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NASCAR statement notes freedom people have ‘to peacefully express one’s opinion’ (video)

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A day after Richard Petty and Richard Childress spoke out against anyone kneeling for the national anthem, NASCAR issued a statement that noted the United States is a country of “unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”

NASCAR’s statement:

“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.”

President Donald Trump, who ignited a controversy this past weekend that involved anthem protests across professional sports when he said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during “The Star Spangled Banner”, singled out NASCAR and its supporters during a series of tweets Monday morning about the flag.

Before Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Childress was asked what would happen if anyone from his team kneeled during the national anthem as NFL players have done and a Major League Baseball player did this past weekend.

Childress’ said anyone kneeling should “get you 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 reporters: “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.”

President Trump tweeted Monday morning his appreciation for those in NASCAR for such comments.

About 30 minutes later, Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted about the issue.

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Kevin Harvick: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lack of success played ‘big part’ in stunted ‘growth of NASCAR’

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Kevin Harvick believes the popularity of 14-time most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has played “a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR” in recent years.

Harvick’s comments came Tuesday night on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours” when the topic of fan attendance during Earnhardt’s farewell season was raised.

“I’ve been totally shocked by the vibe of Dale’s last year,” Harvick said. “I really thought it was going to be tons of fans showing up to the race track, buying crazy amounts of souvenirs and the souvenir sales aren’t up for the sales that he has in his last year so far. The crowds really haven’t changed. In my opinion, it’s been from his lack of performance. He hasn’t performed well in the race car.”

Earnhardt has failed to finish better than 12th in the last six races. Through 22 races he has only one top five (Texas). He also has nine finishes of 30th or worse.

But it’s Earnhardt’s overall record that drove Harvick’s comments about the health of the sport.

“It’s a funny situation when you talk about his last year and what you thought it would be,” Harvick said. “It’s the strangest situation that we have. In my opinion, this is where I think some of the growth in our sport has not reached the levels that it should’ve because our most popular driver hasn’t been our most successful driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won the most popular driver (award) for however many years (14) in a row … But he hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver.”

Earnhardt’s reign as NASCAR’s most popular driver began in 2003, a season after Bill Elliott won the award for the 16th and final time. In Earnhardt’s Cup career, he has 26 wins and no championships. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he has nine wins but none since 2015.

Harvick believes the popularity of an athlete should be directly tied to their success, citing LeBron James and Steph Curry in the NBA and Peyton Manning in the NFL. Harvick said it is “confusing” how that doesn’t seem to matter in NASCAR.

“(Earnhardt) hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver,” Harvick said. “For me I believe Dale Jr. has had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR because he’s got these legions of fans, this huge outreach of being able to reach these places none of us have the possibility to reach. But he’s won nine races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and hasn’t been able to reach outside of that. I know those aren’t the most popular comments but those are real life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver said Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt’s teammate who has won seven championships, should be the most popular driver.

“It’s really confusing to me,” Harvick said. “In my opinion Jimmie Johnson should be our most popular guy because he’s won seven championships. You look at the souvenir sheet every week and he’s (ranked) three, four, five coming off a championship year of what he sells in souvenirs. That part to me is a little bit confusing.”

While Harvick said Earnhardt “deserves that fanfare” he is receiving in his final Cup season, he followed that up by saying: “Imagine how popular he would be if he had won two or three championships?

“His dad was popular because he became Dale Earnhardt because of the fact he won seven championships and he was out there grinding every week. That hasn’t happened.”

Dale Earnhardt Sr. only won Most Popular Driver once, in 2001 after he was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Elliott’s 16 Most Popular Awards came despite only one championship but 44 wins in his Cup career. Only four of those wins came in his last nine seasons as a full-time driver.

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NASCAR team owner says sport should enact a spending cap

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Andrew Murstein, co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, says NASCAR team owners need to agree to a spending cap to create a “level playing field’’ in the Cup Series.

“Every single league has a cap now these days, it creates a level playing field,’’ Murstein told NBC Sports. “It’s salaries … its wind-tunnel time, it’s the whole kit and caboodle. It’s better for the fans, I think, if there is a level playing field. No one can outspend the other guy. It’s better for the owners. It creates more competition, more excitement.’’

Murstein’s comments might seem hollow in a season that has seen 10 consecutive different winners heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Watkins Glen International. Nine different teams have won Cup races this year with no organization winning more than four races.

That balance appears to be an anomaly. In nine of the previous 10 seasons, one organization won more than 25 percent of the races each year. Joe Gibbs Racing won 38.9 percent of the races in 2015 — the highest percentage since Hendrick Motorsports won 50 percent of the races in 2007 with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Casey Mears.

Murstein, founder and president of Medallion Financial Corp., said he raised his points about a spending cap to NASCAR Chairman Brian France at a dinner last month in New York that included John Tisch, owner of the NFL’s New York Giants.

“(Tisch) was shedding a lot of light on why that league was so successful,” Murstein said, “both from fan interests and from the economics of the sport.’’

Murstein said France appeared open to his ideas “if we came up with some more details.’’

NASCAR has stated that its three most important components are safety, competition and costs. The sanctioning body has created a number of rules, including limits on engines used during a race weekend and tires that teams can purchase for an event to help owners cut costs. For the third consecutive weekend, Cup teams are on track two days instead of three, helping cut a day of travel expenses. Last weekend, owners had to submit votes on potential rule changes intended to help defray costs and balance competition.

Murstein, whose company was involved in the purchase of Richard Petty Motorsports in late 2010, said he would like to see more done toward an overall cap on spending. Such a move would be revolutionary for a sport where owners do not share their financial information and athlete contracts are kept secret.

“I think this sport needs to start coming up with revolutionary concepts, so they have to leave the past in the past and they have start looking to the future,’’ Murstein said.

Because teams are not the same size, there would have different cap amounts. It would be unreasonable to have Richard Petty Motorsports, which is fielding one team this year, have the exact same cap as Joe Gibbs Racing, which fields four cars. Still, proportional caps could be created for each team to help keep costs in line. Murstein suggested independent auditors could monitor the spending.

Should teams spend beyond their limits, Murstein has a plan. A luxury tax.

“Kind of punish the ones that don’t care about spending and that extra money goes into a pool that would help the other owners, and hopefully they would use their money to make their cars more competitive, too,’’ Murstein said.

While Murstein is looking to cut costs, he understands that drivers are underpaid relative to other athletes. As teams struggle to find sponsorship, driver contracts take a hit.

With the new generation of racers, it’s easier for an owner to go with a younger driver, who can cost less, than a veteran. Former champion Matt Kenseth does not have a ride for next year. Stewart-Haas Racing did not pick up the option on former champion Kurt Busch’s contract for next year but tweeted it still expected him to drive for the team next year.

“I do think that even the older drivers, when they come off their contracts, they’re seeing the reality of the sport today and they’re willing to take pay cuts,’’ said Murstein, whose team seeks to renew deals with sponsor Smithfield and driver Aric Almirola. “It’s one sport where there are so few seats. NBA athletes, there’s what 30 teams, about 360 professional athlete. Here you’re talking about 40. It’s probably the hardest sport to be a superstar in.

“I see hockey guys who play a third of the game make $17 million a year. Now you’re talking about (drivers) who are 10th best in the world at what they do getting only salaries of $5 million, so I actually think their salaries are low compared to other sports but the business needs that right now with the sponsorship decline.

“I love the fact of how no other sport has a partner with the athletes where here the athletes get 40 percent of the race winnings. So each race they go into as your partner vs. other sports where they win or lose, it makes no difference at all.

“There are a lot of bright sports in NASCAR, too. I’m just trying, as the new kid on the block, to throw new ideas out there. Some of them will get knocked down right away, which they should because I don’t have the experience that a lot of these other team owners do, but they have to start thinking, in my view, of new and better ways to get the fans interested.’’

Murstein said he understands a cap likely won’t be instituted soon. He admits it could start with more standardized parts for teams.

“I think you probably settle that you’re going to start at parts and pieces but that’s the wrong way to do it, which is probably what will happen,’’ Murstein told NBC Sports. “I think it will happen because it will be the easy one to do. It won’t remove the 800-pound gorilla, which is all the other costs involved and dealing with that. Maybe you tippy-toe into it by starting that way and then eventually you look at the overall spending.

“The sport could even evolve years from now where there’s one manufacturer making all the Toyota cars. That’s the way I actually think it should be. That’s 100 percent the way it should be.’’

For teams that provide chassis to other teams, it seems unlikely they would want to give up a way to make money.

“At some point there’s a tipping point, you have so start looking past … I think you’ve got to point the sport back in the right direction,’’ Murstein said. “It’s a fantastic sport. I go to every other sporting event in the world and none parallel NASCAR, but the direction of it right now needs to be, I think, spun a little bit differently.

“It could happen if the owners get together and I’m sure the ownership of NASCAR would be behind it, so I think it’s more an ownership issue than a NASCAR issue.’’

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NFL provision prevents Dale Earnhardt Jr. from driving Philadelphia Eagles car at Pocono

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DOVER, Del. — Dale Earnhardt Jr., a fervent Washington Redskins fan, won’t have to drive a Philadelphia Eagles car next weekend at Pocono Raceway after all.

The NFL is prohibiting it.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Axalta issued statements Friday explaining why the paint scheme, which would highlight Axalta’s All-Pro Teachers program, could not be used.

An NFL provision states that club marks cannot be used in connection with the promotion or presentation of another sport. That forced the Axalta All-Pro Teachers logo to be removed from the paint scheme of the No. 88 car. Earnhardt will race with the traditional Axalta paint scheme at Pocono.

The Philadelphia Eagles issued a statement: “Having been reminded of the NFL’s policy, we understand and respect their point of view. While we are disappointed that we will not have the opportunity to increase the visibility of the Axalta All-Pro Teachers program through the Pocono 400 this year, we remain committed to supporting STEM curriculum and the educators who inspire our youth through our relationship with Axalta.”

Stated Axalta: “Without doubt, we are deeply disappointed that the Axalta All-Pro Teachers car will not run. As a primary sponsor of Dale Earnhardt Jr., we were thrilled about plans for him to drive a car that gave the Axalta All-Pro Teachers program and STEM education more visibility by promoting the program on the track. We remain steadfast in our commitment to teachers, STEM education, and our partnerships with Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Jr., and the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Earnhardt said he was looking forward to driving the car even with the logos of the Philadelphia Eagles on it.

“I was disappointed because of the opportunity to honor the teachers was going to be pretty cool,” he said. “We’re still going to have some teachers at the race and some of the Eagles guys are going to come out. Everything is kind of as is except for the car.”

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Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph, Redskins’ DeAngelo Williams among celebrities at All-Star Race

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CONCORD, N.C. — Tonight’s NASCAR Monster Energy All-Star Race has attracted a handful of Monster Energy sponsored athlete and other celebrities for the night’s festivities.

Among the Monster back athletes is Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza, who is serving as the Grand Marshal for the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Joining him are:

  • Motorcross racer and former NASCAR driver Ricky Carmichael, who will serve as honorary pace car driver.
  • World champion bull rider J.B. Mauney, serving as honorary starter.
  • Trophy truck truck racer B.J. Baldwin, serving as honorary Grand Marshal Truck driver.

Also taking in the 32nd All-Star Race are Washington Redskins running back DeAngelo Williams and Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph.

Rudolph is a guest of Chip Ganassi Racing and the No. 42 team, which is sponsored by Minnesota-based Target.

While this weekend is Rudolph’s first Cup event, the Cincinnati-native is no stranger to NASCAR. Years before Cup competed there, Rudolph attended Xfinity Series races at Kentucky Speedway.

“It’s been awesome, we started yesterday over at the Ganassi shop and got to see the behind the scenes stuff things an outsider, or a fan from a distance, has no idea (about),” Rudolph told reporters Saturday in the No. 42 team’s hauler. “As a football player, there’s parallel’s. A lot of people think we just go practice for a couple hours a day and play on Sundays and that’s it. You don’t really know all the details and the things that are involved with the weekly preparation. We were able to learn about that yesterday and get a feel for everything that goes into putting the car on track on Sunday. That was a lot of fun, then we came over here and watched qualifying. Got to see Kyle sit on the pole and were super fired up for that, first NASCAR (Cup) race and we ended up in Victory Lane. Can’t complain with that.”

Rudolph, who has younger cousins that compete in Late Model cars on dirt tracks, last year was part of the “Kyle Goes Pro” video series for his Pro Bowl campaign. The series followed Rudolph as he stepped into the shoes of athletes with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.

Part of Rudolph’s NASCAR experience was visiting the NASCAR Hall of Fame. What was his favorite part?

“Definitely not the simulator,” Rudolph said. “Out of our group I came in last and my wife came in second. Still haven’t heard the end of that one.”