NASCAR notebook: Recovering Dale Jr. will be atop No. 88 pit stall at Dover

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR’s most popular driver is back, just not on the track yet.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be on top of the No. 88 car’s pit stall this weekend at Dover International Speedway for the Citizen Soldier 400.

Earnhardt has been sidelined as he recovers from a concussion. He has been replaced by a combination of Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman for the second half of this season.

Gordon, who came out of retirement to drive Earnhardt Jr.’s car, will start in 18th on Sunday after field was set by owner points due to qualifying being rained out. He was 17th fastest in Friday’s only practice session.

Earnhardt Hendrick Motorsports teammates are glad to see him back at the track.

“The No. 88 group, for those guys to see him at the race track and there supporting them, I’m sure it has to mean a lot to those guys,” Chase Elliott said. “I think as a company it does, but definitely centered around the No. 88 group I 100 percent think it would for sure. We obviously all want him back and getting better.”

Earnhardt has not competed since July 9 at Kentucky. Dover will be the 11th consecutive race he has missed.

While he can’t come to the track, his Hendrick teammates have said he’s still been heavily involved back at the shop.

“I guess many of you haven’t had a chance to see him in our team meetings, at the shop, and various ways we interact and being a part of the discussions week-to-week on what’s happened when we’re getting ready for the next week,” Jimmie Johnson said. “He’s been deeply involved in all of that. I can only imagine how hard it is to go to the track and watch your car race, and then also how boring it would be because we do have the coolest job to sit in that race car. And then just to come to a track and watch, I don’t know if I could do it.”

“It’s great from a public perception that he’s coming and that people can really see how hard he’s working and then kind of tie that together with his recovery process,” Johnson added. “But, I’ve seen a lot of him and I know he’s dying to get back in the race car and eager to feel amazing again and I think he’s on a great road of progress right now.”

Fan experience

Fans should anticipate a more enhanced overall at-track experience at the Monster Mile for the first cutoff race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Some options for fans are:

• Monster Mile Youth Nation: Geared toward NASCAR’s youngest fans, this area conveniently located within the FanZone provides the perfect hangout for families during the race weekend.

• Monster Mile Movie Night: Following tonight’s traditional fireworks at 9 p.m., the animated feature “Big Hero 6” will be shown in Victory Plaza. The event is free and open to all fans.

• Enhanced FanZone: Located just outside of Turn 4, the 8-acre FanZone will feature a number of activities, including rock wall climbing, driving simulators and live music. New to the race weekend is the USO Military Village, an interactive display with helicopters, vehicles and table demonstrations from all five service branches.

NOTES: There are four Cup drivers entered in today’s XFINITY Series race — Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Matt Dibenedetto. … The Citizen Soldier movie is not just sponsoring the race, it is also the main sponsor on Regan Smith’s No. 7 car this weekend. … Timmy Hill will make his season debut on Sunday in the Cup series. Hill is driving the No. 98 car for Premiuim Motorsports, the car has been driven by Cole Whitt in every other race this year. … Musician Joe Walsh will be the grand marshal on Sunday, retired Major Genereal Gus Hargett, the chief executive officer of the National Guard, will be the honorary pace car driver.

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