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Weekend schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Trucks at Chicagoland Speedway

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The 10-race path to the NASCAR Cup championship begins with Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.

The first of five 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs, Chicagoland Speedway will be hosting its final playoff opener this weekend.

Next season, the Cup Series will race at Chicagoland on July 1, the Xfinity Series will race on June 30 and the Trucks on June 29.

The defending winners from last year’s races at Chicagoland are:

NASCAR Cup: Martin Truex Jr., who comes into this season’s playoffs as the No. 1 seed.

Xfinity: Erik Jones

Trucks: Kyle Busch

Here is the full weekend schedule

(All times are Eastern):

Thursday, September 14

1:30  – 8:30 p.m. – Truck garage open

3:30 – 4:25 p.m. – First Truck practice (no TV)

6:30 – 7:25 p.m. – Final Truck practice (no TV)

Friday, September 15

10 a.m. – 8 p.m. – Cup garage open

11 a.m. – Truck garage open

11:30 a.m. – Xfinity garage open

12:30 a.m. – 1:55 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

2  – 2: 55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

4  – 4:50 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)

5:05 p.m. – Truck qualifying (single vehicle, two rounds) (Fox Sports 1)

6:30 p.m. – Truck driver/crew chief meeting

6:45 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (NBCSN, MRN)

8 p.m. – Truck driver introductions

8:30 p.m. – TheHouse.com 225 Truck race (150 laps, 225 miles) (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, September 16

9 a.m. – Xfinity garage open

10 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. – Cup practice (CNBC, MRN)

12:35 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (NBCSN)

1:45 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

2 p.m. – 2:50 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

3 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

3:30 p.m. – TheHouse.com 300 Xfinity race (200 laps, 300 miles) (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, September 17

9:30 a.m. – Cup garage open

1 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting

2:20 p.m. – Driver introductions

3 p.m. – Tales of the Turtles 400 Cup race (267 laps, 400.5 miles) (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s peaceful protest tweet strikes chord, becomes his most popular

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At 7:54 a.m. ET Monday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted a tweet stating his support for the peaceful protests performed by NFL players Sunday during the national anthem.

The tweet, one of 12,415 he has posted since joining Twitter following his 2014 Daytona 500 win, quickly became his most popular. At press time, it had outpaced his previous best by more than 76,500 retweets and more than 222,700 “likes.”

The tweet contained a quote from former President John F. Kennedy, given in a 1962 speech at the White House in a reception for the diplomatic corps of the Latin American Republics.

Earnhardt, the 14-time most popular driver in NASCAR, is one of the few examples of a high-profile person in the sport showing support of the protests. The protests began last year with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem as a way to protest social injustices.

The mass protests across the NFL on Sunday were sparked by comments President Donald Trump made in a speech in Alabama that NFL owners should fire players who kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’

The protests were met with remarks from NASCAR owners Richard Childress and Richard Petty stating that anyone on their teams who kneeled or made any form of protest during the national anthem would be fired.

Prior to Earnhardt’s tweet Monday morning, his most popular post on Twitter was from the day following his 2014 Daytona 500 win, when he shared a picture of himself with the statue of his father outside Daytona International Speedway.

Once Monday’s tweet was posted and after he responded to a fan, it was back to business as usual for the driver with 2.2 million followers on Twitter.

He next retweeted a “Mad Men” GIF in celebration of the Washington Redskins victory on Sunday Night Football.

North Carolina provides sports teams ability to fire employees who kneel during anthem

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If NASCAR team owners Richard Childress, Richard Petty or any others wanted to fire an employee for kneeling during the national anthem, could they?

Yes.

North Carolina, home to an NFL team, NBA team, NHL team and nearly all the NASCAR teams in the Monster Energy Cup, Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series, is an Employment-at-Will state.

That means that an employer can fire an employee for whatever they wanted as long as no specific law forbids the action and as long as the firing is not based on age, race, sex, religion, national origin, color, disability or pregnancy.

“You can fire for any reason, good reason or bad reason, that doesn’t violate the law,’’ Dan Bowling, senior lecturing fellow, Duke University Law School, told NBC Sports.

“Someone taking a stance on a controversial political issue like kneeling at the anthem, absent any sort of employment contract addressing something like that … the employer would be in their right to fire them.’’

What about freedom of speech?

“There is no constitution right when we’re talking about expression because you’re talking about a private entity,’’ he said.

Childress and Petty were outspoken when asked before Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway if an employee kneeled for the anthem as many NFL players did.

If someone kneeled on his team, Childress said that person would “get … a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over. Anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.’’

Petty told USA Today and The Associated Press: “Anybody that don’t stand up for (the anthem) ought to be out of the country. Period. If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States.”

Asked if a protestor would be fired, Petty said: “You’re right.’’

Andrew Murstein, majority owner of Richard Petty Motorsports told ESPN.com that he would not fire an employee for such an act.

“I would sit down with them and say it’s the wrong thing to do that, and many people, including myself, view it as an affront to our great country,” Murstein told ESPN in a text message. “If there is disenchantment towards the president or a few bad law enforcement officers, don’t have it cross over to all that is still good and right about our country.”

NASCAR issued a statement Monday that reinforced the idea of peaceful expressions.

“Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. used a quote from former President John F. Kennedy on peaceful protests that has been retweeted more than any other tweet he’s had.

Kneeling during the anthem started a year ago in the NFL with former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who protested social injustices.

The issue gained attention last Friday when President Donald Trump said in a speech in Alabama that NFL owners should fire players who kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ Trump tweeted about the subject during the weekend and praised NASCAR on Monday for standing for the anthem.

Not everyone has responded as favorably. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, one of only five coaches in NBA history with five or more championships, has been a critic of President Trump.

During the Spurs’ media day on Monday, Popovich addressed Trump’s comments and the reaction of Childress and Petty.

“I just heard a comment this morning from a NASCAR owner and from Mr. Petty that just blew me away,’’ Popovich said. “Just blew me away. Where (Childress) described the fact that he would get the Greyhound bus tickets ready for them to leave and they would be fired. And Mr. Petty, who said people that act the way we saw on Sunday, they should leave the country.

“That’s where I live. I had no idea that I lived in a country where people would actually say that sort of thing.’’

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NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: New Hampshire recap, championship favorites

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and recaps all the action from NASCAR’s weekend in New Hampshire.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Parker Kligerman and Nate Ryan in Stamford, Connecticut. Steve Letarte joins them from Burton’s Garage.

On today’s show: 

  • After Martin Truex Jr. opened the playoffs with a win at Chicagoland, another title favorite stepped up in New Hampshire as Kyle Busch took the win. We’ll break down the big moments from his victory and spotlight his No. 18 crew’s redemption in Pit Crew Review.
  • Busch, Truex & Kyle Larson – the three top drivers throughout the 2017 season – are already on to the next round of the playoffs. They’ve combined to win seven of the last eight races. What is behind their dominance – and are three of the four championship spots in Miami basically spoken for?
  • Farther down the playoff leaderboard, the drivers around the cut line face the first “Elimination Sunday” this weekend at Dover. With desperation in the air, no one can afford to run into trouble at the Monster Mile. We’ll size up the situation for bubble drivers like Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and more.

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.

Report: Phoenix Raceway sells track naming rights to tech company

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Beginning next year, Phoenix Raceway will be called ISM Raceway after tech company Ingenuity Sun Media bought the naming rights to the track for the next 10 years, according to The Arizona Republic.

The company will pay the track “an annual single-figure million-dollar fee” for the naming rights, which are the first in the track’s history.

The move comes after the track had changed its name from Phoenix International Raceway earlier this year.

As part of the rights deal, ISM will provide digital display screens, a mobile app and a pedestrian tunnel to the infield from the grandstands. The deal also includes naming rights to one of two interactive entrances called “Canyons.”

Those additions are on top of the renovations being made as part of a $178 million project that began in February and is scheduled for completion next November.

“Without ISM’s involvement, it would have made it very difficult to move forward and make it all come to life,” track president Bryan Sperber told The Arizona Republic. “Their capabilities in the world of tech will be on display here. Fans will have a tech-driven, leading-edge, experience. We’ll be a showroom for ISM and our fans will be the beneficiaries.”

While Phoenix won’t be in the official title of the track, it will be incorporated in the track’s logo.

In February, International Speedway Corp., announced it had partnered with ISM to introduce ISM Vision, the world’s largest 360-degree digital video board network for its 13 tracks.

NASCAR next visits Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 10-12 for the last race weekend before the championship races at Homestead-Miami Speedway.