Jeff Burton

NBC Sports

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.

Ryan: NASCAR needs to spread the word on rules when it’s about safety

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NASCAR’s sterling safety record – nearly 17 years with no fatalities in its national series – doesn’t receive much credit because safety generally is the focus only when it’s deficient.

Whether it’s the constant addition of SAFER barriers, the improvement of paved runoff areas or the overlooked upgrades to cars and cockpits, the advancements have made drivers less susceptible to injuries than at any point in NASCAR history.

It isn’t necessarily important that the world knows the hows and whys about a stretch of four deaths in nine months from May 2000 through February 2001 being followed by NASCAR’s longest period of unprecedented safety, but it is important that the teams and the industry fully understand the measures that were taken (as well as give input in implementing them).

Which brings us to the news that NASCAR recently made a subtle safety upgrade without fully informing teams how to take advantage of it.

After making a pit stop Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson stopped again outside his box so his front-tire changer could ensure the lug nuts were tight. The No. 48 Chevrolet received no penalty despite receiving service beyond its pit stall, triggering befuddlement from teams that fully expected Johnson’s team to receive a one-lap penalty – the standard penalty for pitting outside the box.

NASCAR officials explained they had been allowing dispensation for teams to fasten lug nuts outside the box if it was discovered they were unsecured upon leaving the box.

Apparently, this change was made after NASCAR returned to enforcing lug nut rules last season (after more than a year of allowing the requirement of five secure lug nuts to lapse). That move ostensibly was made because of safety after a spate of loose wheels raised concerns about putting drivers and fans at risk.

Thus, NASCAR started allowing teams to secure lug nuts outside the box without penalty – in the interest of safety, teams would be encouraged to prevent loose wheels by knowing there would be no punishment from NASCAR for ensuring it.

Curiously, though, hardly anyone seemed to know about this addendum before the incident involving Johnson’s team brought it to light Sunday.

If the goal of modifying a policy is to keep teams safer, it’s incumbent on NASCAR to inform all competitors to know how to take advantage of that. There are many instances in which teams seeking a competitive advantage will get pre-approved by NASCAR for a new part or process to validate its legality. In these cases, it makes sense to treat such information as proprietary and avoid dissemination unless asked.

But it doesn’t apply when the information is germane to reducing hazards.

NASCAR likes to cite safety as a cornerstone of its decision-making and as an explanation for some of its rules and trends, such as the rise in debris cautions.

It also has trumpeted being in a new era of transparency that is driven by greater collaborations with drivers and teams.

Both are noble objectives, and this is one instance in which they clearly intersect.

Safety is sound as the impetus for tweaking a policy, but it’s essential to spread the word far and wide when it happens.

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Johnson said crew chief Chad Knaus was aware the team wouldn’t be penalized because NASCAR officials informed him after a similar incident at New Hampshire Motor Speedway a few weeks ago.

It also happened to Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 team in the playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway. Hamlin stalled his Toyota while leaving the pits, and the rear-tire changer ensured the lugs were tight with the car’s nose over the edge of the box.

Asked about that incident this week, Hamlin couldn’t recall it – which reinforces the need for NASCAR to communicate with teams about the changes.

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While Martin Truex Jr.’s win at Charlotte guaranteed the No. 78 Toyota’s advancement to the Round of 8, it also meant at least another month of itching for crew chief Cole Pearn.

The Canadian, who grew up a fan of hockey and racing, got his team to buy into the playoff beard, a tradition popular among NHL teams in the postseason.

Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn are wearing their playoff beards. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“We all made a deal that we’d grow them this year,” Pearn told NBC Sports after the Charlotte victory. “If you shave, you’ve got to shave your eyebrows at the same time. It’s good incentive to keep it on even though I can’t stand it.

“When it comes down to playoff time, it’s all about growing it as patchy and ugly as it can possibly be and not touching it and letting it ride.”

Truex, who is accustomed to having facial hair, said it’s been a good morale builder for the team because “it’s fun for all the guys to get in something together. ‘Hey, we’re all going to do playoff beards.’ Right on. It shows your commitment.

“It’s been fun, but I’m just surprised by how much gray is in Cole’s beard.”

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A NASCAR delegation (including Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell) was in China this week, naturally prompting speculation as to why. The Sports Business Journal reported the group was at the opening of a road course near the port city of Ningbo.

The circuit is part of an initiative to build five tracks in the country by a subsidiary of Chinese automaker Geely Automotive, which owns Volvo. A Geely company also bought the track formerly known as Miller Motorsports Park in Utah two years ago.

Though NASCAR frequently has turned down offers to sanction one-off events for its national series around the world (including as many as 20 groups from China, according to O’Donnell in a 2013 interview), it is interested in establishing series (similar to Europe, Mexico and Canada) that build a pipeline to funnel drivers to the United States. Daniel Suarez is the best example of a success story.

While Brazil and Japan had been higher on NASCAR’s radar in establishing a grass-roots stock-car presence, Geely’s racetrack expansion in China might provide an avenue for a new series there.

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It’s naturally overlooked because he isn’t in the playoffs, but the second half of Daniel Suarez’s rookie Cup season has been impressive: eight top 10s in 12 races.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who finished sixth at Charlotte, has shown a proclivity for a fast learning curve. In his 2015 rookie campaign in the Xfinity Series, 12 of his 18 top 10s also came in the second half of the season. He followed that with a championship last year.

Given the strength of JGR and Toyota, it isn’t unreasonable to expect Suarez to be a playoff contender in 2018.

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NASCAR’s rules enforcement has been one of the overarching themes of the 2017 season. Analyst Jeff Burton was the guest on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast to explain why teams ask for more oversight but often struggle to comply with it.

“Perhaps NASCAR’s most important job is keeping the sport honest,” Burton said. “Because whether you like it or not, when competition is involved, the competitors’ integrity isn’t there. It just isn’t. It’s ‘we’re going to win at all costs.’

“Remember the football debacle with Tom Brady and the air pressure? They have a ball. We have thousands of parts. … You have to police the car, the people and the race. It’s completely different, and it’s way more complicated. When you don’t police it in really tight way, things get way out of control.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

 

NASCAR America: Danica Patrick reflects back on her racing career (video)

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Danica Patrick was the special guest in an hour-long appearance on Wednesday’s NASCAR America at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

In one of the segments, Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton spoke with Patrick about her overall racing career, starting with go-karts at a young age, racing in Europe in her teens, her IndyCar years and of course her NASCAR career to date.

Here’s some excerpts of that segment and Patrick’s observations (watch the whole segment in the video above):

Making the transition from IndyCar to NASCAR: “It was a transition, that’s why I did Nationwide and two part-time years. I started slow and really enjoyed then made the full-time transition in the Nationwide Series in 2012 and then Cup in 2013.”

Big change from IndyCar to driving a NASCAR car: “Just driving it is fine.  If you can drive, you can drive.”

What really got her career going: “In the Formula Ford Festival (in England), there were over 100 entries, this is the series Jenson Button drove in. I finished second, which is the highest for an American and a female. I think it really got the attention of Bobby Rahal, who gave me a job when I came back to the U.S. a couple years later.”

The track she wanted to win the most at, either in IndyCar or NASCAR: “I always felt I would win at Indy. When I came to NASCAR, maybe it was because I didn’t clarify which car I would win in. I wouldn’t change anything. … I don’t ever look back at things and wish it was different. I believe everything happens for a reason.

Do she have any unfinished business? “Do I have unfinished business? I guess if you don’t accomplish your goal, there’s always some level of unfinished business no matter of who you are or what you do.”

What are her favorite and least favorite tracks: “Indy is special. Always has been, always will be. There’s an aura about it and I feel I know every inch about that place. If I had to pick a Cup track, I’d say it was Martinsville. Honestly, I hate Darlington. I just hate it. It is an exhausting race. It is four corners, next to the wall every corner, driving over the apron. It’s a tough track. I have not liked Darlington.”

Watch the full interview with Patrick in the video above.

 

NASCAR America: Danica Patrick on what’s next after the 2017 season

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With six races remaining in her tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing, Danica Patrick doesn’t know yet what is ahead, but she is discussing it.

“It’s obviously figuring out what to do next and how it looks,” Patrick said during Wednesday’s NASCAR America at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “If I’m going to race for another team. If I’m going to going to keep going. If I’m not going to keep going. All that stuff is getting figured out right now.”

Patrick is completing her fifth full season in NASCAR’s premier series, driving the No. 10 Ford. She confirmed she would continue racing in Cup only if she can remain in a competitive ride.

“All I can say is I’m very open-minded,” she said. “With anything in life, you can’t force things to happen. I mean you can force, but I feel like you pay the price at some point in time. You prolong the pain or have to clean up a mess later.

“So I’m just in a ‘go with the flow’ mode. What comes will come. And it’s going to be great. It’s going to all be wonderful. All I know is I keep in mind all the things I want for my life, and everything will fit in according to that.”

See what else Patrick had to tell Krista Voda, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte about her future in the video above.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Hall of Fame show with Danica Patrick

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and originates from the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of our weekly driver interview shows.

Today’s featured guest is Danica Patrick, who will be sitting down for the hour with Krista Voda, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte.

As she prepares for her final start at Talladega Superspeedway with Stewart-Haas Racing, Patrick will discuss her race preparations, her driving roots, her future plans inside and outside racing and her impact on fans and diversity in NASCAR.

She also will be taking questions from fans who submit them by using the hashtag #AskDanica.

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.