Dale Earnhardt Jr. offers frank assessment on recent issues, NASCAR’s reaction and potential impact

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. questions what type of message NASCAR could be sending if it doesn’t further penalize Austin Dillon a week after not punishing Kyle Busch for swinging at Joey Logano.

Earnhardt made his comments Tuesday on his podcast, the Dale Jr. Download.

Earnhardt spent about 10 minutes on the topic, which branched out to how he would punish Dillon and NASCAR’s fluid enforcement of such issues through the years.

NASCAR parked Dillon after he pinned Cole Custer’s car against the wall in last weekend’s Xfinity race at Phoenix Raceway. Dillon retaliated for contact by Custer that wrecked Dillon. Custer apologized on the radio afterward and on social media. NASCAR is expected to reveal Wednesday if there will be any other penalties with the incident.

“This isn’t nothing against Austin or Kyle for that matter,’’ Earnhardt said on his podcast. “The only thing that I worry about really isn’t what the fans think about the penalties or to penalize or not to penalize, (or) whether the sponsors have a problem with their car getting penalized or not penalized, what I worry about is what do you want to happen in the future? Like next week, six months from now, a year from now.

“How do you want the next guy, the next driver that is in this situation, that is in Austin’s position, how do you want that driver to react? Do you want him to think that it’s OK to smash into this car?’’

A point that Earnhardt made in his podcast is that Custer is competing for the Xfinity points title, while Dillon is not.

VIDEO: When will Dale Jr. break his winless streak?

“Austin is a Cup regular in a series that is a privilege for the Cup regulars to run in,’’ Earnhardt said. “They’re limiting the opportunity for the Cup regulars in that series. It’s a privilege to be in that series, and I have an opportunity to run in it, so running into one of the regulars, I know you’re mad, should have probably punched him. Just don’t run into him.

“If punching is OK, obviously going and punching or karate chopping or karate kicking or roundhouse kicking somebody on pit road is fair game, but smashing into their car on the race track in between the flags has never been good.’’

Earnhardt’s comment was in reference to Busch’s actions after the Las Vegas Cup race earlier this month. After contact from Logano caused Busch to spin and go from a likely top-five result to a 22nd-place finish, Busch walked up pit road to Logano and swung at the driver.

Earnhardt also worries that if series officials allow drivers to be more confrontational, how that might impact younger drivers racing elsewhere with dreams of competing in NASCAR.

“These kids that drive these (Late Model) cars are usually as young as 13 years old, right?’’ Earnhardt said on his podcast. “Incredibly impressionable. If they’re seeing this on TV on Saturday and Sunday, they’re going to take that into their mind thinking that is how you do it, that’s OK, that’s acceptable. We don’t want these kids growing up with that mindset that, yeah man, I’m going to smash into this guy because I felt he wronged me.’’

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Earnhardt also said he would have a unique penalty for Dillon.

“You don’t have to go overboard on fines,’’ Earnhardt said. “Parking Austin wasn’t the thing to do. I would have probably fined him $5,000 and made him go do an appearance for an Xfinity race. Make him think about it during his out-of-market appearance promoting another Xfinity race, maybe next time he won’t do this. Plus, you get some free marketing out of it. You got a driver on the clock promoting the next race for free. It’s good for everybody.’’

If nothing else, Earnhardt said some sort of penalty would be good.

“Even if it is a slap on the wrist, at least it is sending a message that we really don’t want this to happen,’’ Earnhardt said. “I talked to NASCAR a little bit about this. Their position is that they don’t want a bunch of buddies out there racing around. They don’t want everybody all friendly and letting each other go and slapping each other on the back and all that stuff to the finish line. They want personalities. They want drama, but I think the drama belongs in between the flags.’’

But how NASCAR oversees the drivers has changed through the years, he admits.

“It seems like the sport goes through this ebb and flow of we’re going to let them have at it and let them do whatever they want, and then they flow into a couple of years of we’re going to penalize everything, we’re going to have a six-tier penalty system … and then it flows back to there’s too many penalties, we’re just going to let them do whatever they want to do.

“We keep cycling in and out of that, and we can’t really find some sort of happy, consistent medium. I don’t know. I’m disappointed when I see what happened with Kyle and Joey, and if Austin and all those guys, if some sort of repercussion isn’t delivered. It’s just disappointing.’’

Go here to listen Earnhardt’s podcast, which covers several other topics.

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Yes, there is NASCAR racing Sunday: Xfinity entry list for Road America

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Who says there’s no NASCAR racing this weekend?

Sure, the NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series will enjoy the weekend off, but not the Xfinity Series.

Drivers in that series will be competing Sunday at what has become one of the most challenging and popular road courses on the Xfinity schedule: the twisting 4.048-mile road course at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

A total of 42 cars are listed on the preliminary entry list released Monday.

Only 40 cars will qualify to race in Sunday’s Johnsonville 180 (3 p.m. ET on NBC). This will be the third road course the series has raced on in the last four races.

One driver position and one crew chief position remain to be filled.

  • Team JD Motorsports has not named a driver for the No. 15 Chevrolet.
  • And the No. 172 Chevrolet, driven by John Jackson and owned by James Carter, has yet to name a crew chief for the race.

This will be the eighth Xfinity race at Road America since the series first visited there in 2010.

The winners since then have been Carl Edwards (2010), Reed Sorenson (2011), Nelson Piquet Jr. (2012), A.J. Allmendinger (2013), Brendan Gaughan (2014), Paul Menard (2015) and Michael McDowell last year.

Click here for the preliminary entry list for Sunday’s Xfinity race at Road America.

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NASCAR America: Erik Jones ‘has to be put on the radar for Darlington, Richmond’ (video)

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Like a stealthy cat sneaking up on a mouse, Erik Jones has been riding under the radar the last four races.

Few may realize that he’s had a pair of top-10s (8th at Pocono; 10th at Watkins Glen) and back-to-back career bests in his last two starts (tied his previous career best with a 3rd-place finish at Michigan, and then was runner-up Saturday at Bristol).

“It’s just been a consistent upward trend from the start of the year,” Steve Letarte said on Monday’s NASCAR America.

Not only did Jones finish second to winner Kyle Busch at Bristol, he also started from the pole and led 260 of the 500 scheduled laps (while Busch led 156).

“I thought he did such a good job,” Jeff Burton also said on Monday’s episode of NA. “He didn’t lose the race because of a mistake, they just got out-run by someone who’s real, real good at Bristol.”

With Darlington and Richmond still ahead to make — or miss — the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Letarte said Jones can readily win either of those races.

“We’re forced to put him on our radar for Darlington,” Letarte said. “Maybe, maybe not, it’s a tough race track. We’ll see, first time there in a Cup car.

“But Richmond, this is a short track racer going to a short track. I don’t know if Erik Jones can be ruled out at any of the upcoming two tracks.”

If the young Michigan native, who is also the leading candidate for NASCAR Cup rookie of the year, does win at either Darlington or Richmond, he could ultimately have a profound impact on the playoffs.

A win at either track would serve to potentially eliminate the likes of Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and maybe even Chase Elliott, who are all above the cutoff line to make the playoffs.

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Long: Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is what NASCAR needs

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For as much as Kyle Busch’s sweep of the Truck, Xfinity and Cup races at Bristol Motor Speedway turned some fans off, it was what NASCAR needed.

Even better, Busch understood.

After he won Saturday night’s Cup race, Busch goaded booing fans by putting his fingers to his ears, prompting more catcalls.

He walked to the back of his car and raised three fingers — for his three wins last week — as the boos (and cheers) grew louder.

And he smiled, a winner’s grin but also one of somebody who proved the doubters wrong. Again.

Part superstar, part showman.

The good guy to his fans, Busch also can be cast as the villain to the rest of the fanbase. He’s accepted that role, embraced it and learned how to egg on the haters in the stands and the trolls on social media. 

Sports is about us against them. While fans have their favorite drivers and teams, there remains the need to root against someone or some team. Without that distinction, sports would be as anticlimactic as a youth game — pick the sport: baseball, football, basketball, etc. — where no score is kept. That’s called recess.

Without Kyle Busch, who would make sane people insane and cause alcohol-fueled fans to do things they tell their children never to do? The new drivers haven’t been around long enough to anger the fan base. Maybe Kurt Busch could fill the role because anyone with the name Busch is more inclined to be booed. There are other drivers who have their detractors but not as much as Kyle Busch based on the visceral reaction he gets at many tracks.

“The best of the best that have won here have been booed … for a long, long time,’’ Busch said after his second Cup win of the season. “So I’m fine with that.’’

Busch follows a history of drivers that fans loathed (and some loved). Before Busch, it was Tony Stewart. He inherited the mantle after Dale Earnhardt, who took it from Darrell Waltrip and so on.

Earnhardt made the image of a villain into a cottage industry. For every boo and middle finger he received, he just smirked and kept on winning, infuriating his haters and thrilling his fans.

When Earnhardt was introduced before races, many fans didn’t sit. They stood to cheer or show how much they despised the seven-time champion.

Rarely was the anger as intense as the 1999 Bristol night race when Earnhardt spun Terry Labonte out of the lead on the final lap. Earnhardt said he “meant to rattle his cage.’’ Didn’t matter. Boos cascaded down the packed stands. Several minutes later, the track replayed the radio broadcast of the final laps on the P.A. system and when it came to the moment Earnhardt turned Labonte, a heavy chorus of boos reverberated throughout the stands from fans not yet ready to leave.

At 32 years old, Busch can grow more into such a role for years to come. And win more than his one championship.

Having not yet reached his prime, Busch is likely to keep winning — Saturday was his 40th Cup victory to tie Mark Martin for 17th on the all-time wins list. At his current rate, Busch will climb into the top 10 wins list before he retires. Busch can further irritate fans by also winning Truck and Xfinity races.

Us against them.

Yes, Busch will make fans cheer and boo for years to come.

“I’m sure they’re still booing, whining and crying all the way home tonight,’’ Busch said well after his win Saturday night. “They’re driving home mad, so people be careful.

“But, you know, my people get to go home safe and secure and slow and steady and patient because they get to celebrate.’’

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NASCAR America live 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Kyle Busch sweep recap, Erik Jones

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Today’s edition of NASCAR America airs from 6 to 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Kelli Stavast joins Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte from NBC Charlotte.

On today’s show:

  • For just the second time in NASCAR history, a driver was able to win in all three national series in a single race weekend. In both occurrences, the feat was performed by the same driver, Kyle Busch, and at the same venue, Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch collected his first sweep in 2010, and came back to do it again this past weekend at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile. We’ll hear from Kyle after his victory on Saturday and examine how this affects the current playoff picture.
  • Erik Jones did everything in Saturday’s Bristol Night Race but win. It was a great weekend for the rookie NASCAR Cup driver from Furniture Row Racing. The leading contender for Cup rookie of the year earned his first pole, led a race-high 260 laps, but finished second to Kyle Busch. How soon will it be before Jones gets to victory lane? Our panel discusses that.
  • Eclipse fever has spread to NASCAR. We’ll take a look at how drivers and tracks appreciated this natural phenomenon today.
  • We interview Kyle Larson at today’s announcement of a new sponsor at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.