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Minor League Baseball team will shed name that honors Dale Earnhardt in 2020

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A Minor League Baseball team in Kannapolis, North Carolina, will end a nearly two-decade run of being named for NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt after this season.

The Kannapolis Intimidators, a Class-A team affiliated with the Chicago White Sox, announced Wednesday plans for a new name in 2020.

Named after Earnhardt’s famous moniker, the Intimidators era began when Earnhardt bought a stake in the team three months before his death in the 2001 Daytona 500 and continued years after Dale Earnhardt Inc. sold its share in the team.

Wednesday’s announcement by the team drew a response from Earnhardt’s daughter, Kelley Earnhardt Miller.

With new ownership in Temerity Capital and the team opening a new stadium in downtown Kannapolis next year, the decision was made to rebrand the South Atlantic League team.

A one-week campaign called “Branded New By You” running through Feb. 13 will allow fans and members of the community to submit suggestions for what direction the team should go with its new mascot.

Suggested names and feedback will be considered as the team works with brand identity firm Studio Simon to select a new name.

The name can’t be announced until after the upcoming season.

An Intimidators executive said other reasons for changing the name include being able to take advantage of the team’s brand as well as an audience whose interests are moving away from auto racing.

The Intimidators logo, designed by Sam Bass.

“We do recognize how much Dale means to this community,” Intimidators Assistant General Manager Vince Marcucci told NBC Sports. “Dale’s always going to be the Intimidator. We’re not trying to get away from (it). I don’t think that’s the right way to put it. But, like, own our own brand. Because we don’t own the Intimidators. (Earnhardt’s widow) Teresa has the rights to that. So for speed and flexibility as we try to do creative things in the future, we’re going to need something we own ourselves.”

Marcucci, who has been with the Intimidators for six months, is from South New Jersey and well aware of the Earnhardt name, having attended races at Pocono Raceway as a kid.

He said there’s been plenty of discussions about how to continue to honor the legacy of the Intimidator name.

“We’re about a block away from Dale Earnhardt Sr. Park in Kannapolis,” Marcucci said. “That was one of the first places that we took the gentleman (who) came to town to help us with the rebrand. So we definitely do understand the ties to racing as a whole in our community. That’s why (Cabarrus) County is branded ‘Where Racing Lives.'”

But Marcucci admitted that the demographics of the city and state are changing.

“I think millions of people are still Earnhardt fans,” Marcucci said. “But that’s his legacy. Not as much ours, you know? It’s just kind of creating a name that embraces the community for who they are now and who they’re going to be and who they’ve been. … You know it probably as well as I do that so many people are moving to this community from all over the country. It really is a melting pot of our entire country kind of migrating towards the Carolinas. I think we’ve seen over the past couple of years a lot of our fans have kind of been diversified away from NASCAR as well.

“But I think that’s the state of North Carolina as a whole.”

Marcucci allowed that if the majority of the name suggestions lean toward keeping it racing related, that’s the direction they could go.

“If 80 percent of submissions are racing, it gives us a pretty good idea of keeping it tied to racing,” he said. “If only two percent of the names that are submitted are racing, maybe we do go away from something like that.

“We can look into the city’s past and future for a different kind of name.”

Marcucci cautioned that the team likely wouldn’t go in the direction of others that have changed their names recently.

“I do not think we’re going to be the Rocket City Trash Pandas,” he said.

That’s the name that will be adopted by a team next year after it moves from Mobile to Madison, Alabama. It comes from its proximity to the NASA facility in nearby Huntsville and a nickname for the character Rocket Raccoon in the Guardians of the Galaxy films.

“There’s nothing wrong with that. To each their own,” Marcucci said. “I personally love the super creative names that have come out over the past couple of years from Minor League Baseball. But I don’t know if that’s exactly what we want to go with.”

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Kyle Busch touts support he’s received for comments at Las Vegas

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RICHMOND, Va. — Kyle Busch says he’s received support from fellow drivers, who told him “what I said is not wrong” about the ability of some competitors.

Busch was upset last weekend after running into the back of Garrett Smithley’s car and being impeded by Joey Gase in the Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After the race, Busch told NBCSN: “We’re at the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack. It’s pathetic. They don’t know where to go. What else do you do?”

Smithley responded on social media and Gase later responded on social media.

MORE: Kyle Busch’s comments address murky issue with no solution 

Busch was asked Friday at Richmond Raceway if he watched video of the incident with Smithley since last week and if his opinion changed.

“I did see video of last week,” Busch said. “It doesn’t matter what my opinion is. I get beat up on it anyway.”

Busch was encouraged by support he received.

“I’ve had multiple texts from other people that are race car drivers and non-race car drivers this week that have said what I said is not wrong, but there’s other general masses that say different,” Busch said.

Busch’s race at Las Vegas started poorly when he hit the wall in the opening laps and went down two laps. He explained what happened:

“We started out, we practiced our car and we were pretty decent in practice, but I felt like I was a tick tight, so we made some changes going into the race to free it up,” Busch said. “The first run at Vegas is always looser. And I guess I didn’t mentally prepare myself for that enough, and we were 10 numbers loose, like crashing loose.

“I got myself in trouble. I got myself into the fence. Was able to battle back from all of that throughout everything of the day and put ourselves in position for a solid finish and we just didn’t get it.”

Asked what he could have done differently, Busch said:

“I should have been prepared for it,” he said. “I actually prepared (crew chief Adam Stevens) for it, but I guess didn’t prepare myself for it. I was getting passed, guys were going by me and I was falling backwards and I was like I got to go here, I’ve got to move forward and pushed too hard.”

Busch recovered to get back on the lead lap and was running in the top five when he had the contact with Smithley. Busch finished 19th.

“For as bad as our day started, we were certainly able to make something of it and come back for a top-four run until close to the end,” Busch said when asked if his frustration hurts his performance. “People want to say because of my state of mind that’s the reason I ran into the back of a slow car, that’s funny people know how I think and what I am inside my helmet. I don’t think that had anything to do with it.”

Busch, the regular-season champion, qualified fourth for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Results, Xfinity point standings after Richmond playoff race

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Christopher Bell led a career best 238 laps Friday night on his way to winning the Xfinity playoff opener at Richmond Raceway.

It is his seventh win of the year, matching his total from 2018.

The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

Bell secured a spot in the second round of the playoffs with his win.

The four drivers currently below the cutline for advancing to the next round are Brandon Jones (-15 points from cutline), Ryan Sieg (-19), Justin Haley (-20) and John Hunter Nemechek (-21).

Click here for the point standings.

Christopher Bell wins Xfinity playoff opener at Richmond

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Christopher Bell put together a convincing win Friday night at Richmond Raceway to open the Xfinity Series playoffs.

Bell led 238 of 250 laps – a career high – and swept each stage to earn his seventh victory of the year, matching his total from 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has now won three of the last four races at Richmond and six of the last 11 short track races.

The top five was made up of pole-sitter Austin Cindric, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe.

“That one was pretty special,” Bell told NBCSN. “Going 92 laps straight there is really difficult, man. We were sliding all around. I felt like if I could get to traffic I was going to be in good shape. Because my car could really move around good. I could run up, I could run down. (Cole Custer) was keeping pressure on us pretty good, but this Rheem Supra was too good.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell

STAGE 2 WINNER: Christopher Bell

More: race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Harrison Burton was the highest finishing non-playoff driver in sixth … Austin Cindric earned his first top five in the last four races. He finished second in both Richmond races this year … In his 300th career Xfinity start, Justin Allgaier finished fourth after he had to start from the rear for changing a tire … Chase Briscoe earned his first top five in the last five races.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Mike Marlar wasn’t able to complete the first lap of his first Xfinity start. He was involved in an incident and finished last … Vinnie Miller had a mechanical failure with 25 laps left in the first stage. He finished 35th … Tyler Matthews finished 33rd after he wrecked in Stage 1 … Playoff driver Justin Haley had a pit road penalty and finished 17th … John Hunter Nemechek finished 15th after he spun while trying to intentionally spin Joe Graf Jr. right before the race’s conclusion. It was retaliation for a bump-and-run by Graf earlier in the lap.

NOTABLE: Christopher Bell has a win percentage of 22%, third all-time in the Xfinity Series.

WHAT’S NEXT: Drive for the Cure 200 on the Charlotte Roval at 3:30 p.m. ET Sept. 28 on NBCSN

 

Provisional starting lineup for Richmond Cup race

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Playoff drivers Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are on the provisional front row for Saturday’s Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The top five is completed by playoff drivers Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer.

The highest qualifying non-playoff driver is Jimmie Johnson (10th).

The lowest qualifying playoff driver was Joey Logano (28th).

The starting lineup will be made official after pre-race inspection Saturday. One failure will result in a qualifying time being disallowed.

Click here for the provisional starting lineup.