NASCAR notes: Junior looks at 40

In his first 39 years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has gone from being a mechanic in his father’s auto dealership to the most popular driver in NASCAR.

Along the way he’s endured his share of bumps, like the death of his father, long losing streaks in the Sprint Cup Series and the fact that he’s yet to win a Cup championship.

But he’s also had plenty to celebrate beyond his 11 most popular driver titles. He has 22 wins in NASCAR’s elite series, including two in NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500. He also has 23 victories in the Nationwide Series along with back-to-back titles in 1998-99.

Earnhardt said last week during his media session at Kansas Speedway, as he reflected on turning 40 on Friday, that the fun times of his life far surpass the rest.

“Definitely accomplished more than I thought I would when I was younger,” he said. “I just wanted to make it and, being the son of a guy that was so successful, the more success he had, it seemed like the harder it would be for me to make it [and] I would just be sort of a chapter in that whole thing.

“But I’m real happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish and who I have been able to work with and the friends I’ve been able to make.”

Among the things Earnhardt has been able to do is form a Nationwide Series race team, JR Motorsports, that has won nine races this season and holds the series points lead with the No. 9 Chevrolet driven by rookie Chase Elliott, son of another NASCAR great, Bill Elliott.

Earnhardt said the relationships he’s developed along the way through his Cup teams and his Nationwide teams and drivers like Elliott mean more to him than trophies and big paychecks.

He said he understands Elliott’s position of being an up-and-coming driver who, like him, is the son of a marquee driver.

“I think the praise that he receives makes him a little bit uncomfortable and I can totally relate to that,” Earnhardt said. “When you start out and you are just getting going and people think you are this great thing and it puts a lot of pressure on you. You just kind of want to slow that down a little bit and go through the motions and do what you are doing and go to the race track.”

Hornish's new ride: In taking a job driving the No. 9 Ford in the Sprint Cup Series next season, Sam Hornish Jr. gets to work with yet another giant of the racing world. He's worked with the Captain and the Coach in the past and is now set to work with the King.

Hornish drove Indy cars and NASCAR vehicles for the Captain, Roger Penske, then moved this season to Coach Joe Gibbs’ NASCAR Nationwide Series team. Now he’s moving to King Richard Petty’s Sprint Cup team, where he’ll replace Marcos Ambrose, who is moving back to Australia to race V-8 Super Cars.

“I look at my racing career and I’ve been very blessed to work with some icons in motorsports,” Hornish said on a teleconference this week. “I feel really good about this opportunity to join the No. 9 team and having the opportunity to work with Drew Blickensderfer, and also to work with Aric (Almirola) and the 43 team. There’s a lot of momentum in this organization and people that are putting in a lot of hours, working extremely hard. …

“I feel like having this opportunity to be here is awesome for my career.”