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Documentary series features Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s life behind the scenes in NASCAR return

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CHARLOTTE – NASCAR’s 14-time most popular driver naturally is a top performer in social engagement for his primary sponsor.

But across the million-plus followers that Nationwide Insurance has for its NASCAR-related accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, racing-related posts featuring Dale Earnhardt Jr. aren’t necessarily what draw the largest reactions.

“Some of our best-performing content is Dale and his dog, Gus,” Jim McCoy, Nationwide’s director of strategic sponsorships, told NBC Sports. “It’s things you wouldn’t expect that (fans) just really respond to well.”

With those returns in mind (because Nationwide offers pet insurance, the photos of Gus, Dale and wife Amy for Pet Awareness Month were viewed as valuable), Nationwide has created a new docuseries entitled “Unfinished Business” that will run on the Nationwide 88 Facebook page and make its debut Jan. 24.

McCoy said “Unfinished Business” will focus on the off-track, behind-the-scenes elements of Earnhardt’s life, and Nationwide is expecting Junior Nation to have a voracious appetite after the driver missed the last half of the 2016 season while recovering from concussion symptoms.

The footage will include commercials shoots with Earnhardt and interviews with team owner Rick Hendrick (who will talk teamwork) and crew chief Greg Ives.

“We’re titling it ‘Unfinished Business’ given what’s happened the last six months and Dale out of the car and the quest to be back in the car for Daytona,” McCoy said. “Not only what he’s doing but what (the team is) doing to prepare. We really want to capitalize on the tidal wave of excitement of him getting back in the car.

“We’re doing more in this offseason than we probably typically have because we know the level of the fans’ excitement for him to get back in the car is a level that none of us have ever seen. So we want to make sure we have the content ready, because what we’ve seen at those peak moments when Dale wins a race or Daytona, that’s when the fans are just give me everything you can on Dale.”

Here’s a trailer for the series released Thursday by Nationwide:

The plan is for one or two episodes weekly during the run-up to the season opener on Feb. 26.

“Fans love to see other sides of Dale, and it aligns well with our campaign of trying to show he’s obviously a race car driver, but there’s a lot of things he does and has a passion for,” McCoy said.

While out of the car, it’s still been a busy stretch for Earnhardt, who got married last month and has remained visible making media and sponsor appearances while recovering from his injuries.

Said McCoy: “Dale did everything out of the car that we would expect him to do. Even during the tougher times, he always wanted to make sure he was delivering for his sponsor. First and foremost, it’s about his health and making sure he’s healthy enough to get back in the car. We weren’t there pushing. It was all his timeline but just to keep that communication back and forth.”

There was a “softening” in some of the media impressions measured by Nationwide during Earnhardt’s absence.

“There were some promotions early that were going to launch in the July/August timeframe that we hit the pause button on,” McCoy said. “We’re pretty dialed in with what each quarter (of 2017) is going to look like, and Dale is front and center in all that we’re doing.

NASCAR America: Dale Jr.’s aggressiveness at Sonoma pays off, will need it at Daytona

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Dale Earnhardt was very aggressive in his final Cup start at Sonoma Raceway, and while it may have resulted in his Lap 14 accident in Turn 11, it also helped produce his third top 10 of the year and his second in a row.

“I think being offensive is better than being passive on a road course, nothing wrong with that,” said NASCAR America analyst Max Papis, who also broke down what caused Earnhardt’s bizarre spin early in Sunday’s race that also involved Danica Patrick and Kyle Larson.

“You’ve got to commit, usually the pass has happened before you actually arrive at the corner,” Papis said. “He thought that was a good opportunity, (then) committed. ”

NASCAR America’s analysts also discussed Earnhardt’s upcoming start at Daytona, which likely will be his final Cup start there. The track may be his best shot to earn a win and a spot in the playoffs.

The analysts believe the aggressiveness that was on display at Sonoma will be necessary for Earnhardt to pull a win out at Daytona.

Earnhardt’s year got off to a rough start in the Daytona 500. He was leading the race when Kyle Busch lost a tire in Turn 3 on Lap 105, spun and collected Earnhardt, Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones.

Earnhardt was near the front at Talladega in May late in the race when he was forced to pit for a loose tire with less than 15 laps to go.

That leaves the 14-time most popular driver with just two more chances to win a restrictor-plate race, the format he’s earned 10 of his 26 Cup Series wins.

“They’ve got to find a way to give him a car where he can be aggressive Dale Jr.,” Jeff Burton said. “What makes him so good at Daytona and Talladega is that he doesn’t hesitate. He’s the guy setting the tempo, he’s the guy forcing the issue. … He can’t drive with caution, he can’t drive worried about if ‘is my car going to stick?’ He’s got to stick it in there and know it’s going to stick. He hasn’t had that the last several plate races.”

Watch the above video for the full discussion.

NASCAR’s preliminary entry lists for Daytona

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NASCAR returns to Daytona International Speedway this weekend with the Cup and Xfinity Series.

Cup teams will compete in the Coke Zero 400, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBC and the Xfinity Series holds the Coca-Colca Firecracker 250, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday on NBCSN.

Here are the entry lists for both races.

Cup – Coke Zero 400

Forty cars are entered into the 17th race of the Cup season. That would make it the sixth race this year to have the most possible cars in the field.

Darrell Wallace Jr. will be back in the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. Brendan Gaughan will drive the No. 75 Chevrolet for Beard Motorsports.

Ryan Sieg will drive the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing in his third start for the team.

Kurt Busch won the last trip to Daytona, leading only the last lap of the Daytona 500 after multiple leaders ran out of gas in the closing laps. Brad Keselowski won last year’s Coke Zero 400.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Coca-Cola Firecracker 250

There are 43 cars on the preliminary entry list for this race, including four full-time Cup drivers. They are Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Joey Logano.

There is no driver announced for the No. 93 Chevrolet owned by RSS racing.

Ryan Reed won the February Xfinity race at Daytona after being involved in two crashes and leading nine laps. Aric Almirola won last year’s July race after a caution on the last lap forced NASCAR to review video and loop data and determined him the winner over Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch can afford to lose interim crew chief for Daytona

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Kyle Busch may have yet another view in his ear this weekend when he races in the Coke Zero 400.

Interim crew chief Ben Beshore may be suspended for the race after two unsecured lug nuts were found on the No. 18 Toyota after the Sonoma race.

The possible loss of Beshore comes after Busch’s usual crew chief, Adam Stevens, was suspended four races for a wheel falling off Busch’s car following a pit stop at Dover.

Daytona will be the fourth race of that suspension. NASCAR America’s analysts discussed the impact of the possible suspension for Busch, who is still looking for his first win since July of last year.

“They’re not making mistakes, they’re just finding themselves in difficult positions,” Dale Jarrett said. “This is certainly another one of those, going to a race track Kyle Busch can win at. But who you have on that pit box means a lot as for performing all through a race.”

Said Jeff Burton, “The frustration level is mounting, obviously. Kyle Busch is expecting to win races. … I think if you’re going to lose your crew chief, this is probably the race you want to lose it for. Going to Daytona, you pretty much have a plan going there. The pit strategy will be interesting with the stages, but if I was going to a race track, this would be the race I’d feel most comfortable without my crew chief.”

Watch the above video for the full segment.

Eddie Pardue named crew chief for Jeffrey Earnhardt’s No. 33 car

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The Circle Sport/The Motorsports Group announced that Eddie Pardue is the new crew chief on its No. 33 Chevrolet effective immediately.

Pardue, who was the team’s head of engineering, will lead the effort on Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s car this weekend in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. This will be his first Cup race as a crew chief since 2008, when he led Greg Biffle in one race at Auto Club Speedway. He has three wins in 338 races as crew chief in the Xfinity Series dating back to 1998.

The former competition director for Red Horse Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, Pardue replaces Pay Tryson, who has been released from the team.

Tryson directed Boris Said at Sonoma Raceway, where he finished 29th. Earnhardt has been in the No. 33 in every other race. His best result in his first 15 starts was 26th in the Daytona 500.

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