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.

Brad Keselowski wins Xfinity pole at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Brad Keselowski will start first in today’s Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway after claiming his first pole since November 2016 at Texas.

The Team Penske driver posted a top speed of 184.382 mph. It’s his 21st career pole and the first pole for Keselowski and Penske at the track.

Keselowski will be joined on the front row by Cole Custer. It his Custer’s third front row start this season.

The top five is completed by Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick and Brandon Jones.

It’s Reddick’s best qualifying effort of the season.

Kaz Grala, making the first series start for Fury Race Cars, qualified 16th. Though he competed in the first 10 races of the season with JGL Racing, FRC does not have any owner points and would have missed the race if qualifying had been rained out.

In his fifth start of the year, Timmy Hill will start 24th after advancing to the second round for the first time this season.

Ryan Reed did not make a qualifying attempt after his No. 16 Ford did not get through inspection in time. He will start from the rear.

The cars of Chad Finchum, Mike Harmon and Morgan Shepherd failed to qualify.

The Alsco 300 is set to begin at 1:13 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

Click here for qualifying results.

JGL Racing owner James Whitener diagnosed with liver failure

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CONCORD, N.C. – JGL Racing owner James Whitener was diagnosed with liver failure in January and is going on a transplant list to receive a new one, he confirmed in a statement to NBC Sports.

Whitener, 54, formed JGL Racing in 2014. Based in Denver, North Carolina, the team fields the No. 28 Ford driven by Dylan Lupton.

The team had fielded the No. 24 for Kaz Grala until earlier this month when Grala was let go.

Grala said Whitener’s medical costs played a part in the decision to shutter the team. The team originally stated the decision was due to lack of sponsorship.

“I found out kind of before the Dover race that things were looking a little bit shakey, unfortunately,” Grala said. “(Whitener) has some medical issues unfortunately. He didn’t really want to spend the money to continue running, which is understandable.”

Below is Whitener’s statement.

“What Kaz said is true that I have health issues. In fact, in January I found out that my liver is failing and I’m going on the transplant list for a new liver. It was not a decision to stop the No. 24 team with everyone just finding out after Dover – that was not the case at all. It had been discussed among the team really since Las Vegas. I really wish Kaz the best and hope I was instrumental in helping him start his Xfinity career. I watched him in the trucks last year and thought he would do well in our cars. All of my guys at JGL have helped me build this team and accomplish what we have up to this point and I thank all of them for their hard work and dedication in building both the No. 24 and No. 28 teams.”

“Since I couldn’t continue building both teams this year and helping young drivers as I have done in the past, I decided to give Kaz the three Roush cars along with parts and pieces to give him the opportunity to keep running and building on his career. Myself and everyone at JGL Racing wish him the best. Fury Racing has hired most of the employees from the 24 team that ran the first 10 races, so hopefully they can continue Kaz’s success with their program.  I would like to thank Kaz Grala and Dylan Lupton for being a part of the JGL Racing program.”

Through nine starts this season, Lupton is 29th in the point standings. His best finish is 17th at Texas Motor Speedway. Since 2014, JGL Racing has six top fives and 12 top 10s. Its best result is third in the July 2017 race at Daytona.

Today’s Xfinity race at Charlotte: Start time, lineup and more

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Ten races into the Xfinity season there have been 10 different winners. Will the streak continue today at Charlotte Motor Speedway?

The record for the most different winners to start a season in the Xfinity Series is 13 in 1988.

Here are all the details for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Dhani Jones, retired NFL player, author and host of CNBC’s Adventure Capitalists, will give the command to start engines at 1:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 6:30 a.m. Qualifying is at 10:10 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 12:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 12:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: The USO Show Troupe will perform the anthem at 1:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 12:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 84 degrees and 75 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Ryan Blaney won this race a year ago. Kevin Harvick was second. Austin Dillon was third. Alex Bowman won at Charlotte in October. Sam Hornish Jr. was second. Blaney was third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Ryan Blaney to appear on NBC’s Taken tonight

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Ryan Blaney will guest star on the NBC show “Taken” at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

When a dangerous weapons dealer smuggles his wares into New York City, Bryan (Clive Standen) teams up with an FBI agent (Blaney) in a race to stop the weapons dealer before he reaches the safety of international waters.

“When I first read the script I didn’t know what to expect,” Blaney said. “But I was excited when I read it and then when we actually started to do the chase scene, it was really cool being behind the wheel of the car and working with Clive, who was in the passenger seat. To see his passion for all of this, and how much of a cool guy he is, he’s definitely a great actor and great to talk to as well. It’s been nice getting to know him.”

Blaney also said he appreciated what happened behind the scenes.

“Being out in the freezing weather in Toronto has been a humbling experience for sure,” he said. “I always like to see how other professions work, and honestly, the film and TV industry reminds me of the racing side, because a lot of people just see the finished product – they just see us going on the track, or they just see what’s on TV and they don’t realize how much work goes into making it. There’s a lot more work behind the scenes and it definitely opens your eyes as to how much work goes into just one scene, let alone a full episode.”