Each time NASCAR returns to Southern California and races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, there is a distinct Hollywood connection.
Actors and entertainers come out to the race – some in official capacities, others just as regular fans – while NASCAR drivers often head to Tinseltown in their off-time to hang out and rub elbows with some of the biggest celebrities.
On Thursday’s NASCAR America, host Leigh Diffey asked analysts Parker Kligerman and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett about the sport’s connection with Hollywood, as well as what drivers might be Hollywood-like in their own ways.
Here are the topics they discussed and excerpts of their answers:
Who would be NASCAR’s version of Hollywood’s leading men?
Jarrett: “This is easy in my opinion. It has to be Kevin Harvick. When you look at the leading man and who’s on top and everybody wants to be like in that role, it’s Kevin Harvick. He’s doing his very best to stay on top. He’s the man that’s there right now.”
Kligerman: “I’m going with Kyle Busch as the leading man. He’s right behind Kevin Harvick, is the leading man at Joe Gibbs Racing and the leading man at Toyota, and I just believe he’s had the performances to be that leading man and has the personality to command the screen, if you’d give him a chance.”
Who’s the next big thing in NASCAR?
Jarrett: “The man that just got slapped with a 25-point penalty, Chase Elliott. Going back the last two years, we’ve been talking about when will get that first win? When will it happen. But I foresee that coming in the very near future.”
Kligerman: “Erik Jones in that 20 car. We saw some sparks of brilliance from him last season in the 77 car. I remember when he raced Kyle Busch and beat him in the Snowball Derby and he beat Kyle Busch. Kyle said, ‘That guy is the next me,’ and a lot of people think that (Jones) will be the next Kyle Busch.’”
Who’s the best character actor in NASCAR?
Jarrett: “There’s a lot of characters out there, for sure. I’m going to go with Ryan Blaney. He has everything you’d look for in an actor, the personality, the good looks, all of that. But along with it, he’s very, very talented. You have to have all of that to fit this role, I believe, and Ryan Blaney is doing his part single-handedly.”
Kligerman: “Kyle Petty. No, I’m just kidding. I’m going to go with Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. He has great personality, we saw the Daytona 500 weekend and some of his antics off the track. I love following him on social media, he’s a very funny guy. I just think he’s full of enthusiasm for the sport, he enjoys what he’s doing, he enjoys his chance and is relishing it, and I believe the performances will match his personality.”
Who isn’t really standing out right now?
Jarrett: “Our reigning champion, Martin Truex Jr.? He’s exactly that. Nothing flashy at this point but being very solid. Going from winning a championship last year and then trying to go out the next year and try to make things happen … I just think they’re trying to get their legs under them after having that great championship offseason and trying to get back to that championship level that they’re accustomed to.”
Kligerman: “Aric Almirola. I just believe this guy has been given a new lease on life and getting a chance at a top-caliber organization like Stewart-Haas. We’re seeing a little hint of that performance, but it’s going to take a little more to eclipse that teammate of his, Kevin Harvick, who obviously has been the leading man.”
Who’s the villain this year?
Jarrett: “Kyle Busch has been fantastic in his interviews the last couple of weeks after finishing second to Kevin Harvick. But I can assure you this man is ready to explode if he finishes second, especially to Kevin Harvick, this weekend.”
Kligerman: “I’m going to go with the most hated man on NASCAR Reddit, and that’s Denny Hamlin. For whatever reason, he finds a way to rile up the fan base on the Internet, whether it’s what he does in the car, what he tweets or what he says on TV, he plays that villain role nicely at times and has the performance to back it up.”