NASCAR touring champs set for gala celebration
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Anthony Kumpen came the farthest, making the hours-long plane ride from Europe. It was a return trip he has happily accepted. Kumpen and six other champions from the NASCAR touring and regional series have congregated in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area this week for a celebration of their title-clinching seasons. The activities culminate in Saturday's NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center. Kumpen joins Justin Haley (K&N Pro Series East), Todd Gilliland (K&N West), Cayden Lapcevich (Pinty's Series), Doug Coby (Whelen Modified Tour), Burt Myers (Whelen Southern Modified Tour) and Matt Bowling ( NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champ) among those honored at Saturday night's gala. It's the Belgian-born driver's second visit in three years after capping off his second NASCAR Whelen Euro Series crown. "It's great to be back. It's a fantastic event, a fantastic week," Kumpen said. "We're really proud as European drivers that we can be part of the NASCAR family. The championship is growing, we had a sold-out event in the UK at Brands Hatch, so it's becoming big in Europe." Kumpen, 38, has already commemorated a special celebration of the championship in the Euro Series' season finale with a VIP guest. Kumpen has a connection with four-time NASCAR premier series champion Jeff Gordon that goes beyond the No. 24 adorning his Chevrolet: He hails from the same hometown in Belgium as Gordon's wife, Ingrid Vandebosch. Kumpen was already on edge entering the season's final weekend. Then came the e-mail popping into his inbox from Gordon, indicating that he'd be in attendance at the Zolder, Belgium, road course. "So the stress level went a bit up," he said with a laugh. "We asked him to become grand marshal of the race, which he did and which was fantastic for our championship." Kumpen said he was scheduled for a tour of the Hendrick Motorsports shop Friday with Gordon serving as his guide. But before the drivers don their formal wear for Saturday, the touring champions savored a rare opportunity to meet and interact, mixing it up in Thursday's karting challenge at GoPro Motorplex. "It's been super-special so far. Just being in the same place as all these other champions is super cool to meet them," Gilliland said. "I've heard their names and watched their races on TV, but I've never really met some of them. It's been really cool to meet them in an area like this and to be out here at GoPro Motorplex racing with them is awesome." RELATED: Meet Gilliland, complete NASCAR Next class Kumpen led the first half of a Media/Champions race then edged Haley by half a kart-length to prevail in the eighth annual Champions Karting Challenge. For the 17-year-old Haley, his participation in this week's events was a year-long wait after watching William Byron precede him as K&N East champion last season. "It's really, really cool what NASCAR does for us," Haley said. "I sat there last year and saw what William did on social media and how cool it was, so I thought it'd be a cool experience to come and do it myself."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. cleared to resume NASCAR competition
RELATED: Dale through the years " Recovery timeline CAIN: Dale Jr.'s strong stand makes him, sport better NASCAR premier series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr . has received medical clearance to resume his racing career, Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday. Earnhardt, 42, was sidelined for the final 18 races of the 2016 season after suffering a concussion. On Wednesday, he participated in an on-track testing session at Darlington Raceway under the supervision of Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. Earnhardt was cleared by Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh. Collins, who consulted with Dr. Petty following Wednesday's on-track activity, has overseen Earnhardt's rehabilitation program and also treated him for a similar injury in 2012. "I expected things to go really well yesterday, and that’s exactly what happened," Earnhardt said of an afternoon spent behind the wheel at the 1.366-mile South Carolina track. "Actually getting in a race car was an important final step, and it gives me a ton of confidence going into 2017." Earnhardt completed 185 laps in his No. 88 Chevrolet during the course of the nearly five-hour session. Crew chief Greg Ives was on hand to oversee his driver’s efforts as well. Earnhardt, recently voted the series most popular driver for the 14th consecutive season, said he expects to do more testing in January "to help knock the rust off." RELATED: Junior wins NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver Award "When it's time to go to Daytona, I' ll be ready," the winner of 26 premier series races said. The 2017 racing season officially gets underway with the 59th running of the Daytona 500 , scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Earnhardt will not compete in the annual non-points, season-opening race, The Clash at Daytona International Speedway (Feb. 18, 8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Instead, HMS officials said Alex Bowman , who filled in for Earnhardt in 10 of the final 18 races of 2016, will drive the team's No. 88 entry. Bowman won the pole at Phoenix in November, his first in the series. "Everyone agreed that he more than earned (the opportunity)," Earnhardt said, "and (sponsor) Nationwide was 100 percent on board." RELATED: NASCAR community reacts to Junior's return It's possible Earnhardt could participate in up to two additional tests – Hendrick Motorsports is one of four teams expected to take part in a Goodyear tire test scheduled for Jan. 10-11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway , and the season's first organizational test is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 31/Feb. 1 at Phoenix International Raceway . Collins called Earnhardt "one of the hardest-working patients I've ever encountered." "He's done everything we've asked, and we believe he is ready to compete at a professional level again and can withstand the normal forces of a race car driver," Collins said. "Dale has been very open with us, and we've had plenty of time for his treatment, so we feel very good about his long-term prospects and how this has been managed by everyone involved." Team owner Rick Hendrick said he's proud of Earnhardt "for listening to his body and standing up to take responsibility for his health. "He's worked extremely hard and set a terrific example for others," Hendrick said. "It's great news as we go into the offseason, and we can't wait to see him back on the race track at Daytona." In addition to Bowman, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon also drove for the team in eight starts during Earnhardt's absence. Earnhardt was 13th in points with six top-five finishes before being sidelined prior to the July race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and wound up 32nd in the final standings. The 2012 injury forced him to miss two races; he finished 12th in points that season. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
NASCAR's Champions Week 2016: A look behind the scenes
Editor's note: This story contains some strong language. Rick Hendrick stands onstage in a ballroom at the Wynn Las Vegas casino and hotel several hours before the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards banquet on Friday. He is wearing an untucked dress shirt, dress pants and sneakers. In front of him sit 144 tables, each full of glasses and plates and surrounded by empty chairs. A couple dozen chairs hold cardboard pictures of who will sit in them tonight. Tony Stewart 's picture -- on table 14, like his car number for his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet -- is directly in front of Hendrick. In the back of the hall, Hendrick's speech scrolls by on a giant teleprompter. Hendrick reads along. The microphone is not on, and though I'm standing only 10 feet from him, I can barely hear him. He is practicing modulating his voice so he doesn't yell into the microphone during his speech 10 hours from now. As owner of Hendrick Motorsports , this is his 12th premier series championship, so he has the hang of this whole speech-giving thing. To Hendrick's right, Tony Stewart -- the man, not the cardboard picture -- enters. He struts past tables, emphasis on strut. Every time I see Stewart at 2016 NASCAR Champion's Week events, he bounces around like a caged man about to be set free after his last banquet as a NASCAR driver. He interrupted an interview I was doing with Denny Hamlin yesterday to report to Hamlin that he had 29 hours left ... but who's counting? It's in the 50s outside, but Stewart is wearing black shorts and a gray T-shirt. His scruff looks like what another man's would if he hadn't shaved in a week. For Stewart, that's probably 30 minutes. All in all, he looks incredibly spry considering last night he repeatedly slugged heaping gulps from a bottle of tequila. As he nears the stage, Stewart sees Hendrick speaking. "Hurry up!" Stewart says and throws his arms up in mock frustration. Hendrick doesn't hear him, so Stewart repeats this as he gets closer to the stage. Stewart climbs the stairs to give Hendrick a hug. They stand with their arms around each other for a minute or two. Perhaps aware he looks like he came from the gym, Stewart assures Hendrick that physical contact is OK. He is not soaked in sweat. He is dressed like that, he says, because he hasn't gone to bed yet. It is 10:30 a.m. If Stewart ever had a Give A Rip gene (doubtful), it turned dormant this week. He has been in peak Stewart form, messing with everyone about everything and dropping smart aleck comments like confetti everywhere he goes. But in a few hours, Stewart will return to this stage and leave it almost speechless. Of all the big surprises in this three-day celebration of the 2016 NASCAR season, that might be the biggest. • • •
HScott Motorsports won't compete in NASCAR in 2017
HScott Motorsports will not field teams for the 2017 season in NASCAR's premier series, according to a statement from the team. HSM fielded two full-time entries for 2015-16 in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, most recently with drivers Clint Bowyer in the team's No. 15 Chevrolet and Michael Annett in the No. 46 Chevrolet. Bowyer ended the '16 season 27th in points; Annett placed 36th. "Over the past several months I considered a number of options for moving forward with the team," Scott said in the statement. "Regrettably there are no viable sponsor/driver options immediately available to allow the team to participate in 2017." Bowyer, who joined the team before the start of the '16 season, was scheduled to remain with the team for only one season before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017 to replace co-owner/driver Tony Stewart in that organization's No. 14 entry. Officials with Bowyer's sponsor, 5-hour Energy, announced earlier this year that the company would become the primary sponsor for Erik Jones and the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota entry in '17. Last month, it was announced that Annett and his sponsor, Pilot Flying J, would move to JR Motorsports to compete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series next season. "One thing I have learned about NASCAR is that it is a 'people business,'" Scott said. "I will be forever grateful to the men and women who worked tirelessly to make HScott Motorsports successful. ... "I love this sport and being part of it. I invested in NASCAR because I truly believe it represents the best racing competition in the world and the best people in all sports." The organization's charter for its No. 15 team has been sold to Premium Motorsports, according to HSM. The No. 46 charter, which was originally leased from Premium, was returned to Premium, which in turn has sold it to Furniture Row Racing . Charter teams are guaranteed starting positions in NASCAR premier series points races. HScott Motorsports came into being after Scott purchased the former Phoenix Racing team from owner James Finch. The organization was originally located in Spartanburg, S.C., but moved to Mooresville, N.C., before the start of the '16 season. "Looking back, I will always be especially proud of the unprecedented success of our NASCAR K&N Series teams, including four consecutive championships, and for the lifelong friendships that were forged over the last seven years," Scott said. Seven drivers combined for 189 starts at HSM; Bowyer managed three of the organization's four career top 10s this past season. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
One crew member reinstated, one suspended by NASCAR
NASCAR reinstated crew member Michael Casto on Tuesday after he successfully completed NASCAR's Road to Recovery Program. Casto was a crew member with Stewart-Haas Racing 's No. 4 team and driver Kevin Harvick when he was suspended after the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen, the August Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International . Ryan D. Hess, a crew member with BK Racing , was placed on indefinite suspension on Tuesday by the sanctioning body.
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NASCAR , Monster Energy announce premier series entitlement partnership
RELATED: Official NASCAR release " NASCAR Nation reacts to news LAS VEGAS – NASCAR announced on Thursday at Wynn Las Vegas a multi-year deal that will make Monster Energy only the third entitlement sponsor in premier series history. The length and terms of the deal were not disclosed, but both parties hailed the partnership as the perfect fit for both brands. "Monster Energy is a brand built on excitement and enthusiasm, qualities that align with NASCAR ," said Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO. "This sponsorship position is the most unique in all of sports and entertainment, and we are thrilled to have a partner that will help us further elevate the series. Today's announcement is the culmination of a thorough search, one that resulted in the right partner at this important time in our sport’s history." Monster Energy has existing sponsorships with a number of motorsports sanctioning bodies, athletes and teams, but the NASCAR deal signals the biggest sponsorship step in the company's history. "Monster has built its brand on racing and motorsports, and NASCAR is the pinnacle of motorsports in America," said Mitch Covington, vice president of sports marketing at Monster Beverage Company. "It's American racing; we're an American brand that's a global company, and NASCAR is, too. When the opportunity came along to further associate yourself with a sport like NASCAR , it was the perfect fit for us. … NASCAR is just a hard-hitting, close-racing, fun property to be associated with." Along with naming rights to NASCAR's top series, Monster Energy will also hold race sponsorship to the NASCAR All-Star Race and become the Official Energy Drink of NASCAR . Monster Energy also said it will continue to sponsor Stewart-Haas Racing 's No. 41 car. Thursday's announcement is the culmination of a lengthy and thorough search by NASCAR to find the successor to Sprint, whose entitlement sponsorship will end on December 31, 2016. Steve Phelps, NASCAR executive vice president and chief global sales and marketing officer, said that the sanctioning body spoke with numerous companies throughout the process, ultimately choosing Monster Energy for a number of reasons, not the least of which was its lifestyle culture. "We have the good fortune of finding a brand that we believe works for our sport," Phelps said. "They're going to bring their lifestyle to their activation. … They're going to bring their brand, their excitement, their energy to this partnership, and the fans are going to be the winners. It's all about engaging the fans and having the fans have unique, fun experiences whether at the race track or through different mediums, through social, digital, content." Phelps said a number of ancillary details will be announced in the coming weeks. Among those still under discussion is the name of the series, the series mark and the championship trophy. Under the agreement, energy drink sponsors already involved in NASCAR may remain in place. Potential sponsors from the energy drink category will not be eligible for future sponsorship if not already involved in the sport.
NASCAR digital and social media numbers continue to grow in 2016
During his State of the Sport press conference prior to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier this month, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France relayed an anecdote about watching a scaled-down, highlight-driven Duke college basketball game on his laptop. The story painted a broad picture of the shift in fan consumption habits. And for NASCAR , that has meant a shift in strategy to serve fans who want an immersive experience, whether attending live in-person, watching on TV, or engaging with sports at home or on the go. By all metrics, NASCAR ’s digital and social media numbers have shown strong growth over the 2016 season, validating a strategic choice to reach race fans in the multifaceted ways they opt to consume NASCAR content. Consider these numbers: Overall, NASCAR drew 256 million social engagements across all its digital platforms, an 87 percent increase year-over-year, and a massive increase of video content views. NASCAR saw a 14 percent growth in followers across its social and digital platforms. Of particular note was a spike in the growth of Snapchat followers after NASCAR announced its partnership with that platform in February. NASCAR competitors and fans provided live content from four races, starting with the Daytona 500 , under the aegis of "Snapchat Live Story." The Daytona 500 itself saw a 63-percent increase in race day impressions, while engagement with NASCAR content tripled. "It’s been fantastic," said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "I think that what it has done is validated our strategy that we set out at the very beginning of this season, when we talked about leading with digital and social and really trying to talk to our fans where they were and going to reach them at all the places they consume NASCAR . "We started that with our 'Ready.Set.Race' campaign and the Hashtag 500 around the Daytona 500 , and it’s really just continued to build throughout the whole season." The Hashtag 500, the race to win Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s firesuit, generated 13,000 NASCAR -related mentions in a single minute, a high-water mark for NASCAR content since the advent of the sanctioning body’s Fan and Media Engagement Center. Central to the success of the 2016 digital and social media campaign was heavy promotion of #TheChase across all platforms, leveraging Twitter, Vine, Periscope, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to engage fans throughout the 10-week playoff. Capturing the drama of the Chase, which concluded with Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, was the digital film series "Ready.Set.Chase." All told, the five-film series garnered more than 13 million views. "I think we’re seeing it at NASCAR , and obviously we see it happening across the sports and entertainment landscape, that fans want to customize their experience regardless of what they’re watching or looking at," Gregory said. "If we want to talk to those fans, we have to go places that are convenient for them. "If they’re watching on their mobile app, if they’re watching via NASCAR .com, if they’re watching on television, it’s our job as the league to provide all of that great content in all of those places and then make sure that we deliver the right experience for each of those platforms."
NASCAR reveals multi-year partnership with Monster Energy for Premier Series Entitlement
RELATED: NASCAR , Monster Energy announce deal " NASCAR Nation reacts DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR and Monster Energy announced today a multi-year agreement for the premier series entitlement as well as the prestigious annual NASCAR All-Star Race. Monster Energy, which will begin its tenure as naming rights partner on Jan. 1, 2017, will become only the third company to serve as the entitlement sponsor in NASCAR premier series history, following RJ Reynolds and Sprint/Nextel. As part of the agreement, the brand also becomes the Official Energy Drink of NASCAR . "Monster Energy is a brand built on excitement and enthusiasm, qualities that align with NASCAR ," said Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO. "This sponsorship position is the most unique in all of sports and entertainment, and we are thrilled to have a partner that will help us further elevate the series. Today's announcement is the culmination of a thorough search, one that resulted in the right partner at this important time in our sport’s history." NASCAR premier series races long have been a bucket-list destination for sports fans throughout the country, and starting next season, Monster Energy will elevate the event experience to an even higher level. As part of the agreement, Monster Energy will engage with fans in creative, innovative ways at all race tracks where the premier series will race. " Monster Energy has an established and versatile history in motorsports, and we’re thrilled to take this historic next step," said Rodney Sacks, Monster Beverage Chairman and CEO. "We feel strongly that our brand is a perfect fit for this sport and its star athletes. We look forward to interacting with the millions of passionate NASCAR fans week-in, week out."
Comcast XFINITY earns NASCAR's Marketing Achievement Award
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Comcast will be honored with the 2016 NASCAR Marketing Achievement Award for its support of the NASCAR XFINITY Series™, known as the series "Where Names Are Made." The company, which also serves as the Official Entertainment Provider of NASCAR ®, will be recognized at the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards today. Entering the sport with a historic 10-year entitlement agreement last year, XFINITY is changing the way fans experience NASCAR by introducing live race stats and data directly to the TV through their XFINITY X1 platform. XFINITY X1 provides an insider's look at the action taking place across NASCAR ’s three national series each race weekend, along with custom video content, weekly exclusive VOD content, live leaderboards, up-to-the-second race stats, interactive championship point standings, and much more. At the track, Comcast engaged fans, the industry and media at its state-of-the-art activation space, the XFINITY Zone. The award-winning fan zone allowed thousands of fans to interact with drivers and utilize the technology that is changing the live sports TV experience. Off the track, Comcast is working to recognize charitable efforts of NASCAR team members through the Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award, which was created in 2015. "The innovation that Comcast delivers through its XFINITY brand drives deeper engagement and is transforming the way fans consume our sport," said Brent Dewar, NASCAR Chief Operating Officer. "Our partnership with Comcast is one of the most unique and powerful in all of sports, and our work together this year has helped elevate the NASCAR XFNITY Series to new heights." In year two of the partnership, NASCAR and XFINITY collaborated on changes that differentiated the series and further integrated the XFINITY brand into the sport. The introduction of an elimination-style Chase and a new Dash 4 Cash format enhanced competition, spiked fan interest, and generated even more drama around the series. The competition changes were accompanied by a new visual identity, providing the NASCAR XFINITY Series with its own distinct look across digital, social, at-track and on broadcast. "We are honored and excited to accept this year's NASCAR Marketing Achievement Award, as it is a direct reflection of the successful and progressive partnership we've had with NASCAR since entering the sport in 2015," said Matt Lederer, Executive Director of Sports Marketing at Comcast. "All of us at Comcast are committed to continuing to find new and innovative ways to bring fans closer to the sport they love through XFINITY products and services." Comcast's integrated marketing strategy was expansive: · NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers captured more than 70 unique, first-person social videos that were shared as part of Comcast’s "My Chase" program · Produced original television creative promoting the series throughout the season · Created the XFINITY Zone, an 85-foot-by-85-foot display area that showed off X1 technology, and hosted fans across 14 NASCAR events · Hosted the first-ever "off-campus" NASCAR Fuel For Business Council meeting in Philadelphia, welcoming nearly 50 Official Partners to facilitate business to business opportunities · Comcast and Pocono Raceway hosted NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers around the Road 2 Pocono, which included a City Hall proclamation and a parade lap down the streets of Philadelphia. Other previous winners of the NASCAR Marketing Achievement Award include Sunoco; Coca-Cola; Mars, Incorporated; Nationwide Insurance; Sprint; and Toyota. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion's Week will culminate with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards. NBCSN presents complete coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards on Friday, Dec. 2 beginning at 7 p.m. ET with " NASCAR America," followed by the red carpet at 8 p.m. ET and the awards broadcast at 9 p.m. ET. Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will also begin coverage at 8 p.m. ET.