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.”

 

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick back at No. 1

NASCAR Power Rankings
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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Kevin Harvick is the No. 1 driver in this week’s NASCAR rankings.

Martin Truex Jr. held the top spot for just a week before Harvick reclaimed the crown with his series-leading ninth Cup win of the year Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This week’s rankings includes three ties as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Round of 16

Harvick takes his power rankings lead to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the start of the Round of 12.

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has three wins in the last five races: Dover, the Southern 500 and Bristol night race.

2. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 7): Finished seventh at Bristol for his third top 10 in five races. His 11 top fives so far matches his total from each of the last two seasons. He scored a career-high 12 top fives in 2017.

3. (tie) Kyle Busch (Last week No.  9): Finished second in Bristol after he started from the rear due to inspection failures. Has three consecutive top 10s for the first time this season.

3. (tie) Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Followed consecutive third-place finishes with an 11th at Bristol.

5. (tie) Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 1): Finished 24th in Bristol following contact with Denny Hamlin after an unscheduled pit stop.

5. (tie) Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): After winning at Richmond, Keselowski had a rough night in Bristol. He finished 34th due to power steering problems.

7. (tie) Aric Almirola (Last week unranked): Finished fifth in Bristol for his third consecutive top 10 and his fourth in five races.

7. (tie) Clint Bowyer (Last week unranked): Placed sixth in Bristol for his third consecutive top-10 finish and to keep his playoff chances alive.

9. Austin Dillon (Last week No. 3): Placed a respectable 12th to finish the first round after consecutive top fives.

10. Erik Jones (Last week unranked): Placed third in Bristol for his seventh top-five finish of the season and his second in the last three races.

Also receiving votes: Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin

NASCAR Silly season features Bubba Wallace, Michael Jordan

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NASCAR Silly Season took a twist Monday. A day that started with the announcement that Ross Chastain would drive for Chip Ganassi Racing next year ended with the news that Denny Hamlin would co-own a team with Michael Jordan and have Bubba Wallace as the driver in 2021.

As JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty said: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The 26-year-old Wallace is in his third full Cup season. All 105 of his starts in NASCAR’s premier series have been with Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said in a statement. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

A team name, car number, manufacturer and sponsors will be announced at a later time.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 42: Ross Chastain takes over Chip Ganassi Racing’s ride for the 2021 season.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

No. TBA: Bubba Wallace joins the new team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and NBA great Michael Jordan. The team purchased Germain Racing’s charter. Germain Racing will not continue after this season.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto said Sept. 17 that Wood Brothers Racing has an option to pick up his contract for next year and the deadline is the end of September.

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

 

Brad Daugherty: Michael Jordan to NASCAR is ‘huge moment’

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Brad Daugherty calls Michael Jordan’s ownership of a Cup team a “huge moment for NASCAR.”

Jordan and Denny Hamlin will co-own a Cup team next season. Bubba Wallace will be the driver. Jordan will become the first Black majority car owner of a full-time team since Wendell Scott owned and raced cars in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Daugherty, the only Black owner of a full-time Cup team currently, is excited about Jordan’s entrance into NASCAR.

“It’s a big momentum shift for this sport culturally, period,” said Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and an analyst for NBC Sports. “Three years ago, this would have never happened. A year ago, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s the timing. If the timing is right and you have someone like Michael Jordan put his brand and what he’s all about into whatever you are doing, it adds a lot of credibility. I look forward to whatever he can bring to the table to help continue to build NASCAR.”

Daugherty told NBC Sports that Jordan can help the sport reach more people.

“The eyeballs are going to be incredible,” Daugherty said of Jordan’s potential impact. “The opportunity for entrance into the sport will be made more available as far as people being aware of the availability to get involved in NASCAR as a fan or as a business. There’s just so many different areas that will light up just because of who he is and what he represents. His entire legacy creates opportunity for everyone.

“Now, we start talking diversity with what he’s able to do from a corporate standpoint and also just from a legacy standpoint with his brand. It’s going to be exciting. I’m excited because I think more people now, more than ever, will take a look at NASCAR with a keen eye and keen interest and be excited about maybe participating as a fan or as a business partner or as someone wanting to learn how to drive a race car or own a race team. The more notoriety the better.”

NASCAR stated Monday: “Michael is an iconic sports figure and celebrated champion whose fiercely competitive nature has placed him among the greatest athletes of all time. His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport. We wish Michael and his team tremendous success.”

Jordan told The Charlotte Observer on Monday that the deal came together in about 10 days because of the chance to hire Wallace.

“When (Hamlin) told me there was a possibility of getting Bubba Wallace, I’m saying, ‘OK, this is perfect!’” Jordan told The Observer. “If I’m getting involved in NASCAR, then get a Black driver (with) a Black owner.”

For all that Jordan can bring to NASCAR, Daugherty knows that the competition can prove challenging.

“I’m sure he’s committed to next season and we’ll see how that goes and if it goes well, you go beyond that,” Daugherty said. “He had a (Superbike) team for a long time and loved that. He understands it’s a different business model. He’s at the point in his life, he’s like Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick and those guys to where it’s really not a detriment to him financially if he’s not making money. We’ll have to see how much he can stomach because it’s an interesting business model for sure.”

Jordan told The Observer he’s in it to win.

“If I’m investing, if I’m a participant, then I want to win! I don’t want to be out there to be just another car,” Jordan said.

Daugherty looks forward to seeing Jordan, Hamlin and Wallace at the track.

“I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba,” Daugherty said. “They’re going to be like rock stars.”

Daugherty also looks forward to something else next year.

“Look forward to racing against those guys,” he said, “and trying to kick their butts.”

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

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Germain Racing car owner Bob Germain announced Monday that he has sold the team’s charter and will end the team after this season.

The charter was purchased by a new team that will have Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan as owners and Bubba Wallace as the driver.

Germain said in a statement that the No. 13 team will continue the rest of the season with Ty Dillon as driver.

“Being an owner in NASCAR for the last 16 years has been a thrilling and rewarding adventure,” Germain said in a statement. “From winning two NASCAR Truck Series championships in 2006 and 2010 to competing at the highest level of motorsports in the Cup Series for the last 12 seasons, I have experienced the highs and lows of our sport. I’m extremely proud of what Germain Racing has accomplished at every level and I will be transitioning out of ownership with many memories and friendships. I appreciate the interest and offers made over the last couple of weeks and I am excited to see how the sport continues to grow in the future.

“Thank you to GEICO for their loyalty to Germain Racing for over a decade. It has been a great source of pride for our team to represent their brand on the track. Doug Barnette with Player Management International has facilitated our GEICO relationship since the beginning and I truly appreciate his efforts. Finally, to my employees: building a team camaraderie and creating a family atmosphere has been a highlight of this journey. I will miss each of you.”

Germain pondered a sale when GEICO decided not to renew its contract after this season with the team.  GEICO is one of NASCAR’s Premier Partners, joining Busch Beer, Coca-Cola and Xfinity.

Dillon spoke in late August about the challenges facing single-car teams in Cup.

“The model is very tough right now for single-car teams,” he said. “I’m hoping that NASCAR is going to change it and help on it. But it needs to change for one-car teams to be more successful that haven’t already been at the top level of the sport or have an incredible amount of money to leapfrog into the top spot. If you don’t have three or four teams to spread the wealth with big name sponsors and a lot of money behind the effort, it’s just not a model that’s going to survive long term.”

Hamlin acknowledged the challenge a one-car team can have.

“I do believe that the (ownership) model will hopefully get better,” Hamlin said before last weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Do I think it’s fixed? No, I think there is still some work to be done to make the model a viable business. You want a business that everyone wants to be a part of, not the ones that are fleeting. Certainly, I think NASCAR is trying it’s best to make the teams a little more healthy. I think that outlook toward the future is what’s interesting to me.”

Germain Racing is the second team to sell its charter since August. Leavine Family Racing announced it had sold its charter on Aug. 4. Spire Motorsports purchased it and will be a two-car team in 2021.