‘You want to be a positive member of society’

Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images
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LOUDON, NH — Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem highlights the role athletes can play in social issues, and the protests this week in Charlotte, North Carolina, after a police shooting has made such topics more personal for some NASCAR drivers who live nearby.

Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson says he tries to let his actions speak loudest on such issues.

“I try to keep my social media on the fun side and then try to lead by example and be a great citizen of our country,’’ said Johnson, who appeared earlier this year in a campaign between NASCAR and the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality to promote inclusion and diversity within and outside of sports and was a part of the 2014 campaign to help encourage leadership among young girls.

“I’m a firm believer of gender equality, race equality, and I live my life that way and teach that to my children.’’

Johnson admits this past week has been difficult in explaining to his oldest daughter, who is 6 years old, what has happened in Charlotte.

“I found as I would answer a question, she would have three or four more questions and (then I’d continue to) try to explain to her the issue in Charlotte with the police officer,’’ Johnson said. “We’ve taught her to really love and embrace anybody in uniform. For her to try to grasp that a police officer was mad at somebody was just out of her mind to start with. Just more questions came up.’’

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott during a confrontation Tuesday afternoon. Police say Scott had a gun. The victim’s family disputes that.

Protests took place the next four nights in Charlotte. The first two nights the protests turned violent with damage to Charlotte businesses and one person fatally shot by another citizen. The NASCAR Hall of Fame suffered minor damage. Protests were peaceful Thursday and Friday night.

“I just hope everybody can look at everything and gather their thoughts and figure out the right way to fix the problems we have,’’ Austin Dillon said. “Hopefully, with the way things are, the right people will come together and fix these problems that are going on. It’s just sad really.”

Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began sitting for the national anthem during preseason games last month to protest what he deems as wrongdoings against minorities. He now kneels for the anthem.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview last month. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

Kaepernick has pledged to donate $1 million to community organizations. Kaepernick’s protest has been joined by some NFL players and athletes in other sports. All the players for the Indiana Fever of the WNBA knelt and locked arms for the anthem before a playoff game this past week, becoming the first pro team to protest together in such a manner.

Whether on TV or via social media, NASCAR drivers also are in the spotlight and their message can be shared with many. Joey Logano recognizes such a responsibility.

“I think any athlete or public figure takes on a responsibility when you sit down here and talk to you guys, or at any point,’’ said Joey Logano, who appeared in the same campaign this year with Johnson, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson and Darrell Wallace Jr. that promoted inclusion and diversity. “There’s a lot of people that you can influence in good ways or bad ways, and I feel like you should know that. There are a lot of athletes and public figures that don’t realize that about the reaction they can make across the country or the world in a lot of cases by just a couple of words.

“I feel like that should be somehow taught. I believe we all should be entitled to our opinions. That’s A-OK, maybe some of the ways that it’s done is not the best way possible, but I personally believe when I sit down here I know the influence that I can have on young eyes watching us that are very fragile at the time that they could go a lot of different ways. You want to be a positive member of society, and I think that’s something that I try to preach all the time is that, hey, I want to positively impact somebody’s life.”

Brad Keselowski wrote in a recent blog what he sees as the balance between activism and allowing fans to enjoy sports.

“A lot of people try to escape from the outside world through sports,’’ Keselowski wrote. “So we have to always be cognizant of that as an athlete. And I think it’s important not to force-feed politics to our fans, because we have to remember why they’re there. At the same time, I don’t think that means we can deny truth or ignore important things that are happening. It’s an extremely tough line to walk, and quite honestly, I don’t know if there are many athletes, including me, who really have handled it all that well, or to everyone’s satisfaction.

“To be overly involved is forgetting your day job. To not be involved is a tremendous waste.’’

NASCAR Awards: Scene on the red carpet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community gathered at the Music City Center to commemorate the 2022 season and celebrate Joey Logano‘s second Cup title.

The event can be seen at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock.

Here is a look at the scene on the red carpet before Thursday night’s NASCAR Awards:

Joey Logano and Brittany Logano (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Ryan Blaney and Gianna Tulio (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kyle and Samantha Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Chase Elliott (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Alex Bowman and Crystal Marsh (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Tyler Reddick and Alexa De Leon (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Denny Hamlin and Jordan Fish (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Daniel Suarez and Julia Piquet (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Chase Briscoe and Marissa Briscoe (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Christopher Bell and Morgan Bell (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Austin Dillon and Whitney Dillon (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kyle Larson (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

William Byron and Erin Blaney (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kevin Harvick (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Ross Chastain and Erika Turner (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Austin Cindric (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kurt Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Harrison Burton and Jenna Petty(Photo: Dustin Long)
Mario Andretti (Photo: Dustin Long)

Chase Elliott wins NMPA Most Popular Driver Award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott won his fifth consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver Award on Thursday.

The announcement was made during the NASCAR Awards at the Music City Center. The show will air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock.

Elliott is one of only five drivers to win the award since 1984.

Bill Elliott won it from 1984-88, 1991-2000 and 2002. Dale Earnhardt won the award posthumously in 2001. Darrell Waltrip won it in 1989-90. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won it from 2003-17. Chase Elliott has won it every year since.

Noah Gragson was voted as the Most Popular Driver in the Xfinity Series. Hailie Deegan was voted as the Most Popular Driver in the Camping World Truck Series.

Kevin Harvick to make decision on future by Daytona in February

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former Cup champion Kevin Harvick says he’ll know by Daytona in February his plans beyond 2023.

Harvick’s contract with Stewart-Haas Racing ends after the upcoming season. 

Harvick said Thursday before the NASCAR Awards that “it could go either way at this particular point” on what he’ll do, but he affirmed that “going into Daytona, I’ll know what I’m going to do.”

The Daytona 500 is scheduled for Feb. 19. Harvick anticipates making an announcement by then.

“We’re at a point where everybody needs to know what’s going on,” Harvick said. “There’s too many tentacles to everything that happens. Whether it’s the race team, driver management company, every element needs to know. It’s not fair to anybody to have to start the season not knowing.”

Harvick turns 47 on Dec. 8. Next season will be his 23rd in Cup. His debut came a week after Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Harvick was selected by car owner Richard Childress to drive for Earnhardt’s team. 

Harvick has gone to win the 2014 Cup championship and 60 races at Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. He’s tied with Kyle Busch for ninth on the all-time Cup wins list.

Harvick won two races last season. His victory last August at Michigan snapped a 65-race winless streak. He followed that by winning the next weekend at Richmond. 

Harvick has won at least two races in nine of the past 10 seasons. He has scored 41 of his 60 Cup wins since he turned 37 years old.

“Kevin, I think, is probably the No. 1 leader of the drivers, as he should be,” two-time Cup champion Joey Logano said Thursday. “He’s been around the longest. He’s very accomplished. He’s very smart. He’s been through the ups and downs. He’s lived it. There’s wisdom in experience. It’s great to hear his opinion on where we are as a sport.”

Harvick’s business interests include a management company that represents Cup drivers Ryan Preece, Harrison Burton and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., along with other athletes. Harvick also has worked as a broadcaster on NASCAR Xfinity races for Fox Sports, earning positive reviews. 

Harvick’s son Keelan, who is 10 years old, races and has competed in karting in Europe. 

“He’s got one more race in Italy … and then we’ll start all over again,” Harvick said of his son.

Harvick went overseas after the season finale at Phoenix to watch Keelan race.

“I think he’s definitely matured a little bit since he’s been making these trips,” Harvick said. “I think it’s important to have that culturing aspect of life to be comfortable to do things like that anywhere in the world.”

The NASCAR Awards program airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 3 on Peacock. To sign up for Peacock, go here.

BJ McLeod, Live Fast team move to Chevrolet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Driver/owner BJ McLeod and Live Fast Motorsports will race in Chevrolets beginning with the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Based in Mooresville, North Carolina, Live Fast has been a Ford team.

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Live Fast is owned by McLeod, Matt Tifft and Joe Falk. Jessica McLeod, BJ’s wife, is the team’s chief operating officer.

“Our team is excited to make this transition to Chevrolet,” BJ McLeod said in a statement released by the team. “Chevrolet Camaros have proven great success on the track, and Live Fast Motorsports is looking forward to becoming a part of this advance.”

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The team will use ECR engines.

McLeod had one top-10 finish in 29 starts in the Cup Series last season.