AVONDALE, Ariz.—When your regular spotter is under the weather, it doesn’t hurt to have a substitute who is a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee and a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
Oh, and by the way, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a spotter this week who has 16 Most Popular Driver awards to Earnhardt’s 11.
Obviously, there’s only one person who meets all those criteria. With TJ Majors, who guided Earnhardt to last Sunday’s dramatic Daytona 500 win, staying home to recuperate from an intestinal infection, Bill Elliott is spotting for the No. 88 Chevrolet during practice and qualifying at Phoenix International Raceway.
During Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at the one-mile track, Jeff Dickerson take over spotter duties, as he did last year during Majors’ illness.
“TJ is good,” Earnhardt replied when asked about his spotter’s health. “He had some issues with his intestines last year that caused him to miss the Atlanta race. Some of those issues cropped back up—just a small infection. He’s back home now. He’s out of the hospital, so he’s fine.
“He just hates having to miss it. He’s a huge part of our team. We have such great chemistry. It’s going to be a difficult situation not having him, but we’ve got Bill Elliott, of all people, (who) is going to fill in during practice. That’s going to be pretty awesome.”
And it will be Elliott, coined “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” by his legion of fans, who will guide Earnhardt through the debut of the new group qualifying format, in use in the Cup series for the first time this week.
“A lot of Most Popular Driver awards right there, like 27, or something like that,” Earnhardt said. “It’ll be interesting going through knockout qualifying, me and Bill both for the first time.”
Their first practice together couldn’t have gone better. Earnhardt led the session with a lap at 138.723 mph.