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News

Rick Hendrick, Denny Hamlin Join Forces on Throwback

The Bojangles’ Southern 500 throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway is brimming with awesomeness for a whole host of reasons.

Three of them are pretty basic:

  1. There’s a story — usually a damned entertaining one — behind every paint scheme.
  2. The throwbacks are great fun, and in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season that stretches from mid-February to mid-November, we can all use a weekend of pure, unadulterated fun.
  3. The schemes transcend drivers, teams and rivalries.

A case in point: Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota this weekend is carrying the winged No. 11 that was immortalized by Ray Hendrick, a/k/a “Mr. Modified,” who won more than 700 modified races in his career.

In the modified ranks, Ray Hendrick was one of the all-time greats.

In the 1960s, one of Ray’s crewmen was a former World War II Air Force aviator named Joe Hendrick — no relation to Rick — who schlepped north with his 12-year-old son, Rick, to work on the car.

Ray Hendrick, who died in 1990, was a Virginia native.

Rick Hendrick grew up in Virginia.

Denny Hamlin is a Virginia native.

So it’s only natural that Hamlin turned to Rick Hendrick for some help on this beautiful throwback paint scheme.

And, oh, by the way: Hamlin’s car is wicked fast this weekend, and he will be one of the threats to win Sunday night at The Track Too Tough To Tame.

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News

8 Things Kasey Kahne Had to Say After Losing His Ride

On Monday, veteran Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Kasey Kahne driver was released from the final year of his contract at Hendrick Motorsports, where he has driven since 2012.

Friday at Michigan International Speedway, which hosts Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400, Kahne got to tell the media his side of the story and what the future may hold for him.

Here are 8 things Kahne said at MIS:

Looking for a ride

Kahne isn’t the only driver without a 2018 deal. Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and others are looking for new rides, too. “There are some really good drivers that don’t have a deal done at this time that will probably end up in cars, I would think,” said Kahne.  “I just feel like the opportunities are pretty slim, but I’ve always tried to be really respectful and when I’ve had the opportunity to go fast and win we have been able to win some races.”

A Hendrick alliance

Team owner Rick Hendrick said Wednesday that he’s hoping to find another Chevrolet team to form an alliance with and get Kahne in a car with that team. “I hope we can build something out of that, but I also have been working in my own direction as well on certain things to make sure I just check out everything that is out there for sure,” said Kahne. “I don’t want to miss anything, but yeah, Mr. H. has been really good about where we are at.  I think we are going to come up with something that should work out pretty well.”

Staying in Cup

As far as the future, Kahne ruled out a move to the NASCAR XFINITY Series and said his intention is to stay in the Monster Energy Cup Series. “Just the Cup Series,” Kahne said.  “Yeah, really just the Monster Energy Cup Series as far as NASCAR goes.”

A fresh start

Kahne said he hoped a move to a new team would jump start his career. “I think that it’s all about people again if you can get the people behind you and believe in you and then I believe in them and we work together for the same goal and that is to win races,” said Kahne. “It’s a competitive series it is a super tough series to win in and so many things have to go right for the entire race weekend and then throughout the race.”

Team morale

Now that the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team knows Kahne will be gone after this season, they are rallying behind him. “(Friday) it was cool,” said Kahne. “Everybody seemed good.  We just kind of went to work like always and hope to put together a really strong weekend.”

Mr. H

Team owner Rick Hendrick said Wednesday part of the blame for the disappointing performance of the No. 5 fell on his shoulders. “A lot of what he said this week means a lot to me because to have somebody like Rick Hendrick, Mr. Hendrick, to be on your side, even though I’m not going to be part of his team anymore, to be on your side and the power that he has in this sport and what he has done for NASCAR for this sport for so many drivers and employees over the years,” said Kahne. “To have him behind you is a really good thing.  I respect that. I respect him a ton.”

Playoffs

By winning the Brickyard 400, Kahne punched his ticket to make NASCAR’s playoffs for the first time in three years. But Kahne knows that Hendrick Motorsports will need more speed if he’s to make a deep playoff run. “I think we all know the No. 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) and No. 18 (Kyle Busch) have been really the cars to beat the last month,” said Kahne. “The No. 42 (Kyle Larson) right before that was really strong and we have all just been a little bit off of that.  So, we are working hard to get to where we want to be.  The only way I’m going to get there is the people and being part of that.”

Next year

Kahne is optimistic that he can contribute to his next team. “I really think that I can come up with something good and come up with something that will be fun to be a part of and also try to work hard to make that team better than it’s ever been and myself better than I’ve been,” Kahne said. “I still have that mindset and I really hope that something works out to where I can be in a strong car next year and enjoy racing in this series.”

E-MAIL TOM AT tom.@jensen@popularspeed.com

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

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News

Hendrick Adds Another VIN 001 to His Collection

Long before he was a NASCAR team owner, Rick Hendrick was a Chevrolet dealer and a car collector.

At the Hendrick Motorsports campus near Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hendrick has an impressive collection of cars, including a number of Chevrolet Camaros and Corvettes that carry VIN 001, indicating they are the very first production examples of each model.

Thursday, Chevrolet announced that it would race the Camaro ZL1 next year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Not coincidentally, also on Thursday, Hendrick traveled to the General Motors Lansing Grand River assembly plant in  Lansing, Michigan, where he took delivery of a new 2018 Camaro ZL1 ILE, which carries VIN 001.

Hendrick purchased the right to buy VIN 001 at the Barrett-Jackson Collector-Car Auction in Palm Beach, Florida. Hendrick’s winning bid was $250,000, all of which went to the United Way.

Rick Hendrick is joined by General Motors Lansing Grand River assembly employees after delivery of his Camaro ZL1 1LE at the plant Thursday. (Photo by John F. Martin for Chevrolet)

E-MAIL TOM AT tom.@jensen@popularspeed.com

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

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News

Rick Hendrick Trying to Find New Ride for Kasey Kahne

Rick Hendrick didn’t want Kasey Kahne back at Hendrick Motorsports next year, but he’s working to find the veteran a new ride.

Kahne will leave the owner’s team at the end of this season to be replaced in 2018 and beyond by William Byron in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

But during a teleconference Wednesday morning, Hendrick said he’s paying Kahne’s salary next year and he’s trying to find him a soft place to land.

“First of all, I have an obligation to Kasey, so I’m paying two drivers next year,” said Hendrick. “And I’m also trying to help Kasey in another situation that we could be involved with, helping another team. “

Kahne has been linked to a possible move by GMS Racing from the NASCAR XFINITY Series to the Monster Energy Cup Series. Hendrick would neither confirm nor deny that he’s been talking with GMS.

“I’m not going to mention the team, but I know there’s several situations that we’re talking to and have kind of an alliance, which would be good for everyone,” said Hendrick. “We’re working on it. We’ve been working on it and we’ll just see how it develops.”

Kahne has driven for Hendrick Motorsports and has won six Cup races with the team, including this year’s Brickyard 400.

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

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Commentary

7 Key Takeaways from Hendrick Motorsports Press Conference

For the first time since announcing the signing of Alex Bowman to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, team founder and owner Rick Hendrick met with the press to talk about the move.

Sunday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Hendrick, Bowman, Earnhardt and Nationwide’s director of motorsports marketing Jim McCoy met with the press to talk about their 2018 plans.

Here are 7 key takeaways from the Hendrick press conference.

Size matters

Bowman’s deal is for three years, Hendrick said, and it was signed last year. That means Bowman is under contract this year and for all of 2018 and ’19. As long as Earnhardt stays healthy for the rest of this year, Bowman won’t actually drive the Monster Energy Cup Series car until next year. He could do some XFINITY Series races later this year, though.

Sponsors weigh in

Team owner Rick Hendrick made it clear that the good impression Bowman made with Nationwide and Axalta helped his cause a lot. “His relationship with the sponsors through that period played a big factor,” Hendrick said of Bowman. “ …He’s committed, talented and he deserves the opportunity. I’m super excited to have him in the car.”

Four cars next year

Despite the rumors about Hendrick Motorsports downsizing next year, Hendrick said that isn’t the case. “The plan is to run four cars next year,” Hendrick said. He made no mention, however, of Kasey Kahne’s status.

Byron staying put

William Byron, the sensational 19-year old driver who won Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at the Brickyard, will remain where he is next year and not move up to Cup. “He’s definitely going to be in the XFINITY car,” Hendrick said. “We’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.”

Earnhardt’s onboard

You can count Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Bowman’s biggest fan, or one of them.  “I believe in his talent on the racetrack,” Earnhardt said of Bowman. “But his commitment off the racetrack to work to further his career to me over the last several years has been impressive.

“There are  a lot of guys that have the talent and need that one critical break. And if they stay committed and keep pushing and are willing to make the sacrifices, eventually that opportunity might come along,” Earnhardt said. “Alex is the perfect example of that. I think he gets this opportunity because of his commitment to his own career and his gamble that he made a long, long time ago.”

A regular guy

Bowman grew up in Tucson, the son of an automotive painter. He certainly doesn’t  view himself as a big shot for taking over from Earnhardt. “I’m a regular guy,” Bowman said. “I come from working in a body shop as a kid doing prep work for my dad’s paint shop. … I feel like we’ve done this the old-school way a little bit. I came from driving lower-budget cars, and somehow, I’ve been blessed enough to make it work.”

Kenseth’s situation

Matt Kenseth is looking for a ride for next year, and Hendrick was asked if the team had seriously considered the 2003 Cup champion. “I love Matt Kenseth. I love him,” said Hendrick. “He’s a tremendous talent. In the past, he and I have talked about how sometimes things just don’t line up at the right time.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

EARNHARDT JR: “Having Influence Over My Exit” Fueled Retirement Decision

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A lot changed for Dale Earnhardt Jr. during his time away from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last season as he recovered from a concussion.

He was awarded something valuable during this period that life as a race car driver doesn’t often allow for – time. By using this opportunity to reflect back on his life and look ahead to the future, it provided the clarity that impacted his decision to announce his retirement Tuesday at Hendrick Motorsports.

“During my rehab, I was given something else that I wasn’t accustomed to, and that was time,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “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.”

A primary goal of recovery was to get back behind the wheel, but it quickly evolved. Earnhardt Jr. worked to not only race again but to be the one to decide when it was ultimately time to step away.

“I wanted to be able to make that decision myself on retiring and not really have it made for me,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I had a lot to think about over the last several months, and I was not sure that I would have the opportunity to compete. This season has been a blessing to me. It’s been a gift to be at the racetrack, to run every lap.”

Retirement is a monumental moment in a driver’s career. Deciding when it’s time to step away from a sport that has defined much of their life is one of the toughest decisions they will ever make.

“So obviously I think every driver thinks about retirement and how they want that ‑‑ what they think that looks like for them as they get to a certain age,” Earnhardt Jr. said.

However, there is never a perfect time to begin considering the idea of walking away.

“But I wasn’t really thinking about that too much until the last couple years,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Once I started to realize how delicate things are and how quickly that can be made for you, it’s something I had to start thinking about quite seriously.”

A little over a month after returning behind the wheel at Daytona, he met with team owner Rick Hendrick on March 29th to inform him of his decision to make 2017 his final full-time year of competition.

“It was a tough conversation, very emotional conversation, but just because of our relationship and how we care about each other,” Hendrick said.

While Earnhardt Jr.’s tenure behind the wheel of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Chevrolet will conclude, he was clear about his commitment to the sport.

“But I’m still going to be here and want to be an influence and a part of their success, however that may be,” he said. “I do have ambition to work. I’m not going to quit working. There’s a feeling of being an asset to something.”

Placing additional focus on JR Motorsports in the coming years will allow Earnhardt Jr. to develop talent and continue helping those in his organization further their careers.

“I really enjoy being in the XFINITY Series,” Earnhardt Jr said. “There is a reward that I get of helping people achieve their goals and get to the next level. That’s even greater than the wins to see somebody get a job somewhere on a Cup level, get an opportunity to step up.”

Race car drivers spend their careers chasing the prize and gracing victory lane. Now, Earnhardt Jr. will collect his rewards standing just outside of the spotlight.

“I don’t have to be the guy holding the trophy,” he said. “But being part of that success, I really enjoy. I really enjoy making people happy and doing stuff as a team. I think I can replicate that in the next chapter of my life.”

Earnhardt Jr.’s career began naturally, wanting to follow in the footsteps of his legendary father.

“So at a very young age all I wanted to do was be able to make a living driving cars,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I didn’t set goals. I didn’t dream of winning championships or Daytona 500s or working with one of the best owners in the business driving for one of the best organizations. I just wanted to do it. I just wanted to be able to do it.  

Now 18 years after beginning his career at NASCAR’s top level, making over 600 starts and capturing 26 wins, his career has been successful beyond belief.

“So I guess what I’m saying is – have I accomplished way more than I’ve ever dreamed?” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Way more than I ever thought I’d accomplish.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. understands there will be those who will question the timing or motivation of his choice — it’s a bi-product of being the sports most popular driver.

“But for me personally,” he said, “I’m at peace with the decision. I’m very comfortable with it.”

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

Emotion Defines Hall of Fame Induction for Hendrick

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When Rick Hendrick spoke Friday night at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, it culminated an emotional week.

The Hendrick Motorsports owner has faced lots of adversity throughout his career but has also experienced incredible successes. These moments made the atmosphere surrounding this event special, but still difficult. 

“This has been the toughest week, besides losing a family member,” Hendrick said.

He took a step back from the everyday hustle ahead of the induction as he relived all the moments that led him to become a NASCAR Hall of Famer.

“I didn’t do anything else this week but just think about — go back and reflect on the past, and it just — man, it’s just like, I couldn’t help it,” Hendrick said. “I’ve never been that way.”

The memories ranged from his days of drag boat racing before he entered NASCAR to just having enough money to get by early in his career.

“And I’m kind of glad that I got to take a minute, and we shared stories about remember when I left to go to school and she was standing the boat in the yard, the drag boat, and we laughed about adding up our money in the back of the Winn-Dixie to make sure we could pay when we got out,” Hendrick said. “You know, those kind of things you just forget about, and then you think about the ones we lost.”

Jimmie Johnson’s record-tying seventh NASCAR Cup Series championship last November added to the emotion of the honor, particularly since Johnson dedicated the race and the championship to Hendrick’s late son Ricky.

“My son, when Jimmie just — it was the sweetest thing ever when he dedicated the race and was talking to Ricky,” Hendrick said.

Throughout Hendrick’s illustrious career, he has referenced people as the cornerstone of successful business. Treating people like family served as one of his pillars of success and continues to influence how he operates his team.

“We are like a big family, even though it’s a lot of us, we care about each other, and I don’t care if people think that’s corny,” Hendrick said. “That’s the way I was raised. It’s worked for me, and it’s worked in our companies, both of them.”

Executive Director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Winston Kelley attested to how people-oriented Hendrick is and delivered him a compliment on Friday night that added to the prestige of being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“When Winston told me when I walked in here, he said, there was one thing I can tell you about the fabric of both of your companies, your people love you,” Hendrick said. “And I said, you know what, you’re telling me that means as much to me as getting into the Hall of Fame because I feel like job well done because you look after your people and they look after you.”

Before Friday night’s ceremony, Hendrick gathered with some of his closest friends and family, including a doctor that saved his life and he couldn’t help but let the emotion of the moment show.

“We’re all emotions up and down, and we had a little champagne toast before I went in there, and the two doctors, the doctor that invented the medicine that saved my life was in there, and I lost it,” Hendrick said. “I mean, Jeff Gordon said, I’ve never seen you that emotional in there since I’ve known you.”

While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the fast pace of NASCAR and the automotive world for Hendrick, taking in the emotion of this honor that only 40 men have now ever received allowed him time to slow down, reflect, and celebrate.

“I think you get so busy in life, you’re looking at today and what you’re going to do tomorrow and plan for how you’re going to race this year, how you’re going to — I’ve got roll-outs with the automotive group next week and I’m knee deep in numbers trying to get ready,” Hendrick said.

Focusing on the future remains vital to success for Hendrick, but for one night he embraced the idea of cherishing all the moments that led him to become one of the latest racing legends inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

Time Critical to Earnhardt’s Recovery

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is taking his time – and that is exactly what he needs.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver spoke with the media on Sunday afternoon, days after the announcement Earnhardt would sit out the rest of 2016. Team owner Rick Hendrick and Dr. Michael “Micky” Collins sat by his side as he discussed his progress and condition – both of which are going well.

“I feel like the recovery is going really good. I’m starting to see improvements as we are going,” Earnhardt said. “It seems like this has lasted a really long time, but when you look at it on paper it has been a very short period, and the gains that I’ve felt in that short period give me a lot of confidence that this is going in the right direction. All the stuff and hard work we are doing is paying off.”

Concussion-like symptoms sidelined Earnhardt earlier this season, causing him to exit the No. 88 Chevrolet and allow Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman to fill in. Collins, who is the medical director of the University of Pittsburg Medical Center sports medicine program, echoed Earnhardt’s thoughts on his gains. He talked in-depth about Earnhardt’s improvements and dedication to getting better.

Collins said, “In fact, over the last two or three weeks I’m pleased to tell you that the fruits of that labor are now paying off. Dale has been a model patient.  I know this is cliché sitting up here, but Dale has worked as hard as any patient that I treat currently or in the past.  He has been very diligent about doing his therapies and we actually have very specific treatments that are targeting these problems that Dale has and we are seeing the benefits of that.”

Earnhardt’s treatment currently includes cognitive exercises and emersion therapy to draw out any symptoms. Because his symptoms are also related to panic, his doctors recommend going into situations that increase anxiety. Although that is a difficult task, he keeps pushing – and seeing results. Hendrick has noticed his driver’s efforts.

“He is like a member of the family. And, I care about him as a person probably as much or more, than as a race car driver. So, I’ve been concerned,” Hendrick said, “But, I’ve been surprised how hard he’s worked. I shouldn’t say that. But he sends me video as proof. But, we’re like a family there at Motorsports and all the drivers and crew chiefs; and you see the team light up with he shows up. It’s just like anytime you have a member of your family hurt or sick or going through something, everybody wants to rally to help him.”

Although healing is definitely the priority, Earnhardt wishes the process could be sped up.

“I’m very disappointed.  I miss my guys, I miss the garage, I miss all of you folks [the media],” he said. “It’s so much fun to see so many familiar faces.  That part is the disappointing part because I am just used to being here and this is sort of our circle, our family.  It’s been weird not being at the track.”

Earnhardt plans to be around the track as much as he can and continue honoring sponsor commitments. Once cleared by Collins and NASCAR, he wants to test before the Daytona 500 next season. Time is the best medicine for NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver. Although his return is To Be Determined, Earnhardt wants to pick up exactly where he left off.

“My heart wants me to continue and wants me to continue to be working with the guys I’ve got. I’m only 41. I think I have some good years left. I’m as good as I have ever been inside the car,” Earnhardt said, adding, “Rick likes to say we have unfinished business. I certainly feel the same way.”

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