Tag: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Commentary: Hiring Ives Will Keep Earnhardt On Track

When news broke in January that Steve Letarte was leaving Hendrick Motorsports for the television booth it was anarchy. Fans and media questioned why would they announce this before the season began? Who would replace him? Then they both assumed that Earnhardt would not perform during this lame duck season.

The reality is not only was it a good move to start with, but the sense of urgency to win with Letarte has led to Earnhardt scoring two wins, locking himself into the Chase, and being a contender week in and week out.

Through 20 races, Earnhardt has those two wins, the first time since 2004 he has won more than once. Going a step further, he had two wins between 2008 and 2013 altogether. This season he has nine top-10 finishes, which has him one behind what he did last year, with 16 races to go. If he can get 11 or more top-5s, that will be the first time he did that since 2004.

Going behind the now, announcing Letarte leaving in January allowed Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Steve Letarte to be able to select the replacement crew chief. Sure they could have waited until the end of the year, but they’ve been able to take their time, and find who they believe is the best candidate.

That candidate is Greg Ives, who at 34 years old is just getting started as a crew chief in NASCAR. He worked wonders with Regan Smith last season (winning twice) and Chase Elliott (winning three times) this season in the Nationwide Series as crew chief. Prior to that he was the race engineer for Jimmie Johnson during his five in a row championship run.

While some could argue he should have been left with Elliott to form a Jeff Gordon/Ray Evernham or Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus like bond, it’s not hard to argue going with Earnhardt now. At age 39. Earnhardt has only down to go from here, so he and Hendrick had better make the most of him while they can.

Elliott, on the flipside, is young enough and talented enough that they can find another crew chief to step up and go through the growing pains. I just hope that person isn’t Lance McGrew, who has some talent as a crew chief, but hasn’t really done much with the talent he’s been given in the driver seat. Because he’s worked the past two years on and off with Elliott, I wouldn’t be surprised that’s where they go.

Ives will be a great resource for Earnhardt and will be able to slip into the role right away without many growing pains. He also knows what it takes to win a championship and the Hendrick way, which will prove fruitful for Earnhardt and his team.

Retro Day Race

The most common theme when you talk to longtime fans of NASCAR is a harkening back to the “days of old” when, in their opinion, races were better and the stars had more of a connection to the working man. While we can’t go back in time, I have a proposal that will allow, all be it one race, fans to enjoy taking a look back.

My proposal is to have a retro day race, which would make most sense as an all-star race, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t be a good idea to make it some place historic like Darlington. We’ve seen every so often a team will roll out a retro paint scheme, such as Jeff Gordon at Talladega in 2009, Brad Keselowski at Bristol in 2012, Denny Hamlin at Michigan in 2013, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at Darlington in 2008.

My concept has all NASCAR teams participating on the basis of what their existing sponsor is or an inspiration from the number they drive for. The later has been done when Mark Martin raced a retro #25 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. It had sponsorship from Farmers Insurance, but the inspiration was from when Folgers was on the car back in the late 1980s.

Below I will go through some drivers and what car I propose they use for this special occasion.

#1 Jamie McMurray McDonald’s Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. My pick would be the ride Bill Elliott drove in 1996, I liked how adding white on the front really made the car pop. A runner up would be the 1999 edition which had black on the roof of the car. Beyond that you could make a case for the original 1993 Hut Stricklin paint scheme as well and I wouldn’t be offended.

#2 Brad Keselowski Miler Lite Ford for Team Penske. This is a no brainer, you have to go with midnight aka the early 1990s Miller Genuine Draft paint scheme Rusty Wallace dominated with. I know that Miller Lite is what the company leverages now, but the MGD paint scheme is the best hands down.

#3 Austin Dillon Dow Chemicals Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. This will probably spark the biggest debate among fans on whether this concept should be done or not. There was enough of a fire storm at the idea that Dillon would run the iconic #3, but I say put the 1990s GM Goodwrench paint scheme on the car that Dale Earnhardt ran. Dow Chemicals would probably work the best on it versus his other sponsors, but it would be nice if Goodwrench came back for one race.

#4 Kevin Harvick Budweiser Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. Budweiser has been in the sport for a very long time and has had pretty much the same scheme during that time. Usually the car has been flat red without much of anything else with it. Bill Elliott rocked the boat in 1992 when a white stripe was added down the side, but when the company went to Hendrick Motorsports that was scraped. I like having another color on there, so that’s why I put my vote on Darrell Waltrip’s 1985 version of the car. Mostly white the red really pops in contrast to it, plus it doesn’t hurt that he dominated that year too.

#5 Kasey Kahne Pepsi Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Farmers Insurance is Kahne’s primary sponsor, but they don’t have the historic background of other sponsor. Kahne will have Pepsi MAX colors on his car later this year, so I’m grabbing Pepsi for him and going with Jeff Gordon’s 1999 Nationwide Series ride for inspiration. I almost went with Darrell Waltrip’s 1983 Pepsi Challenger scheme, but that yellow is just too much for me.

#7 Michael Annett Pilot Travel Centers Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing. I almost left Annett off the list as I was stumped with what to do. Part of me wanted to honor the late Alan Kulwicki with a Hooters inspired scheme, but then it came to me. Gary Bradberry. Bradberry drove a Pilot Travel Center sponsored car during the 1998 Sprint Cup Series season, how can we not honor Bradberry by resurrecting that scheme?

#9 Marcos Ambrose DeWalt Power Tools Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. Just having the number 9 brings back many memories of quality schemes, highest of all being Bill Elliott’s Coors paint scheme of the 1980s, but with DeWalt on board we had to go a little more recent. Matt Kenseth drove DeWalt sponsored cars for many years with many different schemes. I’m going back to basics and picking his rookie year 2000 paint scheme for Ambrose.

#10 Danica Patrick GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. When looking at just the number, 10, I wanted to incorporate Derrike Cope or Ricky Rudd somehow. Instead I’m going to go with the scheme Patrick ran in the Nationwide Series which actually had some colors to it versus just a neonish green all over the car.

#11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. This was a no brain and has already been done. Wrap the car like it was when Jason Leffler drove the inaugural FedEx car for Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin drove this car last season as a tribute to the late Leffler and I think it made a lot of people happy to see it on track once again despite the circumstances.

#13 Casey Mears GEICO Chevrolet for Germain Racing. I was looking originally for some GEICO paint scheme that was used with Max Papis, but those were ugly. Really they were, nothing about that looks good. Then going to the Nationwide Series, same thing, red/blue and uninspiring. So this one goes back until the current scheme is the best, but luckily we’re not bounded by sponsor. Because I liked it, I’m going with the FirstPlus Financial scheme Jerry Nadeau ran for Elliott-Marino Racing. Yup, that happened, Bill Elliott co-owned a team with Miami Dolphins legend Dan Marino. Since I’m a Dolphins fan you didn’t have to say much more, but then make the car look like a Dolphins car? Sign me up!

#14 Tony Stewart Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. It is a toss-up between Stewart’s two sponsors, Bass Pro Shops and Mobil 1, but in the end Mobil 1 wins. I would go with the 1998 paint scheme Jeremy Mayfield ran for Team Penske which featured the iconic Mobil 1 Pegasus on the side of the car. A close second is the 2000 paint scheme that was a tad bit more streamlined.

#15 Clint Bowyer PEAK Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. A soon as I saw this sponsor I thought of when Kyle Petty ran this beauty in 1990 for PEAK Antifreeze. It’s a shame the series only visited Rockingham twice a year back then or else Petty would have had 200 wins like his Dad. The also ran this scheme the year prior, but it certainly doesn’t draw in your eyes like the blue/pink combo from 1990.

#16 Greg Biffle 3M Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle has been paired with 3M for what seems like forever with different variations of the same paint scheme used each year. My pick is a little outside the box, but utilizes the same colors 3M uses. Go with the 1994 Family Channel scheme that Ted Musgrave rocked and was one of my favorite 1/64th scale collectable cars growing up.

#17 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Nationwide Insurance Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse has a lot of sponsors going on and none have any real NASCAR history. You could argue about NOS and how they sponsored Stanton Barrett before it was cool, but instead I’m going to opt with a Darrell Waltrip scheme. Waltrip is extremely popular in my book for paint schemes, so why not? Let’s take the awesome 1991 Western Auto paint scheme, where they used silver. Enough silver that he made a chrome helmet for good measure. This is pre-Parts America era when they killed it with this weird blue/gray combo.

#18 Kyle Busch Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch’s primary sponsor is M&M’s, but since they joined the sport in 1999 the same basic paint scheme has been used. A yellow base with M&M’s all over the car. Prior to that it was Skittles, which was cool, but the new Skittles paint scheme used this year was cooler in my opinion. Instead we’re going to use the original Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor in Interstate Batteries and go with that inaugural year of 1992. Dale Jarrett raced this scheme on the track and into our hearts over a three year period and it was then used for two more season with Bobby Labonte. After 1997 the scheme went wild, but retained its green primary base. That changed the past couple of season with Busch running a white based scheme, which seems unnatural to me.

#20 Matt Kenseth The Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. The Home Depot has backed off in how active in NASCAR they, instead pushing their Husky brand of tools rather than their stores (I blame Jimmie Johnson for that). I vote bring back the store branding and use Tony Stewart’s rookie paint scheme. I always enjoyed the scheme, even though I tried to recreate it in my first NASCAR computer game and failed miserably doing so. They’re another sponsor that went with a single color for their schemes and it annoyed me that they did that. It’s not like teams paint anymore, get creative will ya!

#21 Trevor Bayne Motorcraft Ford for Wood Brothers Racing. I could have gone one of two directions here, stick with Motorcraft or bring back Ford Quality Care Service. I kept it Motorcraft because I was not a Dale Jarrett fan when he was doing well in the blue #88 (sorry Dale!) so I say go with the 1990 scheme that Morgan Shepherd drove to an Atlanta victory in. This year feature red and white as equals instead of the basic red they used the next four years after.

#22 Joey Logano Shell Ford for Team Penske. One of my favorites and a very underrated paint scheme was what Tony Stewart ran in the Nationwide Series in 1998. I like how the yellow/black/white all come together and just think the scheme looks cool. I usually don’t purchase Nationwide Series collectable cars, but when I saw this one available I didn’t think twice. A close second would be Michael Waltrip’s 1990s Pennzoil paint schemes, but it’s just yellow and that’s not cool in my book. Distant third is Steve Park’s Pennzoil 1998 paint scheme, which at least introduced some other colors into it.

#24 Jeff Gordon Axalta Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. While it’s technically the same sponsor, Axalta will have to replace DuPont on Gordon’s retro scheme as we go back to the Rainbow Warrior days. This paint scheme won three titles and a bunch of races, but was bounced for flames starting in 2001. I’ve always loved it and never understood why we couldn’t see it at least once a year.

#27 Paul Menard Menards Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. The tough part for Menard is his Menards sponsorship has never really yielded anything but neon yellow. The number he carries, 27, hasn’t had any real inspiring paint schemes with its various team/sponsor combinations. The only thing I could pull was this blue Menards paint scheme Menard ran for Andy Peetre Racing in one start.

#31 Ryan Newman Caterpillar Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Caterpillar has been in NASCAR a long time and true to the company’s colors, has used black and yellow in all schemes. It’s hard to pin point one that stands out from another, actually this year’s is probably the best, but it wouldn’t be retro if we didn’t dig deep. This case I’m going with David Green’s 1997 scheme he ran in his rookie season.

#40 Landon Cassill Chevrolet for Hillman Racing. Without a sponsorship we get another free reign paint scheme so I’m going to honor Sterling Marlin with this one. Coors Light has some good paint schemes back in the day and most would associate the all silver paint scheme as vintage Marlin. Heck that’s a ton better that whatever threw up all over Kyle Petty’s 1995 and 1996 cars. Instead of the silver, I’m going with the 2000 black Coors Light paint scheme. I like how it works in Coors Original and Coors Light all on one car. Smart marketing at its best. This might actually make me root for Cassill…well no, not really.

#41 Kurt Busch Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. While Haas Automation has sponsored a car or two in the past, the schemes aren’t all that great. So ditching the sponsor theme, I’m going with something I enjoy, although the driver ran in the back with it most of the time. After securing sponsorship from Kodiak, Larry Hedrick brought up a rookie from Maine named Ricky Craven to drive for him. During his two year tenure, Craven was known more for flipping at Talladega then much else. But he did so in a very cool looking ride.

#42 Kyle Larson Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. My favorite all-time scheme that Target used in the Sprint Cup Series was an IndyCar inspired number run by Juan Pablo Montoya at Indianapolis in 2008. It’s probably because that’s when I got into IndyCar racing when that scheme was run with Alex Zenardi and Jimmy Vasser at the wheel. Normally I’d go with my favorite, because after all I’m writing this, but instead I’m going to defer to the scheme Jimmy Spencer ran in 2001. I like the use of white top and red bottom, reminds me of what they’re doing this year with Larson’s paint scheme.

#43 Aric Almirola STP Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. When you’re looking at the #43 how can you not go with STP? It’s just a matter of picking out the STP paint scheme that fits with the reader. In this case as someone who got into NASCAR in the early 1990s, I’m going with The King’s last year’s paint scheme as my inspiration. Other variations have come and gone, but I like this one the best.

#48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. This entry was the one that sparked me actually put my thoughts of a retro race on paper. I think Johnson should run, at least once a year, a scheme equal to that of Mike Skinner in 1997. I like to associate my Lowe’s with a golden yellow rather than neon yellow of the numbers. We’ll skip over the Brett Bodine years, of course. Over the years Lowe’s schemes have gotten very basic and plain, and I’m not a fan of that. Oh look, a creative computer user already did a mock up of this beauty!

#55 Brian Vickers Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. With number 55 I was tempted to go with one of the Square D paint schemes run by Kenny Wallace or Bobby Hamilton. I held back and stayed on point with the sponsor, opting for the 2000 scheme run by Johnny Benson. Benson lost his sponsor Lycos.com (which itself was a cool scheme) and Aaron’s stepped up.

#83 Ryan Truex Burger King Toyota for BK Racing. I know BK Racing is shying away from Burger King being on their cars, but how can you not do the Joe Nemechek/Burger King throwback? The car he raced in 1996 is the winner and it’s just awesome. The 1995 model? Not so much. The only other scheme that comes close is what Steve Park ran for his Sprint Cup debut in 1997, but it doesn’t feel quite the same.

#88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Mountain Dew Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. While I should honor the bravery and courage of our soldiers, I’m opting to ignore the National Guard and go with Mountain Dew for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. This is also not original because it was done before, but whatever, I like the scheme that Darrell Waltrip campaigned to back to back titles in 1981 and 1982.

#99 Carl Edwards Kellogg’s Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. You hear Kellogg’s and NASCAR and you can’t help but think Texas Terry Labonte and his iconic (yeah I’m using that here) paint scheme he ran from 1994-1997. I love that paint scheme, I thought it was so cool the use of green and red strips to break up the yellow and white on the sides. It might have been because ANYTHING would have been better than what he drove in 1993, but I really enjoyed this paint scheme.

A Few Crazy Scenarios For 2015 Free Agency In NASCAR

It’s only May, roughly three months into the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the jockeying for 2015 free agents might begin soon. Hendrick Motorsports announced that Nationwide Insurance would sponsor Dale Earnhardt, Jr. starting in 2015 on Friday and it’s a move that impacts two teams at minimum.

Nationwide Insurance will move from Roush Fenway Racing, where it has sponsored Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. the past two years. Stenhouse already has glaring holes in his sponsorship for 2014, this will just add to that issue for 2015 and beyond. Looking at RFR as a whole, both Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle are unsigned beyond the 2014 season.

At Hendrick Motorsports, bringing in Nationwide brings up questions about what happens to Kasey Kahne. Currently he has Farmers Insurance as his sponsor, their contract expires at the close of 2014, and not many could picture two rival insurance companies sponsoring cars coming out of the same shop.

Having rivals sponsors has happened in the past, a good example is found at Richard Childress Racing where they are sponsored, as a team, by Lucas Oil. At the same time driver Paul Menard has Quaker State on his car and is featured from time to time because of the connections between his sponsor, Menards, and Quaker State. This was also the case when Kevin Harvick drove a Shell/Pennzoil sponsored car with Menard as a teammate.

If Farmers does not return and a replacement is not found, does Hendrick look elsewhere? It’s no secret that Kahne has not lived up to expectations so far this season and honestly, has come up short on what many thought to be a dream pairing with him and Hendrick Motorsports. His contract runs through 2015, but could he be bought out a year early to make room for another driver with sponsorship?

Could that other driver be Hendrick developmental driver Chase Elliott? He has backing from NAPA and has been shocking the Nationwide Series with two wins and a second place finish in the last three races. The plan seems to have Elliott replace Jeff Gordon when he retires, but there is no timeline to when that could be. I think it would be a mistake to bring Elliott up too fast, as in next season or even the year after, but if the sponsor requests it, it could happen. That’s what got Joey Logano into the Sprint Cup Series before he was ready. The Home Depot wanted him in the car and Joe Gibbs Racing obliged.

An off the wall scenario could find Carl Edwards in play for the Hendrick ride if they decide to go in another direction. Edwards made it known he wants to be top dog at Roush Fenway Racing, which played into Matt Kenseth’s departure, but the team hasn’t performed how many expected. They have improved this season, but sponsorship questions continue to linger year after year and Edwards might want to jump ship.

It might be too early to get a good feel on how this might all shake out, but it will keep things entertaining for the rest of the season. I can’t see Hendrick bailing on Kahne just yet, but if he continues to be so far behind his teammates it will lead to some serious discussions. For Edwards, I can’t believe Ford or Roush would let him walk to another team, especially a Chevrolet back team, so look for them to throw a lot of money at him to keep him locked up. All this excitement and we still have Talladega to look forward to this Sunday.

Earnhardt’s Win Comes At Perfect Time For NASCAR

Daytona_500_14_Winner_Dale_Earnhardt_Jr_Field

A lot has happened over the past few months in the world of NASCAR. Change is the big word for the 2014 season, and that change has been met with a lot of resistance. First with rules the Chase field was expanded and now features a four driver dash in the final race to determine a champion. Qualifying procedures have been changed drastically to feature knockout rounds. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the famous number 3 of Dale Earnhardt has returned to the track and old fans are in an outrage.

NASCAR has kept their head down as they plugged forward with all of these changes. While they do listen to fan feedback, there’s no going back at this point to what some would call “the glory days” of NASCAR. Then over at Richard Childress Racing, they have gotten more grief than they should about running a “sacred” number once again.

All of this noise was going on, but it was silenced late Sunday night. That is when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. crossed the finish line first and won the 2014 Daytona 500.

With the victory, Earnhardt is a near sure thing for making the Chase this season. For all the press Austin Dillon got for driving his father’s stylized number 3, Earnhardt will get even more for winning the biggest event on the NASCAR calendar.

The talk will now shift for fans away from how silly this playoff Chase is to “can you believe Earnhardt is already in it!?” He’ll be the big topic once again and with the win has confidence on his side. If Earnhardt can stay competitive and actually pull of his first title, I’m sure none of the complaints we heard at the beginning of the season will matter for most fans.

This is exactly the sort of distraction NASCAR needed from its loyal fan base. It might also win a lot of them over knowing that it was just that easy (well not in reality) for their favorite driver to now make the Chase.

What Can We Learn From The Budweiser Duels?

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Last night’s Budweiser Duels provided an interesting insight into what we can expect in Sunday’s Daytona 500. With most of the early practices gear towards single car qualifying, it wasn’t until the Sprint Unlimited where we saw how the racing could be with this new package on the Daytona International Speedway.

Results there were of a wreckfest, with nearly have the field eliminated in accidents because cars were unstable and drivers were unused to the closing rates. Wednesday during practice we had a similar situation which saw more cars destroyed, and drivers opted not to practice much in the night time session.

What we saw in the Budweiser Duels was a lot different and should translate into the Daytona 500. Drivers raced side by side, but did so with caution they did not have prior. Whether this was because teams couldn’t afford to wreck any more cars or drivers got acclimated to the new package has yet to be seen. The first race went caution free and the second nearly went caution free, and that caution was due to Jimmie Johnson running out of fuel, not errors by any drivers.

Something that is a bit disturbing, from a fan’s perspective, is that there was very little movement in the top-5 during the final six laps of each race. The first Duel saw the same drivers who were first through fifth with six to go cross the finish line the same way to end the race. Second place Kevin Harvick was disqualified as his car fail post-race inspection, which throws this example off on paper.

In the second Duel, it was shaping up to finish the same way until Johnson ran out of fuel. That jumbled the order up, but the same drivers who were first, second, and third with six laps to go crossed the finish line as the top three drivers. Only Jeff Gordon managed to get past Kurt Busch for second place when it was all said and done.

Each race featured minimal lead changes (eight total between the two races) with five drivers leading 96.67% of the total laps run last night. The others who led did so because of pit stops or because they started on the front row.

Another indicator that drivers were happy riding last night is the average position of each driver. In the first race, the top four finishing drivers had the top four best average positions (minus Harvick, who had he finished second would have made it five for five). Kenseth and Earnhardt average a running position of fourth place (along with Harvick), Marcos Ambrose averaged a fifth place position and Kasey Kahne averaged a seventh place position.

The second race has nearly the same result with Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, and Kurt Busch among the best average running positions with seventh, third, and fourth respectfully. With the accident at the end it did drop drivers like Jamie McMurray (averaged eighth), Casey Mears (averaged eighth), and Carl Edwards (averaged sixth).

On the flip side, drivers who were out back didn’t really gain much by the race’s conclusion. The bottom three finishers in the first race had the worst three average running positions (excluding Harvick). In the second race, the fourth worst running drivers were aided by Brad Keselowski’s problems and Ryan Truex and Justin Allgaier were able to get past Michael Annett by the finish, who had a better average running position than both of them. This is a moot point for Truex, who missed the Daytona 500, whereas Allgaier and Annett both made it.

Passing as always will be critical and one thing did jump out at me when looking over the box score. Factoring in that each race only featured 24 drivers, there was a good number of drivers who were in the 90% of quality passes. Quality passes is a stat NASCAR keeps track of for every time a driver makes a pass of a car for position who’s running in the top-15. Marcos Ambrose led the way with 64 of his 64 passes being quality passes for a 100% mark. Others who rated high include: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (96.3%), Brad Keselowski (92.9%), AJ Allmendinger (92.8%), Kurt Busch (91.9%), and Jimmie Johnson (90.6%).

I didn’t like that Earnhardt tried to go with Ryan Newman to the front in the closing laps of the first race, but Newman passed on the invitation citing it was too early and the bottom of the track wasn’t good for a run. I hope we see some racing near the end instead of just a single file line to the finish.

My theory is that during the Daytona 500 most drivers will be happy to ride single file if they can for as long as they can. There will be the traditional jockeying for position around mid-pack, but once someone gets to the lead they will try to stay there. This might mirror last year’s race, when Matt Kenseth put his Toyota on cruise control for much of the race until his engine expired. As the second race showed, when it comes to the end of the race, anything can happen and probably will.

Even if drivers want to stay single file, someone is going to try a move to position themselves to potentially win the Daytona 500. Not only would they gain the accolades of winning the Super Bowl of stock car racing,  the win could secure them into the Chase for the Sprint Cup after one race.

With the stakes that much higher we might see more moves than we did Thursday night when they were racing for starting position and not a points paying victory. The action gets underway at 1 PM EST and can be seen on FOX.

No Need To Panic Over Earnhardt’s 2015 Crew Chief

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As the NASCAR world learned that Steve Letarte would not return as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2015 there was a panic sent through the fan base. Most fans threw their hands up in the air over the revelation. They began to not only chalk up 2015 as a loss, but throwing in there 2014, despite Letarte still being here for that year. This year is not a loss and neither is 2015.

The biggest difference in this whole situation is Letarte is leaving for a job with NBC to be on the broadcast team. He’s not leaving for another organization and isn’t being forced to another team because of a team shake up.

That concept is not lost on Earnhardt, who will stay out of the decision process, Earnhardt does have a hope for owner Rick Hendrick. “I would love to have input from Chad Knaus (crew chief for Jimmie Johnson)and Steve.  I think that Steve knows what makes this teamwork.  Steve knows how I can be successful and how the individuals within the team can be successful.  I think he’d be a good guy to sort of pick at and hope that Doug and Rick would include him in that conversation at times,” suggested Earnhardt when talking to the media Friday morning at the Daytona International Speedway.

I fully believe that is exactly what will happen when they begin their search for the next crew chief. Hendrick is too smart of a businessman not to use all the resources at his disposal, which includes the current crew chief and crew chief of his 6-time champion team.

One thing is certain, don’t expect a former crew chief of Earnhardt’s to pop back up. Despite admitting that he now knows how to talk to a crew chief versus early in his career, Tony Eury, Jr.’s name can be taken off the list. There is no way I could see Hendrick bringing him back nor would Earnhardt want to go down that path again.

The focus should be on the 2014 season, which hasn’t even started yet, not 2015. That will come at a much later time. And for those who think this lame duck season will affect both Earnhardt and Letarte, think again. Earnhardt stated that he’s known about the change since the Charlotte race last October. They still went out and almost won some races after that fact.

Last Of The Old Guard

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As Jeff Gordon prepares for his 22nd full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series he has to wonder what happened this offseason. With the retirements of Mark Martin and Ken Schrader and the unknown plans for Jeff Burton (Update: Burton will drive part-time for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2014) and Bobby Labonte, this leaves Gordon as the driver who debuted the longest time ago.

Gordon made his Sprint Cup Series debut at age 21 in the final race of the 1992 season. The only other full-time driver who has a close debut year is Joe Nemechek, he made his first start a year later in 1993. The problem with grouping those two together is Nemechek has not run for the title in quite some time.

Digging deeper, with the 35 drivers whom we know will be running full-time next season, only five made their debuts in the 1990s. Along with Gordon and Nemechek you have Matt Kenseth (1998), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (1999), and Tony Stewart (1999).

Below is the breakdown of drives and their debuts. While we all knew a changing of the guard was coming, the fact that so many of these drivers have come along in the last ten years really emphasis that times are changing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Driver Debut
Jeff Gordon 1992
Joe Nemechek 1993
Matt Kenseth 1998
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 1999
Tony Stewart 1999
Kurt Busch 2000
Ryan Newman 2000
Jimmie Johnson 2001
Kevin Harvick 2001
Greg Biffle 2002
Jamie McMurray 2002
Brian Vickers 2003
Casey Mears 2003
Paul Menard 2003
Carl Edwards 2004
J.J. Yeley 2004
Kasey Kahne 2004
Kyle Busch 2004
Martin Truex, Jr. 2004
Clint Bowyer 2005
Denny Hamlin 2005
David Gilliland 2006
David Ragan 2006
AJ Allmendinger 2007
Aric Almirola 2007
Brad Keselowski 2008
Joey Logano 2008
Marcos Ambrose 2008
Michael McDowell 2008
Trevor Bayne 2010
Austin Dillon 2011
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 2011
Danica Patrick 2012
Kyle Larson 2013
Michael Annett 2014