Jeff Gordon blasts NASCAR after 13 drivers aren’t permitted to make qualifying laps at Atlanta

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Sprint Cup qualifying was marred by a debacle for the second consecutive race to start the 2015 season.

Several NASCAR stars failed to get on track because their cars didn’t pass inspection Friday before the session began to set the field for the Fields of Honor Quiktrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. There were 13 cars that didn’t take a lap, including Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart.

Gordon blasted NASCAR after his No. 24 Chevrolet didn’t take a lap, apologizing to fans and 3M, which was making its debut as his primary sponsor.

“When you have this many teams having issues going through, there’s something wrong with this system or something wrong with the amount of time they’re allotted to get through,” said Gordon, whose car went through the inspection bay twice. “There’s no way with this many good cars and talented people that they can’t figure out how to get these cars through inspection. These guys are too smart and yeah, we’re pushing limits, but there’s something wrong here.

“I’m embarrassed for our series now that this just happened. I’m really upset for my sponsor 3M that just came on this weekend when we didn’t get a chance to qualify. We’re just fortunate that (we make the race). I know there’s a lot of teams that aren’t going to be that fortunate. I hate it for these guys that work so hard. … This is an embarrassment for all of us.”

Matt Kenseth shared that sentiment.

“It’s better than not starting,” he said. “I feel bad for whoever didn’t get through there and didn’t make the race.

“They should figure out how to get everyone through tech before qualifying starts, first of all. If they can’t do that, they should probably postpone qualifying until they get everyone through tech with that many cars.”

NASCAR delayed the start of the session by 15 minutes to get teams through inspection.

Sprint Cup director Richard Buck said NASCAR saw the trend develop and tried to provide dispensation to teams. All 47 cars attempting to qualify for the race were given at least one shot at passing inspection.

“We could see the trend develop,” Buck said. “Our job is to work with teams and allow them to meet parameters. We pushed it 15 minutes to give them as much time as we could.

“We treat everybody the same. There were cars that came through three times. Everyone got a fair shot at coming through in a timely manner.”

Buck said most of the problem areas in inspections were related to mechanical grip, specifically related to rear camber, or the angle at which teams tilt their wheels.

Buck said NASCAR would review the inspection process with teams and said he respected the fact that teams were trying to find speed within the bounds of new rules that include 125 less horsepower and 24 percent less downforce.

“They’re pushing the limits,” he said. “That’s their job to get every bit they can get through (inspection). It’s our job that everyone gets a fair opportunity to get through there. That’s what we did.”

Last week at Daytona International Speedway, Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer excoriated NASCAR after the debut of group qualifying for the Daytona 500 resulted in several wrecks.

Stewart took a more measured tone Friday on Twitter but still was critical.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified ninth, said he thought it could lead to improvements in the inspection process.

“I don’t know what my thoughts are because I don’t know what the situation is,” he said. “I don’t know enough about what the problem is and why guys are having problems, so it’s hard to make a comment.

“I am sure it’s something NASCAR doesn’t like to see.  The teams certainly would like to get a lap in, so they will work together to improve the situation. We’ve had a little trouble with the technical inspection over the last couple of years. A lot of new things implemented, the cars changing and the rules changing. It’s a bit of a struggle for NASCAR and the teams to sort of make that inspection process as smooth as possible, and (they’re) still learning.”

Said Danica Patrick, who qualified 18th, said: “I don’t know if it is the team’s fault, if it is the series’ fault, if it is the track’s fault or if it is logistical. I literally have no idea. I think we got a little bit lucky today, but we’ll take it because there are days when you are unlucky and you are mad at that.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has ‘some interest’ in being part of group that buys Carolina Panthers

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not one of two race car drivers who are part of Felix Sabates’ group seeking to buy the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, according to the Associated Press.

NASCAR’s 15-time most popular driver told the AP he hadn’t been asked by Sabates to join the group. But Earnhardt said he reached out to Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., about the possibility of being part of an effort to pursue the team.

SMI own Charlotte Motor Speedway and seven other NASCAR tracks.

“I said, ‘Hey, Marcus, if you guys are in the middle of it and you think it’s a good business deal, I definitely have some interest,'” Earnhardt told the AP. “But I am not one of the guys that Felix is talking about.”

Sabates, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, told the Charlotte Observer last week he was part of a local group in the Charlotte area seeking to buy the Panthers. Sabates said he is not in position to be the majority owner by a “long shot.”

Sabates’ group includes five businessmen, two of the team’s existing minority owners and two race car drivers, who Sabates declined to name.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is selling the team after it was revealed in December by Sports Illustrated that four former Panther employees received “significant settlements” for workplace misconduct that included “sexual harassment against female employees and for directing a racial slur at an African-American employee.”

NASCAR recently denied a report that CEO and Chairman Brian France was part of a group interested in buying the team.

Earnhardt, a noted fan of the Washington Redskins, recently retired from Cup racing after 18 full-time seasons on the circuit.

“I wouldn’t have the kind of money where I would move the needle too much, but it would be something to have a lot of pride in, and a good Charlotte NFL team is good for the city of Charlotte,” Earnhardt said. “I wish them success because of what it does for our community, not only from a pride standpoint, but an economical standpoint. I wouldn’t be a big player, and it wouldn’t be an investment that would really create a big change in my life.

“But I certainly would love to be supportive to the team and the success of the team to the community. That means a lot to me.”

Earnhardt will make his debut as a member of the NBC Sports broadcasting family next month during coverage of the Super Bowl and winter Olympics.

DC Solar to sponsor Chip Ganassi Racing in Cup, Xfinity races

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DC Solar will sponsor Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray in select Cup Series races and several Xfinity Series races this year, the team announced Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

DC Solar has backed Ganassi for the last three seasons in the Xfinity Series. It sponsored Brennan Poole‘s No. 48 Chevrolet for the last two seasons. Ganassi will only field one full-time car in the Xfinity Series this season.

The provider of mobile solar lighting devices will be on Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet and McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet in Cup. Both drivers will pilot the No. 42 in the Xfinity Series, along with John Hunter Nemechek.

McMurray hasn’t competed in the Xfinity Series since 2013.

DC Solar will make its Cup debut with Larson and the in the season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash exhibition on Feb. 11.

DC Solar provides mobile solar lighting solutions, EV chargers, and power stations to multiple tracks, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, ISM Raceway (Phoenix) and Darlington Raceway.

The company has also partnered with ISM Raceway during its $178 million renovation project.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make NBC Sports debut with Super Bowl, Olympics coverage

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Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s 15-time most popular driver, will make his debut as a member of the NBC family with the network’s coverage of next month’s Super Bowl and the winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Earnhardt, who just retired after 18 full-time seasons in the Cup Series, will be part of NBC’s pre-game coverage of the Feb. 4 Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

While there, Earnhardt will take part in outdoor events and activities taking place in city leading up to kickoff.

Earnhardt will then travel to PyeongChang, where he will explore the culture, people, and traditions in South Korea and experience the Olympics first hand. Earnhardt will visit the speed skating venue at Gangneung Ice Arena, and through the lens of a racer will view the speed, close contact, and tight turns on the speed skating oval.

Following a recent invite on social media from the U.S. bobsled team, Earnhardt will also travel to the Alpensia Sliding Center where he will get to ride in an Olympic bobsled.

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games begin Feb. 8.

“I’m excited to get to work with my new NBC family,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “Beginning with two huge events like the Super Bowl and Olympics, right out of the gate, should be quite the introduction. I’m looking forward to raising the profile of NASCAR, and all that we’re going to be doing during the 2018 season.”

Earnhardt will be an analyst on NBC’s coverage of the NASCAR season. The NBC portion of the Cup schedule begins July 1 at Chicagoland Speedway on NBCSN.

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Cody Coughlin joins GMS Racing in Truck Series

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GMS Racing announced Tuesday that it has signed Cody Coughlin to compete for the team in the Camping World Truck Series this season.

Coughlin, the son of NHRA driver and JEGS President John Coughlin, joins the team after one year driving for ThorSport Racing.

The 22-year-old driver will pilot the No. 2 JEGS Chevrolet in his second full-time season in the series.

“I couldn’t be more excited to join the GMS Racing family as well as be back running for Chevrolet,” Coughlin said in a press release. “GMS is a team that has proven to be one of the teams to beat every time they unload at the race track and now I have the same opportunity. I can’t thank GMS Racing, (team owners) Maury Gallagher and Mike Beam enough for this chance. I think we have the right tools and personnel in place with the No.2 team to run up front and contend for race wins every weekend.”

Coughlin joins Justin Haley, Dalton Sargeant and 2016 series champion Johnny Sauter.

Coughlin has 35 series starts since 2015. His best finish is third at Phoenix in November last season. It is his only top-five finish. He has three tops 10s.

The native of Delaware, Ohio, will be paired with crew chief Jerry Baxter. Baxter worked with Kaz Grala in 2017. Together they won the season opener at Daytona and earned five top fives and 11 top 10s.

Baxter has 10 wins as a crew chief in the Truck Series, including five with Darrell Wallace Jr.

“I’m more than ready to get the 2018 season underway,” Baxter said in a press release. “Last year we raced against Cody every weekend, so I have an idea of the type of driver he is. It will be even better to be able to work with him now firsthand. We have a good group of hard-working guys on the No. 2 that will definitely put us in the position to run well every time we’re at the track.”

The 2018 Truck Series season begins Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway.

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