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Austin Dillon on national anthem protest: ‘I don’t know how it would go over with the fans’

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While protests around the national anthem continue in sports like the NFL and Major League Soccer, the patriotism shown in NASCAR remains strong.

The controversy started late last month when Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers was seen sitting on the bench during a pre-season game as the national anthem played. Some players have since followed suit by taking a knee as the anthem played before their games. U.S soccer star Megan Rapinoe also took a knee before a game last week.

There has not been a protest in NASCAR during its weekly pre-race routine of honoring the American flag and playing of the national anthem. NASCAR televises its pre-race ceremonies and those who aren’t being respectful rarely go unnoticed, which is why Austin Dillon isn’t sure what the reaction would be if there were a protest.

“I don’t know how it would go over with the fans – we’re a very patriotic sport,” Dillon said. “I think our sport does a good job of showing that every Saturday, Sunday of showing patriotism and what the flag means. Not only that, we have a lot of military out here each and every weekend.”

Kaepernick’s actions drew the ire of a few drivers. They included three-time champion Tony Stewart, which resulted in a strongly worded tweet and a demonstration of his patriotism last weekend at Darlington Raceway. Stewart stood alongside his No. 14 Chevrolet holding an American flag with his team.

Stewart’s actions weren’t necessarily out of place as there have been many examples throughout the years of the sport’s wide-ranging patriotism.

Every May, an elaborate pre-race ceremony is put on at Charlotte Motor Speedway in recognition of Memorial Day. Brad Keselowski celebrates each race win with the American flag. Fans also bring flags to wave in the grandstands or fly from their campsites.

Following the 2001 Sept. 11 attacks, teams included decals on their cars, either of American flags or other tributes to the victims. Mars and M&M’s gave up their logos on the No. 36 for Ken Schrader’s car to be painted like the American flag.

They did the same again in 2011 at Richmond with driver Kyle Busch in honor of the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Saturday night, on the eve of the 15th anniversary, all four Stewart-Haas Racing cars will carry decals in remembrance of the victims. Dillon will again stand by his car as the ceremonies take place.

“I’m close friends with a lot of SEAL guys that I check on that are still in battle, like still going out and putting their lives on the line, so I get to do what I do on Sunday and have this amazing job,” Dillon said.

“I’ve got SEAL guys that will personally text me and say, ‘Hey, thank you for not moving around; sitting there, we love that.’ When they see people that are not paying attention during our national anthem or kind of off looking around in the right place, it means a lot to them just to stand at attention. I wouldn’t want to ask a guy that puts his life on the line for our freedom to have to see that.”

Dillon understands his attitude may not be shared throughout the garage, but so far the pride shown in the NASCAR community hasn’t wavered since the controversy began.

“I think this is the greatest country in the world,” Dillon said. “I’ve traveled to other countries, and I’m glad to get home every time to America.”

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Cup starting lineup for Sunday’s race at Atlanta

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Kyle Busch will lead the field to the green for Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and have Ryan Newman beside him on the front row.

Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing each placed all four of its cars in the top 12 of the starting lineup.

JGR will have Busch first, Daniel Suarez fourth, Erik Jones 10th and Denny Hamlin 12th. Stewart-Haas Racing will have Kevin Harvick third, Kurt Busch seventh, Clint Bowyer ninth and Aric Almirola 11th.

Reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. will start 35th in the 36-car field after his car failed to pass inspection before qualifying.

Click here for starting lineup

 

Martin Truex Jr.’s car chief ejected after Atlanta inspection failures

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HAMPTON, Georgia – Defending series champion Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota was the first team to struggle with NASCAR’s new optical scan inspection, and the punishment was a key crew member.

Truex’s Camry failed to clear prequalifying inspection three times Friday, resulting in the ejection of car chief Blake Harris from Atlanta Motor Speedway. Truex will start 35th in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

NASCAR vice president of competition Scott Miller said the car had multiple problems with body scans “for rear-wheel openings and rear-toe failures.”

Furniture Row Racing president Joe Garone said the team couldn’t get a handle on the new Optical Scanning Station. Many teams, including Furniture Row Racing, have replicas in their shops of the system, which relies on high-definition cameras and projectors.

“It’s a new process,” Garone said. “We’re working hard, collectively, the whole garage is to figure the boundaries out and how to get through, and NASCAR is working with their equipment the same way.

“It’s just tough. It’s tough. One time you go through, the next time you don’t. You go through again and some things pass that didn’t pass the time before. It’s just frustrating, but we’ll get it all worked out. It’s just a matter of time.

Crew chief Cole Pearn had a viscerally negative reaction at the station when told by NASCAR officials the car hadn’t passed on its third scan, seven minutes before qualifying was scheduled to begin.

Garone said the vibe within the team was “pretty volatile at the moment, because you’re trying to figure out what you actually did, especially when you feel like maybe the equipment itself is off a little bit. It’s also on our side as well. It’s just a weird set of circumstances. The tolerances are very tight. It’s difficult to get through and push where you need to and be conservative where you need to and figure it all out. It does change every time you go through.”

Miller took umbrage at the suggestion the new station wasn’t reliable (which was a frequent criticism of the previous Laser Inspection Station that the optical scan replaced).

“Of course they’re going to say that, but we had 20 people make it through on the first attempt and multiple people saying how consistent the rear-wheel alignment was vs. our equipment last year,” Miller said. “The only comments I had today on the rear-wheel alignment part was positive comments, not negative comments. We ended up with one (car failing to clear inspection). All I can say is I feel like we did our job.”

Miller said after the third failure, it’s NASCAR’s discretion to suspend a team member and the car chief was chosen because “we’ve tapped the car chief as an important individual.” Miller said if Truex had failed a fourth time, the team would have faced a 10-point deduction under a new penalty structure this season that is focused on race weekend punishments.

Miller implied the team had chosen to skip trying to clear inspection a fourth time to avoid risking further penalty, but Garone said the decision was made because “well, we’re out of time.

“That wasn’t a decision other than a timing decision,” he said. “You know what happens when you rush? The driver goes out, and he’s all amped up, and it’s just not worth doing.”

Truex, who will start 35th Sunday, also will serve a 30-minute practice hold Saturday.

Pole-sitter Kyle Busch, whose Joe Gibbs Racing team supplies Toyota chassis and has an alliance with Truex’s team, was surprised the No. 78 was the only inspection casualty Friday.

“I certainly would have guessed there would have been more; that they wouldn’t have been the only ones,’ Busch said. “I honestly have no clue on what happened to them. I don’t have that information from any of our guys. So I’ll have to figure out what they missed out on being able to get through the OSS.”

Denny Hamlin on Daytona 500 spat with Bubba Wallace: ‘It’s done’

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HAMPTON, Georgia — Denny Hamlin seems to be putting his brief feud with Bubba Wallace in the rearview mirror before Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

After qualifying 12th for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (and electing to skip the final round because his No. 11 team felt it wasn’t worth the tradeoff on tire wear), Hamlin told a small group of reporters that “I’d say it’s over with. Moving on. Trust me, it’s done.”

Was the Joe Gibbs Racing driver concerned about the fallout from Daytona?

“Doesn’t concern me,” Hamlin said. “I’ll just keep moving forward and try to do the best I can and let whoever tell their side and let it be.”

Earlier Friday at Atlanta, Wallace said he had been kicked out of a golf group that Hamlin is in because of their feud, which started on the last lap of Sunday’s Daytona 500. He also called Hamlin a “dumb ass” for estimating last week on a podcast that 70 percent of NASCAR drivers are using Adderall.

Did Hamlin plan to talk to Wallace?

“It’s done. It’s done. It’s done.”

Hamlin did briefly address Kevin Harvick’s comments that several veteran drivers are angry at him for the Adderall comment.

“I’ve talked to Kevin,” Hamlin said. “We’re good. Yeah. Trust me, it’s all done, guys.”

 

Kyle Busch zooms to first career Atlanta Cup pole

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Kyle Busch denied Ryan Newman a record-breaking eighth career pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway, nipping Newman to take the top starting spot for Sunday’s race.

Busch earned the pole with a lap of 184.652 mph. Newman ran a lap of 184.419 mph in the final round — a difference of 38-thousandths of a second.

Newman will start second and be followed by Kevin Harvick (184.388 mph), Daniel Suarez (184.229) and Brad Keselowski (183.856). Newman remains tied with Buddy Baker for most career poles at Atlanta with seven. Newman, though, will make his 12th career front row start at Atlanta.

This is Busch’s first career Cup pole at Atlanta and 28th in his career.

Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott all failed to qualify in the top 24 to advance to the second round.

“We’re way off,” Elliott told Fox Sports 1. “Not even close.”

Dillon will start 25th, Blaney 26th and Elliott 27th.

Martin Truex Jr. did not make a qualifying attempt after his car failed three times to pass inspection. Truex won seven of the 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks last season. He was eighth at Atlanta a year ago. Truex will start 35th in the 36-car field.

Click here for qualifying results

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