Dale Earnhardt Jr. does best to balance fan expectations vs. interactions

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Dale Earnhardt Jr, experiencing his own troublesome time in his final season of NASCAR Cup racing, has sympathy for Danica Patrick.

Last weekend a Facebook Live video showed Patrick lecturing fans and saying ‘I have feelings, too” after she was booed for not signing autographs at Pocono Raceway.

Earnhardt said on his weekly podcast, “She’s had a tough year. She’s under tons of pressure. She’s under a lot of pressure. I can completely relate to where she is mentally.”

Earnhardt later added, “I hate it for Danica because it paints her in a bad light, but she brought it on herself. … You never know when a camera’s rolling, whose watching. It’s certainly true in that case.”

In the latest episode of the Dale Jr. Download, the 14-time most popular driver addressed a big debate that’s come out of the video — is it a driver’s job to sign autographs?

Earnhardt discussed how signing autographs works as sort of therapy for him, especially in a season where he’s struggling to perform on the track.

“The thing is I have found that what makes me feel better is actually going and signing autographs because the fans talk to you and go ‘I saw your qualifying, I saw it wasn’t very good. No problem, you’re going to get them tomorrow,’ Earnhardt said. “That’s all you really want to hear, from whoever is going to tell you that. You’re feeling like crap, you’re disappointed. … Going and actually going to talk to the fans and hearing their reinforcement, their positive reinforcement is good for me. I kind of seek that out in those moments because I know once I go through that process of signing some autographs, talking and interacting, you kind of get your priorities readjusted, what’s important.

“They tell you what you need to hear. ‘Get over this. Tomorrow’s another day.’ I’ll dwell on things and make an ant hill a mountain and make a problem much worse than it really is in my head. So for me it’s good therapy to interact.”

Even though he is the most high-profile face in NASCAR, Earnhardt still gets to experience life as a fan when he encounters celebrities from other walks of life. So he understands when a racing fan is let down by an encounter with a driver at the track.

“When I meet a famous person, I just want to walk away feeling like ‘Man, I’m glad I pull for that guy’ or ‘Man, it was cool to meet him,’ ” Earnhardt said. “I hate to say it this way, cause I think it puts a little unnecessary pressure on that celebrity, but you just don’t want to be disappointed by the way they act, how they interact with you. It can be quick and small. I don’t think people or myself have to have five minutes or an hour of your time. But just don’t be an a****** or disappoint. I like to take pictures. If I see, even today, if I see a celebrity, I kind of really want a picture with them. So I can post it on my social media.”

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Tonight’s Xfinity race at Iowa: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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Sam Hornish Jr. looks to return to Iowa Speedway and win the June event for the second consecutive year, but several others, including points leader Elliott Sadler and rookie teammate William Byron, look for their first series win of the year. Justin Allgaier and Ryan Reed seek their second victory of the season.

Here are the particulars for tonight’s Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Emily Skor, CEO Growth Energy, will give the command to start engines at 8:37 p.m. Green flag is set for 8:44 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 250 laps (218.75 miles) around the 7/8-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 60. Stage 2 ends on Lap 120.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Xfinity garage opens at 2:30 p.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 8:10 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Specialist Michelle Monroe, Iowa National Guard 34th Army Band, will perform the Anthem at 8:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race. Its coverage begins at 8 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s broadcast on radio and at mrn.com begins at 8 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 70 degrees at race time with a 1 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Sam Hornish Jr. led 183 of 250 laps to win this event a year ago. Ty Dillon was second. Brad Keselowski was third. Erik Jones won the most recent Iowa race last July, leading 154 of 250 laps. Ty Dillon was second. Elliott Sadler placed third.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 6:15 p.m.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson want Cup All-Star Race at Iowa Speedway

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NASCAR has been sending its Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series to Iowa Speedway since 2009, but its premier series has never held a race at the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson would like that to change sooner rather than later.

Stenhouse and Larson spoke to the Des Moines Register ahead of this weekend’s NASCAR races at the track.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver and former Iowa winner expressed enthusiasm at Iowa someday hosting the Monster Energy All-Star Race.

“To see how much support that the Iowa Speedway gets from the fans, it’s pretty incredible,” Stenhouse said. “I’d love to get the All-Star race here.”

The exhibition has been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway every year but one since it was introduced in 1985. It was at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986.

But with lackluster races and fan turnout in recent years for the event at the 1.5-mile track, support has been growing to possible hold the event at other tracks.

“I would like that better than Charlotte, for sure. … I’d be down for it,” Larson told the newspaper of having the event in Iowa.

Iowa Speedway opened in 2006 and was bought by NASCAR in 2013.

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Saturday’s track schedules at Sonoma and Iowa

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Today we reach the mid-point of this weekend’s busy NASCAR schedule.

The NASCAR Cup Series will have a short day at Sonoma Raceway, with only qualifying on the agenda at 2:45 p.m. ET.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series will have the busier day at Iowa Speedway, with qualifying at 6:15 p.m. ET, followed by the American Ethanol e15 200 at 8:30 p.m. ET. Sam Hornish Jr. is the defending winner of this race, and returns to try and make it two in a row, racing this year for Team Penske.

Here’s today’s schedule (all times are Eastern):

At SONOMA

10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Cup garage open

2:45 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, two rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

At IOWA

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

6:15 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (Tape delayed at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

8 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

8:30 p.m. – American Ethanol e15 200 Xfinity Series race (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)

Stats, Results for Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway

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John Hunter Nemechek led the final six laps to win the Camping World Truck Series’ M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.

It’s his second win in two weeks.

Nemechek beat out Johnny Sauter, Brandon Jones, Grant Engfinger and Christopher Bell.

Click here for race results.