Dale Earnhardt Jr. still No. 1 in souvenir sales, but Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick make big gains

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. may soon start hearing more footsteps of Austin Dillon closing in on him.

Maybe not so much on the racetrack, but certainly in online souvenir memorabilia sales, according to a story in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

While Earnhardt is going for his 12th consecutive Most Popular Driver Award this season, he also continues to be No. 1 driver on the NASCAR.com Superstore list of online souvenir and memorabilia sales.

But Dillon is climbing fast, going from 22nd last season (his last in the Nationwide Series) to 10th this season (his rookie Sprint Cup campaign).

Blake Davidson, vice president of licensing and consumer products for NASCAR, explained Dillon’s surge in an email response to the News-Journal.

“There was a lot of anticipation and excitement about having the No. 3 back on the track,” Davidson said. “Here we had a very talented, up-and-coming driver in Dillon behind the wheel of a car owned by his grandfather, Richard Childress, with the number that Dale Earnhardt made famous.

“Those are great storylines. Dillon had already won two NASCAR Nationwide Series championships, so he’d built a sizable fan following before he arrived at the Sprint Cup Series.”

Citing figures provided by the NASCAR.com Superstore, the News-Journal reported that seven of the top 10 drivers with the hottest selling merchandise changed positions from the 2013 year-to-date listing.

The biggest climbers in the rankings were Dillon (up 12 spots), Kevin Harvick (five spots) and Jeff Gordon (one spot).

Dropping in the rankings from 2013 to 2014 were Tony Stewart (two spots), Danica Patrick (two spots), and one spot each for Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards.

We don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but four of the top eight drivers on the list race for Hendrick Motorsports.

In addition, eight of the top-10 drivers are powered by Chevrolet. Sixth-ranked Kyle Busch (Toyota) and ninth-ranked Carl Edwards (Ford) are the only non-Chevy drivers on the list.

What are the hottest-selling items?

“Die-cast replicas and apparel (t-shirts, hats, jackets) are the two most popular categories,” Davidson told the News-Journal. “The die-cast is kind of like our sport’s jersey — it represents an authentic replica of what is on the track. Those have always been a major item for fans.

“We offer the very same hats that drivers are wearing themselves, so that creates a connection between the fan and driver. (And) the Daytona Rising Collection gives fans an opportunity to take home a piece of track history, including the actual seats where they may have once sat to watch the Great American Race.”

Here’s the breakdown, with this year’s rank, driver name and last year’s year-to-date sales ranking (source: NASCAR.com Superstore):

1) Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 1 in 2013)

2) Jimmie Johnson (No. 2 in 2013)

3) Jeff Gordon (No. 4 in 2013)

4) Kevin Harvick (No. 9 in 2013)

5) Tony Stewart (No. 3 in 2013)

6) Kyle Busch (No. 6 in 2013)

7) Danica Patrick (No. 5 in 2013)

8) Kasey Kahne (No. 7 in 2013)

9) Carl Edwards (No. 8 in 2013)

10) Austin Dillon (No. 22 in 2013)

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Gabby Chaves to sub for Joao Barbosa at Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen

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Gabby Chaves is set to return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Watkins Glen International later this month.

The Columbian-American driver, who last competed in IMSA in 2016 – with the DeltaWing outfit – will sub for the injured Joao Barbosa – he hurt his wrist in a cycling accident earlier in June – in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen.

Chaves will partner Filipe Albuquerque and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Cadillac.

Chaves expressed gratitude for being asked to fill in, but kept his enthusiasm muted, noting that he is getting the opportunity ultimately because another driver got hurt.

“The first thing is of course that you never want to have an opportunity because someone got hurt, so this is an unfortunate circumstance with Joao having his injury,”said Chaves. “But I appreciate the opportunity to join the championship-leading team. Mustang Sampling Racing has had a strong start this year and hopefully I can help the team continue to have those kinds of results.”

Chaves added, “I love Watkins Glen, it is a great track and I am looking forward to racing the Cadillac Prototype there. I’m excited to be going back to endurance racing. With different classes all racing at the same time, there is a lot for the driver to deal with as you work through traffic. So I am looking forward to racing at the Glen again, and I really appreciate this opportunity with Mustang Sampling Racing.”

Chaves’ most recent IMSA event was the 2016 Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, when he finished seventh in the Prototype class.

The No. 5 Action Express Cadillac currently sits tied with the sister No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac of Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr atop the IMSA standings, though Barbosa’s hopes of a driver’s championship are set to take an enormous hit with him missing Watkins Glen.

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