Dale Earnhardt Jr. squared off against the Hall of Fame basketball player in a head-to-head race that will be aired on NASCAR on TNT’s Summer Series before the June 8 race at Pocono. Earnhardt was pleased with the meeting but wouldn’t reveal details of Friday’s race.
“I was really surprised how nice a guy he was,” Earnhardt said. “I really expected him to be a competitor. As a player, he was really fiery and aggressive, getting into scuffles. He was super nice. Really has an appreciation for our sport. Just a real nice guy to be around.
“We’ll just have to save the results for later, but you can imagine how it went,” added Earnhardt, who borrowed Barkley’s phrase “turrible” to praise the former NBA star’s driving.
The idea for the race began on social media when Earnhardt landed in one of TNT’s “Gone Fishing” tweets after the Charlotte Bobcats were eliminated from the NBA playoffs. Barkley mentioned he wanted to meet the driver, and Earnhardt replied on Twitter, “Heck, I wanna meet Charles!”
It led to Friday’s race. Barkley posted a Vine video from the encounter in which he told Earnhardt he’s been a longtime fan and had been trying to arrange a meeting through Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett.
STAYING THE COURSE: Chase Elliott’s early success hasn’t forced Hendrick Motorsports to speed up its long-term plan for the driver.
Elliott, who won an ARCA race last year, has two Nationwide Series wins this year for JR Motorsports and heads into today’s race at Iowa Speedway leading the points standings.
The 18-year-old is in the Hendrick driver development program, and JR Motorsports co-owner Earnhardt Jr. said that’s where he’ll stay
“I think you just set a plan from the start, and you stick with it,” Earnhardt said. “We have a two-year plan, I suppose, that he runs in the Nationwide Series, and I think you just stick with the plan regardless of the success he is having.”
Hendrick Motorsports is currently maxed out with four drivers in its Sprint Cup lineup.
For Elliott to be promoted, either Earnhardt, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, or Kasey Kahne would have to vacate a seat.
But JR Motorsports also sold a sponsorship package to NAPA built around the current development plan for Elliott.
“You have the commitments in line with sponsors, so I think it will suit him well to relax and not have to worry about that and just follow the plan that he has had in front of him from the start,” Earnhardt said.
“He is really young too, so he has a lot of time on his hands and time to get to Cup level to realize that potential, one day.”
How young is he? Elliott graduated on Saturday morning from King’s Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, Ga.