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Inside RPM: Bubba Wallace earns respect from fans, crew

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Dustin Long is spending this week with Richard Petty Motorsports to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at all that takes place before a race. He will be with the team at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. Watch for his stories each day through Sunday.

Part 1: Putting together a game plan for Bristol

Part 2: Searching for sponsorship 

BRISTOL, Tenn. — They brought diecast cars, hats, shirts and hero cards to be signed. A man wearing a No. 3 hat and an orange Bristol T-shirt brought a Winston Cup banner covered in signatures. Bubba Wallace became the 279th name to decorate it. A woman gave Wallace, a University of Tennessee fan, an orange Volunteers bracelet and a lanyard. A man just wanted to shake Wallace’s hand.

And then there was Maegann Wright, wearing a Bubba Wallace T-shirt. Among the 300 or so items Wallace signed Thursday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway, none was more unusual than what Wright requested. She slipped her left black-and-white checkered shoe off and handed it to the driver of the No. 43 car. He wrote his name next to Ryan Blaney’s fading signature.

“It smells disgusting,’’ Wright said of her shoe. “I felt bad, but I had to have him sign it.”

When the line emptied and the last selfies with fans were taken, Wallace returned to his motorhome to prepare for the weekend. The next race is always the most important for any competitor, but that might be more true for Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports.

Maegann Wright gets a fist bump from Bubba Wallace after he signed her shoe at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The single-car team continues to search for sponsorship. Businesses operated by team owners Andrew Murstein and Richard Petty will be on the car Saturday night for the fifth time in the last six races because no other company paid to be the primary sponsor. The team seeks a primary sponsor for more than half of the remaining 13 Cup races.

“We know how much it means to have a really good race,” Wallace told NBC Sports.

Bristol could be an equalizer for RPM because aerodynamics and finances don’t mean as much as at bigger tracks. In April, Wallace drove to the front and led six laps before a blistered left-front tire relegated him to a 16th-place finish. The way Wallace drove to the front gave the crew hope this week as they prepared the same car for this race.

Such a run would provide a boost. The team has had one top-15 finish in the last 16 races, an eighth-place result at Texas in April.

The challenge is not new for Wallace. He thinks back to his early struggles in the Truck Series before he won at Martinsville in 2013, and the search for sponsorship that came up empty and forced Roush Fenway Racing to suspend operations of his Xfinity team last season.

(Photo: Dustin Long)

“Each and every step, there has been something to overcome and a hardship to be able to cross,” Wallace told NBC Sports. “I think that just makes you stronger for the next step in your journey. Being here right now and knowing our expectations … learning from those hardships that I’ve come through before, I don’t put so much pressure on myself.

“Yeah, we’re struggling a little bit. But I don’t feel like I’m about to have a mental breakdown over it. It’s like, ‘Why aren’t we winning all these races?’ Well, let’s back up a little bit. We don’t have the money and stuff like that. We have the drive, we have the passion, but that’s not what wins you races. That’s a step to help you win a race, but we’ve got to have a whole package.”

He came close in the Daytona 500, finishing second to Austin Dillon and Richard Childress Racing, an organization Richard Petty Motorsports is aligned with and neighbors to in Welcome, North Carolina.

For as memorable as the finish was, what happened in the media center afterward is a moment that Wallace said he’ll never forget. His mother went to the dais and embraced Wallace, telling him: “I’m so proud of you, baby. I’m so proud of you. You’ve waited so long, baby.”

Wallace responded as they hugged: “You act like we won just won the race.”

“We did! We did! We did win that race. We did.”

Wallace’s mother, Desiree Gillispie-Wallace, has provided her son emotional support through the peaks and valleys of a racing career that started at age 9 and saw a steady progression of a driver some labeled the Tiger Woods of racing.

Along the way, Wallace won in his first K&N Pro Series East start at age 16 and became the first African-American to win a NASCAR national series race in nearly 50 years. At age 20, his victory came at Martinsville, just a few miles from the hometown of Wendell Scott, who became the only African-American to win a Cup race in 1963.

“He’s still hard on himself because he feels like he’s carrying the weight of the African-American culture … kids that look up to him,” Wallace’s mother told NBC Sports. “He wants to make sure he’s doing a good job for everybody.”

Bubba Wallace speaks to the senior class at Virginia High School in Bristol. (Photo: Dustin Long)

During an appearance Thursday for the U.S. Air Force before the senior class at Virginia High School in Bristol, Wallace was asked by a black student about being the only African-American in NASCAR’s top series.

“It’s pretty cool,” Wallace told the assembly. “Wendell Scott … laid down the foundation for us all and broke the barriers and went through all that stuff. For me now, I’m one of the most accepted drivers. In our driver intros, I get huge cheers. For me, it’s about being myself … carrying that to each and every weekend. I think the fans latch on to what is real. That’s what I’m all about. There’s no switching it up when you get on camera. Me talking to you guys today is the same person you’ll see … at the race. I’ve always been like that.

“As far as the African-American side, I don’t really pay much attention to try to accomplish that. I just go out and let the driving speak for itself. You have good days that tends to shine a little bit more, the humbling days is what you need to work on, when things don’t go your way you’ve got to manage the emotion and come out on top.”

He has his team’s support.

“These guys are really sold that Bubba can drive even though I don’t think it’s fair that we haven’t given him a good car lot this year,” said Philippe Lopez, director of competition. “It’s not that we’ve given him a bad car, it’s just where we’re at he’s done a lot with it. Sometimes he’s overachieved.”

Bubba Wallace chats with shock specialist Michael Riggs at the shop earlier in the week. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Wallace also has done other things that mean a lot to the crew. Visits to the shop and spending time with crew means a lot to each.

“Some drivers, they’re like straight-laced, you’ve got to be real serious with them and there’s other drivers like Bubba that you can mess around with,” said interior mechanic David Cropps, whose primary job is to make sure where Wallace sits inside the car is as safe as possible.

One of the things that struck mechanic Jerad Hewitt, who joined the team last month, was what Wallace typically does after most practices. He goes around and thanks the crew for their job.

“It’s nice to have that,” Hewitt said.

It’s something Wallace has done since he was racing in the Xfinity Series.

“The moments that we go through are all as one team, from the start of the weekend to the end, all one team,” Wallace said. “Sometimes I forget (to thank them) and I feel bad about it.

“It’s something that came about, showing the guys that I for sure care about them, they’re the ones that I put the trust in to make sure the car is at its full 110 percent each and every weekend. Showing them the appreciation and giving them the love that they deserve is what it’s all about.”

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Raphael Lessard to drive full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2020

Kyle Busch Motorsports
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Canadian driver Raphael Lessard will compete full-time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the 2020 season, the team announced Thursday.

The 18-year-old native of St. Joseph de Beauce, Quebec, will drive the No. 4 Toyota Tundra for KBM and will also compete for Truck Series Rookie of the Year honors.

Lessard has competed in five Truck races this season, three for KBM and two for DGR-Crosley Racing, with two top-10 finishes including a best showing of ninth at Iowa. He has an average starting position of 10.4 and an average finish of 11.1.

Also this year, Lessard posted two top-five and three top-10 finishes in three ARCA Menards Series starts and one win, one top-five and two top-10 finish in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in Canada. His win came at his home track, Autodrome Chaudiere in Vallee-Jonction, Quebec, on June 29 when he led a race-high 153 laps.

“I’ve been working really hard the last few years to put myself in position to drive full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series — so this opportunity is a dream come true,” Lessard said in a media release. “Being able to drive for such a great organization in one of NASCAR’s top three series is going to be awesome and I’m going to work hard on and off the race track to learn as much as I can to get better every race.”

Added team owner and NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Busch, who will be bidding for his second career Cup championship this Sunday in Miami, “We’ve watched Raphael grow as both a driver and a person since joining our Super Late Model program in 2018 and we’re looking forward to being a part of his continued progression as he graduates to a full-time role in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series next year.”

Lessard won two events in KBM’s No. 51 Super Late Model in 2018; the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and the Red Bud 400 ARCA/CRA Super Series race at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway.

In 16 starts for KBM across the CARS Super Late Model Tour, the Southern Super Series and the ARCA/CRA Super Series, Lessard posted two wins, three poles, seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes last season.

“Similar to Erik Jones and Christopher Bell before him, Raphael joined our Super Late Model program and immediately won some big races,” Busch added. “Then, when given a part-time Truck Series schedule, they all proved capable of running up front and earned the right to compete full time. Erik and Christopher went on to win races and a championship in trucks, now Raphael has the opportunity to continue to follow their blueprint.”

Sponsor and crew chief announcements for Lessard as well as announcements on the rest of the KBM driver lineup for 2020 will be made at a later date.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Previewing championship races

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will preview the championship races this weekend from Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Krista Voda will be joined by Marty Snider, Parker Kligerman and Nate Ryan. Snider and Ryan will be reporting from  NASCAR’s Championship 4 Media Day.

We’ll also have interviews with all four NASCAR Cup Championship 4 drivers: Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

NBC Sports, NASCAR to launch ‘TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold’

NBC Sports
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Press release

STAMFORD, Conn. and DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 14, 2019) – NASCAR® and NBC Sports have teamed up to launch TrackPassTM on NBC Sports Gold, a new streaming product representing NASCAR’s most significant undertaking in the direct-to-consumer space.

Set to launch in early December, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold builds off the foundation set by FansChoice.tv and immediately becomes the most robust live and on-demand motorsports content offering in the domestic digital marketplace.

TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold will bring fans more exclusive live motorsports events and an extensive library of archived documentaries and films. The platform will offer exclusive live viewing of a multitude of motorsports, including American Flat Track, select ARCA Menards Series™ events (including ARCA Menards Series East and ARCA Menards Series West), NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour™, and tentpole grassroots racing events, as well as NASCAR Cup Series™ and NASCAR Xfinity Series™ practice and qualifying sessions (NBC Sports’ half of the schedule only).

International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) enthusiasts are also covered, as TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold will feature live and archived content from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship™, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and IMSA Prototype Challenge. Live NASCAR national series races (NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series™) will not be offered on the platform.

“The launch of TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold is a significant step forward in both our commitment to grassroots racing and the evolution of our direct-to-consumer strategy,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR president. “By partnering with NBC Sports, we can deliver more high-quality content to fans who have passionately followed their favorite racing series via FansChoice.tv, while increasing product availability and reliability.”

“Our partnership with NASCAR on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold is a win for racing fans across the U.S., from four-wide action at superspeedways to two wheels sliding across dirt tracks,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President, Production, NBC and NBCSN. “TrackPass will deliver unprecedented, exclusive live coverage of a wide variety of diehard racing fans’ favorite series – from IMSA, ARCA and American Flat Track, to grassroots racing at iconic local tracks like Bowman-Gray Stadium and Myrtle Beach Speedway. TrackPass is a must-have for passionate race fans.”

Fans can access all the content on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold for $4.99/month or $44.99/year. Lowerpriced, series-specific subpackages for IMSA, AFT and NASCAR Roots content will also be available. Both the IMSA and NASCAR Roots (which includes ARCA, Whelen Modified Tour, tentpole grassroots events and select NASCAR practice and qualifying sessions) packages are $2.99/month or $19.99/year. The American Flat Track package will have a $1.99/month or $10.99/year introductory rate for 2020. Existing FansChoice.tv registered users will receive an introductory free trial to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

While FansChoice.tv was a web-based platform, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold allows users to cast streamed content on a connected device via NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app, letting fans to experience racing action on their preferred hardware, including big-screen environments. Upon launch, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold will be available on desktop web browsers via the NBC Sports app on iOS and Android phones and tablets, Apple TV (Gen 4), Roku, Amazon Fire TV, AndroidTV, Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex and Chromecast devices connected via HDMI.

Click here for additional information on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

In the meantime, catch the crowning of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion from Homestead-Miami Speedway this Sunday, November 17, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC or click here to stream the race live.

JJ Yeley to drive full-time in Cup in 2020 for Rick Ware Racing

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Rick Ware Racing announced Thursday that it will field three full-time cars in the 2020 NASCAR Cup season.

The team revealed that veteran driver J.J. Yeley will be one of its three full-time drivers. The other two drivers will be announced at a later date, the team said.

“I can’t thank Rick and Lisa Ware enough for the opportunity to be back behind the wheel of a NASCAR Cup Series car full-time next year,” Yeley said in a media release. “They are a family owned team, who continues to grow and build new relationships with sponsors, and expand their efforts in NASCAR. Over the past couple weeks, we’ve accumulated some pretty solid finishes and can’t wait to see what we can accomplish in 2020.”

Yeley has made 14 starts for RWR this season with an average start of 35.9 and an average finish of 29.2. His best finish was 12th in the summer race at Daytona.

Yeley has made 290 career Cup starts, with a best finish of second at Charlotte in May 2007 for Joe Gibbs Racing. He also has made 328 Xfinity Series starts (0 wins, 15 top five finishes) and 35 Truck Series starts (0 wins, 2 top 10 finishes).

“I am excited to have JJ Yeley on board with the Rick Ware Racing organization for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season,” team owner Rick Ware said in a media release. “JJ is a great asset to any team, and has a proven track record for bringing home solid finishes for RWR. I look forward to having him on board, as we continue to grow this team.”

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