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NASCAR drivers welcome responsibility to provide distraction amid national turmoil

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Racing isn’t on the minds of many, but Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick embrace the opportunity to provide some modicum of entertainment Saturday night.

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In a week filled with tragic and horrific news, Brad Keselowski understands that in the grand scheme a mid-summer NASCAR race is trivial.

But the former Sprint Cup champion also recognizes that Saturday night's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway offers an opportunity to provide a distraction from recent events — even if it's just for a short period of time. Keselowski views himself as an entertainer in some ways. As such it's his responsibility to "help brighten people's day and make them smile."

"You don't want to ignore what's going on," Keselowski 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.

"There's maybe a fuzzy line, but certainly a balancing act between being conscientious of what's going on but also conscientious of the position that we have as a sport in society."

Kevin Harvick, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, echoed Keselowski's comments, embracing his role as someone who can make others happy and take their minds off the rush of sad news happening around the country.

On consecutive days earlier in the week two black men were shot and killed by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota. On Thursday, Dallas police officers were attacked by a sniper during a peaceful protest. Five officers were killed and seven others were injured.

"It's definitely something that we can play a big role in being positive impacts on a lot of people's lives," Harvick said. "... The situation that we just had in Dallas with everybody worried and frightened about the things that are going on in their city — all of a sudden for four hours you have something that can get their minds off of things."

Harvick is familiar with NASCAR staging events in the immediate aftermath of nationwide turmoil. In 2001, he was part of the first Cup Series race following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won that afternoon at Dover International Speedway and memorably carried an American flag on his victory lap.

And if Harvick ever needs a reminder of the impact he has, social media offers frequent reminders.

"It's not uncommon to see pictures from mothers, fathers, grandparents, kids of their sisters, brothers, husbands whatever the situation is in the casket in your race gear," he said. "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.

"This is definitely a distraction for a lot of people to get their minds off of things that have been affected or not affected or worried about something."