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Jimmie Johnson details continuing sponsorship search

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CONCORD, N.C. — Just over two months since Lowe’s announced it would not return to sponsor his No. 48 Chevrolet in 2019, Jimmie Johnson provided a little insight into his first search for a major sponsor in his Cup career.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver had to “swallow the pill” of Lowe’s departure but recognizes that “ship has sailed.”

Johnson made his comments Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Johnson, who has been sponsored by Lowe’s since 2001, said “multiple companies” are interested in backing the seven-time champion.

He was asked about a rumor that Red Bull was one of those companies interested.

“There’s definitely interest there,” Johnson said of the energy drink company that fielded its own Cup team from 2007-09. “I think there’s interest from a variety of different companies. That’s only one of a long list of hopefuls.”

Johnson said it is “exciting” to “look through a different lens” at what opportunities are out there for his team.

“A lot of conversing and ideas and you feel like sometimes a conversation with a given company is going in a different direction and then they go to work and brainstorm and come back with a new idea and angle,” Johnson said. “So, it’s amazing how much follow-up is involved and how much collaboration exists through it all. I have enjoyed the process. I’ve enjoyed being involved. I’ve learned a ton. I’ve been able to bring some opportunities to the table through my own contacts that I have and also others have come along through Mr. (Rick) Hendrick’s network and other networks.  It’s been interesting. It’s taken a lot of time and it’s been a fun, new experience for me.”

Johnson shared some of the questions he asks regarding prospective sponsors.

“How I can be integrated into their mission statement in a sense and help them internally, how they are going to market us, how they are going to use us, that is all exciting stuff,” Johnson said. “We have some great opportunities there to look at.”

William Byron to drive Jeff Gordon’s ‘Rainbow Warriors’ scheme in Southern 500

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CONCORD, N.C. — One of the most famous paint schemes in NASCAR history will ride again in the Sept. 2 Southern 500.

The rainbow paint scheme Jeff Gordon drove for the first eight years of his Cup career will be resurrected for William Byron and the No. 24 Chevrolet.

The scheme was announced Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a presentation with Gordon, Byron and artist Sam Bass, who designed the scheme that debuted in the 1992 season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race was Gordon’s series debut.

Gordon drove the scheme full-time from 1993-2000 when he was sponsored by Du Pont. He drove it one last time in the 2015 Bristol night race during his final full-time season.

The scheme was used by Dylan Lupton in last year’s Xfinity Series race at Darlington.

Gordon, now an analyst for Fox Sports, never dreamed his paint scheme would be used in a throwback fashion decades later.

“I was just a young kid that was anxious to get out there and show what I could and excited about the opportunity to be at Hendrick Motorsports and hoped that I would be able to do my part and go on and win a race, let alone 93 of them,” Gordon said. “I certainly never looked far enough ahead that I would have ever thought we were creating something that would be part of NASCAR history or a throwback to the history at Darlington with a 20-year-old kid behind the wheel that wasn’t me.”

The four-time champion is a nominee for the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class. The class will be announced Wednesday.

Byron, 20, is in his rookie season with Hendrick Motorsports and will compete in his first Southern 500.

“Jeff’s got a huge history in the sport and to follow that and be able to carry his legacy and hopefully have success with it is my goal,” Byron said.

Byron is 19th in the point standings through 12 races.

Bass told the story of how he came to get the job of designing Gordon’s car in 1992.

“(Jeff Gordon’s crew chief) Ray Evernham came over to my shop looking for a birthday present for Jeff,” Bass recalled. “He picked up a print, he was getting ready to leave and wanted to pay me for it. I said, ‘No, I don’t want your money. I want you to give me a shot to design the race car for Jeff Gordon.’ I didn’t really think he would do it, but he called me back in a couple of weeks and said, ‘Hey, you got a shot.’ I worked on three designs and had two of them done the day it was due. On the way driving to work, I kept thinking in my mind Du Pont had said they wanted a rainbow of color. They wanted to car to show that they could produce a rainbow of colors.

“I went back to the shop and started working on something, and I knew when I got it done that if they would paint it that way it would definitely be different. I thought the guys in the body shop were gonna kill me when they saw it because they knew how difficult it was going to be to paint. To their credit, they did it and they were so proud of it.”

 

Hertz set as primary sponsor of William Byron for next two years

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Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that the rental car company Hertz will be a primary sponsor of William Byron in four races this year and next.

In will also sponsor Byron in this weekend’s Monster Energy All-Star Race events at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hertz will serve as an associate sponsor in all other events.

Byron, the defending Xfinity Series champion, is in his rookie Cup season. He is 19th in the point standings. His best finish is 10th at Texas Motor Speedway.

“It’s really special that a leading brand like Hertz has so much confidence in me,” Byron said in a press release. “It motivates me to continue working hard and doing everything I can to make sure we deliver results for them. I’m happy to welcome Hertz to the Hendrick Motorsports family and look forward to having a lot of success with them in the months and years ahead.”

Byron is entered in the Monster Energy Open before the All-Star Race. Byron can transfer to the main event by either winning one of the Open’s three stages or by winning the fan vote.

Friday 5: Matt Kenseth’s return is only the beginning for Roush Fenway Racing

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Matt Kenseth’s return to Cup today at Kansas Speedway is a feel-good story his fans hope will continue throughout the season.

But let’s get one thing clear.

He won’t be any type of savior for Roush Fenway Racing. Kenseth can help make the team stronger but it will be up to every person in the organization to make that happen. This is not a one-person job.

“Probably as much as anything I’m as excited about Matt interacting with us about is what’s most important on the car because there’s 100 things that go on behind the steering wheel — from conditions of how the car is handling to how they react in traffic to all the stuff that goes on on pit road,’’ Tommy Wheeler, operations director at Roush Fenway Racing, said April 25 after the announcement of Kenseth’s return.

“We have enough resources to fix any number of things, but what is very difficult to discern with a young driver lineup like we have is what is most important. What is going to be the most impactful today to make the car faster?’’

Kenseth will be in the car for the next five weeks, including three events in a row at a 1.5-mile track (Kansas, All-Star Race at Charlotte and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte). The team has stated it needs to be better at such tracks. Kenseth’s input will be valuable.

Wheeler knows what Kenseth can provide. Wheeler joined Roush in 2010 as an engineering manager and saw the impact Kenseth had then.

“His feedback of telling us what direction to go with the race cars of ‘Hey if you fix this, I will run faster,’ that direct link and having the credentials and the ability to back that up can’t be overstated,’’ Wheeler said.

Anything that Kenseth can state and the team can adjust could help Ricky Stenhouse Jr. make the playoffs for a second year in a row.

Stenhouse enters this weekend two points behind Chase Elliott for what would be the final playoff spot at this time. With 15 races left until the playoffs begin, there is time to move into a playoff spot but the competition won’t be easy.

Stenhouse trails a Hendrick Motorsports driver for that last playoff spot and is just ahead of a Joe Gibbs Racing driver (Daniel Suarez) and another Hendrick driver (William Byron) in the points. 

2. NASCAR is watching you …

Since teams were informed before Bristol that NASCAR would call uncontrolled tire penalties more closely, such penalties have increased significantly.

NASCAR has called 18 uncontrolled tire penalties in the last four Cup races — more than double the number of those penalties called in the first seven races.

The change happened after NASCAR admitted it should have penalized Kevin Harvick’s team for an uncontrolled tire on a late pit stop at Texas. Instead, Harvick went on to finish second in that race.

Kyle Larson’s pit crew has been penalized for an uncontrolled tire twice in the last four races. So has Matt DiBenedetto’s team and AJ Allmendinger’s team.

NASCAR called six uncontrolled tire penalties at both Bristol and Richmond. There were five last weekend at Dover. 

3. Youth tryout

NASCAR announced this week the formation of a youth esports racing series catered to “attract and identify young talent.’’

This column brought up the topic in February but focused more on what a manufacturer or team could do to gauge the ability of youngsters. Such a program would give those who begin racing at an early age a way to display their talent who wouldn’t be able to otherwise for whatever reason. William Byron didn’t race a car until he was 15 years old. Five years later, he’s with one of the sport’s top teams in Hendrick Motorsports.

Said Jack Irving, director of team and support services for Toyota Racing Development, on finding talented youngsters through sim racing: “That is something that is of interest and something we’ve spent some time on.’’

For more of the story, go here.

4. Working hard

On Thursday’s NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman noted that while testing Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Gaunt Brothers Racing — the team he will drive for in the Coca-Cola 600 — he shared the track with manufacturers doing a wheel-force test.

Wheel-force testing can be mundane and time-consuming. But Kligerman noted that the Chevrolet wheel-force car was driven by Jimmie Johnson. Kligerman said that Johnson told him that no one was going to outwork him as he seeks to return to winning races for Hendrick Motorsports. 

5. To the front 

Stewart-Haas Racing has had at least one of its cars finish in the top three in seven of the first 11 races this season. SHR took the top two spots last weekend with Kevin Harvick winning at Dover and Clint Bowyer placing second.

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NASCAR America: Chevrolet’s struggles may not be over for some while

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Following his 26th-place finish in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, Austin Dillon took to Periscope to express his frustration with what he perceives to be a competitive disadvantage between Chevrolet and Ford. Dillon drives the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman discussed the manufacturer rivalry – and suggested that the problem may not be easy one to fix.

“I don’t think (Chevrolet teams) are at that point yet with pushing the panic button,” Jarrett said. “We’re not that far – 11 races in – but we saw Toyota come on last year. By Charlotte through the All-Star Race, they kind of found their footing.”

It may not be as simple as getting enough races under the Chevrolet teams’ belts to understand the handling of their individual cars, however.

“I don’t believe the Chevrolet teams are equipped to do this as much because we have different organizations with RCR, with Hendrick Motorsports, with Chip Ganassi Racing,” Jarrett said. “I just don’t see them working as well together as what the Toyota group did to make all this happen.”

Kligerman believes that the mindset among the top Chevrolet organizations might well stand in the way of immediate success.

“They have a lot of teams that are kind of spread out – but also legacy teams,” he said. “When I look at Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing, who have been with Chevy for as long as I remember, these are two teams who are normally used to going out there and trying to beat each other. And now you are going ask them to change their entire model, their way of thinking to help another enemy.”

For more, watch the above video.