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Bubba Wallace shares with Dale Jr. behind scene stories from Talladega

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Bubba Wallace spent time talking with NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tuesday discussing some of the events of the last few days at Talladega Superspeedway.

Wallace reveals his emotions before the race, the quip Richard Petty told him to help settle his emotions before climbing into the car and celebrating with fans at their first race after the event.

Here is part of the conversation Wallace and Earnhardt had for NASCAR America at Home:

Dale Jr.: What were you thinking as drivers pushed you down pit road before the race?

Bubba Wallace: I had walked out with headphones on just to kind of block out the noise and just kind of escape. Music is my escape, Dale. I forgot who came and tapped me, maybe it was (Corey) LaJoie or someone told me, ‘You ready to roll?’ I think that was when kind of the emotion came through … (That morning) I woke up and jumped on (the driver group chat) and Jimmie Johnson said ‘I’ll be standing next to Bubba during the anthem today’ and I lost it, I lost it right there. It’s not the hate that breaks me, it’s the support, knowing that people out there support me, makes you feel good, it pulls on your heartstrings for sure.

Bubba Wallace with Jimmie Johnson before Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

So I think that’s kind the emotion I was running through that whole time. So getting out of the car, I had a lot of emotion there, just going through everything. It sucks to be kind of carrying all of that weight but it’s part of the journey. Being able to turn around and see all the drivers standing there was really cool. I don’t know what made me look and see if the whole garage was there. Jimmie had talked to me about it. He had called me a couple of hours before the race and said that people reached out and wanted to be a part of that. So I stood up on the door and I looked and saw basically the entire garage and I lost it. I stood up and almost collapsed. It looked like Atlanta all over again (laughs).

But man, it was something truly incredible to witness and to be a part of.  It makes me proud to have a voice in NASCAR and also be a driver and be a part of this sport, a family sport and we all know it’s family. As much as we give each other crap on the racetrack, I will say for a fact, word for word, I got out of the car and I said I don’t like half you guys but I do appreciate all of this (laughs). It was a true testament of how big a family sport this is.”

Dale Jr.: Tell me a little bit about NASCAR President Steve Phelps. Who is he to you?

Bubba Wallace: He’s becoming a bigger and bigger friend than he is … the president of the sanctioning body. I fired off a text message to him a couple of weeks ago. One of the first things I said, ‘Hey, I look at you as a friend, so if I say anything that offends you, we’re friends.’ … I told him we need to take a big stand. We needed to take a big stand and stand up for what’s right. He quickly called me right after that and we had a really good conversation of where he stood and where he wants the sport to go and where he wants us all to go as a whole. That was pretty powerful there.

“He’s been very transparent with me. … The conversation that I had about what went down Sunday was, one, scared the hell out of me because he called me and it was one of those like you just did something wrong, like, my mind was racing, what interview did I do did I say the wrong thing … he was like we needed to talk in person. He comes over to the bus and he walks in and he’s kind of got of that really quiet mellow voice. I said, ‘Hey Steve, how is it going?’ (He said) ‘not good.’ …

When he finally looked up at me, he had tears in his eyes. I don’t know what’s going on, what he’s about to say, what I’m getting at is showing how much Sunday meant to him and offended him and hurt him, showed the character that he is and the passion that he has behind the sport but also his drivers and his friends. That he was disrespected, he was hurt, he felt threatened. He was not going to let this get away and blow under the rug. He was going to do everything in his power to find justice for this and to this day he is still carrying that and even beyond.”

Dale Jr.: What is your personal support system like? Who is helping you through this?

Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace: One, Amanda, my girlfriend. She has been super supportive. … She knew how much pressure and how much I was going through from Sunday throughout the race, everything that went on the whole pre-race, just the whole couple of days and couple of weeks I’ve been going through. … She has been a huge support so I love her for that. My mom, my sister and my dad. They’ve been all been there. …

“Talked to (Ryan) Blaney a lot. He was over here last week and we had a good conversation, talking about everything that is going on in the sport and the world, how crazy it is and what we could do to be better. I think that small little support group there on top of everybody reaching out, including yourself. … It’s cool to see that support.”

Dale Jr.: What has it been like to see new fans come to the sport?

Bubba Wallace: Man, that has been really cool. I think that was a powerful moment even after the race. I was pumped for Blaney. I was contemplating walking out to the finish line and I was like that’s a long walk. I’ll wait until he drives by. I heard the Bubba chants and I looked over and I see a decent amount of African Americans sitting in the stands. I was like, dude, that’s badass, that’s awesome. I guarantee you that was their first race. I felt obligated to walk over there, I wanted to walk over there. I wanted to kind of share that moment with them.

“They were like, ‘We’re all the way from Atlanta, we drove over here to check out our first NASCAR race,’ and they were all so proud of me and proud to be there and happy to be there and it was super cool to witness and be able to do the interview with them in the background screaming and hollering in support was super cool.

“I’ve been saying it for the last couple of weeks and I’ve always stood by this, I want everybody to feel welcome. When I go to a sporting event, when I go to a (Charlotte) Hornets game or a (Carolina) Panthers game, I don’t feel like I’m unwelcome because of who I look like. I want that same feeling for anybody that comes to a NASCAR event, that comes to a race and … the Confederate flag was a thing that kind of held people back and maybe the actions of some fans toward other people held people back. I’m trying to change that narrative and show, hey, come on out. You don’t have to cheer on me. You can cheer on Ryan Blaney, whatever. … Learn about the sport. Learn about the strategy. Know that we’re just not driving in circles because we’re driving on ovals. We go straight a little bit. Learn the pit stops, what it takes, the choreography of that. Learns the ins and outs of the sport. That’s where you get hooked.”

Bubba Wallace with fans after Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Dale Jr.: Is racing a necessary outlet for you at these times?

Bubba Wallace: Absolutely. I told Jimmie (Johnson) after the race, we were walking back to our buses, I told him, man, I wish that race didn’t end, it was a lot of fun. Now the work starts. Racing is not work and you know that.

“(Richard Petty) The King, right before I climbed in, he said, ‘Well, this is your chance to flip off that switch on the back of your head where we shut our brains off and go out.’ He said here’s that little switch you can pull off. We had talked about it when he got there to the track a couple of hours before with him, myself and Brian Moffitt (CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports) were sitting there and talking. Drivers have that switch. Once you put that helmet on it, it hits that switch down and you turn it off. He said, now you get to turn off that switch, so go have fun.”

Dale Jr. on Hall of Fame: ‘No greater pat on the back or tip of the cap than this’

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Many people would likely rather run as far away from the dentist as they can.

But on the day he could be named one of three inductees to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to the dentist for a root canal.

“I’ve been more nervous about that and the anxiety about the root canal was all counter to this whole Hall of Fame induction,” Earnhardt said after his selection to the Class of 2021 with Mike Stefanik and Red Farmer. “At 5 o’clock, when the (announcement) show started, that’s when it all started. I didn’t think I was going to be this emotional. But it’s a great feeling and it was very emotional to be chosen.”

It wasn’t just the dentist visit that has kept his mind off Tuesday’s announcement.

“I’m sorry but I hadn’t put any thought into (Tuesday’s announcement),” he said. “My mind’s been dominated by what’s going on in our world and what’s happening around us and how to keep the movement and the conversation going and what can I do, things like that. I’ve been putting a lot of thought into that.

“Since we’re coming out of the pandemic and everything going on with that, there’s a lot of news that’s fluid every single day and trying to understand where we are with that and what I need to be understanding about that … there’s so much happening and I haven’t been able to put a lot of thought into this Hall of Fame induction.

“… I didn’t have any time whatsoever to be nervous or worried about being picked or any of that until 5 o’clock when the show started. It really started to hit me then, that this is such a weird, important moment in my life. I didn’t know it was going to be this emotional.”

Earnhardt choked up several times, both on NASCAR America’s telecast of the Hall announcement on NBCSN, as well as on the media teleconference afterward. For a man who has spent much of his career comfortably displaying a wide range of emotions, Earnhardt admitted this was a whole different feeling.

“I was really surprised and taken aback by the feeling that came over me,” he said.

While many fans and even voters felt Earnhardt’s selection for the Hall would be a slam dunk – after all, he did earn 76 percent of the vote – the son of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt felt otherwise.

“I was good with just being on the sheet (of 10 nominees), I was going to be happy with that,” Earnhardt said. “I’m 45 and relatively young in the grand scheme of Hall of Fame things and I was going to be patient waiting.”

But it was difficult for voters, be they members of the media or those in the NASCAR industry, to overlook Earnhardt.

He was NASCAR’s most popular driver unabated for a decade and a half. He was a two-time Xfinity Series champion. He was a two-time Daytona 500 champion.

And perhaps more than all the wins or what he achieved during nearly a quarter-century in the sport, starting on its lowest rungs and working his way to superstardom, was the fact Junior also was picked for the Hall because of who he became, whether he wanted to or not, after his father died in a crash at Daytona in 2001: The sport’s biggest ambassador.

“There’s no greater pat on the back or tip of the cap than this, from the industry, from the people who vote … whether they’re drivers, journalists, industry execs or what,” Earnhardt said. “It’s such a great feeling that somebody felt I made an impact on the sport.”

Now that he’s a father himself (with a second child now on the way), and has become a popular broadcaster, Tuesday’s announcement was somewhat cathartic for the former driver of the No. 8 and 88.

“There was a point in my career I started to think, ‘Ok, I’m not going to win seven championships, maybe not even one championship, or not win 100 races, maybe not even 40 races,’ ” he said.

“ … People wanted me to be like (my father). When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to win those races and championships, I started to think what I could do outside of that, what else I could control to help the sport and be a good ambassador for the sport.

“I wasn’t always perfect but started focusing in those areas, being accessible and being accountable. I feel I did a decent job at that. I don’t want to sit here and measure that, but I’m pretty happy about that part of my career and the impact I had on the sport.”

Earnhardt admitted early in his career, he did some things that potentially ruffled some feathers of the sport’s hierarchy, like his celebrated interview with Rolling Stone or being on TV shows like “Cribs” on MTV.

“I always thought it was important I gained a ton of fans because of who I was, right out of the gate,” he said. “But I knew when dad died, I was going to assume all or most of his fan base, and I feel like I took care of that. I didn’t squander it, and I grew that base and introduced people who hadn’t heard of Dale Earnhardt.

“I always felt like the sport needed to be healthy long after my driving career was over. It’s important for me that our sport survives and stays strong long after my life is over.”

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NASCAR America at Home: ‘What now?’ between Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch

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NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte has a simple question after Wednesday night’s explosive situation between Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott.

“What now?”

Busch said after Wednesday’s race that he made a mistake when he clipped Elliott’s car while Elliott ran second late in the event at Darlington Raceway. The contact sent Elliott’s car sliding down the frontstretch and into the SAFER barrier on the inside wall. After exiting his car, Elliott walked toward the track and gave Busch the middle finger.

After the race, Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson discussed the incident with Busch.

“Mistake or not,” Letarte said on NASCAR America at Home (video above), “if I’m Alan Gustafson, if I’m Chase Elliott, I’m still mad. I am irritated. I don’t think that Chase is one to go turn him on purpose, but I would take every inch of every move with every benefit of the doubt for the rest of the season.”

Letarte said the “big story” is what will Elliott do in response.

This isn’t Elliott’s first issue with a Joe Gibbs Racing driver. Denny Hamlin spun Elliott late in the 2017 Martinsville race. They had a discussion after the race.

Two weeks later at Phoenix, Elliott and Hamlin were running side-by-side when a nudge from Elliott sent Hamlin into he wall. Hamlin’s car developed a tire rub that eventually cut the tire and sent the car into the wall.

Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton all said they thought the contact from Busch at Darlington was a mistake.

Kyle Busch is going to get a lot of the blame,” Jarrett said. “He’s already taken the blame. He made a mistake and race drivers make mistakes. Things happen.

“You don’t think that’s going to happen like that on a straightaway, but that shows just how important it was for him to get back in line. … Kyle Busch just misjudged it a little bit.”

Said Burton: “(Busch) didn’t intentionally wreck Chase Elliott, but what he does have to do, other than just on TV, he’s got to take responsibility to Chase Elliott. He can’t wait for Chase Elliott to get in touch with him. He’s got to go make this right because it was his mistake and it’s on him to make it right. If you do those things as a driver, then typically things go away quicker.”

Let the debate begin: NBC Sports experts make NASCAR picks

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Go ahead. Scan the four-driver teams the NASCAR on NBC announcers, analysts and writers have put together in the NASCAR America Draft.

Think you could do better?

Then try! It’s easy.

Take a look at the list of drivers at the bottom of this file. Select four drivers. But you can spend no more than 10 tokens for your four-driver team.

Do you take a former champion among those costing five tokens, leaving you with only five tokens to make your final three picks. Do you play it safer and go for a driver who costs four tokens? Do you go with veterans? All rookies? Something in between?

See the teams the NBC Sports crew put together and then do your team. And share it with us on social media using #NASCARAmericaDraft.

 

Jeff Burton’s team

Kevin Harvick (5 tokens)

Christopher Bell (2 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Michael McDowell (1 token)

I want a superstar. I’m going to go ahead and bite the bullet and spend five tokens on a superstar driver. … The reason I’m going to pick Kevin Harvick is because I know what he can get it done on the racetrack. It doesn’t matter what racetrack it is, he can be competitive. …  I’ve been his teammate. If I’m a car owner, I want that guy in the meeting, pushing to make everybody better, doing everything that he can to make himself better and everybody else. I know the intangible value that Kevin Harvick brings to the table.

 

Steve Letarte’s team

Denny Hamlin (4 tokens)

William Byron (3 tokens)

Christopher Bell (2 tokens)

Corey LaJoie (1 token)

I’m going to take what I think is a cornerstone driver. When I look at the four token options, there are two great young talents in Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, I think they have a lot of upside, Kurt Busch is a champion, but I’m taking Denny Hamlin. I’m taking, in my opinion, the best driver who has never won a championship. Denny Hamlin, I know he’s a little bit older at 39 years old, but I think he’s as mature as he’s ever been. I think he can lead our organization to building good cars and giving good feedback. Why? Because he wins everywhere. … I think he would excel in that leadership role.

 

Kelli Stavast’s team

Denny Hamlin (4 tokens)

Alex Bowman (3 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Ryan Preece (1 token)

I think Denny is a bargain at 4 tokens and Matty D is a steal for 2.

 

Rick Allen’s team

Kyle Busch (5 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Cole Custer (2 tokens)

Ryan Preece (1 token)

 

Kyle Petty’s team

Joey Logano (5 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Christopher Bell (2 tokens)

Bubba Wallace (1 token)

 

Dustin Long’s team

Chase Elliott (4 tokens)

Ryan Blaney (4 tokens)

Corey LaJoie (1 token)

Bubba Wallace (1 token)

Let me introduce you to the modern day “Rat Pack” that will continue to transform NASCAR, just as the original 1960s version altered popular culture and Las Vegas. No driver under 30 needs to apply for my team that will be strong for years to come.

 

Nate Ryan’s team

Denny Hamlin (4 tokens)

William Byron (3 tokens)

Tyler Reddick (2 tokens)

Bubba Wallace (1 token)

Denny Hamlin because he’s in his peak year at age 39 and is a steal for four tokens after a 2019 championship round appearance. Byron has the most potential of the three-token guys. Tyler Reddick might be a slight reach at two tokens, but he will win in Cup. Bubba has the transcendent appeal and charm to attract major sponsors if he can have some success in a good ride.

 

Daniel McFadin’s team

Denny Hamlin (4 tokens)

Tyler Reddick (2 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Ryan Preece (1 token)

No Cup champions on my team, but I went with the best current driver to not have a title (Hamlin) who still has at least five years left in the tank. He can mentor Reddick. I like Preece and DiBenedetto as a pair of drivers in their late 20s with untapped potential who can motivate each other with a friendly rivalry.

 

Jerry Bonkowski’s team

Denny Hamlin (4 tokens)

William Byron (3 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Bubba Wallace (1 token)

Taking a driver worth five coins would really skew things, so it’s better – at least mathematically – to take one pick apiece from the other four categories. I expect big things from all four of my picks, particularly Byron and DiBenedetto.

 

NASCAR America draft … who you got?

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The NFL isn’t the only sport with a draft taking place this week. NASCAR on NBC analysts Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton are each doing a draft of current NASCAR Cup drivers and invite you to play along.

But there’s a twist to picking your four-driver team.

To keep it simple, we’re using tokens. Each driver has a token value assigned to them. You can use up to 10 tokens to select your four drivers. You don’t have to use all 10 tokens but you can’t use more than 10 in selecting your four-driver lineup.

So do you pick a team with one title contender and three young drivers? Or do you go with four veterans who have won? Or do you have fun and pick four drivers who are friends? Or four who maybe haven’t gotten along so well on the track in the past?

It’s your team. Are you building a team to win now? Or potentially dominate the sport for years to come?

Who you got?

Make sure to share your team with us at #NASCARAmericaDraft

Check on the NASCAR on NBC Twitter account, the Motorsports on NBC YouTube page and NASCAR Talk today to see who the NBC experts pick and how it compares to your team.