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NASCAR Next’s Will Rodgers, Hailie Deegan get boost from Kevin Harvick

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Hailie Deegan and Will Rodgers are different, from each other and the typical NASCAR driver.

Of the nine NASCAR Next members revealed May 15, Deegan, 16, is the youngest and Rodgers, 23, is the oldest.

The daughter of action sports star Brian Deegan and a mother whose “full-time job” is taking her to races, Hailie is a Southern California native who came to NASCAR from off-road racing. She listens to rap and hip hop.

Rodgers, whose father owns a brewery and his mother is a clinical social worker, was born in Hawaii and has competed in sports cars, motocross and off-road racing. He listens to classic rock and punk rock.

The two drivers have one thing in common.

They have Kevin Harvick in their corner.

Hailie Deegan gets out of her car after a practice lap before the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Twin 100’s at Tucson Raceway Park on May 5. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Hailie Deegan has a brief audio recording that she’s listened to a handful of times.

It was recorded minutes after the conclusion of her K&N Pro Series West debut on March 15 at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California.

The recording is of her father, Brian Deegan, talking to Harvick, who was fresh from finishing fourth in the race.

The 2014 Cup champion told Brian Deegan he was impressed by his daughter’s performance. She finished seventh in the 175-lap race after starting eighth. Harvick said he’d keep in touch with them.

“He still does to this day, which is really cool,” Deegan told NBC Sports. “He always asks how I’m doing at the track, how I am doing compared to the other competitors, which is really cool on a personal level and I think that it was just something that’s not a confidence booster but a motivator.”

The day after the Kern County race, Harvick was asked at Auto Club Speedway what driving talent he’d discovered in the race.

He singled Deegan as having the “most potential.”

“I think as far as potential and reach and racing knowledge and getting in the car as young as she is, that would be the one I would pluck out of the series and say that’s the one we want to be a part of,” Harvick said.

Since then Harvick has had Deegan on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours,” she’s graduated from high school and earned her first two top fives on May 19 at Orange Show Speedway and June 9 at Colorado National Speedway. She’s seventh in points through five races.

Harvick reaffirmed his praise of her after he won last month’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I think Brian is really good for her because of the fact she just needs to go race and learn the ins‑and‑outs, get with the right situations as she moves up, not move too fast,” Harvick said. “She has the most potential of a female racer because she gets it. She’s very into what she’s doing. It’s not about everything else. It’s really about the race car and ‘How do I drive it faster?’ She’s just got her stuff together.”

As the only woman in the NASCAR Next program, which highlights up and coming drivers in stock car racing, Deegan recognizes that NASCAR is a sport in search of “something unique” to build its future on.

“I know they’re looking and searching for these aspects of, their fan base right now is all these people, these older generations and right now they’re looking for the new, hip generation of kids and teens coming up,” Deegan said. “The NASCAR Next program kind of plucks those kids out and sees these people with personalities and (who) want it that bad and are willing to do the off-track work, and I think that’s what NASCAR needs right now.”

Does Deegan consider herself hip?

“I don’t know if I consider myself hip, but I consider myself different.”

Kevin Harvick during last year’s K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

For Rodgers, the most surreal moment of last June’s K&N West race at Sonoma Raceway was when spotter Rick Carelli came over the radio in the closing laps.

“Third place is nowhere to be found,” Rodgers recalls Carelli saying.

It was just Rodgers and the leader.

The leader was Harvick, who was making his first start in the series since 2007.

“Oh my gosh, we’re running toe-to-toe with a Cup champion right now,” Rodgers thought at the moment.

The race, essentially at Rodgers’ home track, was the one his team “had been building up to all year.”

He qualified on the pole. Harvick started sixth.

“Now if you had told me I would race toe-to-toe with Kevin Harvick all day, that might have been a scenario again where I wouldn’t have believed you,” Rodgers said.

Harvick won the race, but he made sure to bring attention to Rodgers, who like Deegan, he had as a guest on his radio show.

“Being able to race toe-to-toe with Kevin and pull away from everybody else in the field and then for him to get out of the car and rave about me was very unique,” Rodgers said. “I’d say that’s definitely the best second place I’ll probably ever get.”

Harvick then went out of his way to celebrate with Rodgers in victory lane two months later when Rodgers earned his first career win in the K&N East race at Watkins Glen.

Rodgers also tries to keep in touch with the SHR driver despite his busy schedule.

“Whether or not Kevin has a hand in (NASCAR Next) personally, just by him being an advocate for me and then voicing me to the media, that has really opened the eyes and ears of a lot of people within NASCAR, within the industry, sponsors,” Rodgers said. “It’s helped on many levels. … My credibility has just been elevated so high after he said those things.”

This season Rodgers has competed in four of the first five K&N East races, earning two top 10s. He’s also earned two top 10s in four ARCA starts racing for Ken Schrader.

Harvick expects Rodgers to continue to rise if given the opportunity, especially when it comes to road course racing.

“I don’t think anybody would have known Will Rogers‘ name if we hadn’t run the K&N West Series race last year,” Harvick said after his All-Star win. “He’s got his stuff together. He just needs an opportunity to come out and show what he’s got. When the road course stuff shows up, Will is probably capable of being in an Xfinity race or a Cup race. In the right equipment on a road course, he’d be a top-10 competitor.”

Harvick has only competed in two K&N races in the last year, but each one has benefited someone else.

“It’s interesting to see,” Harvick said. “That’s really been our goal running the K&N races, is to expose those drivers to get opportunities. Just glad that it’s working out for a couple of them.”

 

NASCAR America: What makes Kyle Busch so good at Bristol?

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Kyle Busch swept all three national series at Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2010. The next spring, he won both the Truck and Cup series. That five-race winning streak is part of a remarkable 21 victories on this track.

Last August, he swept the three national series at Bristol again.

Busch’s numbers at Bristol are nothing short of amazing – and they include back-to-back wins in the last two Cup races.

But what makes him so good?

“It’s because he’s an amazing driver,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.

“(Busch is) a guy who can make an amazing difference behind the wheel and so when you go to a track that needs a talented driver to be able to get around it, he’s a guy that takes advantage of his own skill,” Earnhardt continued. “You have to apply that to the short track. All the guys that do well at short tracks are drivers. They’re real, real men.

“They came from racing short tracks and honing those abilities … have the patience, the judgment, the decision-making ability, but also the raw speed to be able to set up their cars the way they need to be all night long.”

On a track where laps are completed in less than 15 seconds, drivers are constantly in traffic. Busch’s ability to navigate through slower cars is another key to his success, according to Kyle Petty.

“Bristol is a rhythm racetrack. … Kyle is a rhythm driver,” Petty said. “When he gets in a rhythm, you watch him when he runs – he catches lapped traffic; he disposes of them. He doesn’t spend a lot of time breaking his rhythm and having to start again.”

For more, watch the video above.

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Kaulig Racing to field second entry in Indianapolis Xfinity race

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Kaulig Racing will field a second entry for the first time in its three-year history in the Sept. 8 Xfinity race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, team owner Matt Kaulig told NBC Sports.

The entry, the No. 10 Chevrolet, will join the No. 11 that is driven by Ryan Truex. The No. 10 will be driven by a “big driver.”

The news comes after Kaulig Racing earned its first top-five finish last week at Mid-Ohio, where Truex finished fifth. It came in the team’s 87th Xfinity start and was in Kaulig’s home state of Ohio, where his company, Leaf Filter Gutter Protection, is headquartered.

“It’s very (significant), it shows how our organization is growing,” Kaulig said. “A lot of these teams are getting smaller, are cutting people, are just cutting back and we’re growing. We’re just getting started. When you look at a team like ours, that’s just two-and-a-half years in, it’s all upside, it’s all of our great stuff that’s ahead of us. Not behind us. We just want to win trophies.”

The addition of a second car for the Indianapolis race follows the team building a 15,000-square foot addition onto its shop, which is located in Welcome, North Carolina, on the campus of Richard Childress Racing.

Kaulig’s time in NASCAR began as a sponsor of Blake Koch in 2015 when he drove for TriStar Motorsports.

Through 21 races, Truex is eighth in the point standings and has nine top 10s in addition to his first top five.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Wild Bristol moments, #WednesDale

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with a look back at some of Bristol’s wildest moments.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hosts with Marty Snider and Kyle Petty joining him at the Big Oak table.

On today’s show:

  • The panel will discuss Xfinity Series driver Elliott Sadler’s decision to end his full-time career following the 2018 season. Sadler is currently second in Xfinity Series points and drives for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at JR Motorsports.
  • Dale Jr. weighs in on NASCAR’s invitation to Fernando Alonso to compete in next year’s Daytona 500.
  • Fans can ask Dale Jr. and our panel questions by using #WednesDale.

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.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to serve as honorary pace car driver for Brickyard 400

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Fans will get to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a car going around Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month, it just won’t be going very fast.

Earnhardt, who serves as a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports, has been announced as the honorary pace car driver for the Sept. 9 Brickyard 400.

The race, which was held in July for its last 11 runnings, will be the regular-season finale for the Cup Series for the first time.

Earnhardt will drive a 2018 Camaro ZL1.

“I am honored that Chevrolet asked me to drive the Camaro ZL1 Pace Car in one of the biggest races of the year,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “The fan in me was already looking forward to this event. It’s a big race. There is a lot at stake since it’s the final chance for the teams and drivers to make the playoffs. So, I hope to do a good job leading the field to the green flag, but I can promise you I’ll soak in every minute and enjoy the Brickyard in a way I never have before.”

Earnhardt made 17 starts in Indianapolis between 2000-17, with a best finish of fourth in 2012 among his five top-10 finishes.

Fans will be able to see Earnhardt drive a little bit faster two weeks later. Earnhardt will compete in the Sept. 22 Xfinity race at Richmond Raceway. It will be his first race since retiring from full-time Cup competition at the end of 2017.

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