Drivers make their Super Bowl picks

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The Super Bowl is almost here and nearly everyone is making a prediction on Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles (6 p.m. ET on NBC with pre-game show beginning at 1 pm ET on NBC).

NASCAR drivers are no different and many have made their picks. See who they’re taking and the challenge a driver made to one team’s fans.

Chase Elliott 

“I will pull for the Patriots. I can’t say that I’m a diehard of either one of them (Elliott is an Atlanta Falcons fan), but I do think that just the Brady-Belichick era is one that we often take for granted how good that whole situation is up there, that we’re watching probably the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. I don’t think there’s a whole lot arguing that in my opinion. The guy is really good and the coaching staff he has around him has put good people in place. I would love to see their legacy continue because they’re worthy of it.

“Definitely it sucks what happened last year (New England rallying to beat Atlanta in the Super Bowl). I think that what (the Patriots) have done, I have a lot of respect how they do their jobs, how they deal with the media and how they’re leaders. I think they’re worthy of the success they have.’’

David Ragan

“If it were for money I would have to pick the Patriots just because they’re that good. I don’t like the Patriots because they win too much and I’m jealous of all the New England sports fans because I’m an Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons fan from Georgia and we don’t have many championships. I hope it’s a 0-0 tie and no one wins.’’

Brad Keselowski

“I’ve got the Eagles. They’ve got a better defense. Defense wins Super Bowls.’’

Elliott Sadler

“The Pats baby. Go Pats go. I’m a huge Patriots fan. My Super Bowl pick will be Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.’’

Ty Dillon

“Logically the Patriots. I don’t really care about either team. Definitely can’t stand the Eagles. I’m a Panthers fan through and through, born in North Carolina. It’s the only (NFL) team I care about honestly, but I’m a big sports fan. Patriots are going to win. They’re going to beat them pretty bad. I don’t really see Nick Foles coming back with another performance like he did. Unfortunately Eagles fans, I know that you’re going to hate me for this but I don’t really care for you either. I was at the Monday Night Football game that the Panthers played in Philadelphia and every single one of you fans treated me like trash so I have no love for your fan base … and I hope you lose the Super Bowl.’’

Martin Truex Jr.

“Definitely Eagles are going to win it. I said 28-17, but I don’t know. It might be higher score than that. I’m thinking 34-24.’’

Matt DiBenedetto

“My heart wants the Eagles to win just because I empathize with Nick Foles and I like the route he’s had to go and had kind of a tough journey the last few years. He had a lot of success and almost got forgotten about for a period of a few years. I empathize with that. I’ve had to go a crazy, crazy hard journey to get where I’m at in my career. So my heart lies with hoping that the Eagles win because it would be cool and it would be different. Now my brain tells me there’s no way you can bet against Tom Brady and the Patriots. That whole team has so much experience. Bill Belichick and those folks are so used to winning the Super Bowl. They’re like the Jimmie Johnsons of the NFL.’’

Denny Hamlin

“I know what the spread is but I think that the spread should be 3.5. I think the Eagles will keep it close for a very long time. I don’t know that they’ll be in the lead. I don’t know that the Patriots are going to make a last-second comeback. I think the Eagles offense is underrated. I think Nick Foles is underrated. I think their team is championship caliber. He’s good enough to run that team to be a close competitor of the Patriots even though they fall short.’’

AJ Allmendinger

“Fly Eagles Fly, 27-24 Eagles. The story of the underdog, Nick Foles, benched, backup, reborn. That’s what I love.’’

Trevor Bayne

“If I’ve got to pick one, you go with the odds, you got to go with the Patriots, right?’’

Kasey Kahne

“My pick is the Patriots, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick. They’re just so tough this time of the year. I think the Eagles will have a real good shot.’’

Paul Menard

“I’ve got to go with the Eagles. From the first time I watched this year, probably week two or three, I was impressed with their defense. Defense is what wins championships and they have a good one.’’

Clint Bowyer

“I’m pissed off at the Patriots. I’m over the Patriots. Even Jimmie Johnson gave us a breather. Give us some time to get over it and then we might root for you again. But the dude (Tom Brady) is so good. I’m not excited about the Super Bowl because he’ll win.’’

Kyle Busch

“I’ve got to go with the Eagles. They’re putting up points, man. I’m a Patriots fan, second to my No. 1 (Denver) Broncos. But if I had to choose one, I think the Eagles are pretty tough right now.’’

Cole Custer

I’m going to go with the Eagles. I don’t really have a reason. I like their helmets, I think that’s kind of cool with the wings on them.”

Austin Dillon

“Tom Brady is pretty tough to beat. The guy just keeps coming back and getting more. He’s like Jimmie Johnson. I’m racing with one of those guys that just has this desire to compete every year and to win a championship. What Tom Brady is doing is special. Tom Brady wins 21-14 over the Eagles. The Eagles have probably the best team but the Patriots have the best coach in the history of football and probably the best player in Tom Brady. Clutch moments, there’s no one who has seen more of them than Brady. It’s hard to beat him. I just think it’s Brady time again. This time of year.’’

Daniel Suarez

“I wish I could say (Carolina) Panthers, but I guess it’s going to be Patriots.”

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Podcast: Front Row Motorsports explains how it improves with smaller budget, unique sponsor deals

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Running a Cup Series team is not a cheap endeavor.

One person who knows this is Jerry Freeze, the general manager of Front Row Motorsports.

Owned by Bob Jenkins, the two-car team runs the No. 34 of Michael McDowell and No. 38 of David Ragan and has a technical partnership with Roush Fenway Racing.

Freeze sat down with Nate Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss how FRM works with smaller budgets and its unique business-to-business sponsorship deals through Jenkins’ trucking company, MDS Transport, and restaurant business, Charter Foods.

Freeze calls Love’s Travel Shops, which sponsors half the races on McDowell’s car, a “textbook example” of such a deal. Their partnership began in 2013.

“Bob owns a trucking company with about 300 over the road truck on the road,” Freeze said. “They’ve got to get fuel somewhere. That’s kind of how the Love’s Travel Shop deal started for us.”

Freeze describes it as a “slightly smaller scale” version of the relationship between Team Penske and Shell.

Unlike larger teams, Front Row doesn’t yet have an optical scanning station at its shop like the one cars are inspected with at the track.

“We went into it thinking, ‘We’ll never need to have one of those, NASCAR’s got one, we can go over there whenever we want,'” Freeze said.

The team also relies on the scanner located at Roush Fenway Racing. But it’s a challenge to take cars to Roush, with its shop in Concord, North Carolina, about an hour away from Front Row’s in Statesville.

Buying its own scanner is beginning to look like a “necessary evil” for Freeze, who said he’s heard it would cost $300,000.

“I think if you’re really going to try to optimize the car through each step of what you do, that might be the way to go,” Freeze said.

When it comes to becoming more competitive, Freeze and Jenkins have been encouraged to invest more resources and money into the team by moves NASCAR has made to lower costs, including requiring teams to use engines in multiple races, spec radiators and the controversial common pit guns.

“It put it in a place where, yeah, it’s still pretty tough for Front Row to get to, but it’s not as high as it use to be,” Freeze said of the engine rule. “With spec radiators, we were spending $9,000 for radiator in the past. Now a spec radiator is, I don’t know, a third of that.”

Freeze also addressed the future of one of the team’s three charters, which is leased to TriStar Motorsports this season.

“You can’t do that forever with the way the rules are set up,” Freeze said. “We’ll have to make a decision, either we’ve got to operate (it) ourselves or maybe we sell it to TriStar some day, I don’t know. … Even though we weren’t in a position to run three cars and we’re still not today, it’s kind of nice to have in your pocket just in case something came along that was just phenomenal and we needed one.”

Click on the embed above to hear the podcast. It also is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Stitcher.

August Cup race at Michigan to be called Consumers Energy 400

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The Aug. 12 Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway will be sponsored by Consumers Energy as part of a multi-year deal, the track announced Thursday.

Consumers Energy is Michigan’s largest energy provider, providing natural gas and/or electricity to 6.7 million of the state’s 10 million residents.

The company takes over for Pure Michigan, which sponsored the race from 2011-17.

“We are excited to expand our collaborative relationship with Consumers Energy,” said track president Rick Brenner in a press release. “We strive to work with Michigan-based companies like Consumers Energy who continue to give back to the community. We are looking forward to working together to provide our guests an awesome experience each August for many years to come.”

Consumers Energy will also sponsor the inaugural MIS Charity Dinner on June 9 and the track’s 50 Years of Racing Exhibit in the fan plaza for both of the track’s race weekends.

The MIS Charity Dinner, which benefits the Henry Ford Allegiance Health Foundation Patient Immediate Needs Fund and the MIS Cares Fund, will feature a strolling dinner, dessert and drink stations, live and silent auctions, music, a photo booth and more. The event will also feature a question and answer session with Dale Inman, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood.

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Weekend schedule at Richmond for Cup, Xfinity

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NASCAR heads to its third short-track race of the season this weekend at Richmond Raceway.

Kyle Larson won the Cup race at Richmond last fall and Joey Logano won there last April.

Here is this weekend’s schedule at Richmond:

(All times Eastern)

FRIDAY, APRIL 20

7 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens

8 a.m. – 9 p.m. — Cup garage open

8 – 8:45 a.m. — Xfinity practice (No TV)

9:40 – 10:25 a.m. — Final Xfinity practice (Fox Sports 1)

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network)

12:35 – 1:25 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

4:05 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (FS1)

5:10 p.m. — Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

5:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (FS1, MRN)

6:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver introductions

7 p.m. — ToyotaCare 250 Xfinity race; 250 laps/187.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

SATURDAY, APRIL 21

1 p.m. — Cup garage opens

4:30 p.m. — Driver/crew chief meeting

5:50 p.m. — Driver introductions

6:30 p.m. — Toyota Owners 400 Cup race; 400 laps/300 miles (Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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NASCAR America: Short tracks are Clint Bowyer’s favorites

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It was a question that needed to be asked, although the answer was not a surprise to anyone. What is Clint Bowyer’s favorite type of track?

“Short tracks are obviously my favorite,” Bowyer answered. “I think they’re probably everybody’s favorite. That’s what we grew up doing. That’s probably where we feel most comfortable.”

“I love back-to-back short track races because the drivers don’t have time to forget about who they’re mad at,” Steve Letarte interjected.

But Bowyer’s love of short tracks is not limited to Martinsville, where he snapped his long winless streak earlier this year. He is even more excited about coming to Richmond Raceway this week.

“I feel like Richmond is the perfect-sized race track.”

Bowyer went one step further, suggesting there is a way to add more tracks like Richmond to the schedule.

“I feel like, some of these mile-and-a-half tracks, we need to just use as parking lots and build Richmond in the infield,” Bowyer said.

For more of what Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to say about short track racing, watch the video above.