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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.

Danica Patrick confirms she is dating NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers

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Danica Patrick said Monday that she and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are dating. Patrick confirmed the news to The Associated Press.

Patrick, who is from Illinois, is a Chicago Bears fan but will change allegiances.

She told the AP that she and Rodgers met at the 2012 ESPY Awards.

“I told him a long time ago I’d always root for him as a player,” Patrick told the AP. “Now I am probably going to cheer for the whole team. Take out the word ‘probably.’ Now I’m going to cheer for the whole team.”

Patrick ended a five-year relationship with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in November. Rodgers split from actress Olivia Munn in 2017 after three years of dating.

Patrick plans to retire from racing this season after competing in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. She has not announced a deal for either ride. An executive with Chip Ganassi Racing recently told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that they were no longer talking to Patrick about a ride in either race.

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NASCAR denies report Brian France involved to buy Carolina Panthers

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NASCAR issued a statement Wednesday night denying a report by a Charlotte TV station that NASCAR Chairman Brian France was involved with a group to purchase the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

In the statement to NBC Sports, NASCAR stated: “NASCAR denies the accuracy of the WCNC report. Brian France is not involved.”

WCNC, citing three unnamed, sources reported Wednesday that France is part of a group that wants to buy the Carolina Panthers with France becoming the new major holder.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson will sell the team at the end of the season. This came 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.”

France has served as NASCAR’s Chairman since September 2003. He’s admitted to asking the NFL about its ownership structure in 2005.

The grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and son of Bill France Jr., NASCAR’s second president, Brian France raised eyebrows in Dec. 2008 at a motorsports marketing forum in New York when he said he didn’t anticipate leading NASCAR as long as his father did. Brian France explained his comments a month later, saying:

“This gets misunderstood whether whenever I say something like that, and it simply means that my father was 32 years the CEO and the president of NASCAR and ran the company. And all I said is that that’s not in the cards for me, and I don’t think it’s a smart thing for the sport. That doesn’t mean I won’t have a long run; I hope I do. I hope I’m doing what I’m doing — I really like what I’m doing, and I like working with the industry and the great group of people and Mike (Helton) and I side by side. So that should not be misconstrued. As long as we’re having fun and we’re making progress as an industry, then I would love doing what I’m doing.

“But I am 46 (in 2009), so I don’t think I’ll be 76 and still talking to you. That’s probably a — that doesn’t mean a short window, but it doesn’t mean 30 years, and that’s really where we are.”

France told USA Today in 2013 that when a group bidding on a Major League Baseball team called in 2010, he passed and hadn’t explored any opportunities to that point. 

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NASCAR statement notes freedom people have ‘to peacefully express one’s opinion’ (video)

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A day after Richard Petty and Richard Childress spoke out against anyone kneeling for the national anthem, NASCAR issued a statement that noted the United States is a country of “unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”

NASCAR’s statement:

“Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”

President Donald Trump, who ignited a controversy this past weekend that involved anthem protests across professional sports when he said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during “The Star Spangled Banner”, singled out NASCAR and its supporters during a series of tweets Monday morning about the flag.

Before Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Childress was asked what would happen if anyone from his team kneeled during the national anthem as NFL players have done and a Major League Baseball player did this past weekend.

Childress’ said anyone kneeling should “get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over. Anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.’’

Petty told reporters: “Anybody that don’t stand up for (the anthem) ought to be out of the country. Period. If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States.”

President Trump tweeted Monday morning his appreciation for those in NASCAR for such comments.

About 30 minutes later, Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted about the issue.

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Kevin Harvick: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lack of success played ‘big part’ in stunted ‘growth of NASCAR’

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Kevin Harvick believes the popularity of 14-time most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has played “a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR” in recent years.

Harvick’s comments came Tuesday night on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours” when the topic of fan attendance during Earnhardt’s farewell season was raised.

“I’ve been totally shocked by the vibe of Dale’s last year,” Harvick said. “I really thought it was going to be tons of fans showing up to the race track, buying crazy amounts of souvenirs and the souvenir sales aren’t up for the sales that he has in his last year so far. The crowds really haven’t changed. In my opinion, it’s been from his lack of performance. He hasn’t performed well in the race car.”

Earnhardt has failed to finish better than 12th in the last six races. Through 22 races he has only one top five (Texas). He also has nine finishes of 30th or worse.

But it’s Earnhardt’s overall record that drove Harvick’s comments about the health of the sport.

“It’s a funny situation when you talk about his last year and what you thought it would be,” Harvick said. “It’s the strangest situation that we have. In my opinion, this is where I think some of the growth in our sport has not reached the levels that it should’ve because our most popular driver hasn’t been our most successful driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won the most popular driver (award) for however many years (14) in a row … But he hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver.”

Earnhardt’s reign as NASCAR’s most popular driver began in 2003, a season after Bill Elliott won the award for the 16th and final time. In Earnhardt’s Cup career, he has 26 wins and no championships. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he has nine wins but none since 2015.

Harvick believes the popularity of an athlete should be directly tied to their success, citing LeBron James and Steph Curry in the NBA and Peyton Manning in the NFL. Harvick said it is “confusing” how that doesn’t seem to matter in NASCAR.

“(Earnhardt) hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver,” Harvick said. “For me I believe Dale Jr. has had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR because he’s got these legions of fans, this huge outreach of being able to reach these places none of us have the possibility to reach. But he’s won nine races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and hasn’t been able to reach outside of that. I know those aren’t the most popular comments but those are real life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver said Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt’s teammate who has won seven championships, should be the most popular driver.

“It’s really confusing to me,” Harvick said. “In my opinion Jimmie Johnson should be our most popular guy because he’s won seven championships. You look at the souvenir sheet every week and he’s (ranked) three, four, five coming off a championship year of what he sells in souvenirs. That part to me is a little bit confusing.”

While Harvick said Earnhardt “deserves that fanfare” he is receiving in his final Cup season, he followed that up by saying: “Imagine how popular he would be if he had won two or three championships?

“His dad was popular because he became Dale Earnhardt because of the fact he won seven championships and he was out there grinding every week. That hasn’t happened.”

Dale Earnhardt Sr. only won Most Popular Driver once, in 2001 after he was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Elliott’s 16 Most Popular Awards came despite only one championship but 44 wins in his Cup career. Only four of those wins came in his last nine seasons as a full-time driver.

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