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Dale Earnhardt Jr. not sure how to encourage young drivers to come out of shells

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For a long time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had three driving forces in his life.

Doritos, Mountain Dew and driving race cars.

“I just thought ‘I like racing. I want to drive. I don’t want to do nothing else. I want to go lay on the couch,'” Earnhardt said Friday at Kansas Speedway.

That was the mantra of a young man without too many responsibilities, who kept to himself and put highlights in his hair.

Now an older and much more outgoing Earnhardt – minus the highlights – is the face of NASCAR. At 42 and with 26 races left in his Cup career, he’s a constant presence on Twitter and has his own podcast network.

With the end of his full-time racing career in sight, the 14-time most popular driver was asked about his early days in relation to the personalities of the young drivers coming into the series.

“When I first started racing I didn’t want to do anything but drive,” Earnhardt said. “I hated doing appearances and photo shoots and all that. I just thought that was just so boring. I didn’t really understand how important they were or how critical they were or the marketing and the happiness of the partner. A lot of different things play in the role of maturing you.”

For Earnhardt, one ingredient was becoming owner of JR Motorsports and its Xfinity Series operation made up of four full-time cars.

“Owning Xfinity teams taught me a ton about what partners want and think and what they like and don’t like and what they need from the driver and from the owners,” Earnhardt said. “It certainly shaped my opinion and changed it on how I approach those things. I don’t think I was impossible, but there were days when I was hard to work with and hard to deal with.

“And, I didn’t want that reputation when I finished driving. I want people to say that I was fun to be with and fun to work with and that I came in with a great attitude and did a good job, whether a photo shoot or a commercial shoot or a meet & greet, or whatever. And, I didn’t care about that when I was younger. I didn’t think about those things. I just thought I like racing. I want to drive. I don’t want to do nothing else. I want to go lay on the couch and eat Doritos and drink Mountain Dew and drive race cars.”

Then in 2008, Earnhardt left the nest at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and joined Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt credits his relationships with Jimmie Johnson, owner Rick Hendrick and sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller with beginning his growth into the person capable of giving a five-minute answer to almost any question.

“It just took me a long time to figure all that out,” Earnhardt said. “I just think being around Jimmie and Rick and my sister and people that have told me certain things time and time again, it starts to click and you realize the right way to be and to treat people and do things. I’m still not perfect. I’ve still got a lot of things I can do better.”

But it is 2017. As much as he may be entrenched with the NASCAR community and sponsors now, Earnhardt admits he’s not sure what to do to encourage millennial drivers to be themselves in the public eye.

“I don’t know how you get a guy, a young gun, to come out of his shell,” Earnhardt said. “There’s some guys that just don’t, or don’t want to.”

Earnhardt, who dragged his legs until he finally joined Twitter in 2014, can’t even convince Johnson to do his own podcast. Earnhardt credits Johnson with slowly chipping away at his resistance to Twitter.

“Jimmie has his limitations to what he wants to do,” Earnhardt said. “A lot of you know him well. And, the perception that we have of Jimmie as a person versus what a lot of people know is different. And that’s up to him. And, he wants it that way. I talk to him and say ‘Man, you ought to do a podcast.’ ‘Nah, I don’t want to do that. I just don’t want to do it.’ He’s like, ‘I have no interest.’ What he’s got going on as far as how much he exposes himself, that’s where he wants it. He doesn’t want to be more than he is to everyone. So, it really comes down to the driver just having that eagerness.”

Of all the drivers under 30, Earnhardt points to Ryan Blaney as being the ideal driver when it comes to be willing to do any and all things to grow his exposure. Blaney debuted his own podcast earlier this year.

“Blaney is incredibly eager,” Earnhardt said. “He loves going and doing new things. He’ll do any TV show, or whatever. The other guys are not quite that interested in it. They’re more focused on the car and driving and have worked so hard to get to this point and you know, ‘I don’t want to do all that other stuff, it doesn’t matter.’ But it matters, especially now. It’s changed tremendously as far as what sponsors will ask of you. The agreements to our sponsorships have changed incredibly as far as what our responsibilities are and what they need. And obviously, I say it all the time. Social media is a big draw. People want people who are active on social media. It’s changed a lot and you’ve got to change with it.”

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NASCAR America: Chase Elliott ‘biggest surprise’ of Cup playoffs

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Only two drivers are safely in the third round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs. Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski secured spots through their wins at Charlotte and Talladega.

That leaves six spots to be decided Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

NASCAR America analysts Parker Kligerman and Kyle Petty broke down the drivers competing for spots. Both of them agreed that Chase Elliott, who has finished in second in three of the five playoff races, has a great chance to make it all the way to the championship race in Miami.

“If Talladega had played out, he was either going to be in victory lane or in the top two or three,” Petty said. “When you look at that, he has had the most solid playoffs of any driver out there. We keep talking about the big three: Larson, Busch and Truex. This guy is a sleeper. But he’s my No. 4.”

Said Kligerman: “He’s been the biggest surprise. That 24 team has been incredible through the playoffs. One thing I’ve noticed about that team, just speaking to (crew chief) Alan Gustafson, speaking to Chase, it’s almost as if they want that first win more than they care about the playoffs.”

Watch the above video for more on the playoff drivers.

Friday’s NASCAR Cup, Xfinity schedule at Kansas Speedway

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Things get started today for the pivotal weekend at Kansas Speedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series will have its elimination race in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, where four of the 12 remaining playoff drivers will not advance to the Round of 8.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series begins its Round of 8 with Saturday’s Kansas 300.

But it all begins today, as Cup has its first practice (the other two are Saturday) and qualifying, while the Xfinity Series will have its two practice sessions.

Here’s how today’s schedule shapes up:

(All times are Eastern)

10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

12 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity garage open

1 – 2:25 p.m. — First Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

2:30 – 3:25 p.m. First Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)

5 – 5:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, 3 rounds) (NBCSN, MRN)

NASCAR: Will Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch advance in playoffs?

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The last two drivers to win NASCAR Cup titles are in precarious positions ahead of the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Kyle Busch, the 2015 champion, is outside the top eight in ninth. He sits seven points behind defending champion Jimmie Johnson.

NASCAR America analysts Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman debated who they think had the best chance to advance to the Third round after Sunday.

Petty put his money behind Busch, who has finished in the top five in each of his last five starts at the 1.5-mile track.

“He’s one of the big three: Truex, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson,” Petty said. “I don’t see where these (last) two races (Charlotte, Talladega) have changed anything. The one thing Kyle Busch brings into Kansas City … he brings speed. These guys have had speed all year-long.”

Johnson on the other hand has produced only four top fives all season and just one since he won at Dover in June.

But Kligerman explained why he thinks the seven-time champion will prevail on Sunday.

“Jimmie Johnson knows how to pass and that is what has become evident throughout this season,” Kligerman said. “No, they have not had the fastest cars at Hendrick Motorsports. No, they have not qualified well. They’ve actually been sort of abysmal at qualifying of late.

“… He has three wins this year. Two of those he started at the back.”

Watch the video for more.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez’ racing roots

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut.

On the show:

  • We’ll debate which past Cup Series champion will advance to the Round of 8. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson currently leads 2015 champ Kyle Busch by only seven points for the final transfer spot. Who has the edge going into Kansas this Sunday? This elimination race will be a heated competition just to finish above the cut line. Log on to NBCSports.com/NASCARVote and weigh in!
  • Xfinity Series playoff driver Daniel Hemric calls into the show to talk about his chances of advancing to the championship four in Miami. He’ll also describe his experience being one of the four drivers to participate in the recent tire test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval.”
  • We take a look at the Daniel Suarez’s Racing Roots and discuss his transition from Xfinity Series champion to Monster Energy Cup Series rookie.
  • Parker Kligerman hops into the iRacing simulator to preview Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas, as well as the Formula 1 race in Austin, Texas.

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 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.