CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 09:  Dale Earnhardt Jr. stands on the grid during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 9, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has shown drivers it’s OK to admit being hurt

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t looking to become an influential voice when he began opening up about his concussion.

But Earnhardt’s forwardness has resulted in other drivers following his ways. Something both Ryan Ellis and Sarah Cornett-Ching admit they wouldn’t have previously done.

“I don’t think I would have gotten checked out honestly,” Ellis told NBC Sports. “It’s not because I didn’t think I had (a concussion) or anything, it just kind of has that negative connotation when you take a hit. Like, ‘Oh that guy can’t take a hit.’ You don’t want to feel like a wuss out there.”

Ellis blew a right front tire in the Oct. 2 Xfinity Series race at Dover International Speedway and his car slammed the wall. He was checked and released from the infield care center but returned when he started to get a headache, felt dizzy, and become nauseous in the garage. Ellis then headed to a local hospital.

“When one of the leaders of the sport (Earnhardt) goes out there and takes the extra steps to get back and make sure he’s right when he comes back, that really gives you the feeling of comfort that you can go and get that checked out,” Ellis said. “No one is going to look at you differently the next week.”

Cornett-Ching had similar thoughts. She hit the outside and inside walls during the Sept. 23 ARCA race at Kentucky Speedway and suffered a headache. Cornett-Ching said it wasn’t until the next day “when everything started falling apart for me.” She said her brain couldn’t keep up with her surroundings and that night she became nauseous and had ringing in her ears.

Cornett-Ching spent the next few days laying in the dark before NASCAR called to check on her. They recommended she see Dr. Jerry Petty, one of the top neurologists in the Charlotte area.

“The decision to open up about what I was going through was influenced by Dale Jr. because initially, I thought it would make me feel weak,” Cornett-Ching told NBC Sports. “I didn’t really want people to know I had a concussion because if there was an opportunity to run a car or do something and advance my career, I didn’t want it to be hindered by the fact that I have a concussion right now.”

That Earnhardt has been a trendsetter in this area is something he didn’t anticipate nor takes the credit. Although he suspected a few individuals might be affected by watching his injury unfold, Earnhardt is glad to see drivers getting the necessary treatment.

“You’ve only got one brain,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports. “When that’s not working right you get scared into wanting to get fixed. When you get hurt, and you can’t see the way you want to see, or you can’t think straight, or your balance is off, that right there is enough to drive you to make the right decisions. So I can’t take much credit for it.

“I think that these folks when they hear somebody talking about it, and they hear about the symptoms, and then they experience it themselves, they realize this is serious, this is scaring me, this is what he did, and I know this path to take to get right. So, I’m glad they’re making good decisions.”

Earnhardt hopes more drivers continue to follow suit. As he’s learned, there are many educated doctors ready to help, in addition to exercises set to specific injuries. And it’s important, Earnhardt agrees, that drivers know it’s OK to come out and say they are hurt and need the help.

“That’s the smartest thing to do and especially when you’re dealing with your head,” Earnhardt said. “Trying to kind of soldier through it on your own is an easy choice to try to make but a lot of times you can get yourself in trouble if you happen to have another incident shortly after that. When you start to layer concussions and get two or three back-to-back is when you really get into the danger zone.”

Ellis had the chance to speak with Earnhardt last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway during an event for Earnhardt’s foundation. They discussed their symptoms and experiences.

“We had the same feelings of fogginess and stuff like that after the initial hit,” Ellis said. “He did help quite a bit. It’s really cool to have the leader of our sport there to kind of lean on.”

The most important thing Earnhardt told Ellis was to listen to his doctor.

“You can’t have any doubt in your mind about what you’re doing as far as whether it’s going to work or whether it’s not going to work,” Earnhardt said he told Ellis. “You’re going to get people coming from all over the place out of all kinds of corners saying, ‘Hey, this is what you need to do. Hey, this is what you need to do. You know, my buddy had that. I bet you have inner ear infection or your rocks are loose’ or what the hell ever.

“Everybody thinks that they know what is wrong with you and what to do. You just need to listen to one person, and that’s your doctor, and you gotta be completely transparent when you go to your doctor and you’re hurt.”

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Hooters joins Chase Elliott sponsorship program for 2017-18

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Chase Elliott has added a new high-profile sponsor for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday that the Hooters restaurant chain will serve as primary sponsor for two races in each of those seasons, as well as serve as a associate sponsor for all of the other races in both seasons on Elliott’s No. 24 Chevrolet SS in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Elliott’s two races with Hooters primary sponsorship this season will be May 7 at Talladega and Nov. 12 at Phoenix.

Hooters has had a long sponsorship history in NASCAR, with its colors gracing cars for over 150 Cup-level races over the years. Most prominent was the 1992 season when it served as primary sponsor on Alan Kulwicki’s championship-winning Ford.

Ironically, Kulwicki beat Elliott’s father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, by 10 points to win that season’s championship.

“Twenty-five years after being part of one of the most memorable seasons in NASCAR history, Hooters is excited to support another amazing talent in Chase Elliott and the No. 24 team,” Hooters chief marketing officer Carl Sweat sweat said in a media release.

Elliott earned Cup Series rookie of the year honors in 2016, with 10 top-five finishes, 17 top-10s and two pole positions.

“Hooters has a historic place in this sport, and I’m glad they’re back,” Chase Elliott said. “Our entire team is looking forward to making the program a success.”

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Lady Antebellum to highlight Daytona 500 pre-race show

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Seven-time Grammy Award winners Lady Antebellum will highlight the Feb. 26 pre-race show for this year’s Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway officials announced Monday.

The multi-platinum CD-selling country trio will take the stage not only prior to the 2017 season-opening and 59th edition of the Great American Race, but also the first race under Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entitlement sponsorship.

Lady Antebellum – made up of Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood – will be on hand to promote its sixth album, Heart Break, which is due for release on June 9, with the first single being “You Look Good,” which will be the cornerstone to kick off a six-country “You Look Good World Tour.”

Lady Antebellum is no stranger to DIS: they performed a pre-race concert prior to the 2008 Coke Zero 400 and also played at last year’s inaugural Country 500 Music Festival.

“’The Great American Race’ will have one of today’s great American country music acts front-and-center for our fans to enjoy,” DIS President Chip Wile said in a statement. “Lady Antebellum continues a long-standing DIS tradition of attracting major stars from the world of entertainment to the ’World Center of Racing’ and the Daytona 500.”

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Brad Keselowski Racing announces crew chief assignments

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Brad Keselowski Racing has announced the crew chiefs that will be paired with both of its full-time rookie drivers this season in the Camping World Truck Series.

Austin Cindric, driving the No. 19 Draw-Tite Ford, will work with Doug Randolph. Randolph has been a crew chief for BKR since 2012 and has six wins, including three with Tyler Reddick in the last two seasons. Randolph also has four Xfinity Series wins.

Mike Hillman Jr. will be the crew chief for Chase Briscoe in the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford. Hillman is a two-time Truck series champion as crew chief for Todd Bodine (2006, 2010). He has 20 Truck Series wins, the last coming in 2013 with Jeb Burton.

“Austin Cindric has already had success in various forms of racing, and has shown a lot of potential in our Ford F-150 race trucks,” said Keselowski in a press release. “I certainly believe that Chase is ready to take the next step in his career, and we’re excited to have him join the BKR family. He won the ARCA championship in his first full-time season, and he’s proven to have the ability to learn quickly and win races. We’re pleased to give both Austin and Chase the opportunity to compete full-time at a high level in NASCAR.”

Briscoe, 22, enters his rookie season after winning the ARCA Racing Series title behind six race wins.

“It’s an absolutely huge opportunity and such an honor to drive for Brad,” said Briscoe in a press release. “The competition level in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is so high, but I’m going to be in the best equipment out there. It’s really cool to once again be working with the Keselowski family. When I moved to North Carolina three years ago, I was helping Brian and Bob in their shop, so things have come full circle. I’m truly blessed with this opportunity, and I hope to make the most of it. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning races and championships, and that’s what I plan to do.”

Cindric, 18, is the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric. He has six starts with BKR over the last two seasons. His best result is 15th last November at Phoenix International Raceway.

“This is a massive opportunity from Brad and everyone at BKR who trusts me and believes in my abilities as a driver to move on to the next level for a full season,” said Cindric in a press release. “2017 gets more and more exciting for me with every day that goes by. I’ve only done a handful of one-off races in my brief stock car career, so I’m really looking forward to having the same guys by my side week in and week out. I’ve spent a lot of time at the shop the last few weeks and I know everyone is really excited to get back racing.”

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 24 at Daytona International Speedway.

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Kurt, Kyle Busch come up short in Nations Cup finale at Race of Champions

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 04:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch hugs brother Kurt Busch during the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards show at Wynn Las Vegas on December 4, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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After early exits in the first day of the Race of Champion exhibition Saturday in Miami, Kyle and Kurt Busch returned on Sunday in hopes of winning the Nations Cup for the United States of America, but were swept in the finale by Germany’s Sebastian Vettel.

The brothers, representing Team USA NASCAR, were in Group A with USA IndyCar, USA Rally and ROC Factor Canada.

Kurt Busch’s struggles from Saturday continued in his first race against IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe. The Canadian driver beat Kurt Busch by .002 of a second. The NASCAR representative would bounce back in his next race, beating action sports star and former NASCAR driver Travis Pastrana.

In Kyle Busch‘s first race of the day, he faced and beat karting champion Stefan Rzadzinski of Canada. He followed it up by beating Scott Speed.

After six races, Team USA NASCAR and IndyCar had four wins each and faced each other in the semifinal round. But the Busch brothers prevailed over Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi from USA IndyCar to advance to the Nations Cup final against Vettel, who represented Germany by himself.

But Vettel swept the race, betting Kurt then Kyle Busch to claim the Nations Cup. Vettel swept all of his races, finishing Sunday with seven wins.

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