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Dealing with Dallas, NASCAR stars say their roles are to provide diversions

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 - Practice

SPARTA, KY - JULY 08: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, talks to the media in a press conference during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on July 8, 2016 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Blaine Ohigashi/Getty Images)

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SPARTA, Ky. – With portentous dispatches from the real world filtering into Kentucky Speedway this weekend, Kevin Harvick is taking his role as a frivolous diversion very seriously.

“This is definitely a distraction for a lot of people to get their minds off of things,” said the 2014 Sprint Cup champion, who will start first in Saturday’s Quaker State 400. “It’s definitely something that we can play a big role in being positive impacts on a lot of people’s lives.

“It’s a daily reminder of a situation or somebody has cancer or just died or (the deaths of police officers in a mass shooting Thursday night) in Dallas with everybody worried and frightened about the things that are going on in their city. All of a sudden for four hours (watching a NASCAR race), you have something that can get their minds off of things.”

NASCAR and drivers such as Harvick have experience with being thrust into the role of staging races in the wake of immediate national turmoil. In the first Sprint Cup race held after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won before a sold-out crowd at Dover International Speedway, carrying an American flag on his victory lap that capped a full day of patriotism at the 1-mile oval.

Harvick has used social media postings to provide glimpses of his personal life that are intended to bring happiness.

“We have the opportunity to have big impacts on people’s lives,” he said. “Every day you learn more and more about how much of an impact you have. Sometimes you can get so buried into what you are doing, but we are so fortunate to be sitting here doing what we are doing in this environment. Then you see all the real world things that are happening around you, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that you are pretty lucky to be sitting in the position that you are in. So, yeah, you think about it a lot.”

Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski said there is a “balancing act” of being conscientious to showing deference to the gravity of current events.

“You don’t want to be unworldly and ignore what’s going on,” he said. “Of course, we all want to know what’s going on, and I’m as curious as anyone else, but I also understand that a lot of the attraction that our fans have to this sport and any sport is to help them get out of those moments or get out of that mental space.

“I try to balance that with trying to be cognizant on my own, but also understanding that in some ways I am an entertainer as a race car driver and a lot of the role that I think I serve in the community with what I do is to help brighten people’s day and make them smile.”

What drives that home for Harvick is when he sees people sharing photos of family members being laid to rest with his race gear in their caskets.

“At that particular point, it’s fairly obvious that you need to try to do the best you can to not take for granted what we do and realize exactly how much it means to a lot of people,” he said.