Photo courtesy Barry Dodson official Facebook page

Rusty Wallace pays tribute to former crew chief, close friend Barry Dodson

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Rusty Wallace is one of many mourning the passing of veteran NASCAR crew chief Barry Dodson, who died unexpectedly Wednesday morning at the age of 64.

When team owner Raymond Beadle paired Wallace and Dodson together in 1986, it was immediate magic. The duo had a chemistry that made them one of the most powerful forces within NASCAR’s premier series.

During their five-year tenure together, Wallace and Dodson combined for 18 of Rusty’s 55 career Cup wins, as well as the highest point of both of their careers: winning the 1989 Winston Cup championship in the No. 27 Pontiac Blue Max.

MORE: Veteran NASCAR crew chief Barry Dodson, led Rusty Wallace to 1989 Cup championship, dies at 64.

Rusty spoke exclusively with NBC Sports about the passing of his crew chief and longtime friend. Here are some excerpts from that interview.

Q) What was it like when you and Barry first got together for team owner Raymond Beadle?

WALLACE: “When I went to drive for Raymond Beadle and the Blue Max, Barry was just one of the legendary crew chiefs that everybody wanted to work for. He was aggressive, real good with the pit crew, just real good with everything.

“The whole time I was with Blue Max Racing, when we started in 1986, we just had a lot of success under his leadership, winning a couple races right off the bat in 1986, a couple more in ’87, six in ’88 and ’89 and the Coca-Cola 600 (and one other race) in 1990. We just had some real big wins under Barry’s leadership. He was just a real cool guy.”

Q) Barry was one of only a few crew chiefs who, back in the day, not only called a race from the pit box, he also served as a member of the pit crew on race day. Tell me about his doing double duty, so to speak?

WALLACE: “Barry was our crew chief and was also our jack man. He could do almost anything. He was really physically fit, real fast, a real nimble guy. He worked real well with the pit crew, including Jimmy Makar, Todd Parrott and the other guys. They were all real good at what they did.

“He was one of those guys that didn’t just have one title. A lot of teams have one title now, but Barry had multiple titles. He ran the team, he was the crew chief, he was the jackman, he did a lot of things.

“Back then, we didn’t have multiple crew guys. Our mechanic was our right front tire changer and Barry was jack man. I almost wish in different ways it would go back that way. I mean, on Sunday’s, Barry could make it happen. I’m really going to miss the guy.”

Q) Your relationship with Barry wasn’t just driver and crew chief. He also became one of your closest friends. You even hired him to work for you almost 15 years after your last season together in the Cup series.

WALLACE: “I really appreciated and trusted what he did so much, that when I started one of my Xfinity teams (in 2004), he came over and helped us out a lot, helped tutor Stephen (Rusty’s son) a lot and got him winning on short tracks. I really trusted him and he helped me keep going.”

Rusty Wallace, left, and Barry Dodson celebrate one of their 18 wins together. Dodson passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 64.

Q) What do you remember most of the 1989 championship series and Barry?

WALLACE: “The thing that bothered me, I remember we’d win all those (six) races and everyone would be so jubilant and so excited, and we’d go back to the shop the very next morning, be so excited, high-fiving each other, and Barry would be just walking around all stone-faced.

“I’d ask the guys why he was acting like that and one of the guys told me that’s just Barry. He doesn’t want to get so excited that he gets his eye off the ball.

“So he’d come in, say, ‘Ok, we won that, it’s done, it’s over and let’s get back to business, boys.’ That’s just how he was. We might linger and celebrate for two or three days after, but Barry, it was almost as if he was too serious, making us wonder there was something wrong rather than focusing on keeping our mind on the ball.

“Once we got to winning so many races, I knew him, I understood what was going to happen and what we were going to deal with.”

Q) Barry suffered an incomprehensible tragedy in 1994 when his two children were killed in a single-car crash in Darlington, South Carolina. How much do you remember of that tragic event and its impact on Barry?

WALLACE: “When he lost his children in 1994, it really tore Barry up big-time and I don’t think I ever saw him come from back that. He just wasn’t the same as he was when he was with me. The passing of his children really broke his heart and really changed him.”

Q) Any final thoughts about your crew chief and friend, Barry Dodson?

WALLACE: “In my opinion, he was one of the greatest crew chiefs ever in the history of NASCAR. He worked for Raymond Beadle, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip and myself. One of the reasons I loved Barry so much is that Barry guided me personally to a lot of victories and to a championship. In ’89, it was such a magical year.

“He had a cool attitude which demanded you pay attention and you respect. When he said something, you listened to what he was saying. Just a wonderful crew chief. I miss him bad.”

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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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