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David Ragan on new teammate, Front Row Motorsports’ expanded tech alliance with Roush

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There’s quite a bit of changes in store for David Ragan and Front Row Motorsports in 2018.

Entering his 12th full-time Cup season and his fifth overall season with the team owned by Bob Jenkins, Ragan will have a new teammate in veteran Michael McDowell

When McDowell was announced as Ragan’s new teammate on Dec. 14, Front Row also announced an expanded technical alliance with fellow Ford team, Roush Fenway Racing.

Appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” on Wednesday, Ragan shared details on the alliance, his relationship with McDowell and his thoughts on some of the changes coming to all Cup teams.

On Front Row’s technical alliance, Ragan said Roush Fenway Racing will be responsible for building all of FRM’s speedway and road course cars.

“Ultimately, that’s going to allow our team to spend more time on our downforce cars,” Ragan said. “We feel like we’ve got really good people that can hang the bodies and do the fabrication work at Front Row. We’ve got the templates, the measurement tools. But it was really tough for us to build speedway cars for a month and then we switched everything over and built downforce cars and then right before the summer we had some road course cars. By having a stronger alliance with Roush racing it will help us concentrate on just downforce stuff. We’ve got 55, 60 employees that work really, really hard and put a lot of time and effort in our race program.”

The two-time Cup winner was asked how his team will be impacted by the recently announced changes to pit crews for next year. Teams will only be allowed five people over the pit wall during a stop, down from six.

Ragan said slow pit stops are inevitable and would provide benefits for drivers.

“I think we’ll just evolve again,” Ragan said. “These pit crews are so smart, they’re athletic. We have designated trainers and coaches. Front Row Motorsports is a little unique. We contract our pit crews out. So we have a pit crew from Stewart-Haas Racing that did both of our race cars last year … Kind of working through our Ford relationship. We felt like it was very cost-effective and smart for us to let Stewart-Haas Racing handle our pit crews. … They had the training facilities, they had the staff to really give us the best chance that we could’ve (had) on pit road.

“For me, I’m going to have a few more seconds to take a drink of water and maybe throw an icepack out the window because on the 11-second stops, you are flipping switches and holding the brake. You’re busy for that 10 or 11 seconds. As a driver, that’s something I haven’t really thought much about and I usually go over to our partners’ pit crew training facility in January and meet some of our new guys and kind of watch them a little bit.

“… I guarantee you when we get to Daytona, the teams are all going to approach it a little different. So by the time we all get to Atlanta and Las Vegas and Phoenix everybody’s going to be watching each other. It’s definitely going to slow the stops down some.”

Michael McDowell. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

When Ragan arrives in Daytona in February it will be with McDowell as his teammate. The veteran driver replaces Landon Cassill. McDowell, 33, arrives at FRM after four seasons with Leavine Family Racing.

The 2018 season will be McDowell’s first in Cup with a teammate since his rookie year in 2008 with Michael Waltrip Racing.

Luckily, McDowell and Ragan have developed a close relationship away from the track in recent years.

“Our kids go to the same school, our wives our friends,” Ragan said. “We don’t live too far from each other. I think that does help when you have common interests outside of motorsports where you see each other. He actually stopped by my house this morning to pick up some things. I think that’s a really good thing and it’s healthy to have that relationship. But as far as on the track, I think teammates are so important.

“When I was at Roush Fenway Racing, the teammates I had really pushed me to do better and be smarter. When I filled in for Kyle Busch for a few races (in 2015), working with Denny (Hamlin) and Matt (Kenseth) and Carl (Edwards) and some of those guys at Joe Gibbs Racing, they push you to be better. They push you be more prepared going into a race weekend. Because you know you’re judged off of kind of what your team is doing.”

” … Michael McDowell is a great road racer. That’s his background. I think he’s going to help me and push me to do better. I feel like I have an edge at some of the short tracks where I cut my teeth. I feel if we can help each other, it only makes our team better. Michael’s really in touch and engaged with our race cars. He can help us with the development of our cars through testing and through making laps on the simulator this offseason. We have a lot of tools we’ll be working through before we make out first lap in Daytona.”

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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