Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s taking the pole for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 may have set up NASCAR’s most popular driver for a return run at Daytona International in February.
Earnhardt was already eligible to run in the preseason 2018 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona by virtue of having won the exhibition race twice, in 2003 and 2008. But Earnhardt, who retires from full-time racing at the end of this season, has said he wanted to earn his way into the Clash.
Landing Friday’s pole did just that, earning Earnhardt an automatic spot in February’s Clash.
Earnhardt didn’t commit to racing in the invitation-only Clash on Friday. But the Hendrick Motorsports star seemed open to the idea.
Yeah, I’ll talk to my boss man. ... I’ll see what he’s got in the shed.
Dale Earnhardt, on a possible run in the 2018 Advance Auto Parts Clash.
“Yeah, I’ll talk to my boss man Rick (Hendrick) and see if we can make some arrangement and come back and have some fun,” Earnhardt said. “I’ll see what he’s got in the shed.”
Earnhardt’s crew chief also hinted at a run in the Clash.
“Welcome to the Clash,” Ives told Earnhardt after Friday’s qualifying for the driver’s last Cup Series start at Daytona in his final full-time season.
Although Earnhardt hasn’t ruled out future races at Daytona, especially in the second-tier Xfinity Series, his trip to NASCAR’s most famous track this week is being treated like a career finale.
The track developed a “Daletona” mosaic in the stadium that allows fans to create a piece of artwork to commemorate what could be Earnhardt’s final Cup Series start at Daytona.
Track officials also presented Earnhardt with a painting featuring three of his most memorable wins at the superspeedway.
“A lot of great things have happened here,” Earnhardt said. “A lot of drivers have made their careers here. It is something to be proud of if you are in the industry. It is a pretty fun race track.”
Earnhardt admittedly got teary-eyed watching a replay of his 2004 Daytona 500 win Thursday night.
“When I see those kinds of highlights or something like that, it kind of brings some emotion around,” he said.
The Clash, the first competitive event of the Cup Series season, will take place February 11, a week before the Daytona 500, the first points race of the 2018 Cup Series season.
The Clash, a non-points exhibition, returns to Sunday afternoon after being scheduled on Saturdays since 2003. The Clash will follow qualifying for the 60th annual Daytona 500.
The Clash, originally named the Busch Clash, also has been known as the Bud Shootout and the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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