Hey, Dale Jr., how about a BBQ tweet-up — or maybe a meat-and-greet?


You’ve heard of Twitter tweet-ups, right?

Given how he’s fallen in love with Twitter this year, maybe the next big thing will be a Dale Earnhardt Jr. barbecue tweet-up or maybe a BBQ meat-and-greet (pun intended).

According to ESPN.com’s John Oreovicz, Junior’s success this season – including winning the Daytona 500 for the second time in his career, as well as his bid to win this year’s Chase for the first time in his career – has somewhat stymied Earnhardt from one of his passions other than NASCAR racing:

Namely, BBQ cooking and eating.

That’s right, can you imagine Jr. with an apron on, slaving over a hot grill or smoker?

“We have been working like crazy this year, so damn much I ain’t got a chance to barbecue much,” Earnhardt told Oreovicz. “I thought the older I get the more leverage I would get and the less I would have to do, so it’s actually not working for me too much.

“But we are working really hard and I’m enjoying what we have going on. This is the part of the year where not only are we trying to get through the Chase, but all of our sponsors are coming to us for 2015 stuff trying to get all their commercials shot and all their photos taken and all the new uniforms and cars and all that stuff. If I get a Monday off, I’m lucky, looking at my calendar all the way to Homestead.”

And don’t forget running JR Motorsports.

But when he has some rare free time, not to mention a hearty appetite, don’t be surprised to see Junior go from race car driver to chef extraordinaire.

“It’s real similar to preparing an old late model [stock car] for a race,” he said. “It’s a lot of maintenance, and you are always kind of tinkering and playing and tweaking on the setup.

“You take it to the track and tweak on it a little bit here, tweak on it a little bit there, but you don’t get too far out of your comfort zone.”

While he’s a longtime barbecue eating aficionado, Earnhardt doesn’t consider himself a BBQ veteran yet when it comes to cooking.

“I’m going to get me a dehydrator,” he said. “But I’m not going to jump in like I did with the barbecue.

“I’ve got to read up and make sure I get the right stuff first. I’ve got like three smokers now because I went in too quick and bought and just kind of got in over my head not getting the right stuff.”

After Sunday’s race at Dover, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves on to arguably the capital of BBQ cooking and eating, namely, Kansas City, for next weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway.

Will Junior be on the hunt for some new sauce or cooking techniques? Most likely, especially since, ironically enough, the World Series of Barbecue will be in K.C. the same weekend.

And if Junior winds up in victory lane there? It’ll likely be Mountain Dew and BBQ for everybody.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images

THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.