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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 suspends Camping World Truck crew chief one race

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NASCAR has suspended Camping World Truck Series crew chief Kevin Bellicourt one Truck event and fined him $5,000 because Justin Haley‘s truck failed minimum height requirements after last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The L1 penalty also docked Haley 10 points and the team 10 owner points. He finished 17th in an encumbered finish.

NASCAR also announced Thursday that Joseph P. Light has been reinstated after successfully completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He was indefinitely suspended March 16.

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Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach tentative settlement

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Counsel for Stewart-Haas Racing reported to North Carolina Superior Court on Wednesday that it has executed settlement documents with Nature’s Bakery.

A status report was pushed back 21 days to June 23 in the event the that the parties have not filed a stipulation of dismissal by that date.

No details of the settlement documents were detailed to the court.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

Click here to read court document

Thursday’s schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte

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Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off its weekend leading up to Sunday’s main event, the Coca-Cola 600, with today’s action.

The Xfinity Series will hold two practices, while the NASCAR Cup Series has one practice and qualifies in the evening.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All Times Eastern)

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. – First Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (FS1)

6 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

Long: Hall of Fame moment is special for father and son

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CHARLOTTE — Sleep has not come easy for Doug Yates in some time.

It has only gotten worse lately.

He can’t stop thinking of his father, Robert, who battles liver cancer. Robert has undergone chemotherapy, but at one point doctors said they weren’t sure what how to treat the 74-year-old former NASCAR team owner and engine builder who was selected to the 2018 Hall of Fame Class on Wednesday.

That helpless feeling of not solving a problem counters what Robert and Doug have done all their lives. If there was an issue with an engine, they worked harder and longer until they fixed the matter.

This they can’t.

While Robert Yates undergoes experimental treatments, Doug is there to help take care of his father. There are bad days, Doug says, wincing.

“What I see is a man who is broken down and built back up because he is watching his father,’’ said Whitney Yates, Doug’s wife. “Sometimes (Robert) is so sick he can’t do anything and Doug is there.’’

They are more than father and son. They share a treasured relationship not every boy and his dad experiences, their bonds woven early and strengthened with each day together.

Doug fondly recalls sleeping on a cot in a race shop when he was about 5 years old while his father worked on an engine through the night. They traveled to races together. Doug reminisces of a trip to Richmond where his father, tired from work, told his son, then 12, to take the wheel while he slept. Yet, when a deer ran across their path, it was Robert who asked his son if he saw that.

They often went to the race shop together. Although family, Robert was still the boss. He would be hard on his son at times, but Doug cherishes even those memories.

Robert was only teaching his son what it took to succeed. Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett won two Daytona 500s and Davey Allison won another for Robert Yates Racing. Jarrett won the 1999 Cup championship with the team. As an owner, Robert Yates won 57 Cup races and 48 poles.

Now, Doug is the boss. He oversees the “vision” his father had of the Roush Yates Engines shop, which powered Kurt Busch to a Daytona 500 win and Ford teams to four other victories in the season’s first 11 races.

“He wants to make (his dad) proud,’’ Whitney said of Doug. “He’s always trying so hard.

“Doug is always moving the bar. I think Robert is so proud of that.’’

While Doug does what he can for his father and the family business, he couldn’t control what happened at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The past three years Robert, Doug and the rest of the family came to the Hall of Fame to see if Robert would be selected. Five are chosen each year. Robert ranked sixth in votes received twice, just missing enshrinement.

Robert Yates reacts after he is announced to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Each time, Robert said the voting panel got it right.

“Selfishly, I didn’t think so, but he did,’’ Doug said. “That was a lesson for me. Everything happens for a reason.’’

As Wednesday approached, Doug Yates’ anxiety grew. It was worse Wednesday morning and throughout the day.

As Doug walked into Hall of Fame, ahead of his father, he conceded he was “nervous.’’

He also was prepared.

Doug stocked multiple tissues in the pockets of his slacks.

“If he didn’t make it, I was going to break down,’’ Doug said of his father making the Hall of Fame. “If he did, I was going to break down.’’

Robert also felt nervous.

“If I don’t get in,’’ Robert told himself before the announcement, “that’s the reason to work real hard to be here next year to get in.’’

The family didn’t have to wait long to celebrate.

Robert Yates, who received 94 percent of the vote, was announced first.

“Wow,’’ Doug said. “I’m glad that’s over.’’

His father, sitting a row in front of Doug, reached back. Doug leaned forward. They held hands. 

After that it was a matter of relishing what had happened as four other men — Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ken Squier and Ron Hornady Jr. — were selected to join Robert Yates in the next Hall of Fame Class.

Doug stay composed throughout. He wiped his eyes once.

When the ceremony ended, Robert Yates reached his arm around wife Carolyn and embraced her.

“My family means so much to me because they allowed me to work night and day,’’ Robert Yates said. “Do I love engines? Yes, whether one cylinder, two cylinders, six or 12 or 24. I love engines.’’

That passion led him to this moment.

“I feel like I could take a jack,’’ said the former jackman.

“I don’t know if I’ll sleep tonight.’’

Doug Yates will.

His father will be in the Hall of Fame.

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