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A behind-the-scenes look at Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s media tour Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Editor's note: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in New York City last week for a Road to Daytona 500 media tour and let NASCAR.com tag along. NEW YORK -- It's cold at 9:30 a.m. in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Thirty degrees won't come for four more hours, and the wind whips and swirls between the skyscrapers and billows down the sidewalk at the intersection of 67th and Columbus, where a line of people snakes down the sidewalk. These huddled masses are lined up around the block outside 7 Lincoln Square, awaiting the opening of the doors that will bring both warmth and a seat inside the "LIVE with Kelly and Michael" studio. NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. has already called in to "The Dan Patrick Show" as his first media obligation on Feb. 11, and he has four more stops on the docket as part of the Road to Daytona 500 Media Tour. He's in a black Chevrolet SUV fighting morning traffic, but steadily making progress toward this tiny pocket of the largest city in the United States. And he's running late. Congested morning streets make it hardly Junior's fault, but he bustles into the dressing room at the "LIVE" studio a bit behind schedule, and there's a pair of show producers eager to get him prepped for his spot. Part of their job is to make Earnhardt feel both welcome and comfortable. With Valentine's Day three days away, it's an easy talking point -- and one Junior will hear relentlessly throughout both this trip, and at Media Day in Daytona Beach, Florida, the following day. "Got any big plans for Valentine's Day?" an assistant asks Dale Jr. after a few quick brushes in the makeup room. "We've got a race," Junior says. "Oh, how romantic!" • • • It's a commercial break, and host Michael Strahan signs an old New York Giants jersey that was tossed down from the balcony. He banters playfully with the audience, including one member who makes fun of his arm strength. "Hey, I wasn't a quarterback," he says. "I hit quarterbacks." An image of Earnhardt Jr. suddenly blares on the television screens behind the hosts, and Strahan teases, "You don't know who our next guest is, do you?" "Dale Jr.!" screams the audience, and there's a few shrieks thrown in there as well. The man himself strides on stage, and that's where one first sees the transformation. Quiet and reserved by nature, he is a media chameleon of sorts -- his personality adapts to its surroundings . When the camera comes on, there's Junior smiling, there's Junior giving these well thought-out answers to questions he's answered literally hundreds of times before. He's stopped just once in this building, by a pair of veterans who ask for a quick picture with NASCAR's 12-time Most Popular Driver as he walks to his waiting ride in the building's parking garage after the filming is completed. "Thank you for your service," he says before climbing into the back seat and being whisked away. • • • At the "Rachael Ray Show," an employee named Vida creates a pet name for Earnhardt as she describes how the taping will go. "Hey, pumpkin!" she says when he walks in. "OK, pumpkin?" after her final bit of instruction. "Yes ma'am," he replies. It's how he always replies. Vida appears flustered when Earnhardt is pulled away to do the stage. "I have to get a picture with him," she says on the way out. Vida's not the only one at this stop to feel the Junior Effect. Chad Carter, a producer on the show, is from Concord, North Carolina. It's a town just north of Charlotte (Charlotte Motor Speedway is actually in Concord), and about 20 miles southeast of Mooresville, where Junior grew up. He's talked Earnhardt up all week, so the staff is eager to meet the man. "In my area of North Carolina, it's Jesus, Elvis and Dale Earnhardt Jr.," Carter told the show's associates, and even Ray herself, leading up to this day. Carter left a note for Junior, along with a gift bag full of local beer, gin and bourbon. The wooden table has a stack of North Carolina-specific books, an attempt to make the glamorous green room feel more like Mooresville than Manhattan. A succinctly titled "Duke Sucks" sits on top. Earnhardt thumbs through Carter's 1994 Concord High School yearbook, and a book of photography by Hugh Morton, one of North Carolina's most well-known native sons, while waiting to be called to the stage. The TV blares behind him. Someone brings food -- flank steak and popovers. Junior has already changed clothes so he doesn't appear on different talk shows wearing the same outfit, and he reacts to a new piece of clothing like most everyone. He puts on his new striped suit jacket, fixes it, pulls on it, then checks it out in the mirror before finally asking, "Does this look OK?" Vida will soon get her picture, and Carter is waiting for Earnhardt when he gets back to the green room after his interview with Ray and special guest host Regis Philbin. There isn't much time for pleasantries, but Earnhardt greets Carter as he does everyone else he encounters on this trip -- a look in the eye, a firm handshake and a one-word introduction: "Dale." "Thank you for the gift bag," Earnhardt says. "That was very generous of you." • • • At lunch, Earnhardt perks up at the prospect of food. It's been a busy morning. He offers suggestions to the sushi novice (black dynamite, on account of the tempura shrimp -- the crunchiness hides the fact that there's actual raw fish jammed in there), then expertly wields his chopsticks with his left hand while polishing off a salad, miso soup and two lines of brightly colored sushi. Whether it's eating or walking or making a decision, Earnhardt Jr. is always moving fast, as if his personality mirrors how he hopes to perform on the track. Maybe it does. But there is no wasted movement with this man in the city, no dallying. When lunch is finished, he rises, puts on his jacket and is 25 feet away before anyone else has pushed a chair back from the table. He power-walks on the city sidewalks, reaching his vehicle before anyone else in his group and not waiting for the driver to emerge and open the door for him. Now, at 1 p.m., is the only break Earnhardt has in the day, a 45-minute stretch in which he doesn't have a commitment, and doesn't need to be chugging along in his rented ride to get to his next commitment. He can do anything he wants. And he wants to go to Bleecker Street. Nestled near New York University, Bleecker Street is a trendy nightclub district in Greenwich Village. It also has a Burberry store. That is the purpose of this detour. Junior looks like any man shopping for his significant other when he walks through the doors and is confronted with a dizzying array of pink purses, accessories and clothes. He selects two scarves for his girlfriend Amy Reimann, but the merchandise continually catches his eye as the employees ring him up. He inspects a wallet, whose well-designed interior is stunning when he pops it open. "That's cool as hell," he murmurs. Two scarves quickly becomes two scarves plus a wallet … plus a shawl … plus a new purse to replace the one stolen from Amy on vacation. Not even the loud buzz as he walks out the door -- two of the security devices hadn't been removed -- harshens his mood. • • • That famous selfie in Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway last year is the first image of Dale Earnhardt Jr. that people on Twitter glimpsed. It was the first tweet from @DaleJr, and it kicked off a year in which Junior delighted his fans and followers with Throwback Thursday photos, race predictions and late-night Q&A sessions. It directly led to this penultimate media tour stop at one of the Twitter offices, where a bunch of hip 20-somethings sequester Junior into a conference room and film his reasoning -- and reaction -- to joining the platform. "It's hard to do," Earnhardt says. "You can't try it for a week and go 'It's not for me.' I needed a moment. … "But it also gives us a way to say we're confident, and fans want to hear that confidence. And when we win, we get to celebrate with all our fans." The Twitter folks exude New York. They are trendy, they wear jeans to work and they are young. Yet the 40-year-old Earnhardt does not look like an outsider. He looks like he could be either Twitter's guest for the day, or one of its executives. That's something else we learn from this trip. Earnhardt somehow is both the laid-back guy from rural North Carolina and a media mogul that can blend into the biggest city in the United States, looking like he belongs on Wall Street. It's a dichotomy that shows up everywhere, from the people he meets to his Southern politeness, even to the way he dresses. Sure, he's wearing blue jeans (Wrangler, no doubt) but his black dress shoes are gleaming as if they've been freshly polished, and he bought a new striped sports coat for this occasion. He gives thoughtful, professional answers on questions that need them. But when he's off camera, and sees a beautiful three-layer cake the Twitter folks surprised him with, he grins. "Hell yeah!" he says. • • • He arrives at the day's last stop at 3:32 p.m. It's the fifth hit of his day, a day that began in North Carolina before the sun came up, has spanned states and necessitates that a somewhat introverted man talk almost nonstop. Junior has not yawned once. In fact, this day of racing talk has him amped for the start of the season. An offseason with virtually no testing had the driver itching to get back in the car alongside his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, one of whom is Jeff Gordon. This is Gordon's last full-time season, and it has Earnhardt thinking about his own future. Junior tackled the topic of retirement multiple times last year, and admits it's almost an obsessive thing to mull when one of the greats hangs it up. "I often think about retirement, and what it is that makes people retire," Earnhardt Jr. says. "I wonder about myself. 'What is going to take me out of the car? Is it gonna be family? Is it gonna be health?' "I can tell you I wouldn't step out for the car right now for anything." Minutes later, his "Pardon the Interruption" taping is finished. And one final time, we see the two sides of Dale. He's leaving a beautiful midtown studio, the type of place so very few people have access to, walking away from the marble flooring and fancy recording equipment. It's a building that so few people -- really, so few professional athletes -- will ever be qualified to enter. His day is done, but there's still one final piece of business as the elevator takes him down and spits him back toward the crowded streets. Before he leaves, Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to a small nook of a convenience store and buys a Powerball ticket. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today
1988 champion gets inducted, says Chase's Cup news was the bigger deal Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live MORE: Five inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame " Chase scores Cup ride CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bill Elliott often outran the competition, but recently the former NASCAR premier series champion has been trying to outrun his emotions. It's been quite the past few days for Elliott, the 1988 champ, and his family. On Thursday it was announced that his son, 19-year-old Chase, would make his first start in the Sprint Cup Series later this year. On Friday, the elder Elliott was one of five drivers inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. His son landing the ride with Hendrick Motorsports , where he will take over a car perhaps even more famous than that of his father was the bigger deal, Bill Elliott said. "Let me tell you this little story," Elliott offered after he, along with Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White were officially inducted into the Hall. "I called Chase – I think it was Wednesday night and I was talking to him and he said 'guess who called me?' "I said 'I don't know.'" Told it was someone named Jeff, the name didn’t register. "He said, ' Jeff Gordon called me.' He was so excited that Jeff Gordon had picked up the phone and called him," Elliott said. "… That meant so much to him (to talk about) what his next step and what his next role was going to be." Elliott made the No. 9 Ford Thunderbird one of the most recognizable cars on the track during his career. In addition to his championship, he won 44 times in premier series competition. He, along brothers Ernie and Dan , set qualifying records likely to remain unbroken as well. Gordon, scheduled to end his driving career at the end of '15, has won 92 times and four championships with Hendrick Motorsports . For fans that began following the sport in the early '90s or later, Gordon’s brightly painted No. 24 Chevrolet quickly became just as recognizable and even more successful. He's won on nearly ever track where the Sprint Cup Series competes, and several that are no longer on the schedule. And now Chase Elliott prepares to step into the ride once Gordon steps aside. MORE: Gordon calls Chase the 'total package' As much as the sport has changed since Bill Elliott arrived on the scene in the latter part of the '70s, one thing has remained constant – the cycle of drivers that show up, make their mark and eventually depart. Gordon is making plans to exit. Elliott's son Chase is preparing to arrive. Not much different than when he and his family first showed up, the elder Elliott said. "When I came in you had Cale (Yarborough), David Pearson, all those guys kind of winding down," Elliott said. "Then I watched Richard (Petty) retire and now it's turning … again." At that time such changes didn't catch his attention, he said, explaining that with a limited budget and much to learn, "all I cared about was just trying to go race. "There was so few of us, we really didn't worry about anything else," Elliott said. "It was kind of like you were driving down the road with blinders on, you were really oblivious to anything else going on." PHOTOS: Best moments from the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony His son understands what lies ahead, Elliott said on a night he was honored for what took place in the past. "He's an incredibly good race car driver, and I'm not saying it's because he's my kid," Elliott said. "… I've said all along he's better than I ever thought about being." Maybe so, but the father was no slouch. Among his 44 victories are four that came in the in the twilight of his career before he began to scale back his racing schedule. Driving for Ray Evernham, who had helped guide Gordon to three of his four titles, Elliott won at Homestead, Pocono, Indianapolis and Rockingham. "There aren't many names that transcend a sport," Evernham said. "If you're not even a baseball fan you know the names Ruth or Mantle; even the most casual football fan knows Lombardi and Unitas. "In our sport, in motorsports, they know Foyt and Andretti and Earnhardt and Petty and even casual fans know Bill Elliott because of the things he's done. "It's an honor to have him as a friend, and it's been a great ride."
Humble beginnings couldn't slow eventual rise from 'Awesome Bill' Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Editor's note: The NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 will be inducted Friday night at 8 p.m. ET. on NBC Sports Network. CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bill Elliott arrived on the scene after the careers of his fellow 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame classmates had already come to an end. But the man who would become known as "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" for his exploits on the track has much in common with Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White. The five will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame tonight. A familiar thread connects those who reside in the Hall, one that often includes humble beginnings, hardships and eventually success. RELATED: Every class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Elliott, 59, and his family are an integral part of that thread. George, the patriarch, ran a small building supply business in Dawsonville, Georgia. "A hole-in-the-wall deal," Bill says today. The elder Elliott also built race cars, helped other local racers and fielded entries in NASCAR as early as the 1960s. "Daddy carried cars to Daytona in the early '60s, he would carry two cars down there and run a Sportsman or a Modified or some kind of race," Elliott said. Box vans used in the family business served as transporters for the race cars. "He'd back the trailer down there to the loading dock and he'd load them up in the van trailers and carry them down there, then try to find a place to unload them,” Elliott said. "It was like the Clampetts went to Daytona." It wasn't much but as Elliott noted, it was a common sight among those who chose the stock car racing path at that time. "Back then, such a different way of doing things. Anybody could come show up at Daytona with some kind of race car," he said. "I think those are the things that I look back on and were so much fun early on. You go to our little garage down there, you could just throw something together. I remember going to one of the shops of one of the guys Daddy was helping. They were putting a '63 Ford together. They had taken a car out of the junkyard, were taking the interior out and welding the roll bar in it, getting it ready to go. But I mean it was just a stock '63 Ford. Whatever it came with, that's what it had. And those days are gone." Elliott made his first start in what is now NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series in 1976, driving for his family-run team that included brothers Ernie and Dan Elliott. But it wasn't until ’82, when the team was purchased by businessman Harry Melling, that Elliott became an "overnight success." By the time his career had ended (he made his last official start in 2012), Elliott had won 44 races, one series championship and was voted the series' most popular driver 16 times. His wins came on stages big and small -- few bigger than the Daytona 500 , which he won twice, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at rugged, old Darlington Raceway . RELATED: Read Bill Elliott's Hall of Fame capsule It was at Darlington that Elliott officially picked up another moniker, "Million Dollar Bill" when a Southern 500 win in 1985 earned him the Winston Million bonus. Elliott's move into stardom coincided with a rise in speed on the race track. Before the advent of restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega, speed grabbed headlines. And no one went faster than Elliott, who ended his career with 55 pole positions. His qualifying mark of 212.809 mph at Talladega remains the fastest qualifying lap ever for a NASCAR event. But that feat wasn't the record that stands out in his mind, he said. "If I was outside looking in at my career, the biggest thing that impresses me was running 210 (mph) at Daytona in 1987," Elliott said. "I sat there and I watched Cale (Yarborough) try to run just 200 (in 1983) and turn over off Turn 4. We came back, ran 205 in '85 and we came back in '87 and stepped it up five more mph average. That was with no technology. That was just the luck of the draw and the things we did at that point in time; that's what really impressed me. "When I first went there I think I ran 171 or something and I thought, 'Man I'm out of control. How can you run any faster?' " Elliott's induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame comes just as his son, 19-year-old Chase, prepares to begin his own Sprint Cup career. It was announced earlier this week that Chase would run five Sprint Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports this season, then take over the organization's No. 24 Chevrolet when four-time champion Jeff Gordon steps down at year's end. RELATED: Gordon: Chase is the 'total package' The younger Elliott didn't witness a lot of his father’s exploits as they took place. But he's relived them through video replays. "There were a lot of races where he took it to 'em, man," Chase Elliott said. "He wore them out. That's cool to look back on and see. "I have a lot of respect for what he has done and for what they did. To do it with what they had (at the time) was very, very impressive. I think a lot of people let that slip by. "They were kind of on their own there in Georgia and a lot of people don’t realize that. They didn’t have a lot of help; they didn’t have a big team. It was just them. It’s very, very impressive to see what they were able to do."
Get the on-track times for everything at Phoenix International Raceway Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway for a doubleheader of NASCAR action, while the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series remains off. Check out the full schedule below. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;nbsp; All times are ET SUNDAY, MARCH 15: RACE-DAY SCHEDULE 1:30 p.m. : NSCS Driver/Crew Chief Meeting 2:54 p.m.: Official Welcome by: PIR President; Bryan Sperber 2:55 p.m. : Intro Honorary Race Official: Doug Ducey, Honorable Governor, U.S. State of Arizona 2:56 p.m.: Intro Honorary Race Official: Brigadier General Scott Pleus, Commander of 56th Fighter Wing, Luke AFB 2:56:30 p.m.: Intro Honorary Race Official: Jared Valdheer, Offensive Tackle, Arizona Cardinals 2:57 p.m. : Intro Honorary Race Official: Ruben Pardo, Winner of Toyota 120, NASCAR Mexico Series Race 2:57:30 p.m. : Intro Honorary Pace Car Driver: Dan Henderson, Two-time US Olympian, Current UFC Mixed Martial Artist 2:58:30 p.m. : Intro Grand Marshal: Brad Woods, Camping World National Training Director 2:59 p.m.: Intro Honorary Starter: Mike Turner, Parts & Accessory Manager, Camping World of Avondale 2:59:30 p.m.: Intro Miss Sprint Cup : Julianna White 3:00 p.m. : NSCS Drivers Introductions 3:30 p.m. : Intro Presentation of Colors by: Luke Air Force Base 3:30:20 p.m. : Invocation by: PIR Chaplain; Ken Bowers 3:30:45 p.m.: Intro National Anthem 3:31 p.m. : National Anthem: Tori Kelly 3:32 p.m.: Flyover TOT: Commemorative Air Force (B-25 and SNJ) 3:38 p.m.: "Drivers, Start Your Engines" by: Brad Woods, Camping World National Training Director 3:45 p.m. : Green Flag -- CampingWorld.com 500 (312 Laps, 312 Miles) ( Get results ) ON TRACK -- 3:30 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CampingWorld.com 500 , FOX (312 laps, 312 miles) ( Follow live ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 12:30 p.m.: Martin Truex Jr . and Joe Garone, GM, Furniture Row Racing -- Approx. 6:15 p.m.: Post-NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race FRIDAY, MARCH 13: ON TRACK -- 3-4:15 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, FOX Sports 1 ( Get results ) -- 4:30-5:25 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series practice, FOX Sports 1 ( Get results ) -- 6-7:25 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series final practice, FOX Sports 2 ( Get results ) -- 7:50 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FOX Sports 2 ( Full lineup ) -- 10 p.m.: NASCAR Mexico Series Toyota 120, NBC Universo ( Get results ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 2 p.m.: Kevin Harvick -- 2:30 p.m.: Chase Elliott -- 4:45 p.m.: Denny Hamlin -- Approx. 8:45 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying GARAGECAM ( Watch live ) -- 2:30 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series -- 4 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series SATURDAY, MARCH 14: ON TRACK -- 11:30 a.m.-12:25 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, FOX Sports 1 ( Get results ) -- 12:45 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FOX Sports 1 ( Full lineup ) -- 2:30-3:20 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice, FOX Sports 1 ( Get results ) -- 4 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200 , FOX (200 laps, 200 miles) ( Get results ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 11 a.m.: Sam Hornish Jr . -- 1:45 p.m.: AXALTA Chairman and CEO Charlie Shaver and President Mike Cash -- Approx. 5:45 p.m.: Post-NASCAR XFINITY Series race MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today