Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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Shane Lee to drive for new Xfinity team with Circuit City sponsorship

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CONCORD, N.C. — Former Richard Childress Racing driver Shane Lee will compete for a new Xfinity Series team, H2 Motorsports, the team announced Thursday at Charlotte Motor speedway

Owned by 23-year-old entrepreneur and venture capitalist Matt Hurley, the team will be sponsored by Circuit City and will field Lee in the No. 28 Toyota with support from Toyota Racing Development. They’ll debut June 16 at Iowa Speedway with plans to compete for the rest of the season.

Circuit City, which is primarily an online store now, was notably a sponsor of Hut Stricklin from 1996-98 in the Cup Series.

“I grew up an avid race fan, my parents are from the Midwest and I’ve followed the sport very, very closely since I was a young kid,” Hurley said. “More recently felt like there was an opportunity to go into the sport and bring some of our invested brands back into the sport. I’ve really taken an interest in kind of trying to find a way in.

“We felt like now is the right time to enter the sport, to come in in a competitive way. … Felt like TRD was the right partner to help us do that in a competitive way.”

Lee, 25, competed in the Xfinity Series last year, making 13 starts in RCR’s No. 3 Chevrolet. His best result and only top five was a fourth-place finish at Kansas Speedway in October.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Lee said. “I met Matt at a couple races last year. We actually became pretty good friends and we weren’t really even working on a racing deal. Probably January or February we started talking about the race deal and wanting to get into racing. We sort of went from there and he got himself figured out and he really went down the line and hired some really good people.”

Lee will be paired with crew chief Pete Rondeau. Rondeau has 103 Cup races to his name, including as crew chief for Regan Smith’s 2011 Southern 500 win.

Rondeau also has one Xfinity Series win with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Bristol in 2004.

“I’ve had a history of accepting challenges,” Rondeau said. “As we did with Furniture Row team, we worked hard and … it ended up flourishing into a championship-caliber team. To me this is no different right here. We have a good core group and I’m happy to work with them. It’s going to be fun and a whole lot of work at the same time.”

NASCAR America: Dale Jr. Download with Mike Helton, 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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On today’s Dale Jr. Download, which runs from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Dale Earnhardt Jr. welcomes NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton.

Earnhardt has known Helton his whole life, and while the two consider each other good friends, Junior told one story where that friendship was tested a bit. 

Here’s a brief segment of what Junior had to say about Helton:

You can be an incredible friend, but the funny thing is when you need to chew somebody’s ass, you can get that done, too. There was one time you had to get after me pretty hard at Bristol Motor Speedway. … We had a car explode a brake rotor on the race track and threw brake parts all over the place.

There was about 15 laps to go and we were running under caution. Typically, NASCAR red flags the race and I was wanting them to do that, but they didn’t. I don’t see the brake stuff, everything’s great, I’m raising hell. This was in the Bud days. Tony (Eury) Sr. was on the radio and I think he was encouraging me a little bit. Our spotter came over and said they want you and Tony Sr. to come to the truck after the race. I stopped talking immediately.

That’s when I learned that Mike Helton and the guys in the booth listen to the drivers and I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, they heard me.’ … We go up in the hauler and me and Tony Sr. still feel like we’re in the right and that we’re going to tell ‘em this and tell ‘em that, and that we’re going in there thinking we’re going to tell Helton and he’s going to say ‘you’re right, we should have red-flagged the race.’

As soon as Helton’s head comes into the door jamb, Tony Sr. and I both started pleading our case. And Mike Helton said, ‘Both of y’all hush. Y’all aren’t going to talk, I’m going to talk.’ You were so mad, so angry, and when I realized how mad you were, I was so disappointed in myself for disappointing and angering him. … I realized now what I had done.’”

Tune in to hear the rest of the story on the Dale Jr. Download (the above portion starts around 51:00).

And then stick around for the following show, IndyCar Live, from Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 6-6:30 pm ET with Kevin Lee.

If you can’t catch either of today’s shows on TV, watch 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. opens up on why he hid his smoking and how he quit

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For the first 15 years or so of his high-profile NASCAR career, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a secret that he kept from fans, media and sponsors.

But most importantly he kept it from his father.

There had been times that Dale Earnhardt had entered his son’s house unannounced and seen the ashtrays full of cigarette butts.

And while his mother, uncle and grandparents also indulged in smoking, Earnhardt’s seven-time champion father didn’t, nor did he approve of it.

“When I was a kid, everyone seemed to be smoking except for dad for whatever reason. He just never did,” Earnhardt Jr. told NBCSports.com in a phone interview Tuesday morning during a round of media appearances in which he spoke about his former habit in-depth publicly for the first time. “He knew I did, and I never, ever would have let him see me holding a cigarette. He hated it. We never had a conversation about it. He might have said a few times, ‘You need to effing quit that.’ Or something like that real short.

“I know that was something that extremely disappointed him.”

Ultimately, it was another family member who helped Earnhardt Jr. snap the habit about eight years ago.

Earnhardt’s wife, Amy, put up with his smoking the first few months after they began dating.

“I was trying to quit and tried a couple of times and failed, and it was so disappointing for her,” he said. “Eventually she said to me, ‘Look man, are you really going to get this done? Are you really going to eventually quit?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know if I can.’ And she goes well, ‘Honestly, that could be a dealbreaker for me.’ And I said, ‘Damn, really?’

“She said, ‘Yeah, if you’re not sure, and this is something that is going to be part of our relationship going forward, I just don’t know. So that was a tough conversation that had to be had, and I finally figured out how to get it out of my system when I truly wanted to quit. You have to have that conviction to do it, but it was really, really hard.”

Earnhardt, who just launched a video campaign with Nicorette to help promote its new coated ice mint lozenge that helps smokers quit, said he wanted to help be a coach on the journey for other people trying to quit.

“I figured it wasn’t a super-duper secret that I was a smoker, but maybe it might be worth exposing that little lie and secret to see if I can convince other people to quit because honestly, once I decided to quit, I didn’t realize all the things that smoking was affecting in my life,” he said. “And I was super insecure about it.

“Obviously I didn’t want anybody to know about it, but I worried about whether my car smelled, my clothes smelled, my breath smelled, and then I worried about my long-term health. I had a doctor that’s pretty straightforward, and he’s hammering on me all the time that, ‘Like, dude, you’ve got to quit.’ I seemed to get a lot of sore throats and a lot of colds more frequently than other people that weren’t smokers.

In addition to feeling much healthier, Earnhardt said it changed him for the better socially as well.

“I realized how much control (smoking) had over me,” said the NASCAR on NBC analyst, who also has been open about the impact Amy and Steve Letarte had on him getting out more. “The decisions I made every day were based around smoking. It sort of encouraged that hermit mentality that I had before me and Amy met. Where I wouldn’t go anywhere, do anything. You wouldn’t hardly see me leave the bus on a race weekend. I would shorten visits with family on holidays and just avoid activity.

“I’d just sit in the house and play video games because I could smoke. Then I realized once I got done how much that was dictating my day and predicting the choices I made every day. It was all based around my habit of smoking, and that’s pretty stupid, but it’s true.”

Earnhardt said he picked up smoking in his early 20s, just before he began running in the Xfinity Series, while being around friends who did it.

He hid the vice in public because of the worries about his persona (which already had been associated in his youth with wild partying at the “Club E” makeshift nightclub in his basement). While NASCAR also was affiliated with tobacco through having R.J. Reynolds as the title sponsor of its top series for more than 30 years, Earnhardt said there was a “negative stigma that was building” about smoking when he took it up.

“It wasn’t popular, cool or trendy,” he said. “I wasn’t so much worried about sponsors as just worried about disappointing people. I just tried not to really push it in front of anyone’s face. I wouldn’t walk up and down pit road holding a cigarette. I just thought that would be a mess.

“People would be like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Get your head on straight. You’re supposed to be this race car driver,’ and I already had people questioning my focus and my determination. If I’m walking around smoking a cigarette on Saturday between practices, I’m sure that was going to just feed into that.”

Martin Truex Jr. throwing back to 2004 Xfinity title for Southern 500

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While Martin Truex Jr. won the Cup Series title for the first time in 2017, he’s been a NASCAR champion for far longer.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver got his big break in 2004 when he competed for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Chance 2 Motorsports in the Xfinity Series (then the Busch Series).

Truex proceeded to drive the team’s No. 8 Chevrolet to 12 wins and consecutive Xfinity titles (2004 and 2005).

Truex surprised Earnhardt on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download by revealing that he’ll drive his 2004 Bass Pro Shops Xfinity scheme in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Sept. 1 on NBCSN).

Martin Truex Jr. competes in the Xfinity Series race at Homestead Miami Speedway on Nov. 20, 2004. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The use of the paint scheme at Darlington is made even more appropriate by the fact that’s where Truex clinched his 2004 title in the next to last race of the year.

“So many things had to happen for me to get where I am right now,” Truex said on the podcast. “This car was the first real sponsored car I had.”

Bass Pro Shops has been a supporter of Truex in some form every year since 2004.

“Without (CEO) Johnny Morris, another person I owe so much to, he’s just an amazing guy,” Truex said. “Loves racing, obviously. Loves, loves, loves NASCAR. Supports a lot of people. (Richard Childress Racing) he still does stuff with them. Just lucky to meet people like that along the way. And I never would have met him if it wasn’t for Chance 2 and Dale. You had that relationship with him. It’s crazy, man.”

Monster Energy All-Star Race by the numbers

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When NASCAR holds its annual All-Star Race this weekend, it will mark the 35th edition of the exhibition race that’s called Charlotte Motor Speedway home for all but one year.

In that time, the race has had a lot of different titles, many different formats and a lot of memorable paint schemes (say “Chromalusion” three times fast.)

The race has seen 23 different winners since its inception in 1985 and seven of them will be in Saturday night’s 85 lap main event as drivers compete for $1 million.

Here’s a look at other interesting numbers from the event’s three-and-a-half decades of history.

24 – Times Mark Martin competed in the All-Star Race, the most all-time. He did not miss the race from 1988 – 2013.

14 – Number of top 10s Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned in the All-Star Race, the most all-time. Jimmie Johnson is the active leader with 11.

12 – Number of laps Kyle Busch needs to lead to pass Bill Elliott (267 laps) for most laps led in the All-Star Race.

12 – Cars competed in the first All-Star Race on May 25, 1985. There will be 19 cars in this year’s race.

7 – Drivers who have multiple wins in the All-Star Race (Johnson, 4; Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, 3; Martin, Davey Allison, Terry Labonte and Kevin Harvick, 2)

5 – Poles Bill Elliott earned in the All-Star Race, the most all-time. Kyle Busch is the active leader with three.

4 – Times Sterling Marlin won the Monster Energy Open, the most all-time.

3 – Times Ken Schrader and Marlin finished runner-up in the All-Star Race, tied for the most all-time, without winning. Schrader competed in the race eight times and finished in the top five in six of them.

2 – Runner-up finishes by Brad Keselowski in the All-Star Race. He’s the active leader among drivers in top fives without an ASR win.

1 – Times that Jeff Gordon was sponsored by a dinosaur themed amusement park ride (1997). After winning the race, crew chief Ray Evernham was told not to bring that car back to the track.