Dale Earnhardt Jr. Bringing Back Iconic ‘Gray Ghost’

Some special paint schemes are just a little more special than others.

Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive a No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet trimmed out in the famed “Gray Ghost” paint scheme from Harry Ranier’s Oldsmobile that Buddy Baker drove when he won the 1980 Daytona 500.

More than 37 years later, Baker’s average speed of 177.602 miles per hour still stands as the fastest Daytona 500 ever.

Baker, known as “Leadfoot” and the “Gentle Giant,” was one of NASCAR’s most beloved drivers, a fan favorite for his talent behind the wheel and behind the radio microphone. He died at the age of 74 on Aug. 10, 2015, from lung cancer.

Ranier Racing

I wrote about Baker and the Gray Ghost in my old job at and after I did, the legendary Tom Higgins, the longtime NASCAR reporter at the Charlotte Observer and a close friend of Baker’s, contacted me.

Higgins went to visit Baker in the driver’s final days and when he did, he found Baker had a photo of the Gray Ghost on his mantle, so he could look at it and remember the good times and joy the car brought to him. That’s how much he loved that car. It meant the world to him.

So it’s especially fitting that Earnhardt, a driver with a keen sense of and appreciation for NASCAR history, is racing the Gray Ghost 2.0 at Martinsville this weekend. Earnhardt was originally scheduled to drive this paint scheme at Darlington Raceway in 2016, but he missed the Bojangles’ Southern 500 because of a concussion.

This weekend, Earnhardt will be able to both pay tribute to Baker and give his loyal JR Nation fans yet another reason to cheer.

NASCAR Cup Series

Unhappy with Track Surface, Earnhardt Battles to Finish 12th

In his final race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished a good-but-not-great 12th in the Bank of America 500.

But as has been the case for the last four weeks, thee most interesting part of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series  playoffs so far isn’t what happens on the track on Sundays; instead, it’s what happens on Fridays.

Fridays are when Earnhardt hosts his media availabilities at whatever track the Cup series is racing at on any given week.

Earnhardt’s media sessions are a model for how drivers should interact with the press, but most rarely do: The 14-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver is direct, open and honest. Ask him a direct question and you get a direct answer, instead of the usual mumbo jumbo of happy talk about sponsors and the boys back at the shop that so many drivers seem bent on spewing.

Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I asked Earnhardt if he was enjoying the final few weeks of his final season more because he didn’t have the pressure of a title run to contend with. After all, this time of year, the drivers in the NASCAR playoffs tend to start getting really uptight.

Earnhardt’s answer to the question was typically insightful.

“Well, probably not.  I think that the fans would be having more fun if we were racing for the championship and then I would be having more fun interacting with them in that manner and their excitement of it,” he said.  “So, I think it’s a little bittersweet for me and the fans and our supporters with the situation we’re in.

“I only really have fun when we run well. It’s been a difficult year from a fun meter standpoint. We haven’t really moved the needle too much this year,” he said. “This past couple of weekends, especially at Dover and Richmond, we’ve seen some improvements and had fun driving the car and been quick. … But, that’s it. I enjoy running well. When I don’t run well I don’t know that anybody enjoys that. And it’s hard to make light of it or to smile through it. And I think the fans would have more fun, and in turn, me having more fun if we were in the thick of the championship battle.” 

Sunday, in his final race at Charlotte, Earnhardt had to run a backup No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after his primary car got into some improperly prepared or applied PJ1 traction compound and hit the wall. And with both practices rained out Saturday, Earnhardt knew Sunday was going to be an uphill fight, and it was.

Earnhardt and his team worked hard to finish 12th and afterwards, the driver was none too happy about the conditions of the racing surface. “Whatever they did to the track had it out of freaking control,” said Earnhardt.  “You didn’t know whether you were going to be tight or loose every corner.  You didn’t know where to run and where not to run.  It was just crazy.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Still, under the circumstances it could have been a lot worse.

“We didn’t know where to run and how to run you were just in there chasing the race car around the corner, a lot of work.  So, the effort was hard,” said Earnhardt.  “Considering how little practice we got and how bad the car was at some points in the race, pretty happy with 12th to be honest with you.  I thought we were going to run … I mean we ran 18th – 20th all day.”

NASCAR Cup Series Social Media

First Tweets of the NASCAR Famous

When I first learned of Twitter in 2009, my first reaction was, “What a ridiculous name that is.” Then I was told that the exercise of broadcasting your message to the masses was called “tweeting.” I nearly bailed because that sounded like TMI. Nevertheless, I gave it a try, went all-in and actually wound up making a business out of it. 

The use of Twitter in the NASCAR arena spiked at the 2012 Daytona 500 during a red flag, after Juan Montoya ran into a jet dryer causing it to erupt in flames. (There’s a good sarcastic parallel in that sentence about flames and his career… I just don’t have the patience to articulate it.)

Brad Keselowski, from inside his car, tweeted an image of the burning apparatus and it was game-on. 

I watched as Brad’s spotter, Joey Meier, continuously refreshed his Twitter feed. Keselowski’s following began to grow at a rate of around 800 per minute. In just under two hours, he had amassed 100,000 new best friends. Five years later, he’s entertaining 750,000 regularly. His first tweet was kind of dorky, so I chose not to include it. (You’re welcome.

In June of 2012, at Pocono Raceway, NASCAR broke social media ground when they rolled out the “Hashtag NASCAR” program. It was the first time the governing body of a major sport embraced the social platform and it was met with great enthusiasm by fans, competitors, tracks and media. Today, it’s the primary source for realtime race information and breaking news. It has also created a practical opportunity for fans to interact with drivers, crew chiefs, crew members, media and other notable figures in the sport. 

So, I thought it would be fun to look at the first tweets of some high-profile people and entities in the sport. 

Clicking on the tweet will take you to the respective accounts.


Although he was late to the Twitter party, Smoke was the first NASCAR driver ever to be re-tweeted by former Vice President and Global Warming enthusiast Al Gore who, by his own account, invented the internet. Without the internet, there would be no Twitter. It’s a big circle. Thanks Al. 👍🏼 🖥


Yeah, 10:56 is way past Bruton’s bed time. 😔 💤


This was on an off-week in observance of Easter and April 2nd was Good Friday. Given the time-stamp and the context, it seems as though Clint Bowyer’s spotter was having a Great Friday. 🍺🍸🍷🍾🍹 #Holla


Gotta love Hamlin. He makes a bold statement out of the gate. Gets right to the point. Doesn’t mince words. Says what he means — means what he says. If only we had hashtags back then….  #spedonpitroad 🚥  #toremyacl 🏀  


Those five RT’s were Dan Rather, Morley Safer, Steve Kroft, Leslie Stahl and Mike Wallace (No, the other one.) ⏱ 


This is interesting. The team debuted at Texas in April of 2011 and was originally called Leavine Fenton Racing. It was a partnership with former NASCAR driver Lance Fenton (yeah, neither have I.) 41 days later, following the Coca-Cola 600, Texans Bob and Sharon Leavine assumed Fenton’s share — likely because they never heard of him either. So “Fenton” became “Family” — clearly the best choice for an “F” word.


Looking out the window, arms folded and foot tapping. 😠


Carl Edwards. 📵


HEADLINE: Hamlin Files Lawsuit Against Koch for Plagiarism. Judge Lance Fenton to preside. ⚖


TRANSLATION: Downloaded the app. Yay! It’s SpeedWeeks and I ain’t got 💩. 


I’m not really sure what the message is, but how about NASCAR’s very first tweet breaking the 140-character limit rule, huh? …. Well, the PR guy got crushed at the appeal. He was slapped with a three-race suspension, the loss of 25 social media points and encouraged to complete the Road to Twitter Management Program. And the tweet was encumbered.👮🏽  


Where’s the best place to let people know how to find you on Twitter?…. Twitter!💡


No clue. But I’ll leave it alone because Kevin could totally kick my ass in a fight. Delana could too. I’m not ruling out Keelan either. 🏋💪🏼 🚑


Unreal. 🏁



Email Mike at

Follow Mike on Twitter

Check out his fancy camera work on Instagram

LIKE him on Facebook

One of the Best. Days. Ever.


NASCAR Cup Series

Busch’s Monster Victory at Pocono Lights Up Social Media

Sunday was a huge day at Pocono Raceway, where Kyle Busch won the Overton’s 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, scoring his first Cup victory of 2017.

In the process, Busch gave Toyota its 100th Cup win and its 400th national series NASCAR victory. Of those 400 victories, Busch has won 155 himself, which is an impressive stat, to be sure.

Busch also became the 14th different driver to win a Cup race this year, the 10th different winner in the last 10 races this season and the seventh different winner in the last seven races at the tricky triangle.

So, yeah, it was kind of a big deal.

And the social media reaction afterwards showed it.


Rapid Reaction: Don’t Stop Me Now

Total domination. That’s the only way to describe Kyle Busch’s weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The defending Sprint Cup Series champion totally outclassed his competition Saturday and Sunday, leading 211 of a possible 233 laps around the Brickyard, and was never passed during either race.

Busch’s performance on Sunday was one for the record books on a day that will be forever remembered as the final race at Indianapolis for Cup champions Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Record Year

Kyle Busch started Sunday’s Brickyard 400 with an opportunity to do something that hadn’t been done in NASCAR history — sweep both poles and races in a single weekend. After leading all but one lap en route to his 83rd career XFINITY Series win, Busch appeared poised to be the driver to beat for the second straight year.

Busch kept his No. 18 Toyota seemingly an arm’s length away from the field. In fact, the first on-track pass for the lead occurred on Lap 62, when Busch drove around Joey Logano on a restart. From that point on, it was all Kyle, all the time, as he led a record-setting 149 laps and collected the fifth Brickyard victory for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Thanks for the Memories

The biggest story line coming to Indy was knowing it would be Tony Stewart’s final NASCAR start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After they qualifyied third, hopes were sky high for the No. 14 team after a runner-up finish last week in New Hampshire.

In the driver’s meeting, Jeff Gordon honored Stewart before both drivers’ final race at Indy.

“I know as we’ve gotten to know one another as friends and competitors over the years what this place means to you,” Gordon said. “I think that it’s not a year about saying goodbye. It’s a year about celebrating what you’ve done on the track and off the track. I think it’s only fitting that all of us in this room, and along with all the millions of fans around the world, recognize what you’ve brought to this sport.”

Smoke made a daring three-wide pass inside Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards to grab second place on the race’s second lap. Unfortunately for Stewart, that would be the high-water mark in Sunday’s event, as tight handling conditions prevented him from racing for the win, and he came home 11th.

After the checkered flag, Stewart and Gordon, substituting for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., performed one final lap side-by-side around IMS, a fitting tribute for two NASCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway heroes.

Maybe Next Year

Despite being the all-time leader in Indianapolis 500 wins with 16, Roger Penske came to the 23rd Brickyard 400 without a Sprint Cup win at IMS.

Knowing they likely didn’t have the speed to win the race, the teams of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski deployed an aggressive fuel mileage strategy. Both drivers stretched their first tank of fuel 42 laps, putting them in position to make the race on just three stops.

Sometimes even the best plans don’t come to fruition. That was the case Sunday, as ill-timed yellows put Keselowski in the middle of the pack, and he finished 17th. Logano restarted on the front row for overtime but dropped back to seventh at the checkers.

Penske’s teams are now a combined 0-for-44 in the Brickyard 400 with an average finish of 15.9.

One More Go Round

Five-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon made his highly anticipated return to NASCAR in relief for Hendrick Motorsports regular Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The four-time Sprint Cup champion started in 21st and struggled in the early going. By Lap 50, Gordon was mired back in 24th. During a round of green-flag stops, Gordon short-pitted and gained track position and was just outside the top 10. With in-car temperatures exceeding 110 degrees, Gordon’s return came in brutal conditions, and he brought the No. 88 home in 13th.

Next week Gordon will return to Pocono Raceway, where he holds the record for most victories with six.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

NASCAR Cup Series

Time Running Out for Early Contenders After Chase Bubble Trouble

Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway delivered plenty of drama for drivers battling on the Chase bubble.

With a new surface and reconfiguration at the 1.5-mile oval, drivers and teams alike were unsure what to expect, but less than 15 laps into the race, they had an idea of what could happen. On Lap 10, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. got into the wall exiting Turn 4. Entering Turn 3, Stenhouse appeared to have a flat right front tire and slammed the outside wall, ending his night before the competition caution.

Following his 40th-place finish, the two-time NASCAR XFINITY Series champion finds himself 50 points out of the Chase. With only eight races until the playoffs, Stenhouse will likely need his first career Sprint Cup win to make the Chase.

A restart on Lap 89 resulted in the next Chase-altering dustup. Entering Turn 3, rookies Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott were forced three-wide with Martin Truex, Jr. Blaney’s No. 21 Ford was stuck in the middle and appeared to get loose. As a result, Blaney got into the left rear quarter panel of Elliott, sending both drivers careening into the wall. After running as high as fourth, Blaney was relegated to a 35th-place finish and Elliott wound up 31st, 59 laps off the pace.

“Just got three-wide, had a bad corner there in [Turn] 2 and got us bottled up,” Elliott said. “… I guess Ryan [Blaney] just got loose and got us, but that is racing.”

“That restart was pretty hectic from the beginning with the 78 [Truex] getting loose and it kind of put everybody in a bad spot, and it wound up with us being in the middle of three-wide into three,” Blaney said. “It’s so hard to get into that corner all night with a car close to behind you and outside of you, and no one lifting either … We were both very fast tonight and it’s just a really unfortunate deal.”

Blaney entered the Bluegrass State as the last driver in the Chase, four points ahead of Jamie McMurray. He now finds himself 24 points behind McMurray for the final spot. Elliott, who has been nothing short of sensational in replacing Jeff Gordon, came to Kentucky with a 73-point cushion. The 2014 XFINITY Series champion now sits 53 points ahead of the cutoff.

Speaking of McMurray, the 2010 Daytona 500 winner came home seventh thanks to fuel strategy. The No. 1 Chevy was as high as second until McMurray reported a tire issue on Lap 192, and came in for an unscheduled pit stop. McMurray was as far back as 17th during the race’s final run before making the most of the Sunoco fuel in his tank. Thanks to a successful strategy play and a fast car, Jamie Mac now finds himself 10 points up on Trevor Bayne for the last Chase spot.

Perhaps the best fuel strategy play of all was utilized by Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman. Knowing they likely didn’t have a car that could win on speed alone, crew chief Luke Lambert had his driver save fuel through the final run of the race. As the checkered flag flew, Newman found himself in third place, saving enough fuel to pick up his best finish of the season, extending his gap on the cutoff from 16 to 24 points.

As the Sprint Cup Series heads to Loudon, there are now seven drivers separated by just 51 points, including Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who remains the only winning driver from 2015 without a trip to Victory Lane in 2016.




The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.


RAPID REACTION: Gear Grief for Johnson

Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway began calm and orderly but ended with a wild turn of events. The sunshine made the track hot and the cars loose, producing great racing near the end of the race. When the checkered flag flew, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth reigned victorious – only after an intense battle with Kyle Larson.

With the race producing both heartbreak and victory, here are a few headlines heading into the week.

Kenseth Bites the Monster
After a shaky start to the season, Kenseth may have found his stride Sunday at Dover. He began the race in the tenth position, consistently remaining near the front. However, a late-race two-tire strategy call put the No. 20 team in the position to capitalize. As the final ten laps ticked down, Kenseth and Larson dueled for the lead, but the No. 42 didn’t have enough to overcome the Toyota rival.

With the manufacturer’s seventh win in the 2016 record books, each Joe Gibbs Racing driver now has at least one win. This means that the organization has all but secured four entries into the Chase.

Heartbreak for Larson
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver shined throughout the race, leading a total of 85 laps. As the race came to a close, the 23-year-old, who has yet to win a Sprint Cup event, aggressively battled for the lead. He was able to meet Kenseth’s bumper but didn’t have enough to complete the pass. In the end, the No. 42 team had to settle for second once again.

While Larson has to wait a little longer for his first victory, the solid performance was a needed boost to his team. His last top-ten finish came at Martinsville Speedway over a month ago.

Johnson’s Day Goes Horribly Wrong
The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion started the event near the back of the field but proved they had a strong car. After driving into oil and spinning mid-way through the race, Johnson recovered due to clever pit strategy. With less than 50 laps remaining, the 10-time Dover winner found himself in a familiar position. He led the restart on Lap 356, but then misfortune struck.

The No. 48 suffered a gear issue which made Johnson, who was in the outside lane, unable to accelerate. The high side quickly became congested which resulted in an 18 car pile-up on the front stretch. Not only did this hamper Johnson’s day, but also affected other contenders like Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr, Joey Logano, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

While the No. 48 team already has two victories under their belt; they have recently suffered a run of bad luck. In the past five races, they have only collected one top-15 finish – third at Richmond International Raceway.

Youth Movement Still on the Rise
Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney both scored impressive top-10 finishes Sunday. Each steadily advanced into the top-10, contending with the formidable series veterans. The driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford ultimately placed seventh. On the other hand, Elliot piloted his No. 24 Chevy to the front. In the closing laps, he battled Larson for second but had to settle for third.

Both drivers are becoming fixtures in the front of the field – spicing up the Rookie of the Year battle and making their presence in the series known. Elliott


Dale Jr. Wants to Field Up to Four Cars — Berry, Smith and Sadler in Play

RICHMOND, Va. — Not content at simply winning races and championships in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Dale Earnhardt Jr. seems intent on building JR Motorsports into a national powerhouse.

Speaking to the media following Chase Elliott’s first victory of the season on Friday night at Richmond International Raceway, the popular veteran said that he would like to field up to four cars next season — including full-time entries for both Regan Smith and Josh Berry.

Like everything else in the NASCAR universe, such ambitions are sponsorship dependent.

“We plan to run three cars next year and if the right opportunity came along, we’d run four,” Earnhardt said. “I feel like we’re a healthy company so if we felt like we had the funding to do it, we know how to work within that budget and would be really excited to race Josh if we had that opportunity next year.”

Berry finished seventh after spending much of the night inside the top-5. His car was one of the best on long runs and looked to be a contender before faltering on his final restart when he got blocked into his stall by Bubba Wallace.

Despite the disappointing finish, Earnhardt was beaming over the driver he has mentored and polished since discovering and befriending him on iRacing several seasons ago. Berry has spent the past several seasons winning races and championships in the JRM Late Model Stock Car across the Southeast.

“He showed tonight what kind of exciting and talented race car driver he has the potential to be,” Earnhardt said. “I’m not saying he could go to Chicago next weekend and have the same exact performance but in time, he’s shown that he could drive the car, and has the speed and could learn it.”

READ MORE: Josh Berry’s Coming Out Party

While Earnhardt wants to have Berry in a car for the full schedule next season, he admits the current sponsorship landscape of the sport will make that a challenge.

“It has never been easy trying to find the right fit for a guy like Josh,” Earnhardt said of his short track specialist. “The best thing Josh could do is try to develop these partnerships with these partners early. He’s done that with SPEEDCO — they’ve been a great partner of our Late Model program. We had this race open and we wanted to race Josh in it so SPEEDCO on the car was more of a favor to them for everything they’ve done for our Late Model program and all they’ve done for Josh.

“Josh doesn’t really have many connections at the moment to a partner that could fund an XFINITY car but hopefully he turned some heads tonight and the phone will start ringing next week … He’s one of those guys that is just one sponsor away from making a living as a race car driver in the XFINITY Series and moving on to the Cup Series one day.

“He has the talent and the ability and he’s just one domino away. If we can collect that domino and get the funding, I think it’s something he could make work.”

As for Smith, the former Southern 500 winner has the option to return to the JRM No. 7 but will also need to find funding to make that a reality. Earnhardt called Smith a friend and values his talent and feedback.

Smith has six wins in 125 starts for JRM and the boss wants more.

“I want to run Regan full-time,” Earnhardt said. “We have an opportunity to keep Regan if we can find the partners. There are a lot of moving parts. It’s like this every year unfortunately. We don’t have the multi-year partnerships in the traditional sense. It’s been like that for the past several years ever since we had that correction in the sport.

“I’d love to keep working with Regan because he does such a great job for us. He’s a great friend of mine and does a good job for us. Chase wants to race for us in select events for the 88 — our all-star car so I’ll see if that works out. I have to talk to his boss man and see if he will allow him to run some race for us.”

One of those moving parts Earnhardt referenced is believed to be Elliott Sadler who is rumored to be talking his OneMain Financial sponsorship over to JRM next season. Earnhardt didn’t outright deny the rumor but he didn’t confirm it either.

“The Sadler thing is cycling through the series and we’ll see where that ends up,” he said.

All in all, the state of JR Motorsports is strong entering the final stretch of 2015 and beyond. Elliott returned to Victory Lane on Friday night and both he and Smith are inching closer to championship contention.

Now it’s up to Dale and Kelley Earnhardt to put the pieces together to continue such success moving forward.




Top 11 Ways Dale Earnhardt Jr. Is Not Like You


  1. He doesn’t come to your job and cheer you on.
  2. He doesn’t even own one diecast of your minivan.
  3. He’s never chased you down and asked for your autograph.
  4. He doesn’t sit on the couch getting drunk watching you on tv.
  5. He was raised by nannies on a palatial estate. You cried a lot as a kid.
  6. He bought a lottery ticket because he wanted to. You buy as them as an investment strategy.
  7. He has a million dollar hauler to carry his cars around. You have a AAA membership.
  8. You’d welcome him onto your property. He’d call the cops and watch from the front window as they dragged you off his.
  9. You always get outbid on eBay. He’s the guy who always outbids you.
  10. They’re saying, “Dale yeah!” not, “[Your name here] yeah!”
  11. He earns 581 times the national household average. You’re the national household average.

If Dale Jr. Misses the Daytona 500…

There’s a very convoluted, highly dubious mathematical formula that only NASCAR could come up with that might mean Dale Earnhardt Junior will miss this season’s opening race. It probably won’t happen, but…

If @DaleJr misses the Daytona 500:

  1. NASCAR will have to shut down, because I’m pretty sure they don’t have a backup plan for this.
  2. Twitter will explode. (Not really. They stopped making Twitter out of gasoline and matches in the 80’s.)
  3. But it will catch on fire! (Fortunately, there’s a sprinkler system.)
  4. He will be replaced by a lucky fan…or @Bobby_Labonte…but probably that lucky fan.
  5. @KanyeWest will insist @Beck give his starting position to Junior.
  6. NASCAR will invent a special provisional called “44th starting spot.”
  7. It won’t matter; the sport is not about one guy. Well, except that it is. And that one guy is Dale Jr.
  8. We’ll all be invited to his house for a big bar-b-que. I mean, it’s not like he’s gonna have anything else to do.
  9. Isn’t there some kind of math that keeps @DanicaPatrick out?
  10. We’ll all be part of some class action lawsuit settlement.