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.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

VIDEO: Mahindra completes Formula E show run at Buddh circuit

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Less than 24 hours after scoring a double-points finish in the Buenos Aires ePrix, the Mahindra Formula E team was en route to India for a show run at the Buddh International Circuit.

The track hosted the Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix between 2011 and 2013 before dropping off the calendar, but remains a hub for motorsport in the country.

Mahindra is the only Indian team racing in Formula E and also has a Moto3 team, offering a unique opportunity to put a car up against a bike on-track.

Nick Heidfeld also took the opportunity to complete some donuts in the Formula E car on the main straight, much like Sebastian Vettel did after winning his fourth F1 championship back in 2013.

As Formula E’s global expansion looks set to continue in its third season, might an Indian race be on the cards in the near future?

“What we are trying to do with the demo run, and what Anand Mahindra and Pawan Goenka said, is that we intend to bring a race to India,” Mahindra team boss Dilbagh Gill said.

“We want to bring it as quickly as we can. We are talking with the right people. As long as we’ve got the minds behind it, the infrastructure shouldn’t be a problem.

“The promoters know how to host a race, they know how to bring the infrastructure whether in Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore, we won’t have a problem in hosting a race.”

Sebastien Ogier continues perfect start to WRC season in Sweden

KARLSTAD, SWEDEN - FEBRUARY 13:  Sebastien Ogier of France and Julien Ingrassia of France compete in their Volkswagen Motorsport Volkswagen Polo R WRC during Day Two of the WRC Sweden on February 13, 2016 in Karlstad, Sweden.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
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Three-time FIA World Rally Championship winner Sebastien Ogier continued his perfect start to the 2016 season by claiming maximum points at this weekend’s Rally Sweden.

The event in Karlstad looked poised to be cancelled earlier in the week after a lack of snowfall in the area reduced many parts of the rally into a gravel course.

A revised 12-stage rally was brokered to ensure that the event still went ahead, with Ogier leading from start to finish across the three days of running.

The Frenchman came under pressure from Hayden Paddon on Saturday, who cut the deficit at the front down to just 8.8 seconds in his first run in the Hyundai i20.

However, Ogier managed to keep his cool and open up the gap once again before eventually completing the rally with an advantage of almost half a minute.

The result continued Ogier’s perfect start to the season following his victory in Monaco last month, giving him 56/56 possible points at the top of the championship standings.

“Two wins from the first two rallies – it can’t get any better,” Ogier said. “Yesterday was a little bit too crazy and I took risks like I had never done in my life. Conditions were terrible at the beginning of the week but the organisers did an impressive job so that we had a good rally.”

Paddon retained second place until the finish to match his best ever WRC result and become the first non-European to stand on the podium in Sweden. Mads Østberg finished the rally in third place for M-Sport Ford ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen and Ott Tanak.

Following the conclusion of the rally, event organizers in Karlstad announced that they had agreed a new three-year hosting deal for Rally Sweden, safeguarding its future until the end of 2019.

“The negotiations have been going on for almost six months and today Rally Sweden can confirm that a new three year contract with WRC Promoter has been signed,” a statement read.

“One week ago we were more dead than alive and couldn’t see any future for the event. Now, once again, we have managed to put on an amazing event and it is an amazing feeling to be able to confirm that we have agreed on a new three year contract.

“We have an absolutely amazing organization that proves that we can pull through the hardest of times.”

McLaren releases audio of first MP4-31 fire-up

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 01:  Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Honda drives during the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez  on November 1, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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As the countdown to the beginning of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Barcelona continues, McLaren has followed Ferrari’s lead by releasing an audio snippet of its 2016 car being fired up for the first time.

McLaren enters the new year hoping to bounce back from a miserable 2015 campaign that was marred by struggles with its Honda power unit, limiting drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button to just 27 points across the course of the season.

The crew at Woking has been working tirelessly over the winter to get the new car, the MP4-31, ready for the new season, and everything now appears set for the first pre-season test in Barcelona.

On Sunday, McLaren released a short audio snippet of the car being fired up at its base ahead of its official unveil on February 21.

Pre-season testing begins at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 22, with the eighth and final day of running taking place on March 4.

NHRA: Parachute fails on Gary Densham’s career-best Funny Car run (video)

Densham crash
(Photo courtesy NHRA's official Twitter account)
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Veteran NHRA Funny Car driver Gary Densham has been hurtling down drag strips for more than 30 years.

Saturday, the 69-year-old Densham had the best day of his career — and one of the worst, at the same time.

The Southern California native was making a qualifying run during the season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

The good news for Densham: he ran a career-best 4.050 seconds in his Dodge Charger, qualifying 11th in the 16-car field for Sunday’s eliminations.

The bad news: the parachutes on his Funny Car failed to deploy and Densham ran head-on into a catchfence at the end of Auto Club Raceway’s short runoff area. While Densham’s car was destroyed, he walked away uninjured.

And that’s the best news of all.

Check out the video and then some tweets about the incident and the day, including visits by former IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti and Tommy Lee of rock group Motley Crue:

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