David Reutimann

Talladega Superspeedway

NASCAR connections to Monday’s college football National Championship

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The 2017-18 college football season ends tonight with the National Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The game (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) pits the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs, two Southeastern Conference teams.

We decided to take a look at the two schools and their connections to the NASCAR world.

If we missed any NASCAR connections, let us know.

The paths of Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski crossed last year.

In September, the driver of the No. 2 Ford visited the school’s Tuscaloosa campus, which is located just under 110 miles west of Talladega Superspeedway.

Saban actually served as the grand marshal of the 2009 spring Cup race at the 2.66-mile speedway, when Keselowski won his first Cup race.

During the visit, the two swapped jerseys, with Keselowski receiving a No. 2 jersey with his name on it.

“I can tell you this, I hope the tide rolls us right into victory lane when we get back to Talladega,” Keselowski said. “Like Coach Saban and his teams at Alabama, there is a winning tradition at Team Penske. We hope to add to that legacy with another Talladega Superspeedway triumph, and ultimately another championship.”

Two weeks later, Keselowski claimed his fifth Talladega win.

Saban will be looking for his sixth national championship tonight.

Hendrick Motorsports has a few team members who have ties to the game.

Rowdy Harrell, a former walk-on linebacker at Alabama, is a rear tire carrier on the No. 88 team. He won three championships with the Crimson Tide, the last coming in 2013. He joined Hendrick in September of that year.

Harrell was brought to the team by Chris Burkey, a pit crew coach for Hendrick. Burkey is a former scouting assistant for the Miami Dolphins from Saban’s time as head coach of the team.

The colors of the Crimson Tide have made their way to the high banks of Talladega multiple times over the last 17 years.

The first Alabama-themed scheme belonged to Scott Pruett and his No. 32 Tide car in 2000.

Michael Waltrip Racing was the vessel for three more schemes in 2010, 2012 and 2013, the seasons following Alabama National Championships.

2010 – David Reutimann

(Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2012 – Clint Bowyer

(Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2013 – Michael Waltrip

There are far fewer connections between NASCAR and the University of Georgia, but they’re there.

Chase Elliott, the Hendrick Motorsports driver and native of Dawsonville, Georgia, is a noted fan of the Bulldogs.

Hendrick’s strength and condition coach, Darius Dewberry, was a Georgia linebacker from 2006-09 and joined Hendrick in June 2013.

NASCAR on NBC’s own Rutledge Wood is a native of Alabama, but he moved to Georgia in 1995 and graduated from the school with a degree in marketing.

Bulldog sports teams have interacted with the NASCAR world a few times.

In 2014, the football team was part of the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina, playing against the University of Louisville. As part of their bowl week festivities, the teams visited Charlotte Motor Speedway to participate in the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Two years later, the Georgia baseball team visited Charlotte to play the University of North Carolina – Charlotte 49ers.

As part of their visit, they visited Hendrick Motorsports to get a taste of the life of a NASCAR pit crew.

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Austin Dillon returns No. 3 to victory lane for first time since Dale Earnhardt’s last win

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CONCORD, N.C. – Austin Dillon scored his first Cup victory in his first start with a new crew chief, bringing an iconic number back to victory lane in NASCAR’s premier series.

Stretching his last tank of fuel 70 laps, the Richard Childress Racing driver won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I can’t believe it,” Dillon told Fox Sports. “I was just really focused on those last laps.”

It was the first victory on the circuit for the No. 3 Chevrolet since the late Dale Earnhardt’s win at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2000. Richard Childress Racing mothballed the number after Earnhardt’s death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 but brought it back with Dillon in 2014.

Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, was making his debut with crew chief Justin Alexander, who replaced Slugger Labbe last week.

Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Jimmie Johnson was leading before running out of fuel with three laps remaining, handing the lead to Dillon.

“I was just trying to be patient with (Johnson),” Dillon said. “I could see him saving (fuel). I thought I’d saved enough early where I could attack at the end, but I tried to wait as long as possible. And when he ran out, I figured I’d go back in and save where I was lifting, and it worked out.

“I ran out at the line and it gurgled all around just to do one little spin and push it back to victory lane.”

With the victory, Dillon qualified for the playoffs, joining RCR teammate Ryan Newman (who clinched a berth by winning at Phoenix International Raceway).

Dillon becomes the 10th driver to score his first Cup win at Charlotte, joining David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and David Reutimann.

Who had a good race: Kyle Busch charged to second in the closing laps, following up a win last week at the All-Star Race. … Truex dominated Charlotte for the third straight year, leading a race-high 233 laps. … Joe Gibbs Racing placed three drivers in the top five, and rookie Daniel Suarez was 11th. … Rookie Erik Jones finished seventh, giving Furniture Row Racing two top 10s in a race for the first time.

Who had a bad race: It was over for Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski on Lap 20 when they were collected in a bizarre wreck as a result of a chain reaction from Jeffrey Earnhardt’s engine failure. …  Points leader Kyle Larson finished a season-worst 32nd after a crash. … Danica Patrick hit the wall twice (at least once because of a tire problem) and placed 25th.

Quote of the race: “My fiancée wrote in the car, ‘When you keep God in the first place, he will take you places you never imagined.’ And, I never imagined to be here.” – Dillon after scoring his first Cup victory.

What’s next: 1 p.m., June 4 at Dover International Speedway on FS1.

Real estate company posts signs at Michael Waltrip Racing, noting its availability

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A real estate company has posted signs at Michael Waltrip Racing proclaiming that the shop is “Available.”

A sign on the building and one near MWR’s signboard lists a phone number for inquiries with Lincoln Harris, a full-service real estate company based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

MWR officials announced last year that the NASCAR Sprint Cup team would cease after the 2015 season with co-owner Rob Kauffman leaving to become a co-owner with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team filed paperwork in September with the state of North Carolina that 217 employees would lose their jobs at MWR. The layoffs are scheduled to conclude by April 15.

The Cornelius, North Carolina, shop – located about 30 minutes from Charlotte Motor Speedway – features two buildings and sits on 11.479 acres. A sign proclaims the facility has more than 142,000 square feet of space.

No price is listed. NBC Sports’ calls to Lincoln Harris were not returned Friday.

The Mecklenburg County Assessor’s office lists the shop’s value as $12,807,200 – based on an assessment in 2011.

Public records show that the property had a tax bill last year of $137,909.73. That bill was due Sept. 1, 2015. Public records listed the bill as delinquent Jan. 8. Public records indicated Monday that the bill had been paid.

Waltrip converted a former movie theatre into his race shop and officially opened the facility to the public in May 2007. Michael Waltrip Racing won seven races, including the 2009 Coca-Cola 600 with David Reutimann, while housed there. The team’s final Cup victory came July 14, 2013, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Brian Vickers.

How much has changed since Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to Hendrick

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)
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One of the funnier NASCAR related commercials of the last decade turned out to partially predict the future.

Once upon a time, Dale Earnhardt Jr., still competing in the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc., starred in an ad where the driver announced he was changing his number from 8 to 6.7.

Chaos reigned in the 30-second spot as Earnhardt fans altered tattoos, cut down tailor-made hedges and mourned over rooms full of obsolete merchandise.

Then, on June 13, 2007, it became a reality.

That was the day Earnhardt really announced he would be changing his number – to 88 – and that after eight years of driving for the team his father founded, he would join Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.

You can now draw a line down the middle of Earnhardt’s Sprint Cup career. Eight full-time seasons with DEI, eight with Hendrick.

His eight seasons with DEI included 17 victories. He has nine wins with Hendrick, seven of them coming in the last two seasons. During the first eight Hendrick years Earnhardt has worked with five different crew chiefs, starting with Tony Eury Jr. and ending with Greg Ives in 2015.

The only constant for Earnhardt has been the Most Popular Driver award, which he has been given every season since 2003.

BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 15: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 NationalGuard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Lifelock 400 at the Michigan International Speedway on June 15, 2008 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won just once in his first four seasons with Hendrick. He claimed the 2008 spring race at Michigan. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

But how much else has changed in the sport in the eight years since arguably the biggest free agent move in NASCAR history?

2008 also marked the first year of Sprint being the title sponsor of the Cup series, following up Nextel’s four years of service. That was also the second season the Cup series used the Car of Tomorrow, or Gen Five car. It would be put out to pasture after six seasons in 2012.

During the era of the CoT, Earnhardt won only two races and teammate Jimmie Johnson claimed five of his six championships.

In the last eight years the format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup has been through three different iterations.

Then, only 12 drivers were included in the post-season. Now, 16 drivers are trimmed down to four over the course of 10 races.

In 2008, Mark Martin still had five seasons in front of him before finally retiring after 2013.

Clint Bowyer was in his third full-time season with Richard Childress Racing and wouldn’t join Michael Waltrip Racing for four more seasons. MWR competed in its first full-time Sprint Cup season in 2008 with David Reutimann driving the No. 00 and Waltrip in the No. 55. Reutimann hasn’t driven full-time since 2013 and MWR shut down at the end of 2015.

Tony Stewart, who Bowyer will replace in 2017, still called Joe Gibbs Racing home in 2008. The next year, he was off to Stewart-Haas Racing where he would claim his third Sprint Cup title in 2011.

Other drivers who raced for different teams in 2008 than they would in 2015 included:  Ryan Newman, Sam Hornish Jr. and Kurt Busch (Team Penske), Kevin Harvick (Richard Childress Racing), Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards,  David Ragan and Jamie McMurray (Roush Fenway Racing), Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Aric Almirola (DEI), Casey Mears (Hendrick), AJ Allmendinger and Brian Vickers (Red Bull Racing), Kasey Kahne (Evernham Motorsports) and David Gilliland (Robert Yates Racing).

CONCORD, NC - MAY 25: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on May 25, 2008 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
2008 was the final season of Evernham Motorsports before merging with Richard Petty Motorsports in 2009. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR).

Drivers who have retired, left NASCAR or the Sprint Cup Series since 2008 include: Martin, Terry Labonte, Bill Elliott, Gordon, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dave Blaney, Kyle Petty, Marcos Ambrose, Sterling Marlin, Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler (racing for Earnhardt at JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series).

Including Earnhardt, the only drivers who competed for the same teams in 2015 that they were in 2008 were Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle (Roush), Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin (JGR).

But probably the biggest signifier of the passage of time is in who the Gillette Young Guns were in 2008. The five drivers were Newman, Bowyer, Hamlin, Edwards, Kahne and Kurt Busch.

Those “Young Guns” are now all 35 years or older.

Earnhardt ended his association with Gillette after the 2006 season.

The former “Young Gun” is now enjoying his early 40s, which so far has included getting engaged to girlfriend Amy Reimann and having his best on-track success in more than a decade.

Fighting mad: 10 memorable driver confrontations during the Chase

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – They’ve cussed and fussed, wrestled and wrangled and beat and banged.

NASCAR’s Chase not only determines the champion but provides the settling for driver confrontations on and off the track.

As the series prepares for Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway, a question asked is if Matt Kenseth will retaliate against Joey Logano for their run-in earlier this month at Kansas Speedway. If not, might there be another driver conflict ready to explode this weekend?

With that in mind, here’s a look at the top 10 driver confrontations involving at least one title contender during Chase races only.

10 – Kevin Harvick vs. Matt Kenseth, Martinsville 2014

Upset with Kenseth about contact that wrecked him, Harvick said after the race: “He won’t win this championship. If we don’t, he won’t.’’

Kenseth takes the blame. He wheel-hopped entering Turn 1 and slid up the track, striking the left rear of Harvick’s car and sending it into the wall.

Harvick proves to be right. Kenseth doesn’t win the title because Harvick does.

9 – Greg Biffle vs. Jimmie Johnson, Martinsville 2013

While Johnson is about to do an interview after the race, Biffle approaches from behind, grabs Johnson around the shoulder and spins him around.

Biffle is upset with contact the two had during the race that damaged the rear of Biffle’s car and forced him to pit.

After a brief confrontation – “You better watch it,’’ Biffle tells Johnson – Biffle turns to walk away. Johnson grabs him by the arm. “You want to talk about it?’’ Johnson asks. “I just did,’’ Biffle said.

8 – Kyle Busch vs. David Reutimann, Kansas 2010

Reutimann spins during the race after contact from Kyle Busch. Later in the race Reutimann, who is not in the Chase, runs into Busch, who is in the Chase, forcing Busch’s car into the wall. Busch finishes 21st and drops from third to seventh in the points.

7 – Kevin Harvick vs. Jimmie Johnson, Chicago 2015

Johnson makes contact with Harvick when he tries to get off the apron and back on the track on a restart. The contact causes Harvick’s left rear tire to go down a few laps later and his car to crash. Harvick opens the Chase finishing 42nd. After the race, Johnson seeks Harvick to explain what happened. Harvick responds by striking Johnson in the chest.

6 – Carl Edwards vs. Matt Kenseth, Martinsville 2007

As Kenseth prepares to do a TV interview after the race, Edwards, his teammate at Roush Fenway Racing, approaches and places his hands on Kenseth’s chest, pushing him back to talk. Later, Edwards reaches out with his left hand to grab Kenseth while balling his right fist and faking a punch. Kenseth flinches. Edwards smiles at Kenseth before walking away. Edwards later apologizes and says the two have barely talked in a six-month period.

5 – Jeff Gordon vs. Jeff Burton, Texas 2010

They wreck under caution. As they walk toward each other on the backstretch, Gordon lunges and shoves Burton twice. Officials step between them but Gordon continues to display his displeasure. Gordon later said: “I wanted to show him how upset I was, but I wanted to do a whole lot more than that.’’ Burton said the incident was his fault and he understands Gordon’s reaction: “He was mad and he should have been mad.’’

4 – Brad Keselowski vs. Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart, Charlotte 2014

Denny Hamlin chases after Brad Keselowski as they both drive back to the garage after the race. Hamlin gets out of his car but is held back by his crew. Moments later, Matt Kenseth runs after Keselowski between the haulers and puts him in a headlock.

Problems begin with about 60 laps left when Kenseth is squeezed into the wall while racing Keselowski for the lead on a restart. During a late caution, Kenseth had the free pass. When he drives by the field, he cuts across Keselowski’s nose and damages Keselowski’s car.

On a restart with two laps to go, Keselowski pushes Hamlin into Turn 1. After the race, Hamlin jams his brakes in front of Keselowski to show his displeasure with what Keselowski did at the end of the race. Then Keselowski drives down pit road to chase Kenseth and sideswipes Kenseth’s car. Kenseth was undoing his safety belts as he drove down pit road, angering him and leading him to run after Keselowski in the garage. Stewart stops his car on pit road and backs into Keselowski’s car.

Said Keselowski: “I figured if we’re going to play car wars under yellow and after the race, I’ll join, too.’’

3 – Carl Edwards vs. Kevin Harvick, Charlotte 2008

This incident starts the week before at Talladega when Edwards triggers a multi-car crash. Harvick calls Edwards a “pansy” in a TV interview for riding in the back much of the day and said “if he had been racing all day, maybe he would have known how long the front of his car was.’’

Edwards responds by leaving a note on Harvick’s airplane that states: “I was really trying to screw up everyone’s day. Love, Carl.’’

The following week at Charlotte, Edwards approaches Harvick in the Nationwide garage. Witnesses describe it as a heated discussion. As Harvick turns to walk away, Edwards grabs him by the shoulder and spins him around. Harvick shoves Edwards, forcing Edwards on to the hood of Harvick’s car. The two are separated.

2 – Brad Keselowski vs. Jeff Gordon, Texas 2014

Keselowski went to split a gap between Gordon and Jimmie Johnson late in the race but makes contact with Gordon’s car that led to a tire going down and Gordon spinning.

After the race, Gordon stops his car on pit road next Keselowski’s and walks toward Keselowski. After a brief discussion, Keselowski steps away before Kevin Harvick pushes him back toward Gordon, inciting a melee that leads to NASCAR suspending four Hendrick Motorsports crew members. Both Gordon and Keselowski emerge from the scrap with cut lips.

1 – Clint Bowyer vs. Jeff Gordon, Phoenix 2012

Jeff Gordon is sent into the wall after contact with Bowyer while running fifth with seven laps to go. Gordon circles slowly, waiting for Bowyer and turns Bowyer into the wall, collecting Joey Logano.

Gordon drives his car to the garage. Bowyer stops on pit road.

As Gordon climbs from his car, members of Bowyer’s crew run over and a fight between the crews ensues. Bowyer sees the fracas on a video board, climbs from his car and sprints to the garage as fans cheer. Bowyer runs to Gordon’s hauler before NASCAR officials stop him.

“It’s just things have gotten escalated over the year, and I’ve just had it,’’ Gordon said. “I’ve had it and was fed up with it and got him back.’’

Said Bowyer: “It’s pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion and what I consider one of the best the sport’s ever seen to act like, it’s completely ridiculous.’’