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.

Simon Pagenaud’s engineer relives 2019 Indy 500 victory on Twitter

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The Team Penske engineer for last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner is reliving Simon Pagenaud’s day by tweeting about what he was doing each moment a year later.

Starting with an observation that he awoke in his Indianapolis hotel room at 4:30 a.m., Ben Bretzman (@benbretzman) sent nearly two dozen tweets by 11 a.m. ET about how the morning before the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 unfolded.

Bretzman was through the infield tunnel and in Gasoline Alley by 6 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., he was wondering if his driver was awake yet, but he had heard for the first time from Pagenaud 45 minutes later.

‘BACK HOME AGAIN’Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, NBC

FIERCE FRIENDSHIPPagenaud, Rossi recall epic battle of 2019 Indy 500

Among other highlights: The team’s last strategy meeting was at 8:30 a.m.; final check of the weather was at 9:30 a.m. and Bretzman gave the No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet a once-over at 10:35 a.m. before it was pushed to the grid.

Follow @BenBretzman to watch the day unfold from the pit box and tune into “Back Home Again at 2 p.m. ET on NBC as Pageanud and Alexander Rossi, who are good friends off the track, recap their epic duel with host Mike Tirico.

Simon Pagenaud and engineer Ben Bretzman debrief at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IndyCar photo by Joe Skibinski).