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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.

Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s to sponsor RCR in Cup, Xfinity in 2018

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Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s will sponsor Richard Childress Racing in multiple races in the Cup and Xfinity Series next year, the team announced Monday.

Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s merged in September 2017.

The outdoors brands will be on Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet during the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 and in several other races during the season.

Richard Childress Racing

They will also be a primary sponsor for Austin and Ty Dillon on the No. 3 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series for several races.

“Our relationship with Bass Pro Shops dates back to the mid-1990s and we’re thrilled to be able to continue it during the 2018 season,” team owner Richard Childress said in a press release. “Austin, Ty and Ryan are terrific ambassadors for the great outdoors. They are all passionate about our hunting, fishing and conservation heritage which has made this partnership thrive.

“Next season will be exciting as we welcome Cabela’s, the iconic outdoor brand acquired by Bass Pro Shops, to the RCR family.”

Bass Pro Shops, founded in 1972 by Johnny Morris, is also a primary sponsor of Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota owned by Furniture Row Racing.

The store chain will be on the hood of the No. 78 in 16 races and on the sides of it in 14 others.

Here’s the eligible drivers for the 2018 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona

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NASCAR has officially announced the 20 drivers who are eligible to take part in the Cup Series’ season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.

The 75-lap exhibition event is set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 11, the same day as qualifying for the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

The race will be divided into two segments. A competition caution on Lap 25 will divide them.

Drivers become eligible for the Clash by winning a pole the previous season, being a Daytona 500 pole-winner who competed full-time the previous season or being a playoff driver the previous season.

Here are the eligible drivers.

2017 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (14)

Former Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Award Winners (3)

2017 Playoff Drivers (3)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are not expected to compete in the race. Earnhardt retired from Cup competition following the 2017 season and Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for the 2018 season.

Danica Patrick, the 2013 Daytona 500 pole-sitter, announced last month she was done as a full-time driver but that she planned to race in the Daytona 500. No definitive team plans have been announced for her.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram injury update: still in ICU, but continues to show progress

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram continues to show improvement from the serious injuries he suffered in a December 3 car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina.

In an update Sunday written on CaringBridge.org, Ingram’s daughter, Ingrid Jones, said her father remains in the Intensive Care Unit at Asheville’s Mission Hospital.

According to Jones:

“Daddy continues to hold his own, making healing steps forward and then a step back, which we fully expected-but he’s surprising us each and every day with his strength and courage to overcome this. Overall, he’s doing amazingly well.”

Ingram’s family had hoped he could have moved out of ICU and into the Trauma Unit as the next phase of his recovery, but he remains in intensive care.

Said Jones:

“For now, he’ll remain in ICU until he can go a full 24 hours without ventilator assisted breathing. We’re almost there … but may still be a few days.”

Ingram, who turns 81 on Dec. 28, was able to sit in a chair and watched part of Sunday’s NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings with his family. Jones wrote that Ingram also was surprised to learn that the mountain near the family’s Asheville-area home received a total of 16 inches of snow Friday and Saturday.

Jones added, “We continue to be optimistic for his health, and we also continue to appreciate the prayers and encouraging thoughts.”

K&N Pro Series West 2018 schedule includes Las Vegas dirt race

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The 2018 K&N Pro Series West schedule includes the series’ first dirt race in 39 years.

NASCAR announced the 15-race schedule Monday, revealing the series will race on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track on Sept. 13.

The race will kick off NASCAR’s playoff-opening weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for all three of its national series.

It will be the series’ first dirt race since 1979 at Ascot Park in Gardena, California. The K&N West series joins the Camping World Truck Series in holding one dirt race a year. The Trucks race at Eldora Speedway in July.

The K&N West season will open March 15 at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, Calif.

The schedule includes two joint-races with the K&N Pro Series East series. They will be held on July 27 at Iowa Speedway and on Aug. 24 at Illinois’ Gateway Motorsports Park.

NBCSN’s broadcast schedule for the season will be announced at a later date.

Below is the full schedule.

Date Track Location
15-Mar Kern County Raceway Park Bakersfield, Calif.
5-May Tucson Speedway* Tucson, Ariz.
19-May Orange Show Speedway San Bernardino, Calif.
9-Jun Colorado National Speedway Dacona, Colo.
23-Jun Sonoma Raceway Sonoma, Calif.
30-Jun Douglas County Speedway Roseburg, Ore.
15-Jul Spokane County Raceway Airway Heights, Wash.
27-Jul Iowa Speedway** Newtown, Iowa
11-Aug Evergreen Speedway Monroe, Wash.
24-Aug Gateway Motorsports Park** Madison, Ill.
13-Sep Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track Las Vegas, Nev.
29-Sep Meridian Speedway Meridian, Idaho
13-Oct All American Speedway Roseville, Calif.
27-Oct Kern County Raceway Park Bakersfield, Calif.

*100-lap twin features
**Combination event with NASCAR K&N Pro Series East