Michael Waltrip

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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Tony Gibson will be able to ‘make a difference’ in new role at Stewart-Haas Racing

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After 31 years, Tony Gibson will have a job in NASCAR that doesn’t send him on the road.

The former crew chief enters the 2018 season as the new production manager for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Gibson, 53, will supervise many of the departments responsible for building the cars for its four drivers, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer. That includes the chassis, body shop and fabrication shops.

Gibson, who spent his last three seasons as a crew chief on Busch’s No. 41 Ford, detailed his new role with SHR Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“It’s great for me because I’m a hands-on guy,” Gibson said. “I love to be working on the race cars and trying to make things better. When we were talking about this over the last year or so, how we were going to make this work, I just wanted to be where I could make a difference and help. This is a great way for me to help all the teams, all four teams, and be hands-on.”

SHR announced its new crew chief pairings on Dec. 15. Succeeding Gibson on the No. 41 will be Billy Scott, who worked with Danica Patrick the last two seasons.

Early in his career, Gibson worked as a car chief for 1992 Cup champion Alan Kulwicki. His crew chief career in Cup began in 1994 for six races on the No. 44 Ford owned by Charles Hardy.

Since then, Gibson has worked 440 Cup races from the top of a pit box, earning six wins. The last was in the 2017 Daytona 500 with Busch.

Gibson has also worked with Patrick, Bill Elliott, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip and more.

Gibson was one of the last remaining crew chiefs who did not have a background in engineering.

“I’m not a paper guy, I’m not a computer guy” Gibson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I like to go out and talk to the guys and work with them and (figure out) how I can make their jobs easier. It takes some of the experience I’ve had over the last 31 years and put(s) it in play. How can I help some of these younger guys … like John Klausmeier (crew chief for Almirola) and Billy Scott and all those guys, give them a good shot at being a crew chief and making a career out of it?”

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David Ragan on new teammate, Front Row Motorsports’ expanded tech alliance with Roush

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There’s quite a bit of changes in store for David Ragan and Front Row Motorsports in 2018.

Entering his 12th full-time Cup season and his fifth overall season with the team owned by Bob Jenkins, Ragan will have a new teammate in veteran Michael McDowell

When McDowell was announced as Ragan’s new teammate on Dec. 14, Front Row also announced an expanded technical alliance with fellow Ford team, Roush Fenway Racing.

Appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” on Wednesday, Ragan shared details on the alliance, his relationship with McDowell and his thoughts on some of the changes coming to all Cup teams.

On Front Row’s technical alliance, Ragan said Roush Fenway Racing will be responsible for building all of FRM’s speedway and road course cars.

“Ultimately, that’s going to allow our team to spend more time on our downforce cars,” Ragan said. “We feel like we’ve got really good people that can hang the bodies and do the fabrication work at Front Row. We’ve got the templates, the measurement tools. But it was really tough for us to build speedway cars for a month and then we switched everything over and built downforce cars and then right before the summer we had some road course cars. By having a stronger alliance with Roush racing it will help us concentrate on just downforce stuff. We’ve got 55, 60 employees that work really, really hard and put a lot of time and effort in our race program.”

The two-time Cup winner was asked how his team will be impacted by the recently announced changes to pit crews for next year. Teams will only be allowed five people over the pit wall during a stop, down from six.

Ragan said slow pit stops are inevitable and would provide benefits for drivers.

“I think we’ll just evolve again,” Ragan said. “These pit crews are so smart, they’re athletic. We have designated trainers and coaches. Front Row Motorsports is a little unique. We contract our pit crews out. So we have a pit crew from Stewart-Haas Racing that did both of our race cars last year … Kind of working through our Ford relationship. We felt like it was very cost-effective and smart for us to let Stewart-Haas Racing handle our pit crews. … They had the training facilities, they had the staff to really give us the best chance that we could’ve (had) on pit road.

“For me, I’m going to have a few more seconds to take a drink of water and maybe throw an icepack out the window because on the 11-second stops, you are flipping switches and holding the brake. You’re busy for that 10 or 11 seconds. As a driver, that’s something I haven’t really thought much about and I usually go over to our partners’ pit crew training facility in January and meet some of our new guys and kind of watch them a little bit.

“… I guarantee you when we get to Daytona, the teams are all going to approach it a little different. So by the time we all get to Atlanta and Las Vegas and Phoenix everybody’s going to be watching each other. It’s definitely going to slow the stops down some.”

Michael McDowell. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

When Ragan arrives in Daytona in February it will be with McDowell as his teammate. The veteran driver replaces Landon Cassill. McDowell, 33, arrives at FRM after four seasons with Leavine Family Racing.

The 2018 season will be McDowell’s first in Cup with a teammate since his rookie year in 2008 with Michael Waltrip Racing.

Luckily, McDowell and Ragan have developed a close relationship away from the track in recent years.

“Our kids go to the same school, our wives our friends,” Ragan said. “We don’t live too far from each other. I think that does help when you have common interests outside of motorsports where you see each other. He actually stopped by my house this morning to pick up some things. I think that’s a really good thing and it’s healthy to have that relationship. But as far as on the track, I think teammates are so important.

“When I was at Roush Fenway Racing, the teammates I had really pushed me to do better and be smarter. When I filled in for Kyle Busch for a few races (in 2015), working with Denny (Hamlin) and Matt (Kenseth) and Carl (Edwards) and some of those guys at Joe Gibbs Racing, they push you to be better. They push you be more prepared going into a race weekend. Because you know you’re judged off of kind of what your team is doing.”

” … Michael McDowell is a great road racer. That’s his background. I think he’s going to help me and push me to do better. I feel like I have an edge at some of the short tracks where I cut my teeth. I feel if we can help each other, it only makes our team better. Michael’s really in touch and engaged with our race cars. He can help us with the development of our cars through testing and through making laps on the simulator this offseason. We have a lot of tools we’ll be working through before we make out first lap in Daytona.”

Inaugural 2017 NBC Pit Crew All-Stars team is announced

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After nearly four months of selecting weekly nominees, the first NBC Pit Crew All-Stars Team was announced Wednesday.

Here are the winners:

FRONT TIRE CARRIER:
 Graham Stoddard – No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Chevy, Hometown: Lincoln, Nebraska

  • Grew up in Charlotte but moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in 8th grade … Went on to play football at Nebraska (linebacker, special teams) and earn a finance degree
  • Following end of career, he took a job in financing but wanting something different, he looked into NASCAR … After finding a pit crew combine tryout in May 2014, Stoddard did enough to land a job with Michael Waltrip Racing and moved back to Charlotte that August
  • Has also worked with Chip Ganassi Racing & Team Penske … Has contributed to two Xfinity Series wins & a Snowball Derby win

FRONT TIRE CHANGER: 
Mike Lingerfelt – No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Hometown: Travelers Rest, South Carolina

  • Competed as a driver in local dirt racing as a youngster
  • Opened a garage at age 16 with his brother. “We started out working under a tree with a shed, and that evolved into a building. We started from the ground up and turned it into something that is pretty cool … My grandfather had his own shop, my uncle had his own shop, and it was just a great opportunity for me to get in there and carry on what my family had always done. My junior and senior years of high school, I went home and worked there as part of a co-op program with the vocational school.”
  • Entered the Monster Energy Series in 1997 and has contributed to multiple championships with Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002) & Jimmie Johnson (2008-2010)
  • Suffered fractured left femur when he was hit by Tony Stewart during 2000 Daytona 500; Lingerfelt was trying to retrieve an errant tire. Following surgery in Daytona (which included insertion of a 14-inch rod for support), Lingerfelt returned to Charlotte and immediately began physical therapy.  After seven months and 14 days away from the #20 team, Lingerfelt returned to action later that season in the fall race at Charlotte

REAR TIRE CARRIER:
 Ethan Marquette – No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, Hometown: Merrill, Wisconsin

  • 12-year career in sport has seen him work at every pit crew position and also as a pit crew coach
  • Resume includes stints at Roush Fenway Racing & Richard Childress Racing
  • Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 3
  • Volunteers with American Diabetes Association office in Charlotte, North Carolina, helping young children with diabetes learn how to live with the disease 
… Will take 8-week program at Duke University this fall in the Integrated Health Program for Diabetic Education
  • Hobbies include sport shooting, playing guitar, and cheering for the Green Bay Packers

REAR TIRE CHANGER:
 Raphael Diaz – No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford (Xfinity), No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford (Cup), Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina

  • Joined No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports pit crew in Cup at Martinsville … 3-year veteran of Roush’s No. 16 Xfinity team … Works as a carbon fiber fabricator at Roush during the week
  • Holds special place in history of NASCAR Drive For Diversity program as the first D4D grad to be part of a winning pit crew at the Cup Series level (Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing, Sonoma 2014)
  • Additionally, Diaz and Mike Russell are the first D4D crew members to win a national series championship (Chris Buescher, Roush Fenway Racing, 2015 Xfinity Series)
  • Discussing D4D program in 2017: “I never thought I was going to be doing this for the rest of my life, but it puts you in a spot where anybody can do this if you have the determination. The program works if you want it bad enough, and it helps with all those fundamentals you need to have.”
  • Contributed to Chris Buescher’s first career Cup win at Pocono in 2016 … Also contributed to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first two career Cup wins this season at Talladega (May) & Daytona (July)
  • Initially aspired to be a professional soccer player before suffering a knee injury
  • Grandfather immigrated to the United States from Chihuahua, Mexico

SPOTTER: 
TJ Majors – No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (Cup) Hometown: New Castle, Pennsylvania

  • Majors first met Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 1997 as a rival on iRacing (Majors was based in Buffalo, Earnhardt in Charlotte) … After becoming friends, Earnhardt advised Majors to come to North Carolina in order to enter the industry … Earnhardt helped him make the trip shortly after Christmas 2001, arriving in Majors’ driveway with a pickup truck to tow his box trailer filled with his belongings
  • Majors suited up and raced for JR Motorsports in street stocks and late models, earning a win in a 200-lap race at Motor Mile Speedway (Radford, VA) in 2004 … Got the call to spot for JRM’s first Xfinity Series start in the 2005 season finale at Homestead – the following day, Earnhardt asked Majors to start spotting for him
  • With Dale Jr.’s retirement as a full-time driver, Majors will make a move to Team Penske and become Joey Logano’s spotter in 2018
  • Believes the hardest part of spotting is depth perception; as cars come toward a spotter’s view and then drive away, it gets tough to perceive distance between each car on the track

GAS MAN:
 Caleb Hurd – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Hometown: Pulaski, Virginia

  • Former Virginia Tech Football special teams player (1996-99); has a degree in mechanical engineering
  • Has been involved in NASCAR for over 16 years, double-dipping as an engineer and pit crew member
  • Says Richmond holds “a higher significance than some of the other places we go” because that’s the 
track, back when he was an intern with Hendrick, that he became inspired to become a crew member
  • Was hired by Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013 – because of his athleticism and also, “we were in the process of 
trying to make the fuel cans faster. And he was an engineer. Now that’s a double win,” said Mike Lepp, 
JGR’s senior athletic adviser.
  • He and his wife Courtney gave birth to daughter, Kate, last fall, nearly 9 weeks early. A few weeks later, 
Hurd was at Phoenix when Courtney called to tell him Kate needed surgery. Seemingly the entire NASCAR community rallied around them. “I could barely make it past the pit box without someone coming up to me and saying they were thinking about us and everything,” Caleb said. Kate is “doing just fine” now.
  • Caleb and Courtney are actively involved in charity, which has ranged from working with the Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Duke Medical Center, to the Hendrick Marrow Program, and Habitat for Humanity.

JACKMAN: 
Ray Gallahan – No. 22 Team Penske Ford Hometown: Lake Helen, Florida

  • Before entering NASCAR, Gallahan worked at a car wash in high school and his first year of college. “I was like their MVP guy in that I knew how to do anything there. Inside cleanup and 
vacuuming were my specialties.”
  • Has been with Team Penske for more than a decade.
  • In the 2014 championship finale at Miami, Joey Logano’s car fell off Gallahan’s jack during the final pit 
stop, costing Logano a chance at the title … Gallahan’s colleagues at Team Penske encouraged him throughout that offseason, and in the 2015 Daytona 500, he and the #22 team delivered a flawless performance to help Logano win “The Great American Race.”
  • Gallahan after the Daytona 500 win: “For me, it’s pretty breathtaking to go from, like, the lowest of lows to probably one of the highest of highs you can have in all of motorsports … [Miami] definitely is a life-changing thing. You try to take positives from that, and you try to go on and learn from it and get better.”

TIRE SPECIALIST: 
Jeff “Jet” Zarrella – No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Ford Hometown: Southington, Connecticut.

  • Involved in the sport for over 30 years, starting at Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium. He finally realized his dream, winning the Daytona 500 back in February.
  • Joined SHR in 2009, prior to that he had worked for Yates Racing, DEI, Roush Fenway Xfinity Series program and several others.
  • From 1984 to 1993, worked as a tire specialist with 44 Racing and the No. 44 Modified driven by Reggie Ruggiero, Rick Fuller and Greg Sacks.
  • Enjoys cooking, gardening, shooting guns and golf when not at the racetrack.

ENGINE TUNER:
 Frank Mathalia – No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Hometown: Oneida, New York

  • Retired auto mechanic & tow truck driver for Mathalia Motors Corporation
  • Served in United States Marine Corps
  • Family is from upstate NY – his dad, also Frank Mathalia, raced at Utica-Rome Speedway – the home 
track for NASCAR Hall of Famers and modified racing legends Richie Evans and Jerry Cook

ENGINEER:
 Andrea Mueller – No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, Hometown: Fresno, California

  • Joined Team Penske in 2007
  • Graduate of Cal Poly
  • Previously worked for Boeing and Pratt & Whitney, and also worked on engine projects for NASA’s 
space program
  • According to Andrea, her dad was very involved in racing at the local level, taking on a variety of roles 
such as engine tuner and mechanic for sprint cars
  • Andrea also talked her dad into letting her race in quarter & micro midgets, but stopped after her mom 
started to get nervous
  • Ryan Blaney on Mueller: “She’s done a great job. I’m really excited to have her. Knowing race cars, knowing what parts and pieces do and coming up with ideas to improve everything – that is what she does so well.”

 

Bootie Barker to finish season, but Germain Racing will have new crew chief in 2018

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Germain Racing announced Tuesday that veteran NASCAR Cup crew chief Robert “Bootie” Barker will finish the season with the team in that position, “but will not be with Germain Racing in 2018.”

Barker, 46, has been crew chief at Germain Racing, primarily for the No. 13 car, since 2010. Ty Dillon replaced Casey Mears as driver of the No. 13 Chevrolet this season. Dillon has struggled; his best finish in his first full Cup season has been 11th at Talladega four weeks ago.

The team did not state who would replace Barker.

Barker has served as a crew chief primarily in the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series since 2001. Drivers he has worked with include Dave Blaney, Mike Bliss, Ward Burton, Jason Leffler, Jeff Green, Johnny Sauter, Jeremy Mayfield, Scott Wimmer, Blake Feese, Scott Riggs, Patrick Carpentier, Max Papis, Michael Waltrip, Casey Mears and Dillon.

In 479 Cup races as a crew chief, Barker has no wins, three top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. In 94 Xfinity Series races, he has four wins, 20 top fives and 39 top 10s. He also served as a crew chief in the Truck series for three races.

UPDATE: The team announced Wednesday that, like Barker, technical director Chris Andrews and engineer Scott Whitehead will complete the current season but will not return in 2018.