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Attorneys for Chip Ganassi Racing deny ‘nefarious plot’ vs. Brennan Poole

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JOLIET, Ill. — The attorneys representing Chip Ganassi Racing say that Brennan Poole’s lawsuit is “long on conspiracy” and “woefully short on the relevant facts.”

The attorneys also deny Poole’s claim in his lawsuit that Ganassi conspired to take sponsor DC Solar.

The attorneys also noted Poole’s inability to win an Xfinity Series race with the team, stating: “CGR regrets that Mr. Poole refuses to accept that his three-year run with CGR and DC Solar came to an end not because of some nefarious plot against him, but because he never won a race despite the advantages of the best equipment in the garage. CGR will vigorously defend against these frivolous claims, and looks forward to presenting evidence that will set the record straight.”

Here is the full statement attributed to Cary B. Davis of Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson and James H. Voyles, Jr. of Voyles Vaiana Lukemeyer Baldwin & Webb, the attorneys representing Chip Ganassi Racing in the Brennan Poole matter:

“Brennan Poole’s lawsuit, like so many based on so-called ‘information and belief,’ is long on conspiracy and insinuation and woefully short on the relevant facts. As will be shown by actual evidence, nobody conspired to steal a sponsor away from Brennan Poole.

“First, DC Solar’s 2017 sponsorship agreement for the No. 48 Xfinity car was with Chip Ganassi Racing, not Mr. Poole.

“Second, after three years of generously supporting the No. 48 Xfinity team, DC Solar unilaterally decided it no longer wanted to spend its motorsports sponsorship dollars on a race car driven by Brennan Poole. DC Solar decided to move its sponsorship up to the Monster Energy Cup Series and informed Mr. Poole that its future plans did not include him.

“Third, DC Solar discussed potential sponsorship packages with several Cup Series teams before ultimately deciding – well after deciding to move on from Brennan Poole – to sponsor the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing car driven by one of the sport’s brightest stars, Kyle Larson.

“Finally, throughout the 2017 racing campaign Mr. Poole was kept fully informed of DC Solar’s concerns about his performance and its plans to move up to the Cup Series.

“It is true that Mr. Poole’s driver agreement contains a non-solicitation provision. However, once there was no longer a relationship between Mr. Poole and DC Solar left to protect, Mr. Poole lost any right he arguably may have had to stop DC Solar from continuing its sponsorship of CGR, or for that matter spending its money any place it saw fit.

“CGR regrets that Mr. Poole refuses to accept that his three-year run with CGR and DC Solar came to an end not because of some nefarious plot against him, but because he never won a race despite the advantages of the best equipment in the garage. CGR will vigorously defend against these frivolous claims, and looks forward to presenting evidence that will set the record straight.”

The attorneys for Spire Sports & Entertainment – Cindy Van Horne & Lee Spinks from Poyner Spruill LLP, also issued a statement Friday.

“Spire considers it extremely unfortunate that Brennan Poole has chosen this course of action in light of the strong support he received from Spire, DC Solar and CGR. Although Spire has not been served, it understands the general nature of the allegations, denies them, and intends to vigorously defend these unfounded claims.

“Spire is gratified to be an active contributor to the success of many drivers, sponsors, race teams and manufacturers in NASCAR.  Spire is particularly proud of its success securing for Brennan an Xfinity ride for the past three years with an excellent team, CGR, and in assuring that DC Solar, his former sponsor, continued its support for Brennan throughout that time.

“While Spire defends this action in the courts, it remains committed to the success of not only those it represents, but to the entire racing community.”

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Brennan Poole files lawsuit against Chip Ganassi Racing

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Former NASCAR Xfinity driver Brennan Poole has filed a lawsuit against Chip Ganassi Racing and the agency that represented him, stating that the two “conspired” to terminate his association with sponsor DC Solar so the company could sponsor Kyle Larson’s Cup car this year.

ESPN.com first reported details of the lawsuit.

Poole drove in the Xfinity Series for Chip Ganassi Racing from 2015-17. He was winless in 83 series starts. He had eight top-five finishes and 36 top-10 finishes. He placed a career-high sixth in the points last season.  

Poole is suing Ganassi and Spire Sports and Entertainment for breach of contract in a North Carolina court. He’s also suing Spire for breach of fiduciary duty and professional negligence. Poole also seeks punitive damages against both.

MORE: Chip Ganassi Racing, Spire Sports & Entertainment issue rebukes 

According to the lawsuit: “(Chip Ganassi Racing) and Spire conspired and colluded to terminate the association between Brennan Poole and his primary sponsor DC Solar and to divert and misappropriate DC Solar from Brennan Poole to sponsor CGR in the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series season. … CGR and Spire diverted DC Solar to CGR through deception, misrepresentation and the manipulation of the sponsor/driver relationship between Brennan Poole and DC Solar.

“In doing so, CGR violated the Non-Solicitation provision in the (driver services agreement). Spire violated the (personal management agreement) and breached the fiduciary duties it owed to Brennan Poole and, upon information and belief, committed acts of legal malpractice by taking actions that directly violated Spire’s duty to zealously represent its client, Brennan Poole.”

The lawsuit alleges:

— After the 2015 Xfinity season, Poole “expressed dissatisfaction  with CGR” and informed Spire he wanted to move to JR Motorsports. “Spire discouraged Brennan Poole from such a move by telling him that JR Motorsports wanted $7.5 million to place a driver in one of its cars (more than Brennan Poole’s primary sponsor DC Solar was willing to pay) and that, in any event, there were no cars available at JR Motorsports. Spire encouraged Brennan Poole to remain with CGR, representing to him that he would move into CGR’s No. 1 car in the 2017 Monster Energy Cup Series season upon the retirement of Jamie McMurray at the end of the 2016 season.” 

— Upon Ganassi announcing July 28, 2017 that Target would not return as the primary sponsor of Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet, the lawsuit states: “CGR began looking for a new sponsor to replace Target. CGR, directly and in secret actions and communications with Spire, began actively pursuing and developing a relationship with DC Solar with the ultimate goal of terminating the association of Brennan Poole and DC Solar and facilitating the diversion of DC’s sponsorship from Brennan Poole to CGR.”

— A representative of Richard Childress Racing approached Poole at the Richmond Xfinity race in Sept. 2017 about a Cup ride. The lawsuit states: The representative expressed “interest on the part of RCR for Brennan Poole to drive for RCR in the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series season and asked Brennan Poole what his plans were for the upcoming season. The inquiry surprised Brennan Poole, given (Spire President Jeff) Dickerson’s prior representations that no Monster Energy Cup Series teams were interested in him.”

— The lawsuit states that “Spire was dismissive of RCR’s interest and told Brennan Poole that RCR is ‘fool’s gold’ and that RCR really was not interested in him. … On information and belief, Spire propagated a rumor that Brennan Poole was going to be driving the Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Monster Energy Cup Series car in 2018 so teams would not approach him.”

— “In September 2017, Chip Ganassi met with (Jeff) Carpoff (DC Solar CEO) and Spire at the Darlington NASCAR race. Neither Brennan Poole nor (his father) Tom Poole was invited or attended the meeting. Ganassi made a proposal for DC Solar to sponsor Larson in the No. 42 car for the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series season. Ganassi told DC Solar and Spire that Jamie McMurray was not retiring, that he did not have funding to run a third Monster Energy Cup Series car for Brennan Poole to drive and that he needed sponsorship for the No. 42 car. Ganassi effectively pushed Brennan Poole out of a car and out of his primary sponsor relationship with DC Solar for the 2018 season, telling DC Solar to the effect “If Brennan Poole has not won on Saturdays, he is not ready for Sundays.”

Also in the lawsuit:

DC Solar paid $2.5 million to sponsor Poole in the Xfinity Series. He ran 17 races that year for Ganassi. In 2016, DC Solar paid $5.2 million to sponsor Poole in his first full season in the Xfinity Series. In 2017, DC Solar paid $5.5 million to sponsor Poole in Xfinity.

According to the driver agreement included in the lawsuit, Poole received a base salary of $225,000 for the 2017 Xfinity season. He would 50 percent of prize money for a win, 40 percent for a finish between second and 10th, and 30 percent for a finish between 11th and 20th. A championship would have been worth a $75,000 bonus to Poole.

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Fans will help decide Kyle Larson’s Southern 500 paint scheme

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For the first time since the Throwback Weekend began at Darlington Raceway, fans will have a say in the retro paint scheme a team races in the Southern 500 (Sept. 2 on NBCSN).

That opportunity is being made possible by Chip Ganassi Racing and Kyle Larson.

Between now and June 11 at midnight, fans can submit potential retro paint schemes for Larson’s No. 42 DC Solar Chevrolet on social media. Using #TeamLarson, they must include a picture of the original car.

Larson has made four starts in the Southern 500 with his best result, third, coming in 2016.

Here are the throwback paint schemes Larson has used the last three years:

2015

(Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

2016

(Getty Images)

2017

(Getty Images)

Chip Ganassi Racing executive batted around baseball opportunities

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CONCORD, N.C. – When he left his general manager position at Hendrick Motorsports a year ago, Doug Duchardt was interested in staying in the front office.

But not necessarily in NASCAR.

The longtime St. Louis Cardinals fan “looked pretty hard at Major League Baseball” for a few months before starting his new job as the chief operating officer at Chip Ganassi Racing in January.

“I had discussions with a few clubs and got close with a couple, but it just didn’t come through,” Duchardt told NBC Sports.com in a recent interview at Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR headquarters north of Charlotte, North Carolina.

It would have been quite a reset after a three-decade career of working in the automobile industry (primarily in racing, starting at General Motors before moving to Hendrick in 2005).

“In the front office but a much lower level,” Duchardt said. “I understood I wasn’t going to come in as the general manager of a baseball team. I’m not smart enough for that. It was something new to challenge myself. Go find something you like and learn about it.

“I don’t regret pursuing that at all. I met some really interesting people and had a great time learning more about a sport I love. I think anytime you get to interact with leaders of other sports, you learn from them, even though you may not think it’s applicable to a race car or race team. Inevitably, leadership and how you approach things and your culture, company, all those things apply. Whether it’s baseball, football, basketball, racing. Any company you have, you have to build a culture, and have people buy into that and move forward.”

During the job search, several lessons came from one Major League Baseball GM whose team has produced many executives who became GMs at other teams.

“I don’t know if I want to name the name, but it’s someone who has been in baseball a long time,” Duchardt said. “And what became evident in my discussions with this person is their openness to someone who didn’t grow up in the game and was more interested in building a culture with the right people other than necessarily someone who grew up in the background. It was just a different philosophy.”

And an approach that might have landed him a baseball gig.

“That’s what I was hoping,” Duchardt said. “But I completely get it. If you’re at a club and grooming people to come up through their system, and you’ve got a plan and how that’s going to proceed, and here comes a guy who is working on race cars, how is this going to work?

“I was hoping to bring a unique perspective. As technology increases in baseball, coming from a sport that is extremely dependent on technology, and I had managed technology for many years, specifically at Hendrick, that I could come and help that.

And did he talk job opportunities with his favorite team?

“Briefly,” Duchardt said of the Cardinals. “I’ve got a ton of respect for that club and how it’s managed. They have plans and people in place.

“I really didn’t look at it like that. I was just wanting to find something that was going to get me out of my comfort zone.”

His return to that comfort zone has gone well at Ganassi, which has the series’ top-ranked Chevrolet in Kyle Larson’s No. 42 (ninth in the points standings) and just earned its second top 10 with Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 (sixth in the Coca-Cola 600).

Here are highlights of the interview with Duchardt, who reflected on his time at Hendrick (which announced his departure on June 6, 2017), managing a team across multiple racing series and on the challenges of the new Camaro:

Q: What was the impetus for your first break from racing in more than 30 years?

A: “When I decided to leave Hendrick, it was for professional and personal reasons. I was just ready to look to do something different. So, I took the time to do that. I just unplugged. I went and played fantasy baseball at Cooperstown. I helped my daughter get acclimated in her new job in New York. I was looking at opportunities outside of NASCAR. That’s really where I thought I was going to land.

“Chip called about coming here. Chip and I had known each other a long time from when I was the NASCAR program manager at Chevrolet, and he was coming into NASCAR. Of course at Hendrick, we were supplying engines, and I got to know him through that relationship. I felt we always had a good rapport. He talked to me about coming here, and it really appealed to me because he competes in three racing programs. It allowed me to get back into racing that I really enjoyed when I was at General Motors and had the director of racing jobs. The fact it was a different role than just competition, so managing across the company. I felt like it was going to be something new and a challenge.”

Q: How is the new job a different challenge from the competition-focused general manager role at Hendrick?

A: “The title is COO, so it’s competition and all business operations. So basically run the company. That’s the revenue side, supporting sponsors, public relations and all the competition. There are two facilities, one in Concord (NASCAR) and the Indianapolis facility with the two IndyCar teams and the two sports car teams.

Q: Did you have an MBA to prepare for the business side?

A: “I went to Sloan School of Business at MIT and did some executive education courses. But I never got a formal degree. I got a certificate. Specifically in different areas I felt like I needed to learn if I wanted to grow from competition to a bigger role. So that’s been good. It’s been a challenge. It’s new. It’s different. I’m not day to day worried about the new Optical Scanning Station. Someone else is worrying about that.”

Q: You left Hendrick near the midpoint of what was a tough season for that team. Were those results a factor in your departure?

Doug Duchardt was general manager at Hendrick Motorsports when he left in June 2017 (photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images).

A: “When I was looking at (the move), what’s the right timing for that? For me to wait through the whole year would not be fair to the company because the time for the general manager or management role at a race team to be locked in is when the season ends. You have to plan for next year. To me, the minimal disruption to them was for me to leave, and I just felt that was the right time. It gave them time to reorganize, put people in place and be ready to assess and adjust whatever they had to do in the offseason next year.

“I have nothing bad to say about (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) or (team president) Marshall Carlson. They were nothing but supportive of me when I made my decision. Rick didn’t want me to go. I’m still great friends with him. I’m really proud of the work I did there with them. It’s a hugely talented group. I was blessed to be there for the 12 years I was.”

Q: Does the pride stem from being there for seven championships with Jimmie Johnson?

A: “Here’s the thing about that. When you’re in a senior management role, you’re trying to build an environment for people to succeed. And so, when you have really talented people throughout the organization, including a driver and crew chief combination that locked in, it’s hard to say what you did or didn’t do to help that. I’m smart enough to know and humble enough to know that hopefully I helped. I tried to help. Or I was just right place, right time. Whatever it is, I’m blessed and thankful I was there when it happened. It’s made for great memories.”

Q: Are you pleased by Ganassi’s start to 2018?

A: “When I started here, the NASCAR program obviously was going in the right direction and has been successful in the past two years and continues to perform well. We’ve been close to some wins. The group here has done a really good job of building a tight-knit two-car team that is focused and working well together. You just try to focus on the fundamentals and keep learning and getting better, and the rest will take care of itself. From my standpoint, I haven’t said or done much other than reinforce the importance of communication and working together.

Kyle Larson is ahead of Ryan Blaney during Sunday’s  Coca-Cola 600. Larson finished seventh, giving Ganassi Racing two top 10s in the race (photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

“From the IndyCar and sports car side, the first part has been learning those series again. Before the season, I was trying to get to Indianapolis at least once every other week. Get caught up with (IndyCar president of competition) Jay Frye. So it’s been fun catching up with friends that you’ve had from before, and they’re in new roles. And then learning new racing series. It’s been 15 years since I was exposed to IndyCar and sports car, so it as fun getting back in that.

“I always said if I went back to being director of a (manufacturer) racing program, I could do my job so much differently. Because once you’ve understood what is happening day to day (at a team) — what is going on to get to the track and operate, execute and succeed – it really helps.”

Q: What decision-making are you involved in with IndyCar and sports car?

A: “It’s more of long-term planning and structurally looking at things. That’s all this sport is. It’s all continuous improvement. Always how to get a little bit better. Whether week to week or long term. Chip’s organization started with IndyCar. It’s got a lot of history, a lot of longtime employees. They’ve been around the sport a long time. They have a lot of experience to lean on and know the paddock well there. You lean on them and then start talking about what their needs are and what they need next, and then you start working on that.”

Q: On the NASCAR side, are there advantages to having two cars vs. four?

A: “There are advantages and disadvantages. The four-car team lent itself to having more resources. It’s more difficult to manage and align because there are four opinions vs. two. There’s always pros and cons to everything.”

Q: Why have the Chevy teams seem to have had some growing pains with the debut of the Camaro this season?

A: “There are two variables: The new car and the new inspection system. That’s the two variables that Chevy are dealing with, and Ford and Toyota teams just dealt with the new inspection system. And so we’re working hard to continue to evolve and develop the car. Kyle’s been competitive at intermediate tracks. Certainly we’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re working hard to get there, so NASCAR has a process to put those cars through and approve, and we went through it. I feel like the fundamentals are there to make that car successful, and we’ve just got to keep working on it to get there. We’re just a third of the way through the season, so things can change a lot by the time we get to the playoffs.

Q: The Camaro was designed and developed ahead of the Optical Scanning Station this year. Did that have an impact?

A: “We knew that was coming, and then what we didn’t know was the tolerances (NASCAR officials) were going to hold us to. I wasn’t (at Hendrick) in the middle of it anymore in the tail end of getting that car approved. My recollection was they were bringing (the OSS) to playoff races, and you could voluntarily go through to see how it worked, and I don’t know how many people took that option to understand that. I just wasn’t there for that.

“But NASCAR didn’t say, ‘Hey, we’re going to have an OSS and this is the tolerance.’ That’s fine. It’s not like the Chevrolet group knew what that was going to be, and Toyota and Ford didn’t, either. It’s just change. I try to put it on the engine side. I’ve seen it before like back in 1996, we had the 18-degree Chevrolet small block engine and the new SB2 small block. What happened was you’d developed the old 18-degree engine so long, that when you build your first SB2, it was just as good as the 18-degree. The 1998 Daytona 500 was the first SB2 win with Dale Earnhardt, but in qualifying, Gibbs had an 18-degree engine because it ran better. They qualified with the 18 degree and raced with the SB2. When you put that much time and development into something, sometimes it’s hard to leapfrog it. Especially in the tight tolerances like NASCAR has. I think that’s just what we’re in the middle of (with the Camaro).”

NASCAR adds tire tests at Texas, Phoenix

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In an update to the rule book, NASCAR is adding tire tests Aug. 14-15 at Texas Motor Speedway and Oct. 2-3 at ISM Raceway in Arizona.

The Texas tire test is scheduled to have a team each from Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Team Penske and Furniture Row Racing. The test is to determine tires for the fall playoff race at Texas.

The Phoenix test is scheduled to have a team each from Chip Ganassi Racing, Wood Brothers Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. That test is set to find a tire combination for the 2019 races there.

The Atlanta Motor Speedway tire test will now be Oct. 16-17. It was pushed back from Aug. 14-15.

Also in the rule bulletin:

Effective July 11 in the Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR will use owner points instead of attempts to qualify in determining provisionals.

Also, when Truck qualifying is canceled, two spots (positions 26 and 27 in the lineup) will be awarded based on the fastest combined practice speeds to vehicles not yet assigned a starting spot. The top 25 spots will be determined by owner points. Filling out the final spots will remain the same as stated in the rule book.

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