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Dale Earnhardt Jr. hails IMSA growth; all but rules out Rolex 24 return

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Once his full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career comes to an end in three weeks before he joins the NBC Sports team as a broadcaster in 2018, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have the luxury of picking and choosing where else he’ll race on a case-by-case basis.

But a return to driving in the Rolex 24 at Daytona is an unlikely one, Earnhardt said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt’s famous first run in the race with father Dale, then Corvette Racing regulars Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins in 2001 saw them end second in the GTO class and fourth overall. Teammates Johnny O’Connell, Ron Fellows, Franck Freon and Chris Kneifel scored a famous overall win for Corvette that year.

He also returned in 2004 co-driving a Howard-Boss Motorsports Chevrolet Crawford with Tony Stewart and Andy Wallace. Late-race suspension failure cost that car an overall win and dropped them to fifth overall, and third in the Daytona Prototype (DP) class.

Because of how the now merged IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series has increased in overall competitiveness and depth of field, Earnhardt said Friday that jumping in for a one-off is much harder now.

02 FEB 2001: The #3 Corvette GTS will be driven by Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins during the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida. DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/ALLSPORT

“I don’t think I’ll be (driving) at the 24 Hours of Daytona,” Earnhardt told reporters Friday at Texas. “Back when we did those things, it felt easier to do those one-offs.

“That series is so competitive… you can’t come in as a hobby, and it’s ‘I’m gonna come in and have fun.’ It’s so competitive. That series has grown to be so good. It’d be like one of them flirting with NASCAR!”

Earnhardt said he wouldn’t want to be a drain on a lineup either. Rolex 24 lineups feature either three, four or five-driver rotations between the three classes.

“I don’t think I’d have the success I want to have or be in the equipment I want to be in. Working with the 24-hour race, to run that, you want to do it with people you know.

“I drove for Corvette and Crawford (DP). That was really nerve-wracking… and with teammates I don’t know that well and man, I don’t want to be the guy that screws that up. So it’s a completely different experience.

“If I were to do it again, it’d have to be with drivers I’m friends with. So it’s fairly unlikely.”

Earnhardt didn’t rule out attending the race as a spectator, as well as potentially visit other events.

“It’s a very fun race though. Staying up all night long, that’s right up my alley,” he laughed. “It’s such a cool atmosphere with the cars running around. It’s a race I might go have fun as a spectator at. Watch it on person, or watch on TV.”

As far as other events, Earnhardt said he’s limiting his future driving beyond this year to a handful of NASCAR Xfinity Series races with his JR Motorsports team, and perhaps Late Model races.

He’s never attended a Formula 1 race either and hopes to do that soon. Jeff Gordon, who co-drove the winning No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R at this year’s Rolex 24, has been at both the Singapore and Mexican Grands Prix this season. Daniel Ricciardo, meanwhile, said at Circuit of The Americas last month he planned to see Earnhardt this weekend at Texas.

“I’ve never been to a Formula 1 race. It’s something, you have to check that box,” Earnhardt said.

“There’s other series and forms of motorsport that I have equal interest in observing. So that would be awesome. I’m sure there’s opportunities that will present themselves.”

March 29 in Motorsports History: Scott Dixon wins first race after reunification

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Reunited and it felt so good.

That’s what drivers likely thought before the 2008 IndyCar opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For the first time since 1995, major-league open-wheel racing in the United States was under the banner of a sole sanctioning body as Champ Car and the Indy Racing Leauge had reunified just a month prior.

Scott Dixon celebrates after winning the 2008 IndyCar opener at Homestead. Photo: Jim Hines/IndyCar.

The first race after reunification also saw a reversal of fortunes for Scott Dixon, who won the race after losing the 2007 IRL championship in crushing fashion.

In the 2007 season finale at Chicagoland Speedway, Dixon ran out of fuel while leading on the final lap of the race. The race victory – and championship – went to Dixon’s future teammate, Dario Franchitti.

But the tides turned for Dixon nearly seven months later, and the Kiwi was able to win with the help of another driver’s misfortune.

Tony Kanaan was leading with seven laps remaining when E.J. Viso spun and made contact with Kanaan’s car. Kanaan remained on track through the caution period despite suffering obvious damage to his right front suspension.

On the final restart with three laps remaining, Dixon and others cars easily passed Kanaan’s wounded car on the outside. Dixon then maintained his lead through the checkered flag to win at Homestead for the second time in his career.

“I think Marco (Andretti) and T.K. probably had a little bit better cars today, but we came through with the win, and that’s what counts,” Dixon told ESPN after his 12th career victory.

Following his victory at Homestead, Dixon continued to redeem himself through the course of the 2008 season. In May, he won the Indianapolis 500 for the first (and so far only) time. Following Indy, he went on to win four more times in 2008 and won his second series championship.

Also on this date:

1998: Mika Hakkinen won the Grand Prix of Brazil, the first of eight victories in his first championship season.

2010: Will Power won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was held on a Monday morning because of rain postponing the race on Sunday.

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