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From cap and gown to helmet and firesuit, today will be memorable for Austin Cindric

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CONCORD, N.C. — Austin Cindric will walk across a stage to receive his diploma and then walk into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series garage shortly afterward this morning.

“Off to the real world,’’ Cindric said.

The 18-year-old driver for Brad Keselowski Racing will graduate from Cannon School, a college preparatory school, and then make the short drive to Charlotte Motor Speedway for tonight’s Truck race. Today also is his mother’s birthday.

Cindric’s father, Tim, is president of Team Penske and serves as a race strategist for IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden. Tim Cindric will attend his son’s graduation before flying back to Indianapolis as the team prepares for next week’s Indianapolis 500.

Austin Cindric ranks 15th in the points after four races this season. He’s coming off his first career top-10 finish, a 10th-place result last weekend at Kansas Speedway.

“I didn’t think it was going to take me 10 (career) truck races to finish in the top 10 with the speed we’ve shown,’’ he said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I feel like a lot of drivers go through the same things. I think I’m jelling really well with my team. I think it’s only a matter of time before we start being a threat.’’

As for additional education? Cindric says that could come later.

“I think education is extremely important,’’ he said. “Obviously, my parents would as well. It was kind of hard to convince my mom on the fact that I should focus on the racing deal.

“Really in NASCAR, or in many sports, or any other forms of racing, you only get one true shot at it. I feel this is it for me. I feel like a lot of NASCAR teams don’t look at you when you’re kind of past 21 or 22 years old. You’re still a young guy, but you’re not the young guy.

“So being 18 and being in the Truck series, I think is extremely critical. I need put every ounce of effort into making that better … learning as much as I can, being at the shop every day. I think it’s all extremely important. You can always go back to school. I’m fully prepared to go to college, and I think years on, whether the racing thing is going the way I want it to or not, I feel l’ll do some online classes and learn more.

“Racing is my full focus right now. I’ve got to make sure I can say that I’ve done all that I can to make sure that happens.’’

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NASCAR America 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Dale Earnhardt Jr. live from NASCAR Hall

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Our special guest for the entire hour is two-time Daytona 500 winner and 14-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Marty Snider hosts and will be joined by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton.

Among the topics on today’s show:

  • We’ll talk with Dale Jr. about his last Cup race at Talladega, the emotions he went through, starting from the pole for the first time there and ultimately finishing seventh.
  • How is Earnhardt approaching the final five races of his Cup career before retiring at season’s end, the JR Nation Appreci88ion campaign, his role with NBC Sports Group next season, as well as his Hall of Fame father, Dale Earnhardt and the Earnhardt legacy. Also, what does the future hold for him?
  • Speaking of the future, we’ll also congratulate the 26-time Cup race winner on soon becoming a father for the first time with wife Amy. What kind of father does Junior expect to be?
  • You can also send in your own questions for Dale Jr, who will answer them during the show! Just send them on social media with the hashtag #AskDaleJr

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.

William Byron tops Xfinity playoff grid to start second round

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The second round of the Xfinity Series playoffs begins this weekend when the series heads to Kansas Speedway for the Kansas Lottery 300.

Following an elimination race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the series and the eight remaining playoff drivers are coming off an off week for the first time in months.

Those eight drivers are led by JR Motorsports’ William Byron, Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler. The three drivers have been at the top of the standings since the second race of the first round.

There was a minor adjustment after the Charlotte race. Matt Tifft was penalized 10 driver points for his car failing post-race inspection. But due to the reset in points, it had no bearing on his placement in the playoffs.

Tifft is eighth in the standings and trails Ryan Reed by one point. The bottom four drivers – Cole Custer, Brennan Poole, Reed and Tifft – are each separated by one point.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Carl Edwards to receive Stan Musial Award for sportsmanship

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Former NASCAR Cup driver Carl Edwards is among one of more than a dozen individuals that will receive the prestigious 2017 Musial Award.

The annual ceremony will be held Nov. 18 at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis.

The Musial Awards – named after late St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial – “honor this year’s greatest moments of sportsmanship and the biggest names in sports for their class and character,” according to a media release.

Edwards will be honored for his actions in last year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Here’s how the awards committee described what Edwards did that day:

Last November at Homestead—Miami Speedway, Edwards was among four drivers in contention for NASCAR’s Cup Series championship. He led the season finale race with 10 laps to go. But as he tried to block competitor Joey Logano from passing him on a restart, the two drivers crashed, ending Edwards’ shot for his first Cup Series title.

“Instead of losing his cool, as other athletes might have done, Edwards took the high road and showed pure class. He walked over to Logano’s pit crew, shook hands with crew chief Todd Gordon, and wished the team good luck. It was a gesture of extraordinary sportsmanship that was lauded throughout NASCAR.

“Based on the character he has shown throughout his career, it was not a surprise Edwards would take such a gracious approach. Winner of NASCAR’s Busch Series in 2011 and holder of 28 Cup Series wins, the Columbia, Mo., native’s success on the track is equaled by the class, respect and humility he has personified over time.”

Also, renowned track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee – considered by some as the greatest female athlete ever – will receive the Musial Lifetime Achievement Award, joining previous lifetime award winners Joe Torre (2014), Arnold Palmer (2015) and Cal Ripken Jr. (2016).

Other honorees include Arizona Cardinals (NFL) president Michael Bidwell, female boxer Aliyah Charbonier and LSU head baseball coach Paul Mainieri.

Preliminary entry lists for Kansas Speedway

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NASCAR’s top two series will be in action this weekend at Kansas Speedway as they hold two different stages of their playoff races.

The Cup Series has its second round elimination race with the Hollywood Casino 400. The Xfinity Series begins its second round with the Kansas Lottery 300 after an off week.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races:

Cup – Hollywood Casino 400

There are 41 cars entered into the race.

StarCom Racing is set to make its debut with Derrike Cope driving the No. 00 Chevrolet. Tony Furr will serve as Cope’s crew chief.

There are four cars without drivers attached to them yet: BK Racing’s No. 23 and No. 83 Toyotas, Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet and Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet.

Gray Gaulding will driving Premium Motorsports’ No. 55 Chevrolet.

Martin Truex Jr. won the last visit to Kansas Speedway in May. He beat Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick after passing Ryan Blaney with 19 laps to go.

Harvick is the defending winner of the playoff race.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Kansas Lottery 300

There are 41 cars entered into the race.

Cup drivers entered into the race include Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

Christopher Bell will driver the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Kyle Busch is the defending winner of this race. He has won the last three Xfinity races at the track.

Click here for the entry list.