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Jimmie Johnson: ‘Everywhere we look, there’s change’ at Hendrick

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CHARLOTTE – Half of Hendrick Motorsports’ driver lineup will be new in 2018, but that only represents the surface level of the team’s massive overhaul for this season.

In a visit to the NASCAR on NBC podcast during this week’s preseason Media Tour, seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson outlined the structural facelift of its sprawling 140-acre campus near Charlotte Motor Speedway. After running its four cars in pairs based out of two buildings for more than a decade (last season, Johnson’s No. 48 and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 were in one shop with the teams of Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne next door), Hendrick has redesigned its approach and will bring many of its processes under one roof.

“Everywhere we look, there’s change,” Johnson said. “Our two shops are now one. The process is just a lot different. So the way we’ve known it, we’re all trying to pull those layers back and say, ‘Let’s start over.’ We’ve got a great new starting point. And let’s figure out what the new normal is and how to make this work.”

The organizational chart for Hendrick’s competition department was redone last August, two months after the departure of general manager Doug Duchardt (who joined Chip Ganassi Racing). Hendrick also added longtime GM Racing executive Alba Colon last month.

Johnson said it’s changed the workflow for his team and crew chief Chad Knaus because “the way we go about doing our jobs, it’s a bit different now” as Hendrick attempts to building more cohesiveness across its lineup, which will add Alex Bowman and William Byron in place of Earnhardt and Kahne.

“Just from an efficiency standpoint and also trying to get all of the smartest people in a huddle on any given part of the car,” he said. “What’s been tough for us is we’ve had so much success with four teams sharing data … but all four cars are coming to the track different. Especially from the 48-88 shop to the other shop, pretty big differences.

“Why don’t we have all these smart people in one room think-tanking ideas? From engineering, brakes and transmissions, aero … down the entire line. So that’s really what we’re doing. In today’s world with sponsorship dollars where it is, it’s smart to be more efficient.”

After spending much of the last two years with his family in Aspen, Colorado, Johnson said he also plans to reside in Charlotte more often (while splitting time in Aspen and New York) as he takes a larger leadership role.

“I just feel that an area I haven’t fully exploited is just my involvement in the energy and the atmosphere within our race team,” said Johnson, who was winless over the final 23 races and finished 10th in the points standings, tying the second-worst finish of his career. “I’m around. I’m there. Definitely know my role as the driver, but just feel like I can do more. When I watch other pro sports, college sports, and you just see a locker room environment that looks very interesting and amazing. That’s something I feel I can help lead and orchestrate within the 48 and at Hendrick Motorsports.”

You can hear Johnson at the 9:30 mark of the podcast, which also features Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Denny Hamlin.

Click on the embed above to hear the podcast or listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you download podcasts.

F1 star Daniel Ricciardo introduced to NASCAR world in Texas

(Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 star Daniel Ricciardo made his first visit to a NASCAR Cup Series race at Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 from Texas Motor Speedway, as the Australian driver for Red Bull Racing was a guest of Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott.

Ricciardo had told NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas last month in Austin he planned to make a return visit to Texas to see Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s final start at the track as a full-time Cup driver.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well,” Ricciardo told NBCSN. “Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Elliott welcomed Ricciardo around, and he took in the atmosphere pre-race. He met Joey Logano, among others, before having the chance to see Earnhardt and complete his idea of doing the helmet swap.

Both Earnhardt and Ricciardo signed each other’s helmets, and Earnhardt, who will join NBC Sports as an analyst for its NASCAR coverage in 2018, said he looks forward to attending a Formula 1 race next year.

Some of the other NASCAR posts Ricciardo appeared in on Sunday are below.

Ricciardo also posted a couple photos to his Instagram story on Sunday.

Go behind the scenes of NBCSN’s broadcast from New Hampshire Motor Speedway (video)

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Quite a bit goes into making a NASCAR on NBC race broadcast possible.

Last weekend, cameras were turned around to show the people and operations behind the broadcast from New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We have to have a group of people the size of what puts on a Super Bowl every single week,” lead announcer Rick Allen says in the video featured above.

Allen, Jeff Burton and Krista Voda share their thoughts on how a race day broadcast is put together, from production meetings to quickly tearing down the “Countdown to Green” stage on pit road and more.

“Everyone sees us on TV and assumes it may be the nine of us, there’s like 200, 300 people,” Voda says.

To see just a sampling of those people, watch the full video.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. on joining NBC Sports: ‘First real job I’ve had in 20 years is going to be an adventure’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be part of 20 Cup Series race broadcasts on NBC Sports Group next season, but NASCAR might not be the only place you see him.

An avid cyclist who routinely rides dozens of miles weekly, Earnhardt could be a part of Tour de France coverage in the future.

“We’ve talked football, we’ve talked about the Olympics, we’ve talked about other parts of the company,” Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President of Production, NBC Sports, said in a Monday afternoon call introducing the 14-time most popular driver as a member of the network’s team starting Jan. 1. “I could see him being involved if it’s the right fit for him and for us. We’re not going to say, ‘Go off and do a feature on football.’ We’ll say, ‘Hey, does this make sense to get you involved?’ Be it the Super Bowl, the Olympics.

“There’s a lot of speed events in the Olympics. It could be an interesting match for Dale. There’s nothing locked in stone. It’s all about opportunity and the breadth of what we can do as a company, and I think that’s the most important part of what we’ve established in this partnership.”

Earnhardt pointed to his longtime allegiance to the Washington Redskins as a potential avenue for venturing outside NASCAR, but also said he primarily is focused on getting acclimated to his new role.

“This is the very beginning of this partnership,” said Earnhardt, who is retiring from NASCAR after 18 seasons on its full-time circuit. “I’m going to follow Sam’s lead on what I need to do to become as prepared as I can to do the job he wants me to do. I’ll make myself available as much as possible to give me the tools to learn quickly in this process as I gain confidence in myself and continue to improve, grow, learn and understand how this business works.

“As much as I’ve been around this sport, a lot of this is foreign. I’ve always just drove race cars. This is probably the first real job I’ve had in 20 years. This is going to be an exciting adventure. I’ll lean on Sam. I’m going to depend on him to point me in the right direction. Any experience outside NASCAR will allow me to learn and build my resume and gain continued confidence. I’m up to any challenge. I’m surrounded with great folks to give me the tools to do the job right.”

The versatility offered by signing with NBCUniversal, which allows access to a vast media portfolio that includes movies, TV and podcasts, was a major plus for Earnhardt, who has a production company (Hammerhead Entertainment) and a podcast network (Dirty Mo Radio).

“He’s a race car driver, a team owner, iconic racing figure but also as popular off the track and has tremendous crossover appeal across all forms of media,” said Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Broadcasting and Sports. “NBCUniversal, we have great assets and includes sports, film, television. All of which are part of our ability to attract someone of Dale’s expertise in sports and interests in other forms of media to get him to join our team.”

Earnhardt said he began exploring TV opportunities nearly three months ago, shortly after announcing his impending retirement. He wrapped up the deal in the past few days after several weeks of negotiations.

The third-generation star grew up admiring broadcasters such as Barney Hall, Ken Squier and Benny Parsons, noting that “I’ve always been drawn to their jobs and how they carried themselves.

“It is a dream come true,” Earnhardt said. “This is an incredible opportunity for me to start a new chapter, basically an entirely new career. That was one of the exciting things about the conversations I had with NBC. They understand incorporating Dirty Mo Media and Hammerhead production company into a lot of things we do together.

“That gives an opportunity to grow. That was obviously an exciting part of the puzzle through this whole thing.”

Flood said Earnhardt’s passion for NASCAR and its history makes him a unique talent.

“He looks at it in a different way,” Flood said. “The conversations we’ve had is about how to grow NASCAR, expose new fans and make his passion for the sport come through to the fans. It’s fun to hear how curious he is about television, about the job and how can he step in and do a great job from Day One.

“We’ve talked about taking him out to one of the Sunday Night Football games and following Cris Collinsworth and seeing how the No. 1 show on TV gets made. Talked about going to the truck for a NASCAR Xfinity race to see the craziness of a TV truck so he understands how it works. And make sure he’s ready to roll with a team he already knows.”

Earnhardt will be joining a broadcast team that includes Steve Letarte, his crew chief from 2011-14, and longtime mentor Dale Jarrett.

“Being around people like that will allow me to be a lot more comfortable and lot less shy than in the past,” he said. “That was a key element that made me excited about this partnership.

“Everywhere I’ve had success before, I always had a great friendship with the people I worked with, a very comfortable environment with people around. That influenced me quite a bit knowing I had the opportunity to work with people I know quite well. Sam was incredibly honest. What I’ve learned about how candid, honest, up front he is, I like that directness. He’ll be a great person to be led by and to lean on. Those personal connections were important for me and NBC certainly lays a lot of opportunity on the table. They just showed a lot of encouragement and excitement about that opportunity to work together. It seemed a very, very good fit for me.”

While he missed the second half of the 2016 season recovering from a concussion, Earnhardt worked with the NBC booth of Rick Allen, Jeff Burton and Letarte during races at Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville Speedway. The experience eased the way to go into broadcasting.

“The feeling in the booth, you think you have an idea what that’s like, but I had no idea how enjoyable that was until I did it,” he said. “I knew immediately in those moments going through my injury and going through the booth with Steve and Jeff that I definitely wanted to pursue this as an opportunity.”

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to join NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR coverage in 2018

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Dale Earnhardt Jr., the motorsports icon voted by fans as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for an unprecedented 14 consecutive years (2003-16), will join NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR coverage beginning in 2018, it was announced Monday. 

Earnhardt will be utilized in a number of capacities on NBC’s NASCAR coverage, with specifics to be announced in the coming months. In addition, the agreement with NBCUniversal allows Earnhardt a wide range of opportunities in the company’s media businesses, including movies, television, podcasts, and other areas.

“We are excited to welcome Dale Jr. to our team – both on and off the track,” said Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Broadcasting and Sports. “As a company, NBCUniversal allows for talent to stretch themselves across not just their field of expertise, but across other areas of their interests in the media world.”

Dale Jr. brings credibility, personality, and popularity to our already winning NASCAR team,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President of Production, NBC Sports. “Giving him a chance to spread further within other NBC Sports Group properties and throughout the company is an added bonus.”

“It is a tremendous honor not only to join NBC Sports next year but to begin a new career alongside people who love NASCAR as much as I do,” said Earnhardt. “To be reunited with Steve Letarte, to be able to call legends like Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty teammates rather than just friends, to be able to continue going to the track and connecting with race fans, it’s a privilege I don’t take lightly. I will devote my heart and soul to this broadcast team and pledge my very best to the millions who watch it.”

NBC is also partnering with Earnhardt on some of his other businesses, including Dirty Mo Media and Hammerhead Entertainment. 

Earnhardt is a third-generation driver in a family forever connected to the sport of stock-car racing. The native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, has amassed 26 career victories, including the 2004 and 2014 Daytona 500. His 26 victories tie him for 29th on NASCAR’s all-time race winners list. His father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., won seven Cup titles and 76 Cup races in his storied career.