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Jimmie Johnson: ‘I find the more I listen, the more I learn’

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With NASCAR among the few sports currently competing, seven-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson said drivers and series officials are discussing ways they can show unified support against social injustice and racism.

NASCAR races this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Truck and Xfinity Series race there Saturday, and the Cup Series races there Sunday. The track, located in Hampton, Georgia, is less than 30 miles from downtown Atlanta. That area has been the site of protests since George Floyd’s death on Memorial Day after a since-fired Minneapolis police officer pinned Floyd to the ground with a knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Atlanta is under an 8 p.m. ET curfew through Sunday night.

Johnson said he has spent much time this week listening to understand what more he can do.

“I’m trying to learn and educate myself and really listen during these times,” he said Friday during a Zoom call with media. “I find the more I listen, the more I learn.”

But he also knows there are questions about what more the sport and all its participants can do.

“I think for those of us that ask ourselves ‘Is there more that we can do?’ that’s the start of it,” he said. “I think that’s, ultimately, what a lot of the protestors far and wide want to ignite in people. Do you think you can do more? And when that really hits inside of you, will you act on it?

“I do think there’s time to do stuff this weekend. There’s a lot of discussion going on behind the scenes with many drivers with our sport, the leaders of sport.”

Bubba Wallace, the only black Cup driver, has discussed this week his feelings and experiences with police on the Dale Jr. Download and “Lunch Talk Live” on NBCSN and an Instagram video chat with Ty Dillon.

Dillon and Johnson are among drivers who have also expressed their feelings this week about the Floyd’s and protests.

Johnson said he reached out to Wallace earlier this week to talk.

“Bubba has been a great friend of mine,” Johnson said. “I’ve been in conversation with him with some of the depression issues that he’s battled over the years that he’s been able to share publicly. Things that drivers talk about and the challenges we have in our teams, our jobs, relationships, life and things like that – he and I have always had an open line of communication and talk on a deep level.

“To start, I just called to check in with him. I just wanted to know how he was doing. In that phone call, I learned a lot about him, his family and the things that they’ve been through. His cousin was killed while he was young, to learn that story, I just had no idea. I had no idea the challenges he’s been faced with. It’s part of that listening.”

Wallace told the story on the Dale Jr. Download about the 2003 death of a cousin in a police shooting in Tennessee.

“We were at my sister’s basketball tournament, I can’t remember where,” Wallace said. “I was running around the gym with all the brothers and sisters there and all of a sudden I hear a scream like the worst scream that you want to hear, not like somebody scared you straight, like something bad had just happened. I look over and I see my mom running out the door and we had just found out that my cousin was shot and killed by a police officer.”

A judge later cleared the officer in the shooting. The family filed a civil suit and lost in court on appeal.

As Johnson looks ahead to what more he can do, his foundation can play a key role.

Johnson’s foundation is dedicated to helping children and supports K-12 public and charter schools in select districts in California, Oklahoma and North Carolina.

“(Wife) Chandra and I both grew up in public school systems,” Johnson said. “We understand the diversity in the public school systems, we understand the challenges in the public school systems. And to us, we’ve always felt that starting with kids is the most important part of the equation.

“The earlier you start, the more hope you have for change in education and knowledge, and ultimately, better citizens in the country, citizens of the world, understanding culture abroad.

“Education has been very important to us and I think, in general, should be a point of focus. It has been for us. As I look into the future at what I do when I’m not a full-time racer, it’s a little unclear right now where I take the Jimmie Johnson Foundation. But our focus has been on children for a reason and we really feel like we can make change and really effect individuals’ lives if we start young enough.”

NASCAR’s Steve Phelps: May 17 Darlington race an “opportunity”

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps says the sport’s return May 17 at Darlington Raceway gives it an “opportunity” to reach new fans.

Phelps discussed that and other topics in an appearance Tuesday on the Dale Jr. Download with host Dale Earnhardt Jr. The show airs at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBCSN.

NASCAR last raced March 8 at Phoenix Raceway before it postponed eight Cup races because of the COVID-19 outbreak. NASCAR will be the first major sport to return in the U.S. The Cup Series will run two races at Darlington (May 17 and 20) before competing May 24 and May 27 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Asked about being able to test new concepts — including midweek races — as NASCAR looks to run the remaining 32 Cup points races this season, Phelps said:

“I think it’s pretty cool to look at a Wednesday race. I know it’s something that we’ve been looking to do for a while and test out. Now we have the opportunity to test it out and see how it’s going to go. It is different, right, to be going to a racetrack for a Cup race, two races in a row, but I think everyone is starved to get back to racing.

“You look at the success of the iRacing and the number of eyeballs that it has put out there. We think (resumption of racing) is going to be a really good test for us and a real opportunity for us to not just have our core fans consume the sport like they never have because we haven’t been racing for so long, but also an opportunity for other people to see our sport, sample our sport.

“I think we’re going to have millions of fans that will tune in who otherwise wouldn’t that are going to see how great our sport is. I think we’ll have a potential (number of) lifetime fans that will come out of this really difficult situation that we’re experiencing.”

NASCAR has announced only two weeks of racing for Cup teams through May 27 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Asked about the rest of the schedule, Phelps told Earnhardt:

“I would say that the schedule is 99% of the way done. We would like to announce a full schedule. The reasons why we can’t do that, part of that has to do with we don’t know if we can get into that particular state or not.

“We know we’re good in the state of South Carolina. We know we’re good in the state of North Carolina. That’s kind of where we stopped just to put a flag in the ground and say, ‘Hey we’re going to move forward with these four races.’

“What we’re determining right now is, obviously, the number of events in Darlington for this year. When the season started, we had one. Now we have three. So we had to figure out where those races are coming from.

“We have some idea, but we’re trying to figure out what that looks like because if you have two additional Darlingtons and one additional Charlotte Motor Speedway, they have to come from some racetrack. So is that coming from a racetrack with two events that will now have one? Those are the things we’re trying to work through right now.”

Phelps also said that NASCAR has consulted Dr. Celine Gounder, who is a clinical assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. She also serves on the executive committee of the New York City COVID-19 Rapid Response Coalition, which seeks to extend treatment and services to high-risk, chronically ill and underserved New Yorkers in need of at-home care during the pandemic.

Since that time, NASCAR also had input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the medical community and “all kinds of different inputs that allow us to make informed decisions about when you can go back, when it’s safe to go back — because we don’t want to go back and heaven forbid have something happen and then have to stop again. Once we go back, we need to continue down this road and make sure that, again, everyone is safe, the competitors, the safety workers, everyone involved.”

Dale Jr. Download to replace NASCAR America this week

Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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With NASCAR America on hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, NBCSN will show additional episodes of the Dale Jr. Download this week. All are shows that have aired previously.

Here is this week’s schedule:

Tuesday: Dale Jr. Download with guest Ken Schrader airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Wednesday: Dale Jr. Download with guest Kyle Larson airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Wednesday: Dale Jr. Download with guest Humpy Wheeler airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Thursday: Dale Jr. Download with guest Rick Mast airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 

Bubba Wallace reveals to Dale Jr. intimate details about battle with depression

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In one of his most revealing interviews, NASCAR Cup driver Bubba Wallace explained why depression has been and remains a struggle for him.

The Richard Petty Motorsports driver, who turns 26 today, appears with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr. Download on both NBCSN (today at 5 p.m. ET) and on Dirty Mo Radio.

Wallace opened up about his battle with depression, the relationship he has with his parents, as well as his racing career.

Wallace first said he suffered from depression in May after an emotional breakdown earlier this year at Kansas Speedway.

On the Dale Jr. Download, Wallace expounded about his battle with depression.

I guess I’ve never looked at it as a sign of weakness or coming out and talking about any issue that I have,” Wallace said. “If you ask me, I’m going to tell you. I don’t know if it’s the bigger picture or light at the end of tunnel, but I was definitely in rough times there at Kansas. They were like, ‘What’s going on, you seem different?’ And I said, ‘I’m depressed, it’s as simple as that.’

For weeks and weeks (since then), I’m still getting thanked for talking about depression, that it’s helped so many people. I’m like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know it was such a big deal.’ I was just asked what was going on, and I told them because I’m an open book. What you see is what you get. But it’s such a bigger deal than ‘I’m just depressed. Hey, I’m going through this, days are dark and long and I’m quiet and lonely and I’ve never been able to come out and talk about that. It’s signs of weakness and whatnot.’

Wallace went on to say:

I’m pretty good at holding things in. That’s my problem. I held it in for so long and it had just built up. I don’t talk. When I’m mad, I just hold it all in. That’s what’s ruined relationships and whatnot. I just hold it in and a day later it blows over and ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ and you don’t realize the damage you’ve done.”

When asked if he now sees his public revelation as a regret or release, Wallace replied it’s been the latter.

A release, for sure, a release of emotions, anger, frustration, tears, sadness, darkness, loneliness, everything,” he said. “When I talked about it, it’s emotional to think about it to this day. There’s still days … it’s been a lot better, (but) there’s still days that I’ll go home, sit on the couch and just look at a blank TV.”

Wallace said he did see two therapists to help him deal with his problem.

I tried,” he said on the Dale Jr Download. “I went to counseling and people say there’s nothing wrong with counseling. I went and did that twice with a psychiatrist and psychologist and it was very weird, sitting there talking like this is what I’m feeling. ‘Well, why are you feeling this way?’ I don’t know, I just am. They said you’ve got to give it time, it’s not going to go anywhere in two weeks and I stopped going. I can’t do it.”

In one of his most revealing interviews ever, a very retrospective Bubba Wallace reveals a number of private details about his battle with his depression, his parents’ divorce and more on today’s Dale Jr. Download. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Earnhardt interjected he also has gone to therapy. Of the first few times of discussing his problems with a professional, Earnhardt felt relieved, noting: “This is an awesome person and I’d like to spend more time with them and we’ve become very close friends.”

Wallace said it’s been nearly four months since he went to therapy but continues to work on his problems on his own. It’s part of wearing his emotions on his sleeve and being an emotional person.

That’s how it’s always been, really,” he said. “I think I’m guilty of doing before I think, especially on the negative side. It’s like, uhhh, probably shouldn’t have done that.”

Wallace also talked openly about how his parents’ contentious divorce in 2016 impacted him.

This is the first time I’ve talked about (the divorce),” Wallace said. “That’s why I like this show, because honesty comes out. It’s like speak the truth, nothing but the truth.”

He shared more, including what happened after his mother told him: “Well, me and your dad got into it.”

That led to a physical confrontation Wallace said he had with his father.

The light switch went off, I got in my truck and went over and fought my dad, like swinging fists, just did before I thought. A physical altercation,” Wallace said. “For 15 years of racing it was me and him. And then that day, that was it.”

But things are starting to get back on track in his relationship with his father.

This year, finally my dad and I are making some progress,” Wallace said. “My dad is super hard-headed to talk to and just to make him understand things. I still love him to death, no matter what, right, wrong or indifferent, he’s still my dad.

Multiple times I did (extend an olive branch to his father). His favorite saying is, ‘Time shall heal all wounds.’ I’d say, ‘Hey man, wanna talk?’ He’d say, ‘Time shall heal all wounds.’ A couple months later, ‘Hey man, wanna talk?’ He’d say, ‘Time shall heal all wounds.’ You still have a little bit of that awkward tension there.”

Wallace cited his relationship issues with his father impacting him.

This is a big chunk of the depression I’ve had, losing your best friend,” Wallace said.

Catch the show on today at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN or click here to listen to the entire podcast on Dirty Mo Radio.

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NASCAR America: Martha Earnhardt on Dale Jr. Download, 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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On today’s edition of the Dale Jr. Download, Dale Earnhardt Jr. welcomes his grandmother – or as he calls her, “my Mammaw” – Martha Earnhardt.

Martha was married to Ralph Earnhardt from 1947 until his passing in 1973. Sadly, Dale Jr. never knew his grandfather, as the former was born in 1974.

But Junior’s father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, told his son a number of tales about Ralph as a driver, a father and more.

Ralph and Martha had five children, two girls and three boys. Dale Sr. was the first-born son (1949).

Martha, who turned 89 on July 15, told some great stories on the Dale Jr. Download, including:

* Dale Sr. was more interested in becoming a race car driver than being a school student. He failed two elementary school grades and was a 16-year-old eighth-grader. Shortly after entering high school, Dale Sr. went to Ralph and told him he wanted to quit school.

“Dale really got behind in school and he was older than everyone,” Martha Earnhardt recalled. “He would do everything to keep from going to school. We just finally gave up and let him go do whatever.”

But there was a caveat that, in a way, made a significant impact on Dale Sr.’s future: If Dale Sr. wasn’t going to go to school anymore, he had to work in Ralph’s garage. That proved to be keen, as not only did Dale Sr. learn about how to build a race car, he also learned how to be a better racer from his father. Dale Sr. would attempt to run Ralph’s garage after Ralph’s passing, but that was short-lived as Dale Sr. began his own racing career in 1974.

* In addition to fixing regular cars, Ralph also fixed bootleggers cars in his garage. That helped fund his own racing exploits.

* Martha had her own racing career that lasted … well, we’ll let her tell the story:

“Ralph and Bud Allman owned two cars together. They decided to let me and his wife drive at Hickory Speedway one night and we were in the ladies race. Me and her both wrecked and tore the cars up. They had our race before Ralph’s race, so they had to take both cars and fix one for Ralph to race. That was my one and only (race).”

But even to this day, Martha remains miffed somewhat at her late husband because he wouldn’t let her practice for the race.

“We just got up and started and tried to run and it just didn’t work. I just wasn’t meant to be a race car driver,” she said.

But, Martha took her brief racing career with a grain of salt: “I didn’t really wreck that bad. I just ran into the wall in the right-front of the grandstand where everybody could see me.”

* Ralph Earnhardt had some unusual superstitions, Martha recalled. Ralph wouldn’t allow anything green in color in the car and he hated peanuts around the car – so much so that one time, Martha said, Ralph pulled a gun on someone who had a bag of peanuts and was uncomfortably too close to the race car for Ralph. “Things used to be different back then,” Martha Earnhardt quipped.

* The man who would go on to be famously nicknamed “The Intimidator” didn’t intimidate his mother. When asked if he did anything that got her mad, Martha replied, “Oh yes. He was always up to something. I threatened to whip him, but nine times out of ten I didn’t. He wasn’t a bad kid.”

* Martha still lives in the same house in Kannapolis, North Carolina, that she shared with Ralph. She’s been there for 63 years, when she was pregnant with her youngest child, Danny.

Hear even more stories from Martha Earnhardt on today’s edition of NASCAR America/Dale Jr. Download at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN (you can also hear the full podcast at http://www.dalejr.com/radio/tdjd/).

If you can’t catch today show 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.