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Joe Gibbs, Roger Penske rebut Wall Street Journal story critical of NASCAR, motorsports

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NASCAR team owners Roger Penske and Joe Gibbs reacted Saturday to a Wall Street Journal story from earlier this week that questioned the state and health of motorsports, particularly in NASCAR.

The story also questioned the leadership of NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France and his sister, Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation.

Here are excerpts from the responses by both owners. Gibbs first:

I was interviewed for that article, and there wasn’t one comment I made that was in that article, or there was no slant to anything in there. And so think about this for a minute: What was brought up in that article is that the management team, Brian France, Lesa and everybody, it’s hard for them to make good decisions, fast decisions.

“I think nothing could be farther from the truth. Think about our sport. Three years ago we completely changed the Chase. Huge, big decision. We now have charters. In one year working with Brian France, NASCAR, the owners were able to put together charters. Huge deal for us. We come back this year, and in a short period of time, we now have stage racing.

“I would say that that (story) is so far off, nothing could be farther from the truth. I think everybody is engaged. I think everybody from Brian on down. We’ve had meetings with owners and with (manufacturers) and everybody. I don’t know of anything that’s ‑‑ where a sport has tried to reach out, please the fans, and make huge decisions.

“The second thing I would say on that, we announced FedEx the other day, a new extension for them, a long‑term extension. There’s three other sponsors that we also did that with our race team alone. We saw Shell come in and make a huge decision with Roger. We also have two new sponsors coming in that we can’t announce right now that will probably be announced within the month, okay. We have seven at Joe Gibbs Racing, us alone, and I said this in that statement to the Wall Street Journal, we have four Cup cars that are well‑funded, going to go like mad with some of the biggest and best sponsors in the world. We have three Xfinity cars, okay, well‑funded, going to go like mad and race like mad.

“Our sport, as far as I’m concerned, has a bright future. I think you don’t get the biggest and best companies in America involved in our sport and going as hard as they are and re‑upping and signing unless you’ve got a sport that brings value to the table. So thank you for asking that question. I felt strongly about it. I wanted to say that.”

Gibbs was also asked why the Wall Street Journal reportedly interviewed a number of other executives within the sport, but their responses were also not used in the story.

I would love for the key owners and key (manufacturers) to have a chance in a forum to talk about it and talk about the sport, because I think we all know that you can take a series of interviews and probably slant it any way you wanted to,” Gibbs said. “My personal opinion, I just kind of felt like this thing was already going in a direction, and it was like when I was asked questions, it was, we’re headed one direction, I don’t care what you say.

“Now, maybe that’s not fair and I know that, but I felt it. I felt that. I felt it personally. And I take it because this is all my family, J.D., Coy, all of us, all we do is race every day, and I think our sport is healthy, and with our sponsors, I think we’re proof of that.

“I think Barney (Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser) and the people that came on board with him this year, and I think when you’ve got companies you’re sitting next to somebody like a Toyota, the biggest and strongest companies in the world are in our sport, I really think that could have been written in a totally different way. But you’re never quite sure what the objective was.”

Roger Penske
Roger Penske

Roger Penske also offered his thoughts on the Wall Street Journal story:

“I was really disappointed in the outcome of that because they talked about inside the France organization, which really is not pertinent to what’s going on on the race track or in the stands.  When I look at the sport, and I go back to 2006 when I ran the Super Bowl in Detroit. We were lucky to have 70,000 seats and to think about every weekend we have better than a Super Bowl 38 times.

“People need to take that into consideration, and then as you stack the media and the social media on top of that, I think the connection is amazing and with the disruption we’re gonna have now with these three different segments, certainly when we announce a sponsorship like Shell yesterday for seven years and you see FedEx, I think that there’s never been more competition on the race track.

“I think what we have to do as a group, the people in this room, we have to take a little different look at this. Certainly, we built these stadiums – we had Michigan and we had California – and we just probably built too many seats because after the financial crisis, there’s no question the spendable income that people had just wasn’t available to do things like this two or three times a year.

“It’s not just in our sport. The NFL was down seven percent and no one is talking about that, so I think we need to move on and talk about the racing. There are a lot of young kids coming up in this sport. We’ve got great sponsors and certainly the TV guys have connected with the drivers and the car owners on this format, the rule changes, and I think we’ve got to go racing.”

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All-Star Race, Open entry lists

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It’s officially All-Star Race week.

For the first time the annual exhibition event that awards $1 million will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET Wednesday on FS1).

Twenty drivers will compete in the 140-lap, four-stage main event. Sixteen drivers currently make up the field following Cole Custer’s win Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

Three drivers will qualify for the main event via the All-Star Open, the 85-lap preliminary race that’s divided into three stages. The winners of all three stages will advance. The remaining driver will advance via a fan vote.

Here are the entry lists for each race.

All-Star Race 

Drivers who automatically qualified for the All-Star Race: Those who won points races in 2019-20, past All-Star Race winners and previous Cup champions.

Drivers who have clinched an All-Star Race spot: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Cole Custer, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

Click here for the entry list.

All-Star Open

Twenty-two drivers are entered in the preliminary race.

Notable drivers include Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, rookies Tyler Reddick, William Byron and John Hunter Nemechek, as well as Bubba Wallace.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR in ‘good place’ with Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson after fight

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Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, says that series officials will keep an eye on Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson moving forward but that the sanctioning body feels it is in a “good place” with those drivers after their fight last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

Gragson punched Burton after Burton repeatedly shoved him in the garage area as they discussed their contact on the track late in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway. A NASCAR spokesperson said Friday night that no penalties were anticipated.

Asked about where matters stood between NASCAR and the two drivers, Miller told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday morning:

“I personally wasn’t in the post-race conversations. (NASCAR Xfinity Series Managing Director) Wayne Auton does a great job with that and the report that I got from him is he talked to some of the crew members that were involved and obviously both of the drivers. I think we got to a good place. They’re going to have some words this week and try to make sure we’re in a good spot when we start the weekend next weekend in Texas. We feel like we’re OK.

“This is an emotional sport and there’s going to be things like that that crop up. It’s not a great situation for us to deal with as a sanctioning body, but we also want the emotion in the sport. That’s what makes it so special. Those things are unfortunate, but we do know from time to time those are going to happen. If we feel good about the conversations we’ve had, in a lot of cases we’re going to move on from that and keep an eye on those individuals moving forward.”

Race and Sports in America: Conversations to air at 8 p.m. ET Monday

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Damon Hack will host two roundtables with athletes and former athletes for a conversation on race and sports in America. The show airs at 8 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN, Golf Channel, Olympic Channel and the NBC Sports Regional Networks.

Appearing with Hack will be Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, NBA superstar Steph Curry, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, NFL player Kyle Rudolph, pro golfer Troy Mullins, former tennis player James Blake, Major League Baseball player James Rollins and Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Among the topics discussed are: The conversations they’ve had with family in the last few months, what they hope things will be like in a year’s time, the level of optimism vs. pessimism and their experiences.

 

 

Winners and losers from Kentucky

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WINNERS

Cole CusterHe entered Sunday’s race well out of a playoff spot at 25th in the points. He took advantage of a series of events in the final laps to score a dramatic victory and earn a playoff spot.

Martin Truex Jr.Lost the lead on the last lap but recorded his first top-five finish since his Martinsville win last month.

Matt DiBenedetto He was 18th with 14 laps to go and finished third.

Christopher BellSeventh-place finish was his fourth finish of 12th or better in the last six races.

Austin Cindric Had not won on an oval in the Xfinity Series before sweeping both series races at Kentucky Speedway.

LOSERS

Matt KensethA week after finishing runner-up at Indianapolis, he spun twice and finished 25th at Kentucky.

Ryan PreeceFinished last for the second race in a row. He was eliminated in a pit road accident at Indy and by transmission issues at Kentucky. He has failed to finish five of 17 races this season (29.4%).

Jimmie JohnsonWas third on a late restart when contact with Brad Keselowski spun him. Instead of contending for his first victory since 2017, Johnson finished 18th and had a little warning for Keselowski.