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Near death last year, Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner Felix Sabates returning to track soon

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Last October, Chip Ganassi bought a blue suit to wear to the funeral of Felix Sabates.

Fortunately, he hasn’t had to use it.

Sabates, the co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, recounted the story and other details of a serious ailment that felled him last August during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Late Shift” on Monday.

Sabates said he was in intensive care for 73 days and in a coma for 29.

“I was really sick,” Sabates said. “There were times that my family and the doctors didn’t think I was going to make it.”

One of those times was the week of the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which was held Oct. 9.

“During the week of the Charlotte race, my daughter texted Chip in Pittsburgh and said ‘He may not make it through the night,’ and Chip was coming down for the race,” Sabates said. “He went out and bought a blue suit to go to my funeral.

“They thought I was going to die that night. That’s just the way it was. Fortunately, the good Lord kept me here.”

Sabates, 71, said he’s at “95 percent good” and “ready to go.” He plans to return to the track (for the first time since his illness last year) either at Richmond International Raceway or Texas Motor Speedway.

“I can’t get in a plane and fly,” Sabates said. “I’m still not in a good enough shape because my lungs won’t take it.”

Sabates has been a co-owner with Ganassi’s NASCAR operation since 2001 but has been a NASCAR owner since 1989 when he started SABCO Racing. He owned the No. 42, which Kyle Petty drove from 1989-96.

He’ll make his return to the track with CGR enjoying its best success in years. Kyle Larson, who is on top of the Cup point standings, captured his second series win Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

That was after the 24-year-old finished second in three straight races and led the Daytona 500 at the white flag before running out of gas.

Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet, is sixth in the standings after earning three top 10s in the season’s first five races.

Both teams are improving on the momentum from last season when the team drivers qualified both of its driver for the playoffs in the same year for the first time.

“Last year we realized some engineering advantages that we were not doing,” Sabates told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Chip made the commitment that we were going to hire the best engineers, the best people that we could, and we did. If you remember the second half of the year last year, both Jamie and Kyle ran pretty well. Both cars made the (playoffs). That was pretty remarkable for where we were at the beginning of the year.

“I got an email last night from Jamie, from the plane (saying), ‘Our cars are so much better than they were in the past that it makes it fun to drive again.'”

Knowing his team’s co-owner is still around to see it probably makes it even better.

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NASCAR America: Steve Letarte: Denny Hamlin showing ‘remarkable consistency’

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Things have been going relatively well for Denny Hamlin on the track in 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver enters this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway sixth in points. Through five races, he’s finished outside the top six once (17th, Las Vegas).

NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan discussed his season so far in addition to Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Letarte said Hamlin has displayed “remarkable consistency.”

“Denny Hamlin is in my mind a super star driver that I know I am guilty of leaving him out of super star conversations,” Letarte said.

Ryan pointed to mistakes on pit road that have prevented Hamlin from enjoying more success this season and in his career overall. His result at Las Vegas was the result of a speeding penalty.

“Five races this season, four pit mistakes,” Ryan said. “He overshot his box at Daytona, he did that at Fontana, he sped in the pits at Phoenix. While I think they’ve had speed, I think that team is still stumbling in the same ways it has in the past. Unless they correct that, I don’t know if they’re championship level yet.”

Hamlin heads to Martinsville where he has won a career-best five races.

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Trevor Bayne on Charlotte Roval: ‘You have to be on your game’

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Rain washed out the second day of Goodyear tire testing Wednesday on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval. Goodyear has tentatively scheduled May 1 as a make-up test date.

Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Kyle Larson took part in the test Tuesday.

“I just took some slow pace laps and got a feel for the race track,” Bayne said in a statement from Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I was nervous, but I wasn’t anxious because I was never going to go out there and make qualifying laps. We worked our pace in and our plan, we stuck to it. I felt really good by the end of the day.

“You have to be on your game, that’s for sure. You can’t really let your guard down anywhere. There’s no room to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, you’re going to pay for it pretty quickly. If you try to do something and it doesn’t work, you’ll pay the price. It’s going to be a survival race. … If you’re smart, you take care of your car and you don’t make mistakes, you’ll have a really good shot at the end for a good finish. I enjoyed it. It was a challenge for me – something new – and I enjoyed that part of it.”

Organizational tests at Charlotte will be in July. There will be two different sessions. Each team is allowed to test at one of the two sessions, which will be July 10 (rain date of July 11) and July 17 (rain date of July 18).

The Charlotte Roval hosts the final race of the first round of the Cup playoffs on Sept. 30 on NBC.

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NASCAR issues two fines for unsecured lug nuts at Auto Club Speedway

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NASCAR announced two crew chief fines for unsecured lug nuts last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Adam Stevens, crew chief on Kyle Busch‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

In the Xfinity Series, Eric Phillips, the crew chief for Ryan Preece‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

No other penalties were announced.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Drivers to watch, favorite sports upsets

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and begins to look forward to this weekend’s racing at Martinsville Speedway.

Marty Snider hosts with Dale Jarrett, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan from the “Big Oak Table” in Charlotte.

What to expect from today’s show.

  • The same names have been dominating the headlines in the first five races in the 2018 season. We will take a look at some of the other drivers to be on the lookout for as the season rolls on.
  • One of NASCAR’s most historic tracks is up this weekend – Martinsville! We’ll check out some of the recent drama “The Paperclip” has provided ahead of the race.
  • In the spirit of March Madness, our panel will tell us about their most memorable sports moments, as well as some of NASCAR’s biggest upsets.
  • Plus, The Indianapolis 500 will have a new home in 2019. We’ll have all the details on NASCAR America.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.