Aric Almirola starting from ‘ground zero’ with Stewart-Haas Racing

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After six years of racing and struggling to compete for the most famous name in NASCAR, Aric Almirola is getting a reboot to his Cup career.

Tuesday and Wednesday, the 33-year-old drove a Cup car that didn’t have Richard Petty’s famous No. 43 on the side of it for the first time since 2010.

Almirola took part in a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway in his unofficial debut in Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 Ford.

It was just another part of the busiest offseason of Almirola’s career, sparked by the November announcement of his move from Richard Petty Motorsports to SHR.

“We run a long schedule, so I certainly took some time to myself,” Almirola said Tuesday. “But I have spent a lot of time at the shop. Probably more time at the race car shop this offseason then I’ve ever spent. I’ve basically started from scratch, right? Started from zero, with all new seats, pouring inserts in seats and just everything. Gauges, dash and just everything that you can think of that a driver looks at or is a part of inside the race car, I’ve started from ground zero.”

During his six seasons with RPM, the offseason was “pretty mellow and relaxed and routine” for Almirola. That changes when you transition to a larger team.

“New seats, new team, new cars, new people, new names and faces to learn,” Almirola said.

There are some familiar faces at the SHR shop for Almirola from his days racing at Dale Earnhardt Inc. a decade ago.

“That part’s been fun to rekindle those relationships that I’ve had in the past,” Almirola said. “But just to go there (to the shop) and see the operation … when you drive up to the complex it’s so big and so massive. They have so many resources at their fingertips inside their race car shop.”

Almirola, who has just one Cup win in 244 starts, is reminded of Richard Petty Motorsport’s lack of success during his tenure there every time he visits SHR’s Kannapolis, North Carolina, shop. He sees the two championship trophies and trophies from the 39 Cup victories in their first nine seasons.

“You see all their trophies in their trophy case and their championship trophies, it’s very evident why,” Almirola said. “Just the attention to detail, the amount of people pulling in the same direction – it’s incredible to see first-hand, so knowing I’ve had to race against that the last six years has been disheartening, but I’m glad I get to be a part of it finally.”

Of SHR’s roster of drivers – Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Almirola – only Harvick (14) and Busch (five) have wins with the team. Bowyer hasn’t won since 2012.

Almirola replaces Danica Patrick, who went winless in her 180 starts with the team. He said he hasn’t given much thought to replacing Patrick, but that the pressure to drive the No. 10 doesn’t come close to what it took to drive the No. 43 for six years.

“When I get in the car, the only thing I see is the windshield and 39 other drivers that I’ve beaten or want to beat,” Almirola said. “So for me, I’ve driven the sport’s most iconic car for the last six years, so if you want to talk about it from that aspect, there’s been more pressure driving that Petty blue 43 car than I think I’ll ever have driving a black and white 10 car.”

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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