Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Documentary series features Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s life behind the scenes in NASCAR return

Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE – NASCAR’s 14-time most popular driver naturally is a top performer in social engagement for his primary sponsor.

But across the million-plus followers that Nationwide Insurance has for its NASCAR-related accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, racing-related posts featuring Dale Earnhardt Jr. aren’t necessarily what draw the largest reactions.

“Some of our best-performing content is Dale and his dog, Gus,” Jim McCoy, Nationwide’s director of strategic sponsorships, told NBC Sports. “It’s things you wouldn’t expect that (fans) just really respond to well.”

With those returns in mind (because Nationwide offers pet insurance, the photos of Gus, Dale and wife Amy for Pet Awareness Month were viewed as valuable), Nationwide has created a new docuseries entitled “Unfinished Business” that will run on the Nationwide 88 Facebook page and make its debut Jan. 24.

McCoy said “Unfinished Business” will focus on the off-track, behind-the-scenes elements of Earnhardt’s life, and Nationwide is expecting Junior Nation to have a voracious appetite after the driver missed the last half of the 2016 season while recovering from concussion symptoms.

The footage will include commercials shoots with Earnhardt and interviews with team owner Rick Hendrick (who will talk teamwork) and crew chief Greg Ives.

“We’re titling it ‘Unfinished Business’ given what’s happened the last six months and Dale out of the car and the quest to be back in the car for Daytona,” McCoy said. “Not only what he’s doing but what (the team is) doing to prepare. We really want to capitalize on the tidal wave of excitement of him getting back in the car.

“We’re doing more in this offseason than we probably typically have because we know the level of the fans’ excitement for him to get back in the car is a level that none of us have ever seen. So we want to make sure we have the content ready, because what we’ve seen at those peak moments when Dale wins a race or Daytona, that’s when the fans are just give me everything you can on Dale.”

Here’s a trailer for the series released Thursday by Nationwide:

The plan is for one or two episodes weekly during the run-up to the season opener on Feb. 26.

“Fans love to see other sides of Dale, and it aligns well with our campaign of trying to show he’s obviously a race car driver, but there’s a lot of things he does and has a passion for,” McCoy said.

While out of the car, it’s still been a busy stretch for Earnhardt, who got married last month and has remained visible making media and sponsor appearances while recovering from his injuries.

Said McCoy: “Dale did everything out of the car that we would expect him to do. Even during the tougher times, he always wanted to make sure he was delivering for his sponsor. First and foremost, it’s about his health and making sure he’s healthy enough to get back in the car. We weren’t there pushing. It was all his timeline but just to keep that communication back and forth.”

There was a “softening” in some of the media impressions measured by Nationwide during Earnhardt’s absence.

“There were some promotions early that were going to launch in the July/August timeframe that we hit the pause button on,” McCoy said. “We’re pretty dialed in with what each quarter (of 2017) is going to look like, and Dale is front and center in all that we’re doing.

NASCAR America: Dog days of summer can challenge teams in many ways

Leave a comment

Today is the first day of summer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows better than most how hot temperatures can change a driver’s season.

The dog days of summer 2004 contributed to the breakup of Junior’s team.

“If the car’s not running well, the driver’s got to bite his tongue,” Earnhardt said. “If he doesn’t bite his tongue, he gets snappy at the team. The team gets frustrated. A team can literally unravel as the season goes. Me and Tony (Eury) Jr., Tony (Eury) Sr. won six races in 2004 going into the playoffs and we split up at the end of the year because we were so upset and mad at each other at the end of the season. The heat can do that.”

Being trapped inside the car in unbearable heat takes a toll on the driver – but it also wears on the crew.

“I don’t think it translates well over to the public how hot it is throughout the weekend in the summer races. The humidity in Michigan – it’s a 120, 130 degrees inside the cars. The crews are dealing with this heat in the garage during practice.”

Critical moments exacerbated by heat in the next five races might very well decide who wins and loses the championship once the cooler temperatures of fall arrive.

“If you’re not running well – you’re inside that car during practice. You can’t get out, they’re making a change and sending you back out. You’re sweating, you’re miserable, the car’s not responding. If you say the wrong thing, it can set the tone for the entire weekend.”

And the entire season, like it did for Earnhardt in 2004.

“For drivers that can handle that kind of heat and handle that frustration when things aren’t quite right, those guys will excel and not stub their toe, not make those mistakes going into the playoffs,” Earnhardt said.

For more, watch the video above.

NASCAR America: Better equipment, skilled drivers changed road racing

Leave a comment

The Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway is the first of three road course races on the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series calendar and the preparation involved in setting up these cars is much greater today than it has been in the past, according to NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett.

“I think the same emphasis is put in those two road course races and the cars that will be in those races,” Earnhardt said. “And now the Roval that will be at Charlotte – being a very important race in the playoffs – these road course racers are even more important.”

Man and machine need to be equal to the challenge.

“Not only is the emphasis more on the drivers to prepare and learn how to become road course racers, but there is a lot more emphasis on the cars too,” Earnhardt said. “All the cars are so much more similar and there is a lot more dedication to preparing the cars for these particular races. It’s almost like there is as much effort into putting a good road course car on the track as there is speedway cars – like Daytona and Talladega cars.”

Even the best driver cannot compete in equipment that is not up to the challenge and it took some outside expertise to raise NASCAR to the level of other marquee road racing series mechanically. Car owners like Jack Roush and road ringers like Boris Said contributed to the evolution of the racing discipline.

“The cars are so much better now than when we started,” Dale Jarrett said. “Whenever I got started in the Cup series fulltime in ’87, there were a couple of good road racers – and I think of Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace … but Jack Roush brought something totally new into the sport a little later in the 80s and early 90s. … Their equipment was a little bit better because they understood road racing a little more. Now everybody has all that.”

Jarrett recalled what he believes might be one of the biggest upsets of his career. He won the pole for the 2001 Global Crossing at the Glen because he received a tip from Said, who told him he was not getting deep enough into the corners because his brakes were not good enough.

“You talk about road course ringers: Boris Said and Ron Fellows and some other guys coming in,” Jarrett said. “One of the things that helped them, they were better because they did it all the time, but they also would tell the teams they were going to drive for, ‘hey, there’s a lot better braking and other things out there that you can do.’ They came in and they had better equipment, which made them look even that much better than what we were.”

For more, watch the video above.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett preview upcoming races

NBCSN
Leave a comment

Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Dale Earnhardt Jr. making his weekly appearance on the show.

Krista Voda hosts with Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

On today’s show:

· Not long ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. bragged about his ability to remember who he’s beaten for wins in past races. In this episode, we’ll test his memory in a trivia game called “Who Did Junior Pass For The Win?” We’ll be taking your questions for Junior throughout the show. Just send it on social media with the hashtag #Wednesdale.

· Sonoma begins a critical summer stretch for the Monster Energy Cup Series. With Chicagoland, Daytona, Kentucky and New Hampshire on the horizon, teams will be challenged and playoff hopes will rise and fall. Dale Jr. & Dale Jarrett preview the upcoming races.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online 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.

Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones at Sonoma

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones when the series visits Sonoma Raceway this weekend.

Ryan Newman leads the way with his 600th Cup start.

The Richard Childress Racing driver will become the 28th driver to reach the mark. His first start came on Nov. 5, 2000 at ISM Raceway with Team Penske.

Newman is one of four remaining active Cup drivers, including Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Derrike Cope, who competed against Dale Earnhardt in a Cup points race. Only Newman and Busch compete full-time.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin will make his 450th start. He will become the 52nd driver to reach that mark.

Hamlin’s first start came on Oct. 9, 2005 at Kansas Speedway. All of his starts have been with JGR.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will make his 200th career start. He will be the 132nd driver to reach that mark.

Stenhouse’s first start came in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 with Wood Brothers Racing when he substituted for Trevor Bayne, who was out due to illness. Every other start has been with Roush Fenway Racing.

The last race at Michigan International Speedway saw AJ Allmendinger make his 350th Cup start. 71 drivers have reached that mark.