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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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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, ‘I just like to race’

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In the new normal of NASCAR, there are a lot of things drivers are getting used to.

From health screens when they get to the track to carrying their own helmets and other chores that previously were done by assistants, drivers are adapting.

One thing that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likes is how, with the exception of one qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600, that the first four Cup races back since the COVID-19 hiatus have not had practice or qualifying.

Stenhouse, to paraphrase late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, wants to “just race, baby, just race.”

Even though NASCAR’s race-only policy is predicated upon keeping things simple and staying safe in the pandemic, Stenhouse definitely has embraced the mindset of climbing in the car, firing the motor up and slamming on the gas pedal. No warm-ups, no testing different setups, no nothing. He just wants to chase the checkered flag.

“I just like to race, I like to be in the race car,” Stenhouse said in a media teleconference Friday. “Practice and qualifying doesn’t do it for me as much as getting out and competing in the race, as (opposed to being) in the car on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Really there’s nothing like going out and racing. I enjoy racing as much as possible.”

Stenhouse, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has also enjoyed NASCAR holding two of its first four Cup races back since the coronavirus hiatus in mid-week and prime time.

While that type of schedule makes it difficult and even grueling for crew chiefs and the rest of the team, count Stenhouse as hoping NASCAR moves forward with more mid-week races next season and beyond once coronavirus and the limitations it has placed upon the sport are gone.

“I like the Sunday-Wednesday schedules; I wish we could kind of keep doing that,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of shortening the season because I just like to race.

“I’m going to try and sprinkle some more dirt races in when I can, if NASCAR lets me (he laughs). For me, I enjoy the racing aspect of it. I love being in the race car as much as possible. Like probably the other crew chiefs said, the guys at the shop definitely have a lot more work as far as getting cars ready week in and week out.

“So, that’s always been probably the biggest question mark of running these mid-week races to catch up our schedule is the toll that it’s taking on the crew guys. But it’s all been well received, they enjoy it and they love us back racing.”

In his first season with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse has admittedly struggled. In the first eight races, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two top-five finishes: Thursday night and third at Las Vegas.

Every other finish has been 20th or lower.

But Stenhouse sees light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since NASCAR returned from the pandemic hiatus, Stenhouse has seen improvement within his team that may not necessarily be reflected in the final result, but he definitely likes what he’s seeing from his team and the performance of his race car.

“Looking at the equipment that they have here, the people, the parts and pieces, the Hendrick power, the new Chevy Camaro body – I feel like those are all really good things to put together,” Stenhouse said. “Bringing my crew chief Brian Pattie over, bringing Mike Kelley over, with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to work in, they jumped right in. I felt like they’ve been working with these guys for a long time and it’s only been a short amount of time.

“So, I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10. I feel like last night was definitely a night that we hit it right. We had a really good car and I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.

“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.

“I told the boys that we needed a good run going into Bristol, my favorite race track, knowing that I really like the way these cars drive. And if it drives as good at Bristol as it has at these other race tracks, I feel like we’re going to have a shot at a win. I wanted a good solid top-15 run, no issues, no mistakes and it turned out to be way better than that. So, we’re looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum into Sunday.”

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Starting lineup for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race at Bristol

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Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Keselowski will start first and Almirola will start second.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., putting all three of Team Penske’s cars in the top five.

The field was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol

Race Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (half-mile oval)

Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: June 1 at Bristol (300 laps, 159.9 miles), 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1

Chase Elliott ‘Sent it, for Judd’ in Charlotte Cup Series win

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A rollercoaster week for Chase Elliott ended Thursday night with him in Victory Lane for the second time in three days and for the first time this year in the Cup Series.

But Elliott’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the seventh Cup victory of his career, had additional weight for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Not long after the race, Elliott posted a picture on Instagram of him celebrating on the frontstretch. At the bottom of the picture was a drawing of a character saying “send it.”

A sticker of that figure, which is a walrus, is located on the front bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet.

“Sent it, for Judd,” Elliott wrote in the Instagram post. “This ones for you brother, miss you my friend. That sticker will forever stay on the front of that 9 car, I promise y’all that.”

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked Elliott on NASCAR America at Home the meaning behind the sticker.

“Judd (Plott) was my best friend since I was a kid, he and I grew up together,” Elliott said. “His mom sang at my parent’s wedding and just my best friend since I can remember. Lost him last fall. That sticker is kind of remembrance of him. He had a tattoo on his leg of that little walrus and that was kind of his little logo.

“So I had a friend make up some stickers last fall after (Judd passed), and I just thought it’d be really cool to carry that moving forward. He was my best friend as long as I can remember and just always supportive and just felt like it’d be special to carry that for the rest of my career and always remember him and he was one of a kind and he was a genuinely good dude.”

The walrus decal and its placement on Elliott’s bumper is similar to one that can be found on the bumper of Jimmie Johnson’s car. It’s dedicated to his friend Blaise Alexander, an ARCA driver who was killed in a crash at Charlotte in 2001, and the 10 people who were killed in a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash in 2004.

The walrus decal isn’t the first time Elliott’s honored his late friend. Last November, he had a tribute to Judd on his nameplate above the driver-side window.

Following Thursday’s race, the Cup Series next competes Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Like the previous four races, it will be a one-day show. Elliott shared his thoughts on how a limited at-track schedule and condensed crew rosters are bringing the No. 9 team together.

“It’s brought an excitement back to it that I haven’t had in a little while, from the standpoint of I feel like I’m short-track racing again,” Elliott said. “I feel like it’s brought our team closer together because different guys on our team are having to do more jobs. Like (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson is) having to come off the box and catch tires during the pitstop. And that’s brought him closer to our pit crew. I’m having a couple more items to do and keep up with than what I had before and I think all that is bringing us closer together. And for me, it’s just been a lot of fun kind of condensing the group and doing more racing and less sitting around.”

The one-day show at Bristol has an added element to it. Without any prior track activity before Sunday’s green flag, the traction compound added to the lower lanes in the turns will be more difficult for drivers to navigate.

Elliott thinks it’s been “overlooked a little bit.”

“(The traction compound) does not like to be run on until it gets run in and those are two things that don’t go good together, right?” Elliott said. “Because it doesn’t have grip and nobody wants to run on it. But we all want it at the same time because we want another option. What I’ve noticed is it seems like it takes the leaders catching lap cars and forcing cars into a position that they don’t want to be in to start to run that stuff in. Until it gets run in, it’s really hard. It’s really slick. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just, you know, marrying up all those things, right? Do we have the splitter height, right? How slick is that stuff going to be? How long is it going to take it to come in. And when it does come in how long until it wears out and the top becomes the advantage because it typically does by the end of a race.

“But we typically have a full weekend to practice and qualifying and a Xfinity race. And a lot of times we don’t see that top line come dominant until late in the Cup race on Sunday. So I’m really curious to see how all those things play out.”

Pocono race weekend to be held without fans

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Pocono Raceway officials on Friday announced that all races scheduled for its tentative upcoming race weekend on June 27-28 will be held without fans in the stands.

The track made the decision not to admit fans based upon guidelines issued by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Following the guidance on sporting events in Pennsylvania issued by Governor Tom Wolf, it is with sadness to announce the 2020 NASCAR events at Pocono Raceway will be held without fans in attendance,” the track said in a media release. “This decision, made in coordination with NASCAR and our state officials, was not made lightly.”

All race dates are tentative, per the track statement.

“The exact dates of our 2020 races is being finalized and will be announced by NASCAR at a later date,” the track said in a media release.

NASCAR has not announced confirmed dates on the schedule past the June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. However, NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell tweeted this afternoon that NASCAR is “hoping to put out next portion next week – not a full schedule yet though.”

For now, the tentative weekend schedule at Pocono includes the first-ever NASCAR Cup doubleheader with a 130-lap/325-mile race on June 27 and a 140-lap/350-mile race on June 28.

Click here to read the full statement from Pocono Raceway.

Also slated are a 60-lap/150-mile Truck race on June 27, which would precede the first Cup race that weekend, and a 90-lap/225-mile Xfinity Series race on June 28, which would precede the second Cup race.

“Our Raceway family shares in your disappointment and will certainly miss your passion, laughs, cheers, and smiles as the green flag drops in the Pocono Mountains,” the track said.

Ticket holders have the option to either receive a refund or account credit for the value of their tickets, track officials said.