By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- "That's what I'm talking about, man -- that is awesome!" said Dale Earnhardt Jr. upon learning that Bristol Motor Speedway was launching a scholarship in his name.
During a farewell tour marking his exit from the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at season's end, Earnhardt has received a houseful of gifts and mementos, but the scholarship -- an annual award to a Sullivan County, Tenn., student interested in pursuing a career in the automotive industry -- was particularly touching.
"I just like helping people," Earnhardt said on Thursday after the presentation. "I have been blessed with a lot of things, and I don't need anything else, and if the track is going to make an effort and maybe even put some money into something, I would rather them do something that is going to make an impact in somebody's life.
"That's an awesome reward for me to see somebody benefit, somebody deserving benefit. I enjoy that, and it's fun to see kind of how the tracks get creative to make an impact in their own communities. That it's going to ... I thought it would be a one-time deal, so it surprises me that it's going to be annual, but I think the track should be commended on an effort to do something that is going to be long-lasting and impact someone else's life."
Earnhardt says he's eager to pass his good fortune and the stature he earned as a driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series along to others.
"I feel like my life has been too good to be true, and I just have had so much given to me and I feel like this obligation to turn it around and do something for someone else," he said. "And as I've gotten older I've done more and more of that, and I feel the joy from that. So I love to see that happen more and more and love to be a part of that more and more.
"Maybe I'll meet some of these people (scholarship recipients) down the road. Like 'I got this opportunity and I took it here and this is what happened,' and that will be a great feeling."
ELLIOTT NEEDS VICTORY TO FEEL COMFORTABLE
--Of the drivers still fighting for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff spots on points, Chase Elliott is highest in the standings.
But that doesn't mean the seventh-place points position has the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet feeling secure about his postseason chances.
There are 13 drivers already locked into the playoff on the strength of race wins. And with three races left before the playoff cutoff at Richmond, Elliott knows his grip on a playoff could be precarious -- unless he can win one of those three races.
"You're never comfortable," Elliott said. "We're certainly in a tight spot. We're there toward the back. I don't exactly know 100 percent where we are, but I know we're one of the last few spots of non-winners that are still in.
"That's not a comfortable position to be in, because there is always an opportunity for a guy on the outside to win a race and bump you back another position. So it's tight, for sure, where we are at.
"We feel like we need a victory to feel good about it. I mean, heck, we're not many from having a full playoff list of winners. So, yeah, no, we aren't real comfortable with it, just because in that position, you're not really guaranteed anything."
BUESCHER SIGNS MULTIYEAR DEAL WITH JTG/DAUGHERTY
--Chris Buescher has signed a long-term deal to remain in the No. 37 Chevrolet at JTG/Daugherty Racing, team owner co-owner Tad Geschickter announced Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Buescher has been under contract to Roush Fenway Racing while driving for JTG/Daugherty this season, and Geschickter says the team worked out contractual details that will keep Buescher with the organization for, as Buescher put it, "a handful of years."
Geschickter said the team will continue its affiliation with Richard Childress Racing and is in the process of purchasing a charter for the car. JTG/Daugherty, which also fields No. 47 Chevrolets for AJ Allmendinger, has been leasing a charter for Buescher this year.
The organization also has re-signed crew chief Trent Owens concurrent with Buescher's extension, Geschickter said. That stability bodes well for Buescher, who got his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory last year in a rain-shortened race at Pocono.
"The fact that we are sitting here today to say that we have many years going forward and know we are going to be... we've got Trent leading the team, that is pretty amazing," said Buescher, who is currently 25th in the series standings. "It's nice to have that comfort through the offseason, something that has been hard to have, especially with the way the world is today and how hard it is to get that feeling here.
"I'm very thankful for this opportunity. I've had a really good time this season. We've been able to make some awesome improvements and again, coming back to that continuity, from one season to the next, I haven't had that since way back in the Xfinity days, so knowing that we have the same group and we have notes and we have race cars that we've run, that is going to be a really big help. I look for that to be a big step in getting better results early in 2018."
KESELOWSKI GIVES UP TRUCK SERIES OWNERSHIP FOR LONG-TERM PLAN
--Brad Keselowski is a thinker and a planner.
With an eye toward a future as a potential Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series owner, Keselowski announced this week that he will cease operating Brad Keselowski Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at the end of the season.
On Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Keselowski met with reporters behind his No. 2 Team Penske Ford transporter and elaborated on his decision, which may involve transforming his shop space into an ongoing business that ultimately could support a Cup ownership.
"We're not ready to announce anything, but I know where I want to go and we're in the middle of putting all that together," Keselowski said. "Until it's together, I don't want to get too far down the road with it, but I know that I'm committed to the facility and the community to have an operational and functioning business in that area and plan to do just that.
"Hopefully, that opens a spot to retain a good number of our people."
With that approach, Keselowski is taking a page from such team owners as Roger Penske, Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush, who operate business concerns outside of NASCAR racing and use business-to-business opportunities to enhance their appeal to potential sponsors.
"If you look at all the business owners at this level -- and really all three of these levels -- they have a sustainable, profitable business outside of motorsports, and that's going to remain the key for any owner to have success, because the reality is I can only be a race car driver for so long.
"When that time comes up, my business would have had to shut down because I don't have a profit center, and having that profit center is what helps you get through the ebbs and flows that every race team has, so I need to have one of those profit centers.
"That doesn't mean that I'll be a Cup owner one day, but that means when the time is right, if we achieve the goals that I have, I'll have the opportunity to make that decision myself and not have it made for me."
In the meantime, Keselowski believes the Truck Series will do just fine without him.
"The Truck Series has been around a long time," Keselowski said. "It's going to be around a lot longer than me, so I'm not so self-centered to think that series is based solely on my team and participation. It'll be around. It'll be all right."