Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Sunday in New Hampshire. Image: AP

This morning President Trump said in a tweet he was proud of NASCAR for not putting up with “disrespecting our Country or our Flag,” in response to NASCAR owners’ threats yesterday to fire any of their employees who dared protest during the national anthem. Around 29 minutes later, Dale Earnhardt Jr., also on Twitter, quoted JFK.

Earnhardt said he was responding not to Trump but to owners like Richard Petty and Richard Childress, but, still the timing of the tweets was almost too perfect.

And then:

Again, it was apparently just a coincidence, but it wouldn’t have been hard to read it as intentional, since Earnhardt—the most popular NASCAR driver on the planet and also a political outlier in his sport—has disagreed with Trump in the past.

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Around five hours after the Earnhardt and Trump tweets, NASCAR issued its own statement the matter, also via Twitter.

That statement, on its face, seems to give drivers and crews cover should they want to protest during the anthem. But the statement also reassures its largely conservative fan base with talk of the circuit’s own long-held “respect for the national anthem”—exactly the thing Trump, Petty, and others said protesters were insulting.

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The whole controversy was yet another reminder of NASCAR’s Donald Trump problem, which, as the sport is learning, won’t be going any time soon. And in the end, I’m guessing this will all be academic for crew members and drivers who may want to protest during the anthem, since they’re stuck between owners who are threatening to fire them and NASCAR, which seems to be doing the least it can to protect them.