As Dale Jr. seeks another Michigan win, Hendrick closes on sponsorship

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A year ago in the Irish Hills of Michigan, “Junior Nation” erupted as their man got the monkey off his back.

It’s amazing how fast time flies, because another year has already passed since Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last win at Michigan International Speedway.

That win snapped a 143-race winless drought, dating back to, you guessed it, Michigan once again. That win in June 2008 broke a 76-race winless stretch.

It’s been a consistent season for Earnhardt, who has four top-fives and nine top-10 finishes in 14 races thus far. He currently stands fourth in the standings after one of his best races of the season, this past weekend at Pocono.

Earnhardt is one of four drivers currently in the top 10 without a win. While it certainly isn’t a guarantee that a win will secure a spot in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, a win would go a long way towards solidifying his place. He has a 59-point gap ahead of 10th place.

If the on-track performance hasn’t been an issue this year, one lingering cloud over his and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team’s head is a yet-unfulfilled sponsorship roster for the rest of the season. It currently has support from the National Guard and Diet Mountain Dew.

It seems hard to fathom that NASCAR’s longtime Most Popular Driver would have races to sell, but according to the Charlotte Observer, there are still 13 unsold races. Per Rick Hendrick’s comments to the Observer, those races are close to being filled in.

“I’ve not been worried about it because we could sell it if we wanted to piecemeal it. We’ve been looking for the future,” Hendrick told the Charlotte Observer. “We don’t want to get into (sponsor relationships) where you see somebody one time and you don’t seem them anymore after that.”

At Michigan this week, Dale Jr. will run the National Guard “Man of Steel” colors.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race IndyCar stars in iRacing at Michigan

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).