching a championship at each of its three national series levels. Labonte has the two arguably tougher feats down, winning the XFINITY Series (then Busch Grand National) title by 74 points over Kenny Wallace in 1991, then taking his first and only Sprint Cup Series (then Winston Cup) title by a wide, 265-point margin over Dale Earnhardt in 2000. It's a long shot, and Labonte admits that "everything has to line up right," but he's at least considered the prospect of running for a Camping World Truck Series title. He has 10 career starts in the series, with one win (2005 at Martinsville). "It is absolutely something that we have talked about and met with some people about," Labonte said. "I couldn't just make it happen by snapping my fingers and we couldn’t quite get it all lined up. I definitely had it in my mind that it was something I really wanted to do. I would still entertain that but there is also a point where if you can chase the championship that is one thing, and you can do it in a lot of ways. "When I started racing when I was little, the passion was to race and win and that is what you want to do. You want the chance to do that. We did it back then and I think the Truck Series is very appealing to me. I loved it when I did a few of them for a couple of guys and won a race and finished in the top five quite a bit. It is definitely a different level and the garage area is a lot calmer there than it is in the Sprint Cup Series and it kind of, at this point in time, is very appealing."
Truex Jr. celebrates second crown jewel win of 2016
Martin Truex Jr. celebrates in Victory Lane at Darlington Raceway after winning the Bojangles' Southern 500, his second crown jewel victory of 2016.
Jason Redman's Indy experience as Crown Royal's 'Your Hero's Name Here' Program winner
Jason Redman recaps his experience at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after being named Crown Royal's 'Your Hero's Name Here' Program winner.
Roger Penske eyes triple crown
Winningnest owner at IMS yet to have driver win Brickyard 400 SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- There are very few racing achievements still left on Roger Penske's to-do list. But Sunday's Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard represents a rare opportunity for Penske to accomplish one of the greatest feats in auto racing. A victory by one of his drivers Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano would give the legendary team owner the motorsports "triple crown " -- also counting wins in the Daytona 500 (Logano) and Indianapolis 500 ( Juan Pablo Montoya ) earlier this year. Of course a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be special, triple crown or not. Penske is the winningest Indianapolis Motor Speedway team owner (16 Indy 500 victories) in history but has amazingly been 0-fer at the track when it comes to NASCAR's Brickyard 400. Three times Penske was a runner-up with Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace (1995, 2000 and 2002), but the closest he's been lately is Logano's fifth place last season. "Anytime we hear Indy coming up we start getting the calls from Roger," Logano said Friday between practice sessions at Indy. "We really want to win this race. This is the one on his bucket list that he hasn’t gotten yet and we talk about it a lot. It would be very special to give him a Brickyard 400, along with the Indy 500 he won earlier this year up here and the Daytona 500 we won earlier, too. So this could be quite the trifecta if we could make it happen." Keselowski actually delivered Penske his first NASCAR win on the famed Indy 2.5-miler -- a 1-2 finish with then teammate Sam Hornish Jr . -- in the inaugural XFINITY Series race in 2012. Ironically, Penske was travelling and unable to attend the event -- something Keselowski vowed to tease him about at the time. The significance of Keselowski's day was not lost on him. "The Brickyard means so much to all of us as race car drivers and to the sport in general, and it transcends three different forms of auto racing, whether it's IndyCar in the United States, F1 and their history here, and then obviously with stock cars and their initial time here to the current date, from '94 on, it transcends into a special victory or a special place to race I should probably say," Keselowski said during his winner's press conference. Racing's "triple crown " has only been achieved one time -- in 2010 by Chip Ganassi, Penske's longtime and well-respected rival in both NASCAR and IndyCar series. And it's obviously very seldom even a possibility with the difficulty of winning both the Daytona and Indy 500-mile races. Keselowski's No. 2 Miller Lite Ford was second fastest in Friday's second practice -- the most promising of the two cars. Logano's No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford finished 14th in the final practice, preparing for Saturday's pole qualifying. Both drivers were optimistic about their chances on Sunday. Motivation won't be a problem. "I don't think you need any more incentive besides giving Roger Penske another win at Indy," Logano said. "You want to add your name to the list of guys that have won here for him. Every time I walk into the shop the first thing you see is all these Indy 500 trophies and the helmets that they wore when they won that race and the picture. "We all want to come up here and give our best effort and try to execute the race the best we know how to and build the fastest cars we know how to before we get there, but we do that every week. We do that for every single race track, but there's just a little bit added for this one. It's like going down to Daytona. You really wan to win the Daytona 500 because it's one of the biggest races of the year. This is the same story, but it's even a little bit more special I think for Team Penske than it is for everyone else." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Nominate a hero in Crown Royal's 'Your Hero's Name Here' program
Crown Royal hosted a weeklong celebration of heroes, during which individuals across the country were honored as inaugural nominees for the brand's annual "Your Hero's Name Here" program. The program renames the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- scheduled to take place July 24, 2016 -- after a deserving hero. Beginning Nov. 4, celebrities, influencers and partners of Crown Royal selected deserving individuals to be recognized as inaugural nominees for the program, concluding with a special celebration of heroes in Chicago on Veteran's Day. Each individual was given access to a special experience -- receiving tickets to award shows, professional football games and NASCAR races. For the 10th year in a row, Crown Royal will award an adult hero naming rights to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race through the "Your Hero's Name Here" program. The program is designed to honor individuals who go above and beyond, and give back to their communities -- from firefighters and military personnel, to police officers and first responders, by offering them an once-in-a-lifetime experience during the Brickyard 400 weekend. Consumers 21 and older can visit CrownRoyalHeroes.com to nominate their own heroes for a chance to have the Brickyard 400 renamed in their honor. Nominations will be accepted through Feb. 28 and five finalists will be chosen with a chance to win naming rights to the 2016 Brickyard 400. From there, consumers will be able to vote for the hero they think is most deserving of the honor, and one individual will see their name in lights at Indianapolis Motor Speedway . Previous winners are: • Jeff Kyle, 2015. Kyle was deployed multiple times to Iraq and Africa while serving in the military for eight years. During his time with the 3rd Marine Division, Kyle received the Navy Achievement Medal for leading the first Marine detachment to transport a nuclear submarine through hostile waters. After leaving the military, Sergeant Kyle has dedicated his life to helping his fellow servicemen and women through his tireless efforts to bring awareness to veterans' needs. • John Wayne Walding, 2014. Walding, a Green Beret, served a tour in Iraq and lost part of his leg after being shot by a sniper in Afghanistan. Walding mended his own wound and continued to return before the Green Berets were rescued. Walding later became the first amputee to graduate from the Special Forces Sniper School. • Samuel Deeds, 2013. While deployed in Iraq, Deeds came across an improvised explosive device (IED) while setting up a vehicle checkpoint. Upon seeing fellow Marines approaching, he exposed himself to the device, risking his own life to save others. He was severely injured and underwent more than 30 surgeries and procedures following the blast. Three years later, while still recovering, Deeds’ heroic instincts took charge once again when he saved the lives of three individuals caught in a rip tide off the coast of North Carolina. • Curtiss Shaver, 2012. Shaver is a firefighter from Alabama who lost part of his left leg in a farming accident when he was 18 years old. The incident led to Shaver's career choice as a fireman and a certified EMT.
Dirty Air debates NASCAR’s Crown Jewels
The Dirty Air Podcast’s Chuck Bush, Matthew Dillner and Jonathan Merryman debate their crown jewels of NASCAR past and present in a clip from this weeks Dirty Air Podcast.
Meet this year's five Crown Royal finalists
Giving back. It's something the five finalists for Crown Royal's annual "Your Hero's Name Here" program have all done without question or hesitancy, whether it's protecting classmates from gunfire, serving in the armed forces or founding a service-dog centered charity to help wounded veterans. They gave back and served as heroes do. And because they gave back, Crown Royal will put a name in lights. One grand prize winner from among the deserving, heroic five finalists will be etched in history with naming rights to the 23rd annual Brickyard 400, which takes place July 24 at famed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway . This race will mark the 10th time Crown Royal has awarded race-naming rights to an adult fan. The program focuses on all of the unsung heroes who make a difference in their communities, from firefighters and police officers to first responders and local volunteers. Every year five heroic finalists are nominated and through fan voting, and one winner is chosen to have their name cemented in sports history. Beginning this week, adult consumers can go to CrownRoyalHeroes.com to vote for the hero they think is most deserving of naming rights to the race. Voting runs through June 9 and the grand prize winner will be announced that month. See below for their names and bios. All five finalists will be flown to Indianapolis to attend the race, and the grand prize winner will be provided with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which will include delivering the trophy bearing his or her moniker to the race winner in Victory Lane. The Brickyard 400 is one of the landmark NASCAR races every season. Since 1994, the group of big-name race winners includes the likes of Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson . Previous Crown Royal grand prize winners who had the race named after them are: Curtiss Shaver (2012), Samuel Deeds (2013), John Wayne Walding (2014) and Jeff Kyle (2015)
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