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Austin Dillon’s connection with Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey

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Austin Dillon had no inside knowledge of the Charlotte Panthers’ plans before the 2017 NFL draft.

But he somehow knew he would be making a future connection with Christian McCaffery.

“I hit him up when he was at Stamford because I was a fan watching him run these crazy 100-yard runs that no one could tackle him,” Dillon said on the most recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “Getting close to the NFL draft time, I hit him up on DM (direct message) and said, ‘Hey man, I think you’re going to get drafted by the Panthers. I feel it.’ ”

The Panthers took the running back with the eighth pick, and Dillon immediately rolled out the red carpet.

“I told him ‘Dude, you’re coming here, you don’t know anybody. When you get here, hit me up, we’ll hang out,’” Dillon said on the podcast. “I got his number, and we started texting.”

Christian McCaffrey carries the ball for the Carolina Panthers during their Dec. 30 game against New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

As McCaffrey adjusted to the rigors of being an NFL rookie, he and Dillon didn’t spend much time together until after the ’17 season. McCaffrey and several other Panthers players came to the All-Star Race last year. “That was the first time we met,” Dillon said. “He had a blast, hung out with us, saw the All-Star Race, and afterward, he was ready to beat Jamie McMurray up. He said the 1 car was in my way. I said, ‘Man, it’s just racing all good.’ ”

Dillon and McCaffrey since have hung out more often and now share the same hair stylist.

McCaffrey is planning to be at Daytona International Speedway this weekend to attend his second Cup race, watching as Dillon attempts to repeat as the Daytona 500 champion.

“That’s going to be cool,” Dillon said. “Yeah, I’m glad he’s going to come enjoy that in his offseason. He’s so strict about what he does during the season and the offseason, he’s just a legend when it comes to training and taking care of his body, diet. He’s really serious. If you can get him to slip out, it’s once in a lifetime because he’s so focused on his craft.”

McCaffrey’s training regimen has inspired Dillon to change his diet and get fit.

“We went to dinner, and they chose this spot in downtown Charlotte, all organic stuff,” Dillon said. “He talked about things he doesn’t eat. I was doing that a couple of years ago and stopped. I was eating right. No bread, no cheese before. But (McCaffrey) takes it to another level with certain things. I’m going to learn more from him this year. Might stop out in Colorado to talk about his diet and the people he uses.”

During the podcast, Dillon also discusses:

–His relationship with crew chief Danny Stockman, who taught him many lessons about racing in winning Xfinity and truck championships. The pair are being reunited in Cup this season;

–Why he thinks the 2019 rules package will benefit him;

–His enthusiasm about NASCAR’s foray into eSports;

–His unique perspective on how young drivers and veterans view racing ethics differently.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking above or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play and wherever you download podcasts.

NFL schedule reveals conflicts in some markets with NASCAR races

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The NFL released its schedule for every team Thursday night, revealing conflicts with a few NASCAR Cup races — but not as many as it could have been.

The first conflict comes Sept. 9 when Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the Cup regular-season finale at 2 p.m. ET. The Indianapolis Colts play their home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at 1 p.m. ET.

“In a perfect world, we’d rather not be head-to-head at home,” Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told The Indianapolis Star. “But we knew we’d be head-to-head regardless, whether they were here or on the road. … We just had our fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be the first year of the new date for the race.” 

Other places where NASCAR and NFL compete nearby:

# Oct. 7 – NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway. The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, who have a strong following in that region, are home to the Minnesota Vikings in a rematch of the NFC championship game that sent the Eagles to the Super Bowl. The race is at 2 p.m. ET. The game is scheduled for 4:25 p.m.

# Oct. 21 – NASCAR races at Kansas Speedway at 2 p.m. ET, and the Kansas City Chiefs are home to the Cincinnati Bengals at 1 p.m. ET.

NASCAR avoided conflicts a few other weekends.

The Charlotte Roval race is Sept. 30 and the Carolina Panthers have a bye that weekend.

The Texas race is Nov. 4 and the Dallas Cowboys play Nov. 5 in a Monday night game.

The Phoenix race is Nov. 11 and the Arizona Cardinals are on the road.

The season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway is Nov. 18. The Miami Dolphins have a bye that weekend.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has ‘some interest’ in being part of group that buys Carolina Panthers

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not one of two race car drivers who are part of Felix Sabates’ group seeking to buy the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, according to the Associated Press.

NASCAR’s 15-time most popular driver told the AP he hadn’t been asked by Sabates to join the group. But Earnhardt said he reached out to Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., about the possibility of being part of an effort to pursue the team.

SMI own Charlotte Motor Speedway and seven other NASCAR tracks.

“I said, ‘Hey, Marcus, if you guys are in the middle of it and you think it’s a good business deal, I definitely have some interest,'” Earnhardt told the AP. “But I am not one of the guys that Felix is talking about.”

Sabates, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, told the Charlotte Observer last week he was part of a local group in the Charlotte area seeking to buy the Panthers. Sabates said he is not in position to be the majority owner by a “long shot.”

Sabates’ group includes five businessmen, two of the team’s existing minority owners and two race car drivers, who Sabates declined to name.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is selling the team after it was revealed in December by Sports Illustrated that four former Panther employees received “significant settlements” for workplace misconduct that included “sexual harassment against female employees and for directing a racial slur at an African-American employee.”

NASCAR recently denied a report that CEO and Chairman Brian France was part of a group interested in buying the team.

Earnhardt, a noted fan of the Washington Redskins, recently retired from Cup racing after 18 full-time seasons on the circuit.

“I wouldn’t have the kind of money where I would move the needle too much, but it would be something to have a lot of pride in, and a good Charlotte NFL team is good for the city of Charlotte,” Earnhardt said. “I wish them success because of what it does for our community, not only from a pride standpoint, but an economical standpoint. I wouldn’t be a big player, and it wouldn’t be an investment that would really create a big change in my life.

“But I certainly would love to be supportive to the team and the success of the team to the community. That means a lot to me.”

Earnhardt will make his debut as a member of the NBC Sports broadcasting family next month during coverage of the Super Bowl and winter Olympics.

NASCAR denies report Brian France involved to buy Carolina Panthers

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NASCAR issued a statement Wednesday night denying a report by a Charlotte TV station that NASCAR Chairman Brian France was involved with a group to purchase the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

In the statement to NBC Sports, NASCAR stated: “NASCAR denies the accuracy of the WCNC report. Brian France is not involved.”

WCNC, citing three unnamed, sources reported Wednesday that France is part of a group that wants to buy the Carolina Panthers with France becoming the new major holder.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson will sell the team at the end of the season. This came after it was revealed in December by Sports Illustrated that four former Panther employees received “significant settlements” for workplace misconduct that included “sexual harassment against female employees and for directing a racial slur at an African-American employee.”

France has served as NASCAR’s Chairman since September 2003. He’s admitted to asking the NFL about its ownership structure in 2005.

The grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and son of Bill France Jr., NASCAR’s second president, Brian France raised eyebrows in Dec. 2008 at a motorsports marketing forum in New York when he said he didn’t anticipate leading NASCAR as long as his father did. Brian France explained his comments a month later, saying:

“This gets misunderstood whether whenever I say something like that, and it simply means that my father was 32 years the CEO and the president of NASCAR and ran the company. And all I said is that that’s not in the cards for me, and I don’t think it’s a smart thing for the sport. That doesn’t mean I won’t have a long run; I hope I do. I hope I’m doing what I’m doing — I really like what I’m doing, and I like working with the industry and the great group of people and Mike (Helton) and I side by side. So that should not be misconstrued. As long as we’re having fun and we’re making progress as an industry, then I would love doing what I’m doing.

“But I am 46 (in 2009), so I don’t think I’ll be 76 and still talking to you. That’s probably a — that doesn’t mean a short window, but it doesn’t mean 30 years, and that’s really where we are.”

France told USA Today in 2013 that when a group bidding on a Major League Baseball team called in 2010, he passed and hadn’t explored any opportunities to that point. 

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Chad Knaus lends a hand at Carolina Panthers game

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If you were Chad Knaus and you just won your seventh NASCAR premier series championship as a crew chief, what would you do next?

If you guessed beat a drum during pre-game of a Carolina Panthers’ football game, you’re right.

On Sunday, Knaus was a guest of the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium, where the NFL team was taking on the San Diego Chargers. Knaus was brought in to beat the team’s “Keep Pounding” drum prior to the start of the game. He was also given a jersey with his name and the No. 48.