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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 67: Darrell Waltrip

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A Drivers Council. A traveling safety team. A charter system to ensure valuation for teams in its premier series.

When Darrell Waltrip, who won championships in 1981, ’82 and ’85, looks around at how NASCAR rapidly has evolved in the 21st century, there is a familiarity to its appearance.

“All the things that are happening today are things that have progressed over the years, they’re things we complained about over the years,” the Fox Sports analyst said during the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “Things that we asked for and now they’re finally coming to fruition.”

Waltrip also can relate to the 2017 comeback of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has returned after missing the second half of last season with concussion symptoms.

While practicing for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July 1990, Waltrip suffered a broken arm, leg and concussion in a crash. He missed six races and was out of the car for most of two months before returning with a third at Richmond International Raceway.

Waltrip said his rehabilitation was “more for me than it was for anybody. I wanted to prove to myself that my career wasn’t over, and I could come back and better than I ever had been. And I was. I was in the best shape I’d been in.

“I couldn’t believe the desire I had to get back in the car and race again,” he said. “I missed it so much. I missed the track and missed the people but more than anything else, winning was more important than getting hurt.

“I think that’s where Dale Jr. is. You can’t race and be careful. You’ve got to let it all hang out. If you go in thinking, ‘I’m not going to wreck,’ you’ll get in a wreck.”

Echoing recent comments by Richard Petty, Waltrip said his opinions about Earnhardt Jr.’s recovery were shaped from knowing the 42-year-old virtually since birth.

“He grew up in the sport, and I still call him ‘Junebug,’ ” Waltrip said. “I still see him as a little kid. I watched him grow up and know what a quality guy and great kid he is. He wants to get back in the car, and he’d like to win a championship.

“He’s not going to win seven, but I think if he won, he would think his career would complete. Not that it isn’t complete (now), but I think it would mean a lot to him.”

During the podcast, Waltrip also addressed:

–His offseason left knee replacement (and the 1990 crash at Daytona that started the problems necessitating the first of several surgeries involving his left leg);

–The impact of stage racing on the 2017 season;

–How it felt to wait three years to become a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

Atlanta Motor Speedway to delay repave at least a year

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The cries of drivers have been heard. Atlanta Motor Speedway will not repave its track as previously scheduled. Instead, track officials will evaluate the surface following the 2018 race there.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the track, had planned to have the track surface repaved beginning in late March. It would have been the first repave there since 1997.

Engineers examined the track after the March 5 race to determine if the track surface could last another year with modest repairs. Track officials also consulted with Goodyear and others.

“There’s no question that the surface is worn out, but probably the most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C., was the biggest influence,” Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, told NBC Sports of the drivers. “They kind of put the pressure on. I understand.”

After winning there, Brad Keselowski made his pitch not to repave the track.

“Drivers hate repaves,” he said. “We want to see the surfaces last as long as they can.  But the reality is nothing lasts forever, and this surface has made it a really, really long time, 20 years, I think, this season, and they should be really proud of that.

“My hope is they can get another year or two out of it, and I understand if they can’t, and you have to kind of leave it to their expertise and so forth.”

Clark said that work will need to be done to the track before next year’s race.

“The worst part is down the frontstretch in front of the grandstands,” Clark told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot of issues there. We’re actually going to have to cut a few areas and patch … to make it last through 2018. We consulted with Goodyear on that. They don’t think, as long as it is on the straightaway, it is a big issue from a tire standpoint.”

Clark said that the track surface will be sealed in October and should have the patching done before then.

“Let them go ahead and slip and slide one more time in 2018,” Clark said.

Clark said that while anything can change, he doesn’t foresee being talked out of a repave job too many more times.

“You have to see how the weekend goes and what happens,” Clark told NBC Sports. “We had to patch some places after the Saturday events this year, small places. Hey, if we could go two more, great. All you’ve got to do is walk out there and look at it. It is absolutely worn out. But if the drivers say, hey our choice is to race on this surface as it is.

“There comes a point (when a repave is needed). We do have a few drainage issues we do need to correct, some other things when the time comes. Right now, we’re going to get through 2018 and evaluate and see if that is the time or when is it.”

Clark said that when the track is repaved, Goodyear has expressed interest in having two test sessions to determine the proper tire for that 1.5-mile track instead of the customary one because of the track’s challenging surface.

Clark warns that with the excitement of Tuesday’s news, the day is still coming when the track will have to be repaved.

“I can’t see this going two more seasons, maybe only one,” Clark said.

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NASCAR America — My Home Track: 50 States In 50 Shows — Arkansas

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we continued our series of My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows as our trucks rolled into Arkansas!

We visited two short tracks in the state that produced President Bill Clinton and Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen.

Plus we talked to NASCAR Hall of Famer and Arkansas native Mark Martin about racing in his home state.

NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.