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Greg Erwin ready for new challenge as Cup crew chief with Wood Brothers and Paul Menard

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Greg Erwin has had a good, productive tenure with Team Penske. He’s served in a number of roles since first joining the organization in 2012, including Xfinity program manager and Xfinity team crew chief.

But Erwin has always felt he left some things unfinished and unfulfilled from his previous tenure as a Cup crew chief with Greg Biffle at Roush Fenway Racing.

After five years of patiently waiting, Erwin is finally getting that chance, joining Wood Brothers Racing as crew chief for Paul Menard, who moves over after a seven-year stint with Richard Childress Racing.

“Just being at Penske under the system I’ve spent the last five years I’ve worked under is good for me and this is what I was looking to do,” Erwin told NBC Sports.

In a unique twist, Erwin remains part of the Team Penske family as part of their partnership with Wood Brothers Racing. That means he will have worked for two of the most legendary teams in motorsports: Team Penske and Wood Brothers Racing.

“The winning combination for me is I get to do it still as part of the Penske umbrella, so to speak,” Erwin said. “Opportunities to be a Cup crew chief, they come and go, they come yearly, but it’s not always necessarily with the organization that you committed yourself to be a part of, like I did at the end of 2012.

“These folks at Team Penske have been very honest and very good to me and they run their company and shop and go about building their race cars and managing their people. There’s some very key players within the organization that have a big part to play in all of that. If I ever felt myself really going Cup racing again, I decided that this was the place I wanted to do it.

“It’s taken almost five years to get an opportunity to go back, but that’s what it’s taken. I’ve done my time here and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”

It’ll be a fresh start for Paul Menard and crew chief Greg Erwin at Wood Brothers Racing in 2018. (Getty Images)

A native of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, Erwin began his career in NASCAR in 1995. Along the way, he worked in various roles for Felix Sabates’ Team Sabco, Chip Ganassi Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Robby Gordon Racing and Robert Yates Racing before landing at Roush Fenway Racing.

A graduate of Clemson University with an engineering degree, Erwin was paired with Biffle from May 2007 through mid-2011 as crew chief, leading Biffle to five of his 19 career Cup wins.

Overall, Erwin has five overall wins, as well as 39 top-5 and 79 top-10 finishes and 4 poles as a crew chief in 250 Cup starts. In the Xfinity Series, he has an impressive record: In 119 starts, he has 12 wins, 77 top-5 and 100 top-10 finishes, along with 13 poles.

Being paired with Menard will not exactly be a brand new situation for Erwin.

“There’s a brief relationship with Paul that existed when I was at Robby Gordon’s,” he said. “We had Menard’s sponsorship on many of our race cars and there was a handful of times that Robby would tap Paul for testing or when (Gordon) was stuck in Baja.

“I remember one year very vividly when we were a go or go home car at Homestead, where we had to qualify in on time. Paul was able to get us in the race on time and we waited for Robby to come back and race the thing.

“So I’ve known Paul and obviously we’ve worked side-by-side a little bit when I was at Roush (Fenway Racing) and he was running those Roush Yates Fords for Doug (Yates) across the street (2009 in Cup and 2009-2010 in Xfinity). So there’s a known there.”

Erwin and Menard succeed Ryan Blaney and crew chief Jeremy Bullins, who have moved together to the No. 12 car with Team Penske.

“We’d kind of known all along that Blaney was going to be good enough to do a good job over there with the 21 and Jeremy and the group he’s been working with have developed a very good working relationship,” Erwin said. “It was obvious when it was announced that Ryan was going to drive the 12 in 2018, that Jeremy was going to follow him.

“I’ve been in the Xfinity series for a long time now, so when the opportunity came up to backfill (Bullins’) spot, I was the next one in line. Management here at Penske asked me if I still wanted the opportunity to go Cup racing, and when I told them yes but under the right situation, it was in a couple of weeks (that it happened).

“They’ve (Wood Brothers Racing) known me for a long time, ever since my affiliation with the 16 car. There’s just a bunch of knowns. They know me, I kind of know them, I know Paul and I know the system here, so it all just fit really well.”

Greg Biffle and Greg Erwin (right) worked together for more than 5 years.

Erwin, 47, knows he has some early challenges in his new role, but he’s up for them.

“I’ve been out of the Cup game now for five years, so I know there’s a lot of learning to be had,” Erwin said. “I felt when I was doing it last back in 2012, I was very current with rules, officiating, how races were run, the cars I had been working on. I had been with the 16 car for over five years (including before he became Biffle’s crew chief). I was very comfortable in understanding the game I was playing.

“Right now, it’s going to take me some time to learn (Cup). They’ve had some rules packages that have come into play in the last couple of years that I’m not used to working with on a daily basis, so I think there’s a learning curve for me, certainly, to get back to the comfort level of where I’ve been or where I am with the Xfinity car and the Xfinity program.

“The segment length of the races changed, the Cup segments don’t quite play out like the Xfinity segments, the ride heights of the car have changed.

“Now you tell me I’m going to get to go to Daytona and run under a rules package that I’m not even going to get a chance to test first. … Now we’re going to go down and within two hours of being on the racetrack, we’re going to have to effectively qualify this thing and run the 150s.”

But Erwin has a strong support system behind him with Ford, the Wood Brothers and, of course, Team Penske.

“It’s not intimidating because I’m not standing on an island, I’m not a single-car program,” he said. “I’ve got the 22 (Joey Logano), 2 (Brad Keselowski) and 12 (Ryan Blaney) to fall in line with, but nonetheless, the rules of the game are different and I’ve come to understand that the last few years.

“I think this is somewhat of a feel-good story hopefully also for Paul. He’s going to be in cars that are identical in every way, shape and form to the 22, 2 and 12. We all hope we’re gong to be able to provide him a better opportunity than he’s had in the last several years to be competitive in what we hope is better equipment.”

Greg Erwin, left, along with Ryan Blaney in the Xfinity race at Indianapolis in 2015.

And potentially lead Menard to his second career Cup win and arguably what would be one of the most significant wins in Wood Brothers Racing history: their 100th Cup triumph. Blaney came close, giving the Wood Brothers their 99th Cup win in June at Pocono, and now Erwin and Menard stand ready to take the torch from Blaney and go out and win No. 100 for the Wood Brothers.

“I think about all the guys I know in the garage area and all the drivers that have driven the cars for those guys at the 21 and I think it’s going to be pretty cool to have an opportunity to do that,” he said. “I’m not getting any younger, I realize that.

“This continues to be gearing towards a younger guys’ sport, so to get the opportunity to do that while still under the Penske technical alliance and then get to work real close with Len and Eddie (Wood), the guys they have on staff are going to continue be a big part of our program and stay in the spots they’re in.

“Getting that 100th win for them would be pretty neat, for sure.”

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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