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Roller coasters, bicycling & softball: How drivers spent their day off

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With no track activity, NASCAR Cup drivers had a free day on Friday and some were able to get out and about.

Jimmie Johnson helped organize a 69-mile bike ride Friday morning for 2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden, who died May 22 at age 35 from injures suffered when he was hit by a car while cycling in Italy. The 69 miles ridden were for the number Hayden raced with in his career. Among drivers who joined him were Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez.

 

Others did other activities on their day off.

Ryan Blaney went to Carowinds amusement park just south of Charlotte, North Carolina, and took to periscope as he rode in the front row on the Fury 325 roller coaster, which reaches a peak height of 325 feet and then goes into an 81-degree drop.

The ride reaches speeds up to 95 mph. The coaster is North America’s longest steel coaster at 1.25 miles. The average ride time is 3 minutes, 25 seconds, and the ride crosses both the North Carolina and South Carolina border.

Brad Keselowski spent part of his team playing in the Team Penske softball game and provided proof of his hitting ability.

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Earnhardt Family Playground provides special place at Rescue Ranch

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STATESVILLE, N.C. — Where there had been silence, except for the whistling wind, there was laughter, giggles and shouts of glee Friday morning.

With the help of the Earnhardt family and others, Rescue Ranch debuted a state-of-the-art playground to go along with its mission of promoting hands-on learning and caring for animals.

Rescue Ranch, founded by Ryan Newman and wife Krissie, is located about 35 minutes north of Charlotte and provides classroom education on animal care and contact with a variety of animals on the 87-acre facility.

Krissie Newman said they were looking to add a playground to make school field trips there more of a full-day experience. As they looked into such playgrounds, she met Kendra Wood, an autism teacher at Lake Norman High School, and talked to occupational therapists who provided tips on how to make a playground inclusive for all children.

“We always look for field trips to get out in the community in any sort and this is a great place,’’ Wood said. “Now that they added the playground to it, we can do an outdoor component as well.’’

That’s important because many playgrounds are not as accessible for all children.

“Playgrounds usually aren’t fun for us,’’ Wood said. “We can’t do anything. We can do pretty much everything (here). It’s such a different thing for us, but a great thing, something that I wish other communities would come and look at and try to emulate.’’

The $550,000 playground, which is 10,000 square feet, is named the Earnhardt Family Playground.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy look at the sign dedicating the Earnhardt Family Playground. Kelley Earnhardt Miller and husband L.W. Miller also look on. Photo: Dustin Long

A sign says: “To honor our commitment to children and passion for nature, the Earnhardt Family dedicates this playground to Rescue Ranch to support the needs of our community and further its mission for the benefit of those who come and play here. Generations of our family have supported youth, nature and conservation, and the combination of all three. The Earnhardt Family is proud to support this inclusive playground and the hope and joy it will provide for generations to come.’’

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said the family was invited by the Newmans to visit and learn about the ranch. That led to the family supporting the playground. Others who contributed to the playground included Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin Foundation, Evernham Family Racing for a Reason, Kevin Harvick Foundation, Brennan Poole, Marcus and Cassi Smith, Martin Truex Jr. Foundation and the NASCAR Foundation. 

“It was a real good opportunity for us to get involved in our community,’’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “We look for opportunities to get involved in the community and make a difference in the community and this is a really, really incredible place.’’

There’s more Krissie Newman wants to do from building a pavilion at the playground, an adoption center, a memorial garden and a 24-hour emergency vet clinic.

Students from Lake Norman High School’s autism class enjoy the swings at the Earnhardt Family Playground at Rescue Ranch. Photo by Dustin Long

“I’ve got big plans for this place,’’ she said. “I’m just starting.

“We want to teach kids and have them have fun while they’re here, have a good experience and hopefully take a little bit of Rescue Ranch away and make it part of their story. A lot of people remember where they went on field trips as a kid. I want Rescue Ranch to be one of those places in the future where they learned how to take care of animals better, respect the environment and just have a different level of compassion and empathy for living things in general.’’

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Chevrolet to unveil new Cup car in August

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Chevrolet will announce the brand of car it will field next year in the NASCAR Cup Series on Aug. 10, the company stated Friday.

Chevrolet has campaigned the SS since it replaced the Impala in 2013. The move is being made because the SS, which is produced in Australia, will no longer be produced after this year.

Chevrolet has won four of the first 11 Cup races this season with victories scored by reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman.

The Aug. 10 announcement will take place at the GM Global Headquarters in Detroit. Chevrolet, NASCAR and Cup team executives are expected to attend.

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Kligerman: Racing’s top series should smoke ’em if they got ’em

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If you’re trying to quit smoking, the best place you possibly could go is Las Vegas. Because of its nonexistent rules on indoor smoking, innocent bystanders partaking or walking through a casino floor will get the nicotine fix they need — secondhand

After a night out in Vegas, you’ll wake up with the same gravelly voice, dry throat, wheezing cough — signs you’re headed for an increased chance of the big “C.” But free of the self- and societal-imposed guilt from actually partaking in the indecent action of sucking nicotine into your lungs in smoke form.

You get all the benefits of nicotine without your partner being able to cash in on the inevitable bet you made with them to quit.

And it doesn’t get much better as you travel around Vegas throwing around “fun coupons” in the form of $100 bills. Because it doesn’t feel like real money, as it goes so fast, and the place unashamedly will find a vice or trick to take it.

As you lose your hundreds, you eventually will decide to change locations, so you’ll walk out of your casino-hotel and into what you hope is fresh air and gratuitous expanse. But what you really enter is a carefully designed maze that guides you along a path to the next establishment to take your hard-earned rubles.

The reason is the casinos know.

If they constantly keep you in the throes of gambling, if they encourage their customers to infect their fellow patrons with nicotine and cheers, even the  most stubborn will break down and eventually gamble or buy their high-priced cigarettes with a “courtesy fee” of $1 trillion.

It’s all carefully designed to break down your morals. It gets to the core of the human psyche. If everyone’s doing it, or you’re doing it without noticing, it’s only a matter of time before you’re inclined to give it a try.

Which brings me to auto racing.

Each weekend, the sport constantly vies for a piece of a shrinking attention span pie. And we don’t do ourselves any favors. We schedule races from two of the world’s top series on the same day and time — acting as if the other series doesn’t exist and a fan of one series couldn’t possibly be a fan of another.

For example, Oct. 23, 2016. The most well-known racing series in the world ran its only race in the United States on a Sunday afternoon directly in conflict with NASCAR at Talladega Superspeedway.

Making it almost impossible to watch both at the same time.

Sure, there are people who will say “it’s completely different fan bases” or “the schedules are bound to clash.” Which are valid points.

But the thing is, NASCAR and Formula One are the two biggest series in the world, and I am sure – at least, I hope — there was someone in either series saying, “Well, this was a mistake.”

Why?

Because Talladega is NASCAR’s best form of natural marketing. Forty cars inches apart at more than 200 MPH. It’s the kind of riveting, made-for-TV intensity that a marketing executive dreams of between meetings of words such as “synergy” and “engagement.”

Meanwhile, Formula One has only one chance each year to market itself to the world’s largest single economy.

And who would be the easiest targets? Certainly not Julia Sue watching Kardashian reruns hungover on her couch.

No, it would be the very people who will tune into Talladega. The same people who already are fans of a motorsport, or at least intrigued enough to watch a motorsport (and most likely hungover on their couches as well).

This year, the two series will clash again. This time, though, not against such a marquee event for NASCAR as Talladega. But it still will clash. And it’s a crying shame.

The thing is, there is an exception  —  Memorial Day weekend and specifically race day Sunday. Each year, three of the biggest races on the planet are scheduled perfectly apart. And I am sure it happened completely by chance, but like the tables in Vegas, even stark odds can prove to be a valuable learning experience.

As any ardent motorsports fan will tell you, the last Sunday in May, isn’t Christmas come early. It’s the last day of school, beginning of summer and infinite possibilities wrapped into one single day of entertainment.

For the seriously early Sunday riser, you can awake to watch Formula 2 from Monaco, before the prerace for the full-on Monaco Grand Prix, and eventually the full Monte Carlo bash itself.

And as the postrace champagne is drying and the yachts are full of sunburned billionaires, the telecast will come to a close. But no worries, as you immediately can shift to an entirely different form of open-wheel entertainment.

It comes in the form of the largest single-day sporting event in the world, the Indianapolis 500. Where 33 drivers will vie in-front of more than 250,000 in the grandstands and infield for the one of the biggest motorsports prizes in the world.

As the leftover mustard on your lunch plate dries to an almost brown color, and the winner of “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” has the smell of sweat and milk on their overalls, the Indy 500 telecast will come to a close.

But no worries, as the Coca-Cola 600 will be up and running only a couple hours later. Where NASCAR’s finest will duke it out and test their physical and mental fitness in the longest race in NASCAR.

And just like that, with hardly anyone noticing, three of the biggest races in the world will have worked together just like the casinos in Vegas: Funneling you from one form of motorsport to the next.

So it makes me wonder, what if we did this more often?

Like the casinos that don’t let you escape the nicotine fix, we worked together to keep viewers watching burning rubber instead of making a choice.

Because as the casinos have learned. If there is no choice, you can’t help but do what they want.

Xfinity Series Spotlight: Brennan Poole on his love of ‘Star Wars’ and owning an A.J. Foyt truck

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“Without a doubt” the most fun Brennan Poole has had in the Xfinity Series ended in disappointment.

It was a year ago at Talladega Superspeedway when a chaotic finish ended with Poole and Elliott Sadler waiting five minutes at the start-finish line to find out who won the race. Though Sadler left the track a winner, Poole still cherishes the experience.

“I ran up front the whole race,” Poole told NBC Sports. “I was racing with (Joey) Logano and Sadler and (Justin) Allgaier. We’re all racing really hard. I got Jeremy Clements pushing me. A strange finish to that. It was a lot of fun to basically win the race, then not win the race.

“A lot of people would think that would be a terrible memory or something bad. It’s just how it panned out. It’s just racing. So that was a lot of fun.”

Ahead of the 10th race this season, Poole is still looking to top that moment. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is 10th in points and seeking his first top-five finish of the year.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

 (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: OK, I’ve been wanting to ask you about this since February. Your Star Wars helmet. How did that come about?

Poole: As a kid I always liked Star Wars and my dad was a huge Star Wars guy. He took me to see it and I watched all of them when I was really little. I remember going to see Episode I, II and III when all those came out. My dad I would go and watch them together. This winter over the off-season, my family and I, we all went out to see Rogue One. We went to dinner afterward and I was sitting there, ‘Man, it would be really cool if I painted my helmet like a Star Wars helmet or something cool.’ Really, as a driver, our only thing of creativity that we get to decide on our own (is our helmet). That’s where we get to express ourselves a little bit, you know? I just started thinking about it, started looking at helmets. Just sitting down at dinner goofing off and talking about it. That’s really where the idea started and I thought it would be sick if I did a Luke Skywalker X-Wing helmet. I thought it would be cool and neat to do it all scratched up and beat up and kind of worn out like his was.

When I got home from doing Christmas and New Year’s with my family I called up my helmet painter, Jason Beam, and we just talked about it. He’s a huge Star Wars guy too, so he was pumped about it too. He’s the creative side of it. I just wanted to do a Star Wars helmet and he was like ‘We’ll do this, we’ll do that.’ Started coming up with the idea and he started sending me drawings and things that he had. Finding a way to incorporate DC Solar and stuff on the front and really keep the helmet true to Luke’s helmet in the movie. He just did an outstanding job. Just more than special. Every time I put that thing on I feel cool, you know?

NBC Sports: Which Star Wars movie is your favorite?

Poole: People ask me that a lot. I like Episode I. I was like 10 or 11 or something when it came out. I was racing quarter midgets and stuff. The pod races, man. That’s like the coolest thing. To me that’s like the coolest part. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve watched all the movies. I’ve seen a bunch of them. The new ones, the technology has just grown so much and they’re done so beautifully. I would say right now my favorite is Rogue One. They did such an amazing job telling that story.

NBC Sports: If you had a time machine and you had to choose between going to the world premiere of Star Wars in 1977 or attending the 1979 Daytona 500, which would you choose?

Poole: (laughs) Both would be really cool. The ’70s are an interesting time. The music and everything that was going on. Racing is what I love. That’s what’s in my heart, it’s all that I’ve ever wanted to do since I can remember. So I would definitely like to go back and experience the Daytona 500 in the late ’70s. Just experience the crowd, the fans and what it was like. The drivers and see those cars and seeing them in person go around the track was probably amazing at the time. It’s still amazing today, but it’s just a little bit different feel to it and I’d like to experience that feel. … Hands down I would go to the race. Thinking about Star Wars though, going back to see the world premiere, like that’s cool, but I would want to go back and be a part of how they actually made the film. See how they’re hanging star ships up and filming it. I would like to see how they did that because it changed film and how they shot film forever.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Poole: My first car was a 1999 Ford F-350. It was a Legends Series and it used to be A.J. Foyt’s truck. A.J. Foyt owned it and he signed the dash. I bought it from the guy that built my dirt modified engines to pull my first modified trailer. I drove that thing to high school. When I turned 16 I got it and drove it all through high school. It was a good truck. … I could do burnouts for crying out loud. It was a lot of fun. I was that guy with the huge truck. People always gave me a hard time. ‘Why do you need a truck that big?’ ‘I pull my race car with it.’ Growing up in South Texas in Houston, I grew up in the city. Racing wasn’t a big thing. … I couldn’t even park it in the school parking lot. I had to take up multiple spots. It was kind of ridiculous. I pulled my race trailer and did all that stuff myself. I set up my own cars and couple of my buddies would help me, all young kids. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing. … I had that truck up until, I sold it a few years ago … in 2011. But I still miss it man.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car?

Poole: I’ve had several cars named. Several, several cars. The last car that I had named, I had this all red car. A dirt modified. It’s name was ‘Ms. Vivian’ after the movie Pretty Woman. It was a redhead, the car was all red. The car had a red chassis, a red body. So it was an ol’ red head. It said ‘Ms. Vivian’ right on the bumper.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Poole: I think about this a lot, of things I want to do or things I want to experience. I definitely want to go to a NBA finals game. I’m a huge basketball fan. I’ve been watching the playoffs. I’ve been a huge Charlotte Hornets fan for a few years since I live a couple blocks away from the stadium and I’ve gone to like 20 games each year that last two years. Of course, I’m a Houston Rockets fan, that’s where I grew up. They got knocked out of the deal, so I’m kind of bummed. … I want to go to a basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York. I’m fascinated by New York City for whatever reason, so I’d like to experience that. Most of my bucket list things have to do with sport. I’d love to go to the Stanley Cup finals as well and see a game in person. Hockey is so entertaining and amazing in person, it’s not-stop action the whole time. … I can definitely tell you I don’t want to go skydiving. I have no desire to experience that whatsoever.

NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you saw your name or face on merchandise?

Poole: Yeah, it was pretty cool. I think the coolest thing for me, I’ve had shirts and I’ve had things like that. I think it’s different when it’s a real piece. They have those baseball cards of me. I didn’t even know they existed and I had a fan ask me to sign some one weekend. I was like ‘Man, that’s pretty cool. I have my own baseball card.’ That’s pretty special. I have my rookie card, it says ‘RC’ on it like ‘Rookie Card.’ So I have one myself because I think that’s pretty neat. I didn’t think they did that. … I think I signed 150 yesterday with (PR representative) Ian (Moye) at his desk. That was just kind of special to see for the first time.

NBC Sports: If you were competing in the Cup race at Bristol, what would be your introduction song?

Poole: Let’s just say ‘Down with the Sickness’ by Disturbed. That’s hard-core.

South Boston Speedway South Boston, Virginia. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: NASCAR announced the schedules for next year this week. If you could add one track to the Xfinity schedule, what would it be?

Poole: I think we should go somewhere ridiculous, like Hickory (Motor Speedway). It would be insane and there’s not even a pit road. People would be pitting all over the place. I’m just kidding, that would be insane. … I think I would like to see them go to South Boston, I never raced there. Just another short track or something. The Motor Mile (Speedway). Motor Mile’s pit road isn’t too terrible, they’d probably have to make it a little bit bigger or somethings. I would like a nice, tight short track. Maybe you got to do some bumping, some bump and runs, something like that would be a lot of fun.

NBC Sports: If you don’t have to be at the track or at the shop, all your family is busy and you have no obligations, how do you spend your day?

Poole: If you want a full day, you got it. Here we go. Probably wake up in the morning, have some coffee, make myself some eggs and bacon. I’d probably go on an hour and a half bike ride, maybe bust out 30 miles or something, 35 miles, something like that. Probably come home, literally would play X-Box for the rest of the afternoon. I’d probably be playing NBA 2K in ‘My Career’ playing as myself. Then I would order Hibachi. I would not leave the house. I would order Hibachi. There’s a great Hibachi place that delivers to where I live. Steak and shrimp. You get fried rice. You got to get noodles as well in the soup, I don’t know what the soup is called, the full deal. Just blow it out. Then I would watch some shows on Netflix as I’m falling asleep. That’s probably the full day.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

Elliott Sadler

Ben Kennedy

Blake Koch

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