The encounter between the Team Penske driver and Bryant came in October 2018 during a convention for Body Armor, a sports drink company Bryant was an investor in that sponsors Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“We went into a backroom and all of a sudden Kobe Bryant was standing there,” Blaney said during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Pretty amazing that he was back there and they let me meet him.”
During their meeting, Blaney gifted Bryant the firesuit that he wore during the race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier that year.
“He was pretty excited about that,” Blaney said. “Just being able to talk to a guy like that for 20 minutes, someone who didn’t really know a lot about racing, but wanted to learn everything about it 20 minutes. Just the way he asked questions, (he) was so interested in it, to me I could see where they call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ comes from and how he used it in basketball to become so great.
“That was the coolest moment. I don’t get star struck very often. I knew all the answers, but I was getting nervous that I would answer wrong when he was asking me questions he knew nothing about. That’s just his atmosphere.”
Bryant didn’t pepper Blaney with the cliche questions one expects from those uninitiated with auto racing.
“I just didn’t expect the amount of interest he showed, he wanted to learn everything about it,” Blaney said. “It wasn’t like the (how do you use the) bathroom question. It wasn’t ‘do you get dizzy?’ It was technical stuff and shows what kind of amazing, intellectual person that he was. That was something that really tickled me, how excited he was to learn about it.”
Blaney, who said he was a Bryant fan growing up in the ’90s before LeBron James arrived on the scene to play for his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, said it was a “shame” he was never able to get Bryant to attend a race weekend.
“For somebody who has inspired so many young boys and girls around the country for decades, the social media stuff the last day and half has been unbelievable to see people who looked up to him growing up. I did too, I ain’t lying, how can you not watch Kobe Bryant when you’re growing up as a kid? A terrible loss. I hate that for his family and the other family involved.”
Bryant didn’t forget about their steakhouse encounter. He later sent Blaney a signed copy of his book, “The Mamba Mentality.”
Blaney keeps it on display on a bookshelf.
“Just really neat,” Blaney said. “You respect other great athletes and people and their work ethic. I think that’s what impressed me the most about him was his work ethic at everything. He’d outwork you at every little bit. You’ve got to respect somebody like that, who will figure out how to beat you and if he can’t do it with talent he’s going to outwork you really hard. I don’t know, it’s just amazing to get a privilege like that. It’s hard to describe.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Xfinity, Busch Beer, Coca-Cola and GEICO will serve as inaugural premier partners for the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020, the sanctioning body announced Thursday morning.
The new sponsorship model, which goes away from one company having its name solely tied to the Cup Series, includes premium assets for each premier partner to engage fans throughout the upcoming season. Premier partners will collectively own a presence connected to the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 race and All-Star Race. All four partners also will be prominently featured in multiple platforms across the sport, including integrations in broadcast, NASCAR digital and social channels, event entitlements, in-market promotions and at-track activations.
The contracts for all four companies were staggered three to five years to avoid them from all expiring at the same time. NASCAR also has stated that it’s goal is to have three to five premier partners. Even with these companies, it does not limit the categories teams can search for sponsors.
“This has been a monumental year for our sport, one highlighted by significant changes in our business model to ensure long-term viability and growth,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR President, in a statement. “As we begin this new chapter, we are joined by four incredible brands with deep-rooted histories across all levels of our sport. We are honored to have this elite group represent our NASCAR Cup Series for years to come.”
Said Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR executive vice president and chief sales and operations officer, in a statement: “This new model will provide our premier partners with a heightened level of integration and visibility across all aspects of our sport. Each of these partners have demonstrated their commitment to our brand-loyal fan base and we are excited about how these brands will elevate the NASCAR Cup Series.”
Here is how each company’s involvement will be seen in 2020:
Comcast’s Xfinity brand entered the sport with a landmark 10-year partner agreement in 2015, positioned as the title sponsor of the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the “Official Entertainment Partner of NASCAR.” As a premier partner, Xfinity will maintain its Xfinity Series sponsorship. Xfinity also will sponsor the Championship 4 elimination race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs at Martinsville Speedway.
“The first five years of our partnership with NASCAR has exceeded our expectations and the season-long national platform has provided increased exposure for the Xfinity brand and allowed us to demonstrate how our products and services enhance the way race fans enjoy this great sport,” said Matt Lederer, vice president of brand partnerships, Comcast, in a statement. “Given the overwhelming fan reaction and how the industry has embraced the Xfinity brand, we’re thrilled to expand upon that commitment by becoming a premier partner of the NASCAR Cup Series, while also continuing to showcase the young stars of the NASCAR Xfinity Series.”
Throughout the past five years, Xfinity has elevated the series’ “Where Names Are Made” theme, supported the introduction of an elimination-style playoffs, reenergized the Dash 4 Cash program, reimagined how champions are celebrated at Xfinity Champion’s Day at Universal Orlando Resort and has honored charitable efforts within the industry through its prestigious Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award platform. Xfinity continues to change the way fans access the sport through its Xfinity Stream app, Xfinity X1 video and Xfinity xFi internet.
One of the changes is that the champions in the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series each will go to Universal Orlando Resort for Xfinity Champion’s Day in November. Previously, only the Xfinity Series champion went there. And, Xfinity Philadelphia Takeover in May will continue to be an integral part of the Xfinity NASCAR partnership, along with the other programs Xfinity does.
Busch Beer returned as a NASCAR official partner in 2018. The deal provided the beer brand exclusive sponsorship of the Busch Pole Award, a position it will continue with throughout its premier partnership. Busch Beer also will sponsor a NASCAR Cup Series event in 2020.
“We are continuing to evolve our presence in NASCAR because we have a significant connection to its fans and believe in the future of the sport,” said Nick Kelly, vice president partnerships, beer category and community, Anheuser-Busch, in a statement. “The premier partner position strengthens our deep-rooted history in the sport and will provide fans with even more opportunities to enjoy a crisp, cold Busch Beer on race day.”
Anheuser-Busch’s history in NASCAR dates back to 1978, when it sponsored the Busch Pole Award. Additionally, Busch Beer was the “Official Beer of NASCAR” from 1988-97. Beginning in 1998, Anheuser-Busch sponsored the Bud Pole Award through its Budweiser brand, which also became the “Official Beer of NASCAR” through 2007.
Coca-Cola has been involved with stock car racing for 50 years and became a NASCAR official partner in 1998. As a premier partner, Coca-Cola will continue its sponsorship of both NASCAR Troops to the Track and NASCAR Salutes, the portion of the season focused on highlighting industry-wide appreciation of the U.S. Armed Forces. Coca-Cola will also continue to own race entitlements at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway. Additionally, Coca-Cola becomes the presenting sponsor of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season championship trophy.
“Coca-Cola has a long history of successful collaboration with NASCAR and elevating our position to premier partner provides even more opportunity to connect fans to unforgettable experiences,” said John Mount, vice president, sports marketing, Coca-Cola North America, in a statement. “Further integrating our two brands affords Coca-Cola the opportunity to build on our winning formula and contribute to the growth of the sport in the years ahead.”
The agreement further enhances Coca-Cola’s position as the “Official Soft Drink of NASCAR.” A signature part of the brand’s marketing strategy is the Coca-Cola Racing Family – an exclusive group of top drivers representing Coca-Cola who are featured across company advertising, promotions and packaging.
GEICO’s involvement in NASCAR spans more than a decade and the company became the “Official Insurance Provider of NASCAR” earlier this year. As one of the most fully integrated brands in the sport, GEICO will enhance its existing assets through its Premier Partnership and become the presenting partner of a season phase.
“Our affiliation with NASCAR has been successful over the past decade and expanding our role to Premier Partner was the next logical step,” said Bill Brower, assistant vice president of marketing for GEICO. “Our expanded presence will allow us to further engage the most brand-loyal fans in sports, bolster our effective marketing platform and play a prominent role in the sport in the years ahead.”
In addition to GEICO’s team partnership with Germain Racing and Ty Dillon, the brand’s involvement in NASCAR includes highly visible assets such as the GEICO Restart Zone, its race entitlement at Talladega Superspeedway and campground sponsorships.
Black Friday, Cyber Monday ticket deals from NASCAR tracks
All for only $99 – a $254 value. Offer expires Dec. 31
Bristol Motor Speedway
Through Monday (Dec. 2), all Food City stores will offer the “BlackFriday” price of $40 for an adult ticket to the Food City 500 on April 5. Kids tickets for those 12-and-under are also available in-store for just $10. Each ticket purchased awards shoppers 500 additional ValuPoints on their Food City ValuCard.
All tickets will feature blind-reserved seats selected by members of the BMS ticket office. Tickets will be sold at the customer service area of each Food City location and emailed within seven days of purchase.
Black Friday Blowout, which runs from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. ET, gives race fans the opportunity to drive their personal cars on the track. The only requirement is spending $50 on merchandise or tickets to 2020 NASCAR or NHRA events, or donating $25 to Speedway Children’s Charities. The ticket discount will run through Cyber Monday on Dec. 2.
A Section L NASCAR Cup Series Grandstand Ticket anda Infield Fan Zone Pit Pass for $75. A Fan Zone Pit Pass experience includes the opportunity for live driver special Q&As, front-and-center access to the drivers’ red carpet walk and pre-race pit road access.
Rolex 24 At Daytona: General admission frontstretch seating and infield access for the Jan. 25-26 event, a Rolex 24 event hat, UNOH Fanzone/Pre-Race Access and garage access on Sunday, a savings of 37%.
The Clash At Daytona/Daytona 500 Qualifying: General admission frontstretch seating and $20 in concession vouchers for the Sunday, Feb. 9 Cup Series doubleheader, a savings of 20%.
Bluegreen Vacations Duel At Daytona: General admission frontstretch seating ticket and UNOH Fanzone/Pre-Race Access for the 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday night, Feb. 13, a savings of 43%.
NextEra Energy 250: General admission frontstretch seating ticket and UNOH Fanzone/Pre-Race Access for the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race on Friday night, Feb. 14, a savings of 29%.
NASCAR Racing Experience 300: General admission frontstretch seating ticket and UNOH Fanzone/Pre-Race Access for the Xfinity Series season-opener on Saturday, Feb. 15, a savings of 43%.
Daytona 500: Deal includes reserved seat for the Daytona 500, commemorative Daytona 500 shirt and commemorative Daytona International Speedway hat.
Kids 12 and under are FREE in general admission frontstretch seating and UNOH Fanzone for the above events.
There are also ticket package specials for fans of Bike Week At Daytona and the Coke Zero Sugar 400:
50th annual Daytona Supercross: Reserved ticket and Trackside Access can be purchased for $50 – a savings of 33%. The Supercross event takes place Saturday, March 7.
Coke Zero Sugar 400: Reserved ticket and a Racing Electronics scanner rental for $69, a savings of 28%, for the historic first NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Aug. 29.
• One Grandstand Ticket (Sections: 144-115, Rows: 11-17) to the FanShield 500, March 8, 2020
• One Scanner Rental headset
This holiday offer gives you nearly 40% in savings.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Purchase an adult weekend package and get exclusive access to the Cup garages and a unique look at the teams and drivers at work. Open garage access time is limited to Saturday, Feb 22, 2020 from 7:30 a.m – 9 a.m. Subject to change. Use code GARAGE2020
$140 package that includes two tickets to either the FireKeepers Casino 400 on June 7 or the Consumers Energy on Aug. 9, plus two mugs.
Special holiday pack that includes four tickets to either of the Cup Series races at the track that starts at $250 per pack. Guests will also receive an eight foot by 2.5 foot green fleece blanket as part of the ticket package.
Cyber Monday deal: Guests can save up to $25 for the FireKeepers Casino 400 or the Consumers Energy 400 on select grandstand tickets along with Pit and Driver Introduction Passes.
Cyber Monday Deal:
$59 Adult ticket – Regular price $79
$30 Children 12 and under ticket – Regular price $40
$60 Pit/Driver Introduction Pass – Regular price $75
Available from 12:00 a.m. ET on Nov. 28 to 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 2
Get four general admission tickets to enjoy the racing on Saturday, September 12, 2020, featuring the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the ARCA Menards Series East, during Full Throttle Fall Weekend for only $99, saving you $81 on race day pricing!
Cyber Monday “2 for $50” Deal
Available from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 2
Get one general admission ticket to enjoy the racing on July 18, featuring the Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, during the NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 race weekend PLUS one general admission ticket to enjoy the racing on Saturday, September 12, 2020, featuring the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the ARCA Menards Series East, during Full Throttle Fall Weekend for only $50, saving you $50 on race day pricing
2-Day Tower and Talladega Garage Experience Package – $219 plus free shipping
One (1) 2-Day Lincoln Tower Ticket (located between the exit of Turn 4 & the entrance to pit road) and one (1) 2-Day Talladega Garage Experience Pass for the MoneyLion 300 and the GEICO 500
2-Day Grandstand and Talladega Garage Experience Package – $179 plus free shipping
One (1) 2-Day Talladega Grandstand Ticket (Sections F-L, located between the start-finish line & Turn 1) and one (1) 2-Day Talladega Garage Experience Pass for the MoneyLion 300 and the GEICO 500
*NOTE: When purchasing, you will select your seats first, then add the Talladega Garage Experience admissions. The quantity of tickets and Talladega Garage Experience admissions must match. Limited quantities available. Offer ends Dec 2.*
Texas Motor Speedway
Friday ticket to the 2020 O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 weekend (March 27-29) just $30 as well as 30% off all other tickets for Sunday’s Cup Series race.
These will be the lowest-priced tickets offered for the March 27 ticket that will include: practice sessions for the Cup and Xfinity Series and the qualifying and race for the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.
Blaise Alexander always beat Johnson across the finish line.
Alexander and Johnson got to be close friends when they raced against each other in what is now the Busch Series. As good of friends as they were, it made them want to beat the other that much more.
Alexander was killed in a crash during an ARCA race Oct. 4, 2001 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He was 25. Earlier that night, Johnson qualified for his first Cup race.
When Johnson drove his Busch car that weekend, one of his crew members, who was also was friends with Alexander, drew flames and Alexander’s initials on the front left bumper of Johnson’s car. That way Alexander would always cross the finish line before Johnson.
Johnson’s cars have paid homage to Alexander since. For a while, the design was drawn on to each car with a marker. Eventually, a decal was made and affixed in the same spot below the left front headlight sticker. Later, the tail number for the Hendrick plane that crashed and killed 10 was added to Alexander’s tribute.
During Thursday’s press conference, Johnson’s emotions remained steady as he explained the reasons why 2020 will be his final full-time Cup season.
But when asked about Alexander and how next year would mark the final year of the tribute on Johnson’s cars at NASCAR tracks, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson was taken aback.
He closed his eyes briefly, turned his head and was momentarily silent before saying, “wow” and shook his head.
“He was a very special friend,” Johnson said, taking a deep breath.
In previous years, if a team or manufacturer was behind in one season, they could count on rule changes to possibly give them a better chance the next season. That won’t be the case next year.
So it leads to the question of what is to prevent a repeat of this season with Joe Gibbs Racing winning more than half the Cup races and putting three of its four cars in the championship race and winning the title?
“I would just say it’s all about optimizing all of your testing time and your simulation time to give the drivers the best chance of unloading quick, adjusting quickly and then executing in the race,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet. “I think that’s really what it’s about. There’s limited on-track testing, so it really comes down heavily to simulation, driver loop activity.
“There is some aero testing. We’re limited, so we have to make sure every minute of those aero tests is productive, so that’s what we’ll do as a team. We have three major teams and we have a number of affiliates that we’ll use that to our best advantage. But it’s going to be about execution.”
Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, said he feels his teams can continue progressing with the package that will be used again next year.
“The rules changes for 2019, it took us a while to get our teams and our own heads around what those changes were and the aerodynamic effects especially, and I think we’ve seen some stronger performance in the latter half of the year, which we hope to continue into 2020,” he said. “I would also say that there are still rule changes for 2020, although the packages aren’t changing, some of the things like reduced wind tunnel time will be in place, and the effectiveness of your tools like aero, computational fluid dynamics will come into play more than wind tunnel testing is today. There’s still going to be, I think, some balance shifts. Maybe we’ll see who has the best aero CFD tool.”
But Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” that it is not as easy as that. He explained, describing what makes Homestead-Miami Speedway such a good track and why it’s hard to replicate that elsewhere.
“The variable degree banking is a terrific design,” Stucker said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It creates racing in multiple grooves. The surface itself is pretty worn now, so that’s really what promotes the (tire) falloff that we see at Homestead over the course of a fuel run, about 2 1/2 seconds through the course of those runs.
“You have to be very careful to say that we can go in and design a tire that is going to produce that kind of falloff at any given race track. The falloff you see at Homestead is because of that race track and the worn surface. The same would be true of Darlington. The same would be true at Chicago and Atlanta. Those are worn surfaces that have lost some of their mechanical grip. … You have to be very careful (to) say we want to do that at every race track because at some places it’s just not possible. The surface itself just has enough mechanical grip that it just won’t work.
“We don’t want to artificially influence falloff or tire wear because that leads to not a good situation. You want something that is a natural progression from a wear and a falloff perspective.”
4. Who will be the fourth?
Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and moderator for Jimmie Johnson’s news conference Thursday, noted that few would question Johnson’s place on NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore of drivers. Kelley raised the question of who would be the fourth.
It leads to an interesting debate. Presuming NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore features its three seven-time champions — Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Johnson — there could be quite a debate for the fourth spot.
Is it David Pearson? His 105 victories rank second on the all-time list. He rarely ran a full season but he did win three championships. Petty has said that he considers Pearson the sport’s greatest driver.
Or is it Jeff Gordon? His 93 victories are third on the all-time wins list and he has four championships in an era that was arguably more competitive than Pearson’s era.
Or is there a case to be made for Cale Yarborough? While his 83 career wins are one less than Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip each, Yarborough won three consecutive championships, a record that seemed unbreakable until Johnson won five in a row from 2006-10.
Or is it someone else?
5. Moving on
Overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson’s news this week was Justin Marks’ announcement Thursday that he was “hanging up the helmet.”
His one win came in the rain at Mid-Ohio in the 2016 Xfinity race there. No one could match him in the downpour there.
After 20 years, 400+ professional starts, 20+ wins, and the experience of a lifetime, I’m hanging up the helmet. Deeply appreciative of the amazing friendships I’ve made. I have not deserved this journey. Onwards and upwards. Time to reinvent. pic.twitter.com/vpTybtt5Pz
Marks has always looked at the sport in a different way with his background in multiple racing series. After finishing second in the inaugural Roval Xfinity race in 2018, Marks lauded the new way Charlotte Motor Speedway was used and said NASCAR could do more, suggesting a street course event.
“I’m a huge believer you have to take your product to the people,” Marks said that day. “In 2012, I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix as a competitor in the Pirelli World Challenge Series and I remember spending the weekend at that race there looking around at 100,000 people and thinking that 90,000 of these people aren’t racing fans. They’re here because it’s a great cultural event.
“I think that the days of people driving 500 miles from their home to spend four days at a race track camping are numbered.”
While he admitted there would be challenges with a Cup street race, he said: “I think it could be a hell of a show if they did it, especially if they went to a market like Detroit or LA or South Florida, or if they managed to pull something off in Nashville or Austin or something like that, great cultural hubs and great markets.”
As NASCAR looks to alter its schedule in the future, Marks’ words could prove prophetic.
CONCORD, N.C. — Bubba Wallace angrily splashed liquid in the face of runner-up Alex Bowman as he was being attended to by medical personnel after Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Bowman was sitting on the pavement beside his No. 88 Chevrolet and being attended to by Dr. Angela Fiege, medical director of NASCAR’s AMR Safety Team, when he was approached by Wallace, whose No. 43 Chevy was spun by Bowman into the Turn 3 wall on Lap 42 exiting the backstretch chicane.
“He don’t like to race,” Wallace told NASCAR.com about Bowman as he left the track. “He just runs over everybody.
“He gets to Lap 1, and he runs over me and (Austin Dillon) into the back chicane. We’re back there in the trunk, man. Just take it easy for a lap. He had a fast car and he just run over us. Shoot us through the chicane and then we get a penalty for it. Every time he gets to me, he just runs over me.
“Smooth move of playing the sick card so I couldn’t bust him in his mouth.”
The liquid splashed on Fiege, Bowman and Fox Sports analyst and Hendrick Motorsports executive Jeff Gordon, who was kneeling to check in on Bowman (watch the video above). A NASCAR spokesman said officials would be talking to Wallace about his actions in the postrace incident.
Bowman, who was in a backup car after crashing Saturday and spun on the first lap Sunday after starting at the rear, advanced to the playoffs by finishing second behind Chase Elliott. Dehydrated after a long day in a hot car, Bowman received treatment at the care center postrace.
After wrecking Wallace, he radioed his Hendrick Motorsports team that he was upset by being continually shown the finger.
Wallace’s crew chief, Derek Stamets, told NBC Sports that he didn’t need to coach Wallace on avoiding revenge on a playoff driver.
“No. he takes care of that himself,” Stamets said. “That’s his world right there. For the most part, I pay attention to springs, bars, shocks and tires, getting them in and out and keeping the car under him. Got to let the guys go out and race out each other. Be boring if we told him what to do every week.
“I’m glad it didn’t just get worse than it did. It can just perpetuate forever, so maybe they’re done. NASCAR needs some rivalries, so it doesn’t hurt.”
Stamets said his team was disappointed that Bowman had wrecked Wallace with an obviously faster car after bumping him through the chicane.
“We’d rather he raced us clean,” Stamets said. “I know he’s frustrated to be behind us there, but we weren’t horrible. It’s probably the best Bubba has run on a road course all year, if not total.
“It was kind of blatant for (Bowman) to just take us out. If he was that much faster, you saw how fast he was at the end, he could have passed us clean somewhere else. He just lost his patience, I guess.”