SONOMA, Calif. (AP) Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver, called the Confederate flag ''offensive to an entire race'' Friday while voicing his support for it being removed from the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse.
NASCAR this week said it backs South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's call to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds, and noted that it bars the flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity. Earnhardt backed NASCAR's position when asked about the issue before practice at Sonoma Raceway.
''I've made my comments about the Confederate flag several times, and I stand behind NASCAR's stance to remove it,'' Earnhardt said. ''I think if it's offensive to an entire race, it really does nothing for anybody to be there flying. It belongs in the history books, that's about it.''
The flag issue was heightened last week after nine black churchgoers were slain in Charleston, South Carolina. The suspect in the case, Dylann Roof, embraced Confederate symbols before the attack, posing with the rebel battle flag, and that revelation has prompted a reappraisal of the role such symbols play in the South.
Confederate flags have long been common among the tens of thousands of fans at NASCAR races across the South and that's not likely to change unless the motorsports series or racetrack owners decide to bar them - a daunting prospect given the size of the crowds and NASCAR's own acknowledgement that fans have a right to freedom of expression.
Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt's teammate, added that Hendrick Motorsports has long prohibited any merchandise that uses the Confederate flag symbol.
''Everything that we can control, we've eliminated the ability to use it in any way and show up in any of the things we're involved with,'' Gordon said. ''That's the stance I see that NASCAR has taken and has had for several years. I'm in support of what they're doing.
''It's a delicate balance. We race all over but the South is an area where we have a lot of fans and everyone has a different opinions and expression of that.''