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Jeff Burton elected to Virginia Sports Hall of Fame

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Jeff Burton, a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports, has been elected to the Sports Hall of Fame in his home state of Virginia.

Burton, a native of South Boston, will be inducted in the Hall of Fame on April 6 at Zeider’s American Dream Theater in Virginia Beach.

Burton is being recognized for a racing career that had 21 Cup wins, including two victories in the Coca-Cola 600 and the 1999 Southern 500.

Burton was also the Cup rookie of the year in 1994.

He’ll be part of an eight-member class that includes:

  • Former NFL players Heath Miller and Ruben Brown
  • Former Old Dominion University women’s basketball coach Wendy Larry
  • Olympic Gold Medalist diver Mark Lenzi
  • Former University of Richmond quarterback William “Buster” O’Brien
  • Former Old Dominion University Sports Information Director and Senior Associate Athletic Director Debbie White
  • Former Colonial Athletic Association Commissioner Tom Yeager.

The class was selected by the Hall of Fame’s 30-member Honors Court after reviewing nominations among athletes, coaches, journalists and other contributors, who either were born and/or raised in Virginia or achieved their fame playing in the state.

NASCAR America: Turning Point in Phoenix Cup race

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On Monday’s NASCAR America, analysts Jeff Burton, Steve Letarte and Kyle Petty discussed what was the turning point in Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway.

To all three, restarts – particularly two of the last three – were the turning point that allowed Kyle Busch to win and Ryan Blaney to still finish third despite running low on both fuel and tire tread in the closing laps.

This is it, the third to last restart,” Burton said, looking at the video. “Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch line up and in front of them is Kevin Harvick, on two tires. On this restart, Kevin Harvick gets put in the middle and now he’s in no-man’s land and is just going backwards.”

Letarte, meanwhile, pointed to the second-to-last restart following a single-car incident where Ryan Preece hit the wall, where Harvick fell back even further. On the surface, it was just two spots, but in reality, it likely cost Harvick any remaining chance to win.

“It’s just two spots, how bad can two spots be?” Letarte asked. “They come out on the backstretch, an accident comes out with Preece, the caution comes out and that’s an entire row. (Losing) two spots on a restart makes a huge difference because that sets them up for the next restart and now he’s (Harvick) behind Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch.”

Added Kyle Petty, “Yes, (Harvick is) behind them, and on that restart, watch where that row goes, watch where Blaney and where Kyle Busch goes, and then watch the 4 car of Kevin Harvick. He’s not so much in no-man’s land, they just split him on both sides, which just totally takes him out.”

Burton chimed back in, adding:

(Harvick) said his car just didn’t go on two tires,” Burton said. “Blaney on the outside makes the move, then Harvick on the bottom gets into (Jimmie) Johnson and that slows his momentum. Then watch both sides of him, inside and outside, they split him and now his momentum is dead and you’re now in the middle driving into Turn 3 at Phoenix and that’s trouble. In those two restarts … Kevin Harvick, because of his two tires, his car not driving well, didn’t like the way it drove, got put in a bad spot. Boom, right there, his chance to win the race is gone.”

Letarte wrapped up the analysis by putting everything in perspective and why Harvick fell short and finished ninth: “Every driver said track position (was key during the race). Two restarts, eight positions (lost), game over. You’re not going to make that back.”

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Phoenix weekend, IndyCar recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, featuring a recap of this past weekend’s Monster Energy Cup Series and Xfinity Series races at ISM Raceway.

NASCAR on NBC’s race team of Daytona 500-winning crew chief Steve Letarte, the “Mayor” Jeff Burton, and auto racing icon Kyle Petty host tonight’s show, and will examine Kyle Busch’s busy weekend in Phoenix, in which he took the checkered flag in both races.

Nate Ryan will also join the show to talk about Sunday’s IndyCar season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Florida, won by Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

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.

Friday 5: Racer shares his struggles with depression, anxiety

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The challenge to race hasn’t always been about sponsorship and equipment for Cody Ware.

The 23-year-old suffers from depression and anxiety.

He wrote in a Facebook post last year that when he took a hiatus from racing and went back to school in 2015, his struggles got “so bad that I actually tried to kill myself.”

As Ware prepares to start his first Daytona 500 on Sunday, starting 37th for his family’s team, he is speaking about the mental health struggles he’s faced.

“I think most of my day-to-day struggles come internally,” he said. “The biggest step for me making the plunge into full-time Cup racing was to make sure I could mentally and emotionally handle it. Being on medication every day, it’s a constant struggle between fears and doubts and uncertainty, always kind of wondering to myself if I could get through a full 36-race season in Cup. I feel like with friends and family on board … I think with all that, it will be a good experience.

“This isn’t my story, this is a story that needs to be talked about for everybody. This is an issue that I think is way more prevalent in the country that is not discussed at all. I think that the more people have a voice and use their voice to talk about mental health and the stigma around it, that will help more people than I can even imagine. Even if all I’m doing is starting a conversation, then I’m accomplishing what I want to do.”

Ware follows a number of athletes and former athletes who have spoken about mental health struggles. NBA player DeMar DeRozan opened up about his struggles with depression and anxiety in February 2017, telling the Toronto Star: “It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day.”

Shortly after that, NBA player Kevin Love wrote in The Players’ Tribune about a panic attack he had during a game in 2017 and how therapy sessions have helped him. “Everyone is going through something that we can’t see,” he wrote.

Last August during his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech, Brian Dawkins detailed his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts he had early in his NFL career.

The National Institute of Mental Health states that nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness — more than 40 million people. Young adults age 18-25 years have the highest prevalence of a mental illness compared to adults 26-49 years and those age 50 and older.

Ware says he was about 17 years old when he acknowledged “that I had a problem” but it wasn’t until a few years later that he said he “started actually trying to fix the problem.

“That’s kind of been the big part for me the last few years, making the conscious effort to keep fighting that fight,” he said. “It’s not something that I can just take some medication and be done with it. It’s a battle every morning when I wake up to really deal with those problems.”

He acknowledges setbacks he’s had.

“Back in 2017, I had a few issues on social media where I said and did some things that I should not have and that obviously, as it should, caused a lot of backlash on myself personally,” said Ware, who accused a fellow racer of infidelity after a disagreement over who was responsible for a crash.

“I think hitting rock bottom (after that) was the best thing that happened to me because that really gave me the wake-up call of ‘hey, this is only going to get worse, and you’re never going to come back from it unless you do something about it right now.’ That really set the stage where I’m still having to deal with a lot of that now. I own it, and I accept it and all I can do now is show that I’m making an effort to improve myself and also talk about my story.”

2. Dueling takeaways

With 21 cars per race and the inability for cars to build momentum in the bottom lane, much of the field ran single-file in both qualifying races Thursday night.

Competitors say they don’t anticipate that being as prevalent in Sunday’s Daytona 500 with a 40-car field (provided several cars are not eliminated by an accident or multiple accidents).

One driver who tried to do something in Thursday’s second qualifying race was Chase Elliott. In the final 10 laps, he often went to the bottom lane by himself and attempted to pass a car and move back to the high line. He climbed from 10th to sixth late but when he tried doing the same thing to take fifth, he lost momentum and fell back, finishing eighth.

“If they’re going to ride around the top all day long, I’ll be happy to try the bottom, at least make something for the great people that are watching up here in the stands,” Elliott said afterward.

The biggest move was Joey Logano’s maneuver from fourth to first on the final lap. He got a great push by teammate Ryan Blaney, giving Logano the momentum to go to the bottom. Blaney followed. The top three — Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola were not aligned as tight on the high line.

Logano side drafted Almirola, stalling him and still had the momentum with Blaney behind him to shoot into the lead.

“I knew I wanted to do it into (Turn 1), so I went for it,” Logano said of his winning move. “You kind of cross your fingers, hope it was good enough to break that plane where (Bowyer) couldn’t pull me back in the side draft. I was able to break that plane, come on up.

“That was a big moment once I was able to clear him. I didn’t want to get that far ahead, but I was. Being two‑wide didn’t give Bowyer a good enough run to get back to me.”

As for the single-file racing throughout the Duels, Logano said:

“It’s all driver mentality, right? It’s what everyone is thinking. I think what kind of leads the top to be strong is a few different things. 

“I think one of it is the side draft is more effective to the right side of a car. You’re able to slow down a car more from being on the right side than you can the left side. A lot of it is because of the shark fins. That’s just a theory in my mind. Seems like that is how that works.

Once that is in a driver’s head that the bottom is not going to work, you have five guys that think that, when they get to the lead they move to the wall, at that point the wall is going to be the fastest way around. It’s the best way to defend the lead.  You see those cars go up there.

I personally don’t think the bottom is that bad. When you can only get two, three, maybe five cars with you, it’s not enough. It’s not enough to do it. You have to have six, seven cars that are really committed to each other.”

3. No change needed

A question that has come up this week is if NASCAR needs to do something to help the stability of the cars to give drivers more confidence at Daytona.

Denny Hamlin said nothing needs to be changed.

“I think the cars are plenty stable and really more stable than I’ve felt them, especially when I kind of think back 10 or 15 years ago,” he said after finishing fourth in the second qualifying race Thursday. “These cars drive way better. If there’s mistakes made, it’s usually drivers, not the air or the car that’s making those mistakes.”

4. Axe the All-Star Race also?

Kevin Harvick said this week that the Clash should be eliminated — possibly foreshadowing that the Daytona 500 might not open the season in the future.

Harvick notes the cars crashed in the Clash and the payout from the race and questions the value to teams. He’s right. The Clash should go. In the last eight years, 70 percent of the cars in that event were involved in a crash. Sunday, 17 of the 20 cars were involved in the last accident before the rain came.

But why stop with the Clash? As NASCAR looks to make changes to the schedule, why not get rid of the All-Star Race? It’s a non-points event like the Clash. Eliminate both and NASCAR can tighten the schedule.

Harvick, though, says the All-Star Race should say.

“I still think that we have to have a weekend where we can show off as a sport,” Harvick said of keeping the All-Star Race. “That is really, when you look at the All-Star events, it needs to be something to where we can go to a city and have them embrace the All-Star event so you have pit stop competitions and unique parties.

“You go to a place like Nashville and have an All-Star race, you don’t have to make up formats because you are going to have a heck of a race with a great atmosphere and a market that you can have all kinds of events and excitement and enthusiasm.

“I went to the Super Bowl this year. You look at the Super Bowl and it doesn’t look like our Daytona 500. There is not as much going on here as there was there. When you look at the All-Star race and the (NBA) All-Star event that will be in Charlotte this weekend, their All-Star events move around, the Super Bowl moves around. You get enthusiasm from not doing the same thing over and over and over.”

As for the idea of an event at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, Speedway Motorsports Inc. and the group that promotes racing at Nashville Fairgrounds are working on a proposal to present to the city to upgrade the track for future NASCAR events.

5. One that got away

For as much as drivers celebrate their wins, they remember the defeats as much, if not more.

For 2017 Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, he thinks back to the 2005 season-opening race as one that got away.

I wanted to make a move on Jeff Gordon on the back straightaway on the last lap,” Busch said. “As I went to look out to make the pass, because I had a good run from the guys behind me, it was a line of Chevys. I was in a Ford that year. It was Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. behind me and I think it was Jeff Burton and a line of guys were ready to go with Dale Jr. I was going to get hung out to dry.

“I came back to second. That one stayed with me for a while.”

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NASCAR America begins 6th season today at 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The sixth season of NASCAR America debuts at 5 p.m. ET today on NBCSN with a new look.

Kicking things off for the one-hour show will be the NASCAR on NBC team of Jeff Burton, Steve Letarte and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.

The new season of NASCAR America features a number of reimagined features, starting with a new studio. The show’s home has moved from its base the last five seasons in Stamford, Connecticut, to a new studio in Charlotte, North Carolina. The show will air weekdays from 5-6 p.m. ET.

Each weeknight will showcase a different theme focused on the sport of NASCAR, its drivers, teams, fans and the motorsports industry. In addition, select episodes will include opportunities for fans to call in and speak with NASCAR America hosts, analysts, drivers and other guests.

Tonight’s season premiere of NASCAR America will feature discussion among our analysts about Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash (Jimmie Johnson won the rain-shortened race) and Sunday’s 61st edition of the Daytona 500.

NASCAR America Mondays will focus on the previous weekend’s races and include highlights, “Turning Points,” driver interviews, expert analysis, and the signature NASCAR America segment Scan All.

Here’s how the rest of this week’s show lineup looks, with themes that will continue on the same days throughout the season:

Tuesday, February 12

  • NASCAR America Presents The Dale Jr. Download: Every Tuesday, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for an unprecedented 15 consecutive years (2003-17) and winner of two Daytona 500s, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@Dalejr) co-hosts NASCAR America with Mike Davis. Produced on-site at Dirty Mo Media Studios in Mooresville, N.C., episodes on Tuesday will expand to one hour, and feature the same unparalleled perspective, candid commentary, and first-person insight of The Dale Jr. Download that fans have come to love.
  • NASCAR America Splash & Go: In addition to NBCSN’s linear telecast on Tuesday of The Dale Jr. Download, NBC Sports Digital will feature multiple editions of NASCAR America Splash & Go segments, featuring the news of the day, breaking news, race shop reports and interviews. NBCSports.com’s lead motorsports writer Nate Ryan (@nateryan) will host Splash & Go digital segments and will be joined by a collection of NASCAR on NBC analysts. NASCAR America Splash & Go will be available on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Wednesday, February 13

  • NASCAR America Presents Motormouths: Hosted by NASCAR on NBC’s Rutledge Wood (@rutledgewood) and Marty Snider (@HeyMartysnider), alongside auto racing icon Kyle Petty (@KylePetty), Motormouths Wednesdays will feature a light-hearted approach to the traditional show, and include regular opportunities for fans to call in to NASCAR America and speak with hosts, analysts, drivers and other guests live on TV.
  • NASCAR America Debrief: As a compliment to Wednesday’s telecast of NASCAR America on NBCSN at 5 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Digital will present NASCAR America Debrief, a digital exclusive show available on the NBC Sports YouTube Channel beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Nate Ryan will host NASCAR America Debrief, and will be joined by select NASCAR on NBC analysts and guests from that day’s linear telecast. NASCAR America Debrief will follow the same light-hearted approach as Motormouths, with an emphasis on additional viewer and fan engagement.

Thursday, February 14

  • NASCAR America Presents The Motorsports Hour: Featuring NASCAR on NBC host Krista Voda (@kristavoda), with NASCAR drivers and analysts A.J. Allmendinger (@AJDinger) and Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman), NASCAR America’s Motorsports Hour on Thursday will highlight the upcoming weekend’s NASCAR races, and also shine a light on the latest news surrounding IndyCar, IMSA, American Flat Track, Supercross, Motorcross, Mecum collector car auctions, and all of motorsports. Additional analysts will include former IndyCar driver Townsend Bell, former IMSA GT driver Calvin Fish, former IndyCar driver Paul Tracy, as well as Motocross and Supercross legend Ricky Carmichael.

NASCAR America’s Fan Fridays will return to NBCSN in July, live from the site of select NASCAR on NBC races, and will be broadcast from NBC Sports’ Peacock Pit box set located on pit road.

NASCAR America is also available on the NBC Sports app – NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TV’s.