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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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Matt Kenseth joins Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live on NBCSN

Lunch Talk Live
NBC Sports
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Matt Kenseth will be on today’s Lunch Talk Live with host Mike Tirico heading into tonight’s scheduled Cup race at Darlington Raceway. Today’s show airs at noon ET on NBCSN.

Kenseth is coming off a 10th-place finish on Sunday in his first Cup race since the 2018 season finale.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

You can also watch the show online here.

Today’s scheduled guests are:

  • Noon – Matt Kenseth
  • 12:15 p.m. – Taylor Hall, Arizona Coyotes
  • 12:25 p.m. – Thomas Bach, IOC President
  • 12:35 p.m. – Townsend Bell, IndyCar on NBC Analyst
  • 12:45 p.m. – Jim Harbaugh, Michigan football coach

 

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.”

Jeff Burton joins Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live on NBCSN

Lunch Talk Live
NBC Sports
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NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton will be on today’s Lunch Talk Live with Mike Tirico to discuss NASCAR’s plans to resume racing May 17 at Darlington Raceway.

The Darlington race is to be one of seven races between May 17-27 among NASCAR’s three national series at two different tracks.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

You can also watch the show online here.

Friday’s scheduled guests are:

  • Noon – Jeff Burton
  • 12:15 p.m. – Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay
  • 12:30 p.m. – NBC horse racing analysts Jerry Bailey & Randy Moss
  • 12:40 p.m. – NBC Sports writer Tim Layden
  • 12:50 p.m. – NBC Spors broadcaster Ahmed Fareed

 

Kevin Harvick joins Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live

Lunch Talk Live
NBC Sports
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Today’s “Lunch Talk Live” with Mike Tirico will have a decidedly NASCAR feel to it with Kevin Harvick and Rutledge Wood both on the show. Today’s show airs at noon ET on NBCSN.

Both appear as momentum builds for NASCAR to return to racing as early as May 17 at Darlington Raceway.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

You can also watch the show online here.

Wednesday’s scheduled guests are:

  • Noon – Rutledge Wood
  • 12:15 p.m. – Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn
  • 12:30 p.m. – Kevin Harvick
  • 12:40 p.m.  – Golf Channel Steve Sands
  • 12:50 p.m. – Olympic Champion Ted Ligety