Dale Earnhardt Jr. has quietly developed a love connection at Hendrick Motorsports this season, one that has helped him perform better on the track.
The relationship hasn't been publicized much, but Earnhardt Jr. wasn't shy in discussing the object of his affection on Friday at Kansas Speedway.
It seems NASCAR's most popular driver has a thing for a car named Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-617.
"I got this one car that I really like a lot," he said. "It's tough when you really become dependent on one single car. You sort of get narrow-minded about how you're going to run in other cars versus the one you like the most."
Clearly, driver and car have a bond. Earnhardt Jr. and Chassis No. 88-617 have already spent 1,500 miles together this season, and that long of a road trip always offers a chance for a personal connection.
He can even remember the first time they met. It was in Las Vegas, and the relationship got off to a rocky start.
"We weren't good in practice (at Vegas)," he said. "So it isn't the kind of car where no matter what you do, it runs good. I mean, we can screw it up. But we've been able to adjust it; it likes adjustments and it seems to respond to adjustments."
So far, Earnhardt Jr. and Chassis No. 88-617 have raced three times – and have three top-10 finishes to show for it.
They were eighth together at Vegas. Ninth at Texas. And, last week, they had a near-win that turned into a seventh-place finish at Charlotte.
Unfortunately, due to the time it takes to refurbish a car after a grueling race, Chassis No. 88-617 couldn't accompany Earnhardt Jr. to Kansas this weekend. Instead, he's driving Chassis No. 88-657 (also known as his 14th-place car at Darlington).
That's OK, though. Earnhardt Jr. said he's trying to keep an open mind about the other cars in the No. 48/88 shop.
"I'm sure we're going to have some cars we're going to be happy to take into the last half of the season and run every week," he said, sounding in part as if he's trying to convince himself.
The truth is, he just keeps coming back to Chassis No. 88-617. Although maybe his feelings for the car aren't so personal after all.
"I only like it because we've run well with it," he said.