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Darian Grubb ‘absolutely impressed’ with William Byron in short time together

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There’s still 45 days left until the Daytona 500, yet Darian Grubb is already “absolutely impressed” with William Byron despite not having been to a track with him yet.

Grubb, 42, was named the crew chief of Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet in November. When the green flag drops on the season in February, it will be the Grubb’s first as a crew chief for a rookie driver.

Grubb appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” Thursday to discuss how his Hendrick Motorsports’ team has prepared to help the 20-year-old reigning Xfinity Series champion in his first foray into Cup racing.

“He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve met so far, to be able at that age, have that kind of focus in what he’s trying to do,” Grubb said. “He knows what his goals are and what he wants to accomplish. He’s been a phenomenal talent on the race track, and now from what I’ve seen behind the scenes here in the shop and working with the crew guys and getting to know people, he’s doing everything it’s going to take to make sure he has that performance.”

Byron enters 2018 having won 11 NASCAR races in the last two years – seven victories in the Camping World Truck Series and four in his Xfinity title campaign.

He’s paired with Grubb, who has 23 Cup wins in 295 races as a crew chief, including the 2006 Daytona 500 as an interim crew chief for Jimmie Johnson. Grubb won the 2011 championship as crew chief for Tony Stewart.

Grubb returns full-time to a crew chief role for the first time since 2015 with Carl Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing. In 2016, he rejoined Hendrick as the vehicle production director. Last August, he was promoted to director of competition systems. In September, he was made the interim crew chief for Kasey Kahne for the final nine races of the year.

Kahne’s No. 5 team has now transformed into the new No. 24 team.

“I’m really excited about getting (Byron) on the race track and kind of let him refocus his efforts towards the track instead of having to do all the preparation and making sure he’s ready and … let him actually enjoy the fruits of that labor,” Grubb said.

That work includes frequent visits to the General Motors simulator located near Charlotte. That mode of preparation is not foreign to Byron, whose racing origins are in iRacing, an online simulator game.

“He’s able to actually take our setups and our race car, our aero performance, suspension settings and all these other things and go testing,” Grubb said. “We can go test there just like we can at a race track. Obviously the feel is not exactly the same, but we are learning some things as we go through.

“He spent enough time in there with the Xfinity program with JR Motorsports and our chassis and everything that we’re very familiar already with his style and what he’s doing. We’re thinking we can apply a lot of these things at the race track.”

While Grubb and his team may be familiar with Byron’s style, they have no “preconceived notions” about what he likes in a Cup car. The fact that Chevrolet is introducing its Camaro model to Cup and there are new ride height rules make deducing that even harder.

“There’s not a lot really that transfers over (from last year),” Grubb told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Everything is kind of fresh and new … We’re kind of putting together in our own heads what we think is best and how we’re going to handle the new ride height rules and the performance of the race car on track. For us, it’s more about we do have a new body, we’ve got to check for fender clearances and the travel of the race car and all those things. Then can we do pit stops once we do that? How do we manage getting tires out of the fenders and everything with the car being so low.”

Byron has five restrictor-plate starts and one win in the last two years. But he’ll arrive at Daytona with new spotter in Tab Boyd.

Boyd joins Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 24 team after previously spotting for Joey Logano.

The pair is already working on their chemistry. Grubb said Byron plans to be on the spotter’s stand with Boyd to watch the Feb. 11 Advance Auto Parts Clash since Byron is not in that exhibition race.

“They’re already going to sit down and review video and just kind of see how those scenarios of runs develop,” Grubb said. “It’s different from what he’s run in Xfinity cars from what we’re going to have in a Cup car. It’s a lot to learn and the more you pick up in the data and what you can see and what you think you can learn, then you can go out there and practice and try to apply those scenarios.”

 

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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