Martinsville notebook: Hendrick Motorsports ‘mind blowing’ to Junior

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he admired Hendrick Motorsports from afar long before he began driving for the organization.

Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled in his first couple of seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, he enjoyed an excellent 2013 season and has had an even better 2014 so far. Earnhardt, who comes into Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway just a single marker behind NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Carl Edwards, said he’s enjoyed his time at Hendrick.

"All those years as a young kid before I drove and then as a driver competing against them you always wonder what is the culture like?" Earnhardt said. "Then when you get behind there and see how they are working on their cars, how they set their cars up, for years you have wanted that access. To finally have it it’s pretty mind blowing in certain areas. It’s been a fun experience for me."

Earnhardt said he remembered Hendrick as a formidable competitor from the days his father was racing for championships.

"They seemed like they had so many resources and they had quite the dynamic when it came to drivers," Earnhardt said of Hendrick Motorsports. "It was just a team that always was going to be challenging for the win and challenging for championships, especially once Jeff (Gordon) got there they were almost unstoppable at that particular point in the ’90s. Ever since really Jeff got there they have never fell off."

Much of the credit goes to team founder and owner Rick Hendrick, who this weekend will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the team’s first victory.

"Obviously Rick has an influence on his employees," Earnhardt said. "Everybody really strives from the top to the bottom to give their best.  It’s a cliche, but it’s so true when you actually get to work there and get behind closed doors and see the influence that he has just on individuals.  Everybody just pushes so hard to do something good every day.  It makes everybody else’s job that much easier.  It’s just good reflection of his influence on the company as a whole, but, yeah, it’s fun being a part of it."

MUCH GRATITUDE –€“ On Thursday, Kevin Harvick paid a visit to the Oak Ridge (N.C.) Fire Department, where he thanked firefighters for saving his family’s home from a fire in the early morning hours last Nov. 27.

"If it weren’t for these guys, I wouldn’t have a house," said Harvick, who brought his 18-month-old son Keelan to tour the fire station on Thursday with Chief Steve Simmons. "We didn’t think anything was actually on fire, because we couldn’t see any flames and figured the smoke was coming from the fireplace."

Firefighters used thermal imaging cameras to locate the fire between the basement ceiling and main level of the house. "Chief Simmons and his guys knew exactly what to do and were able to contain a small mess that could have been a very big mess," said Harvick, who was alerted to the fire by smoke detectors. "We’re very fortunate."