Dale Earnhardt Jr

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ‘uncomfortable’ with ‘being the face’ of NASCAR

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Ever since the economy started to go south in 2007, NASCAR chairman/CEO Brian France has said several times that the sport needs Dale Earnhardt Jr. to earn wins and be among the best drivers out there – which would, in turn, hopefully bring NASCAR back to prosperity and increased fan and media attention.

Junior is off to the best start of his career in 2014, with a win in the season-opening Daytona 500 and back-to-back runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas.

He’s also one of only five drivers in Sprint Cup history to start off a season with three top-two finishes.

But as good as things are going for Earnhardt and the No. 88 team, at-track attendance is about the same as it has been in recent years, and Fox Sports’ NASCAR telecasts of the first three races have not shown significant gains as a result of Earnhardt’s performance thus far.

Is Earnhardt feeling a bit of pressure to essentially become the sport’s savior? He addressed that during his weekly session with the media Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“That’s a very uncomfortable question and to get asked about it really makes me uncomfortable,” Earnhardt said when asked if he can be the one person who can elevate the sport to another level. “There are so many other drivers – there’s guys like Jimmie (Johnson) – who have done so much and accomplished much more than I have.

“They do a lot to elevate the sport. They do a lot of things that, you know, carry the sport as well or better than I do. It’s just very uncomfortable because I don’t have the accolades and the hardware that a lot of these guys have, like a championship and things like that.

“I’m comfortable with the popularity and things like that because I feel like that we do a lot and we have a great fan base and we do a lot to engage with them. But carrying the sport is a whole other conversation – or being the face of the sport is a whole other conversation. It’s a very uncomfortable position to be put in. I don’t think it’s realistic. All the drivers have a role in that and they are actively doing that.”

Earnhardt may have welcomed France’s hopes and expectations at a time when Junior admittedly wasn’t doing quite as well as he has last season and certainly since the start of this season.

But even with his massive Junior Nation of fans, Earnhardt admits he hasn’t seen much movement in NASCAR’s popularity, even with winning the sport’s biggest race for the second time in his career to start the new season.

“It’s hard for me to kind of have my finger on the pulse and know exactly how much the needle is moving,” Earnhardt said. “They say we can’t really look at the Daytona because of the rainout. The network broadcasts are about the same if not a little bit, a percentage point one way or the other.

“I guess my fans have been tuning in all along. We just enjoy what we do. I try not to really worry about – I can’t concern myself with how much I move the needle. I think that goes outside of my comfort zone and what I feel is and what I think you need to concern yourself with if you’re as an individual.

“I want the sport to be healthy and I want to do things that help the sport and make an impact on the sport. I try to do those things always taking opinions and advice on what I can do better and what I’m not doing that I could be doing to help the sport.

“You want to leave a mark of some kind. We all do. Everybody here wants to have some sort of mark left in their field and in the sport because we all care about it. There are so many personalities and other drivers and new guys coming in. It’s an ebb and flow of personalities. So, I try not to get too caught up in it. It ain’t always gonna be that way. Something could happen this weekend between two different drivers that reach far beyond what I could do, and that will be great. That’s how the sport survives. It definitely doesn’t live and breathe on everything that I’ve got going on. It would be perfectly fine without me, but I’m glad to be a part of it.”

If Earnhardt wins or finishes second on Sunday, he would tie the legendary Richard Petty for being the only drivers to start a season with four consecutive top-2 finishes.

“Anytime you do anything that Richard has done and you put yourself in the conversation with him to do with any statistic, it’s a pretty awesome accomplishment because of everything that he has ever done winning as many races as he has and running as many races as he has,” Earnhardt said. “He’s been such a fixture in the sport still today.

“Yeah, that would be awesome. Just something else we can hang our hat on and we’ve got a shot at it, man. We really run good here. I like coming here. … If we can be in a situation to do that and try to capitalize and get another win or another top three or top two or whatever we need to join Richard in that statistic, we’ll be going for it.”

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Annual Carb Night Burger Bash just two nights away, now downtown

BurgerBash
Photo courtesy Curt Cavin
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INDIANAPOLIS – One of the rapidly established traditions on Indianapolis 500 race week is the annual Carb Night Burger Bash, hosted by the Indianapolis Star‘s Curt Cavin and NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter/Indy Lights host Kevin Lee.

While it’s been a staple at 96th Street Steakburgers the last several years, this year, the event heads to Downtown Indianapolis for the first time in its nine-year history and has been redubbed as the Steak ‘n Shake Carb Night Burger Bash. It will go on rain or shine at the Pan Am Plaza, 201 S. Capitol Ave.

Featuring a live episode of Cavin and Kevin’s Trackside on The Fan radio in Indy (1070 AM, 93.5 FM) that is scheduled to start at 6 p.m., and no later than 6:30 p.m., will also see a number of items auctioned and raffled for a local nonprofit – Indianapolis-based Basic Needs, Simple Solutions. A live concert follows later, starting at 9 p.m.

There’s going to be a heavy IndyCar driver component too with potentially a third or more of the 33-car field tentatively scheduled for an appearance.

Per the Star, Graham Rahal leads the list of those planned to show up, along with Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Pippa Mann, Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay, JR Hildebrand, Max Chilton, Stefan Wilson and Spencer Pigot.

Further details are available at this Star link. It’s usually a fun event and definitely a great family friendly occasion.

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Grosjean to race with Bianchi tribute on helmet in Monaco

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© Romain Grosjean Twitter (@RGrosjean)
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Romain Grosjean will race with a tribute to Jules Bianchi on his helmet in this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix, commemorating the Frenchman’s ninth-place finish in the 2014 race.

Bianchi scored the first and only points of his Formula 1 career in Monaco two years ago, charging to P9 at the checkered flag to mark a major success for the backmarker Marussia team.

Bianchi sustained severe head injuries in an accident at the Japanese Grand Prix later that year, and died nine months later at the age of 25.

Grosjean revealed his Monaco helmet on Twitter, incorporating a tribute to Bianchi into his usual design to ensure he does not contravene the F1 regulations banning overhauls.

The design features a picture of Bianchi, his #17 race number and his result in Monaco. This year’s race marks the first in Monaco since his passing, with May 25 marking the second anniversary of his points finish.

F1 Preview: 2016 Monaco Grand Prix

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26:  General view of the harbour area during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2013 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Nelson Piquet once described racing around the streets of Monaco as being like riding a bicycle around your living room.

It’s an odd analogy, but it works. With the imposing walls just millimetres away, the ability to tame a Formula 1 car in the principality is deemed by most to separate the men from the boys.

And yet it is the driver closest to being considered a ‘boy’ that arrives in Monaco as the man to beat.

18-year-old Max Verstappen became the youngest winner in F1 history last time out in Spain on his Red Bull debut, fulfilling the prophecy he arrived in the sport with at the beginning of 2015.

Realistically, the Dutchman will know that without another turn of events such as those we saw in Barcelona, a repeat result is not on the cards. Mercedes remains the team to beat, meaning we’re geared up for another tete-a-tete between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

Here are the key talking points ahead of the biggest weekend of the F1 season.

2016 Monaco Grand Prix – Talking Points

Whatever Mercedes says, it’s a big deal

Mercedes did a very good job of downplaying the clash between Rosberg and Hamilton in Spain. The team and the FIA both deemed it to be a racing incident, while both drivers were left disappointed and upset over the points lost for both their own title tilts and that of the team.

But it was clear from the post-race interviews that both Rosberg and Hamilton did that this wasn’t a small thing. It is a big deal, acting as the latest flashpoint in the frosty relationship between them.

It is perhaps fitting that we now head to Monaco, the site of Rosberg’s alleged cheat move in qualifying two years ago and where Mercedes blew the race for Hamilton in 2015.

Rosberg is chasing a fourth consecutive victory around the streets where he grew up, and Hamilton is looking to end his poor run in Monaco (just one F1 win in 2008). It’s set things up nicely for the battle between them.

Verstappen, Red Bull on a high

Max Verstappen’s victory in Spain was the stuff of F1 legend. Think Schumacher, Spain ’96. Think Hamilton, Canada ’07. Think Vettel, Italy ’08. It was the true arrival of one of the biggest talents in recent times.

A repeat result will be difficult given the advantage that Mercedes still has. Furthermore, Red Bull has opted to give its one updated power unit to the more experienced Daniel Ricciardo, making him the in-team favorite for the weekend.

For Red Bull, the target in Monaco will be to beat Ferrari once again. Spain was a shock as the Italian marque’s hopes of being ‘best of the rest’ in 2015 were dealt a serious blow. Quite whether Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen can strike back and end Ferrari’s barren Monaco run – no victory since 2001 – remains to be seen.

Rain on Sunday?

Just as Verstappen’s drive in Spain marked his arrival, conditions in Monaco this weekend look set to present an opportunity for the rest of the field – or maybe even Verstappen again – to etch their name into F1 folklore.

A wet race is on the cards according to F1’s official weather forecaster UBIMET: “Sunday will see more clouds than the days before along with an enhanced risk of showers during the afternoon. Moderate onshore winds and a maximum temperature around 20 degrees celsius are expected.”

The challenge of Monaco becomes all the greater in the rain. It could create a thrilling race.

Haas arrives on the big stage

This weekend’s race is a big one for Gene Haas. Not only will he see the NASCAR team he co-owns race in the Coca-Cola 600, but his new F1 team will make its very first appearance in Monaco.

Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both struggled with the VF-16 car over the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, with the teething troubles typical of any new team beginning to bubble to the surface.

Just how Haas fares in its first Monaco weekend will be of keen interest to Haas, particularly from a marketing perspective. There’s nothing quite like Monaco – and if it’s a wet race, points could be on the cards once again.

Ultra-soft tire debuts

Pirelli’s new ultra-soft tire will make its long-awaited debut in Monaco this weekend after being tested over the winter and last week in Spain.

The purple-ringed compound is the newly-added softest tire that is made for street circuits such as Monaco, offering more grip and – under dry conditions – preventing the race from being a mundane one-stopper.

Naturally, rain will throw that out of the window, but it will nevertheless be of interest to the paddock how the new compound fares.

2016 Monaco Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Corners: 19
Lap Record: Daniel Ricciardo 1:18.063 (2015)
Tire Compounds: Soft/Super-Soft/Ultra-Soft
2015 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2015 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:15.098
2015 Fastest Lap: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:18.063
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T19 to T1)

2016 Monaco Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 4am ET 5/26
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 5/26
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 5am ET 5/28
Qualifying: NBCSN 8am ET 5/28
Race: NBC 7:30am ET 5/29 (F1 Countdown on NBCSN 7am-7:30am)

IMS confirms 100th Indy 500 full sellout, local TV blackout lifted

Indy 500
May 22th, 2016
©2016 Walt Kuhn
Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles and Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, have confirmed the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will be a full sellout, with all reserved seats, general admission and suites sold out.

Additionally, to accommodate fans who can’t attend on site, there will be a, for the moment, one-year lifting of the local blackout on the ABC affiliate in Indianapolis.

The WRTV broadcast will be shown live, marking only the third time the race will be broadcast live on Central Indiana television and the first time since the early 1950’s. The race will still air in its usual delayed time slot at 7 p.m.

Quick notes from the IMS release are in the block below:

“There’s no event in the world like the Indy 500,” said Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles. “This sellout is a testament to the enduring legacy of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the thrilling racing of the Verizon IndyCar Series and the bright future for both.”

“The Indy 500 is a uniquely Hoosier event,” added Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles. “The community support for the this race has fueled excitement for the 100th Running and paves the way for the next century for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500.”

On May 6, IMS officials announced a sellout of reserved seating for the race. This included all grandstand seating, suite hospitality and several temporary suites built in turns 1 and 2. General Admission tickets continued to be available for purchase via the IMS ticketing office. Steady and increased demand for GA tickets led to today’s announcement. The Indy 500 Snake Pit presented by Coors Light is sold out as well. Tickets for Carb Day and Legends Day still remain.

Additional notes from his morning’s hastily called press conference at the Speedway:

Both took the opportunity to thank Emmis Communications for their assistance in the process. Emmis is host broadcaster of the IMS Radio Network’s race coverage, which will continue as scheduled, live from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Boles added that “this does not happen without the support of this community” and preached three words: “Early, plan and patience” with regards to timing and patience.

Miles confirmed that for the moment, the local lifting of the TV blackout is a one-year only component, unless a future announced full sellout occurs.

“Our feeling – under these circumstances – is that we cannot accommodate more people. So the live TV component comes into play,” Miles explained.

“We do not anticipate live (TV) coverage again. But if a sellout happens again, it would be considered.

“Radio was a tougher hurdle to clear… but we could work through it,” Miles added.

Without getting into further details, Miles also said “yes” to enhanced security for this year’s race – the process of which will be detailed following planned operational meetings.