Jimmie Johnson optimistic about sponsor search, says ‘I’m not done’

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Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson says he wants to be involved in Hendrick Motorsports’ sponsor search for his team and that even though he’s closer to the end of his career than beginning, that shouldn’t hinder a sponsor’s interest.

Hendrick Motorsports announced this week that Lowe’s would not return as sponsor of Johnson and No. 48 team after this season. Lowe’s had been with the team since the beginning of Johnson’s Cup career in 2001.

Johnson has a contract with Hendrick Motorsports through 2020. The 42-year-old was asked Friday at Auto Club Speedway if being closer to the end of his career could make companies leery of sponsoring his team.

“Marketing today has changed quite a bit,’’ said Johnson, who has won a record six Cup races at Auto Club Speedway. “As much as we all want to think corporations look at a 10-, 15-, 20-year run for a marketing plan, they really do look year to year.’’

For those who wonder how much longer Johnson will drive, he said: “I’m not done. Hendrick is home. Retirement hasn’t been on my mind. I want to win an eighth championship.’’

Certainly that could be one of the aspects to entice companies to sponsor Johnson — his pursuit to become the all-time leader in Cup titles by breaking a tie he has with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Johnson said he is encouraged with the sponsorship possibilities for his team.

“Very optimistic about the future myself and our race team have and the opportunity we haven’t had before — to go out and shop our deal and see what is out there and what we can do from a branding standpoint for a new company,’’ Johnson said. “Now that the announcement is out, we can get to work on that and see what the future holds for our team.’’

Johnson said he plans to be a part of the process of securing sponsorship.

“This is really a unique opportunity, and it’s also a great learning and growing moment for myself,’’ he said. “I want to be involved in this process and learn along the way, and maybe a relationship or two I’ve made through the years will come to fruition and maybe help with the sponsorship, too.’’

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Denny Hamlin posts fastest lap in Saturday morning Cup practice

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LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin had the fastest lap in Saturday morning’s Cup practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leading the field with a lap of 132.942 mph.

He was followed by Ryan Blaney (132.526 mph), Martin Truex Jr. (132.462), Kyle Busch (132.406) and Kevin Harvick (132.356).

Harvick ran the most laps at 50. Harvick told NASCAR on NBC broadcaster Rick Allen in the garage that he ran so many laps to see how much the speed falls off as the tires wear. Jimmie Johnson was next with 42 laps run.

There were no incidents in the 50-minute session.

Ryan Blaney had the best 10-lap average at 131.767 mph.

Click here for the speed chart.

Start time of Sunday’s Cup race moved up to 1 pm ET

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LOUDON, N.H. – The start time for Sunday’s Cup race has been moved up to 1 p.m. ET because of the threat of rain, NASCAR announced.

NBCSN will broadcast the race. NBCSN’s coverage begins at noon ET.

The wunderground.com forecast for 1 p.m. ET Sunday calls for a 49 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms. There is a threat of rain throughout the day.

Kurt Busch won the pole for Sunday’s race.

Two Cup teams to be penalized practice time Saturday at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne each will miss 15 minutes of Saturday’s final practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for inspection issues, NASCAR announced.

Hamlin is being penalized for failing pre-qualifying inspection twice last weekend at Kentucky. Kahne is being penalized for failing pre-qualifying inspection twice Friday at New Hampshire.

Final practice is scheduled to go from 12:35 – 1:25 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

NASCAR’s Saturday schedule for New Hampshire Motor Speedway

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Today’s schedule at New Hampshire Motor Speedway includes two Cup practice sessions and the Xfinity Series race at the “Magic Mile.”

Here’s the full schedule with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Saturday, July 21

7 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens

8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. — Cup garage open

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (CNBC)

11:05 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (CNBC)

12:35 – 1:25 p.m. — Final Cup practice (NBCSN)

1:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

3:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver introductions

4 p.m. — Lakes Region 200 Xfinity race; 200 laps/211.6 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)