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Austin Dillon on national anthem protest: ‘I don’t know how it would go over with the fans’

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series fred's 250

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 24: Fans in the grandstands hold an American flag prior to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series fred’s 250 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 24, 2015 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

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While protests around the national anthem continue in sports like the NFL and Major League Soccer, the patriotism shown in NASCAR remains strong.

The controversy started late last month when Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers was seen sitting on the bench during a pre-season game as the national anthem played. Some players have since followed suit by taking a knee as the anthem played before their games. U.S soccer star Megan Rapinoe also took a knee before a game last week.

There has not been a protest in NASCAR during its weekly pre-race routine of honoring the American flag and playing of the national anthem. NASCAR televises its pre-race ceremonies and those who aren’t being respectful rarely go unnoticed, which is why Austin Dillon isn’t sure what the reaction would be if there were a protest.

“I don’t know how it would go over with the fans - we’re a very patriotic sport,” Dillon said. “I think our sport does a good job of showing that every Saturday, Sunday of showing patriotism and what the flag means. Not only that, we have a lot of military out here each and every weekend.”

Kaepernick’s actions drew the ire of a few drivers. They included three-time champion Tony Stewart, which resulted in a strongly worded tweet and a demonstration of his patriotism last weekend at Darlington Raceway. Stewart stood alongside his No. 14 Chevrolet holding an American flag with his team.

Stewart’s actions weren’t necessarily out of place as there have been many examples throughout the years of the sport’s wide-ranging patriotism.

Every May, an elaborate pre-race ceremony is put on at Charlotte Motor Speedway in recognition of Memorial Day. Brad Keselowski celebrates each race win with the American flag. Fans also bring flags to wave in the grandstands or fly from their campsites.

Following the 2001 Sept. 11 attacks, teams included decals on their cars, either of American flags or other tributes to the victims. Mars and M&M’s gave up their logos on the No. 36 for Ken Schrader’s car to be painted like the American flag.

They did the same again in 2011 at Richmond with driver Kyle Busch in honor of the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Saturday night, on the eve of the 15th anniversary, all four Stewart-Haas Racing cars will carry decals in remembrance of the victims. Dillon will again stand by his car as the ceremonies take place.

“I’m close friends with a lot of SEAL guys that I check on that are still in battle, like still going out and putting their lives on the line, so I get to do what I do on Sunday and have this amazing job,” Dillon said.

“I’ve got SEAL guys that will personally text me and say, ‘Hey, thank you for not moving around; sitting there, we love that.’ When they see people that are not paying attention during our national anthem or kind of off looking around in the right place, it means a lot to them just to stand at attention. I wouldn’t want to ask a guy that puts his life on the line for our freedom to have to see that.”

Dillon understands his attitude may not be shared throughout the garage, but so far the pride shown in the NASCAR community hasn’t wavered since the controversy began.

“I think this is the greatest country in the world,” Dillon said. “I’ve traveled to other countries, and I’m glad to get home every time to America.”

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