Jayski.com: Axalta makes first 2017 appearance on the #88

Phoenix marks the first of 13 races where Axalta Coating Systems will be the primary sponsor for Earnhardt's #88 Chevy. The new "Flash Point" paint scheme, designed by artist Sam Bass, will make its on-track debut this weekend. The #88 Axalta Chevy incorporates bright, neon yellow and red colors to create an eye-catching paint scheme.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Phoenix in November 2015 after a rain-shortened event. The wet weather didn't put a damper on Earnhardt, who led 22 laps en route to his 26th career NASCAR Cup Series victory and his third at the track. The 42-year-old driver earned his first two Phoenix wins back-to-back, going to Victory Lane in November 2003 and November 2004 when the one-mile tri-oval hosted one Cup event per season. By virtue of his three wins, Earnhardt ranks third on the all-time wins list at Phoenix behind Kevin Harvick (eight) and teammate Jimmie Johnson (four).

Earnhardt Jr. got behind the wheel of the #88 Chevy during the offseason for a two-day NASCAR test at Phoenix International Raceway on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. The #88 Axalta team was able to collect valuable data and give Earnhardt a chance to get more laps under his belt after he was approved to return to competition in December 2016.

Earnhardt, a three-time winner at Phoenix, has experienced a resurgence lately at the short track. In his last seven races at the facility, the driver of the #88 Axalta Chevy has earned one win, five top-five finishes and six top-10s. The only one of those seven events in which he finished outside of the top 10 was when the series visited the short track in March 2015 and a blown right-rear tire ended his day on lap 180. Earnhardt is ranked 10th among all active competitors with a driver rating of 88.7 from 2005-2016. The driver rating is a formula that combines wins, top-15 finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, most laps led and lead-lap finishes. The maximum a driver can earn in each race is 150 points. He ranks fourth among his competitors for completing the most green-flag passes since 2005 with 959 and ranks sixth in laps led with 259.

Phoenix International Raceway is the home track for #88 jackman Nick Covey, who grew up in Glendale, Arizona. He joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2009 and has been a member of the #88 team for six years. Covey played football for the University of Nebraska, where he was a linebacker from 2005 to 2009. Away from the racetrack, he says his focus is on his wife and his children, who play baseball.

--- Hendrick Motorsports ---