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;
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Sitting down with the women of FS1 "It's sort of a double-edged sword. A lot of times you get doors opened because you're a female, but you have to try extra hard to keep that door open." That was Krista Voda of NBC Sports in a 2005 NI feature on women broadcasters in NASCAR . Has anything changed? To find out, NI Senior Producer Steven Levine sat down with FOX Sports broadcasters Danielle Trotta, Kaitlyn Vincie and Jamie Little. NI: Is being a voice for the female fan something you're conscious of in what, let's face it, has been historically a male-dominated sport? Danielle Trotta: We certainly stand out, if you will, in a world amongst men — and certainly an industry amongst men. I don't necessarily think I cater my message specifically toward a female audience. My job is to inform and entertain whoever is watching. I certainly try to mentor young women that want to be in this business. That’s a great way to give back to other women and young girls that want to be us one day and take our jobs. "You can take my job eventually, but not right now. You need to have your training wheels on." I don't like it when people think we're just here because we're a pretty face, or we're a girl that can put the dress on and that's our only value. That's really degrading. Our job is to be just as informed and prepared as our male counterparts. At the end of the day, if we can put lipstick on and have some fun with it and be girls in a man's world at the same time, that’s great, but I think we have just as much value and every right to be here as they do. NI: It's interesting to hear you say that because you’ve also worked in football and if there is a man's world to perhaps rival NASCAR , football is it. Did you find fans or co-workers more receptive in NASCAR versus football? Trotta: I feel like I came into the business as Erin Andrews was getting her start. The female sideline reporter was becoming extremely popular. The industry became, I think, oversaturated. At that time, we saw it as: Put the token pretty girl on the sideline. I grew up watching football at a time when it was always men on the sideline, and then Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya and Hannah Storm started to change some of that. Then they kind of went younger with the Erin Andrews of the world. For a while, I didn’t know if I wanted to have that stigma attached to myself, but now I find that it's a sorority I'm really proud to be a part of. The industry is moving away from just sticking anyone down there. (They're) having women that have a strong opinion, a strong voice that can hold their own in a man's world. We're becoming more valued. It's due to a lot of the women who have worked really hard to get here and earn their place. You have to hold your own in a man's world. NI: Kaitlyn, who did you watch as you were coming up? Kaitlyn Vincie: (Gestures to Trotta and Little.) Of course, Krista Voda and Wendy Venturini, as well. In college, I was studying gender communications and I did a project for my course on women in a male-dominated industry, and both of them were in my PowerPoint. I looked toward both of them and some of the other women that I listed as the people I wanted to be like and wanted to mirror. It's really kind of an honor and a privilege to be working alongside them. NI: Jamie, there was a time when you and Shannon Spake were working side by side on pit road. At the 2015 Daytona 500 , you were the only woman represented on the broadcast. Is that just fluctuation, or are we taking three steps forward and two steps back? How do you assess the role of women on NASCAR broadcasts these days? Jamie Little: I think we're in the best place we've ever been. Like Danielle alluded to, it's not just that we're down there because we need a female face. We're down there because we need the best reporters in that role, and I think that’s what you see. You might see three women and one man, or you might see all four men. It just depends on who is the best, who your bosses feel are the best at the time and that’s a great place to be. Personally, Shannon Spake and I couldn’t have been closer friends, but I like being the only female. I don’t see myself as a female down there and I don’t see myself as one of the guys. I just want to be a good reporter and I want people to look at me that way. So when that opportunity (to work in motocross broadcasting), way back when I was 18, opened up and there wasn’t a woman — like Kaitlyn had females to look up to and learn from — I saw it as an opportunity. From that day on, I never saw myself as one female here. I saw it as I’m here just like the men and I have a right to be. Trotta: It's kind of like Danica Patrick . She wants to be known as just another race car driver, not a female race car driver. Little: Yet she embraces her femininity so well. I wasn’t always OK with dressing up or wearing the heels. I didn’t want to be portrayed that way. I wanted to be taken so seriously and it’s taken me a long time. I always wanted to fit in with the guys and didn’t want to stand out, and it’s OK to be that way now. Trotta: It is interesting that Danica kind of embraces it. It’s true, we have to find that balance too. NI: Do you get tired of being asked the gender question? All: No. Trotta: I don’t think we’re past the conversation, but I certainly think, like Jamie said, we’re in the best place we’ve ever been. It’s certainly evolving, and if you don’t have this conversation, I don’t think it ever gets better. Hopefully, girls will be reading this and thinking, “OK, if they did it, I can do it.” NI: How about beyond NASCAR ? Kaitlyn, do you have any professional aspirations beyond motorsports? Vincie: I'm just happy with what I’m doing. I haven’t really thought about what’s next because I’m so busy with what’s now. Little: I always duck that question, too — "OK, when are you going to football?" I'm not. I don't want to do football. This is my goal. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
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