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NASCAR

Team Owner Felix Sabates Retiring After 2020 Racing Season

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Chip Ganassi Racing

CONCORD, NC (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Owner Felix Sabates, one of Chip Ganassi’s business partners in NASCAR and Sports Cars, is retiring following the 2020 racing season.

Sabates started SABCO Racing in 1987 and sold a majority stake to Ganassi in 2001.  Their partnership produced 43-wins in the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity/Busch Series, including wins in the 2010 Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

“I look back to the 1980s when I first started in this sport, and I can tell you that the landscape has really changed,” said Sabates. “It’s been challenging at times, and tremendously rewarding watching the sport grow. When I started the NASCAR team, it was just a different time – a smaller regional sport. Then NASCAR grew and grew into a big business and continued to grow after my partnership with Chip.”

The partnership was unable to produce a NASCAR Championship.  The closest the team came was in 2001 when Sterling Marlin captured 2-wins and finished third in the Championship in the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge.

The partnership was able to produce in Sports Cars; 7-Championships and 63-wins, including eight in the Rolex 24-Hours at Daytona as well as victories in the 24-Hours of LeMans and 12-Hours of Sebring.

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“I’m proud of what I’ve done over the last 30 years,” continued Sabates. “I have friendships that will last a lifetime. I hope that what I have tried to give back to the sport – whether it be bringing NASCAR to Mexico or being instrumental in starting the sports car program with Chip – will be equal to what the sport has taught and given me.”

Sabates was instrumental in helping acclimate Ganassi to the NASCAR world when they started their partnership but it goes much farther than that according to the Fox Chapel resident.

“Where do you even begin to describe Felix Sabates?” said Ganassi. “He’s done so much for the sport of racing. I teamed up with him almost 20 years ago, and he’s been a great business partner and an even better friend. In that time, the only thing we’ve had an argument over was who was picking up the tab at dinner. Felix helped me develop as an owner as well as an individual. His track record in this sport certainly sets the bar high for anyone that follows. I’m proud to call him a friend and wish him all the best.”

Sabates, who has been a Charlotte resident since 1963, has always had a soft spot in his heart for sports. In 1988, he became an original owner of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team and played a key role in negotiating with the NBA to grant Charlotte a franchise. He also is the only person who had ownership in the original Hornets to still have an ownership stake with Michael Jordan in the Charlotte Hornets. He also has been an owner of the East Coast Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers, which won the league championship in 1995. In addition, in the early 1980s, he started the first indoor professional soccer team and was one of the first investors of the World Football League.

Sabates is well known for his many philanthropic contributions and has received several honors and awards for his generosity. Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina has named its dining hall after him, Elon College and UNC Charlotte bestowed upon him Honorary Doctorate degrees and he received a “Special Blessing” in writing from Pope John Paul II. Sabates became a member of the philanthropic Dream Makers Society of the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County, Fla., in recognition of his 12-year commitment to and support of special fundraising events. In his honor, the Felix Sabates Athletic Center was dedicated in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in November 2000. The facility is the largest Boys and Girls Club in the state. He also is a large contributor to the Levine Children’s Hospital, which bears a special plaque in his honor is in the main lobby. Sabates has contributed much money to and served on the board of Atrium Health Care system for over 30 years while also being a member of the Atrium Health Foundation Board.

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IndyCar

Racing Notebook – Ohio Racing Gets Red Flagged; New Series from Stewart and Evernham plus Weekend Winner Recap

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Steve Skarupa Photography

PITTSBURGH, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Monday’s Pittsburgh Racing Now Notebook has details on new restrictions placed on events in Ohio plus Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham are teaming up to start a new series and we look back at the winners on track this past weekend.

New Restrictions On Events In Ohio:

  • The Ohio Department of Health has mandated activities to be limited in the state of Ohio due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic. These restrictions are forcing Sharon Speedway to cancel this Saturday’s events, including the RUSH Late Model Series “Bill Forney Memorial”.  Sharon Speedway plans on resuming their 2020 schedule of events when the restrictions are lifted.

Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham Starting New Series:

  • NASCAR Hall of Famers Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham are teaming up to start a new racing series.  The Sports Business Journal first reported the deal, which includes former NASCAR executive George Pyne and sports agent Sandy Montag.  The Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) will feature six races on short tracks and will include top drivers from a variety of backgrounds.  The SRX will be similar in scope the defunct IROC Series and is set to debut in 2021 and will be televised by CBS Sports.

Cole Custer Gets 1st Career Cup Win At Kentucky:

  • Stewart Haas Racing’s Cole Custer picked up his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory Sunday at Kentucky Speedway winning a thrilling battle on the last lap with saw Custer four-wide with Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr and Ryan Blaney.  Truex held on for second and Matt DiBenedetto finished third.

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Chip Ganassi Racing Sweeps Road America:

Larson and Conley Take Sharon Speedway wins:

Saturday Winners At Pittsburgh’s PA Motor Speedway:

  • Chas Wolbert picked up his second straight win taking the RUSH Sportsman Modified 15-lap main event. Keith Barbara picked up his first win of the season in the RUSH Late Model Dirt Series 20-lap feature.  Jason Fosnaught was victorious in the PPMS Pro Stock division.  Stephen Shelpman continued to dominate the Keystone Coach Works Hobby Stock division with another victory. Philip and Noah Bubeck were each victorious in the Four Cylinder and Young Guns divisions respectively.

Saturday Winners At Jennerstown Speedway:

  • Defending Track Champion, Teddy Gibala won for the first time this season in the Martella’s Pharmacies Late Model division of racing, becoming the fourth different winner in four events. Also celebrating in Stoney’s Beer Victory Lane were R.J. Dallape (Stoystown Auto Wreckers Modifieds), Aaron Van Fleet (Ron’s Collision Center Street Stocks), Dale Kimberly (Farmers Union Co-Op Chargers), and Evan Nibert (Somerset Trust Company Fast ‘n Furious 4-Cylinders).

Matt Kenseth’s New Colors For All-Star Race:

  • Wednesday’s NASCAR Cup Series All-Star race at Bristol Motor Speedway is going to feature a different style paint scheme that fans are not used to seeing on race cars.  The number and some sponsor placement is moving.  Here is a look at the McDonald’s Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 of Matt Kenseth:

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Local Racing

Thursday Night Racing Roundup: Cindric and Abreu Grab Victories

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Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

PITTSBURGH, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – There was some action on the race tracks Thursday night as the NASCAR Xfinity Series was in action at Kentucky Speedway and Ohio Sprint Speedweek continued from Muskingum County Speedway.

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Cindric Wins At Kentucky:

  • Austin Cindric survived three restarts in the final 30 laps and a NASCAR Overtime finish to capture his first NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) victory of the 2020 season. The victory was Cindric’s third career NXS victory and first on an oval. The driver of the No. 22 Snap-on Ford Mustang moves from fourth to third in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings, 45 markers behind leader Chase Briscoe.

Abreu Gets Ohio Speedweek Victory:

  • Rico Abreu led wire-to-wire to pick up the Ollies Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions presented by Mobil 1 feature win at Muskingum County Speedway.  Abreu started on the pole position and led all 30-laps to pick up his 8th All Star career victory, two of which have come during Ohio Sprint Speedweek.  Shane Stewart finished second and points leader Aaron Reutzel finished third.
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NASCAR

Matt Kenseth Energized by 2nd Place Finish At The Brickyard 400

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Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

CONCORD, NC (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Imagine being called to do a job you have done before but the equipment to do the job is different and you don’t have any time to get up to speed on the changes.  You just jump right into the fire with both feet so to speak.  It’s not an easy task for the most experienced but that is exactly what Matt Kenseth is being asked to do.

Kenseth finished second in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).  The finish was Kenseth’s best since replacing Kyle Larson in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet after Larson was fired for using a racial slur in an online race.

Kenseth said he could have parked the McDonald’s McDelivery Camaro in victory lane if he just could have got the car out front of the field in clean air.

“Our McDonald’s Chevy handled great,” said Kenseth.  “We were really fast. If we would have been up front, I feel like we would have been hard to beat.”

Team owner Chip Ganassi was happy to see Kenseth and the No. 42 team rewarded with a good run considering the situation they were thrown into this Spring.

“Obviously we needed some immediate stability and that’s what Matt has brought,” Ganassi told Pittsburgh Racing Now.  “He’s a veteran driver, he’s been to all the tracks, he’s mature and he understands what the needs of a team are.  He was the best guy available.”

Ganassi would’ve loved to have swept the weekend at Indy after Scott Dixon parked the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda INDYCAR in Victory Lane on Saturday.

“You just want to be able to put yourself in position to win and we did that both days,” said Ganassi.  “Yes, Matt was on the front row for last restart with better tires but we probably would have been better off third than we were second.  We were surrounded by those Fords and you have got to have a friend or two to help you there and that wasn’t going to happen with all those Fords.”

“It’s never been easy to pass at Indy,” noted Kenseth. “I don’t think it has ever been this hard in my career.  The horsepower is real low, they’ve got that huge spoilers on them, they’ve got a lot of drag, a lot of downforce and obviously the bigger the spoiler on the back the more the air is disturbed behind it.  You can draft up a little bit on the main straightaway but the biggest thing is that it makes such a big wake in the corner that it’s hard for the trailing car to keep any kind of grip to get a run, particularly after the tires get a few laps on them.”

Kenseth’s debut in the No. 42 at Darlington resulted in a top 10 finish but until Sunday the results following Darlington were a bit of a mixed bag.

“We started off and finished 10th at Darlington and I was definitely fairly rusty in a lot of areas like pit road and a lot of the little things,” said Kenseth.  “The second Darlington we ran a little better but I hit the wall, got a flat tire and got a poor finish.  It was just kind of downhill from there.  Nothing was going really well.”

It’s hard for teams to make improvements when they are not allowed to test and with NASCAR cancelling practice on race weekends in the wake of COVID-19.  Kenseth isn’t using any of that as an excuse.

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“It’s the same for everybody,” said the 2003 NASCAR Cup Series Champion. “It’s been a little more challenging that I hoped it would be for sure but I feel like the last few weeks we hit on a couple of things that seemed to help.”

“Each race, in a way, is a test session where we’re still learning about what he likes and doesn’t like in terms of personalization of the car,” said Ganassi.

The tide began to turn when the series rolled into the Keystone State in late June for the doubleheader weekend at “The Tricky Triangle”.

“Pocono didn’t knock anybody’s socks off as far as finishes but it was much better,” said Kenseth. “We ran 11th and 12th and certainly performed better as a team than we had previous to that and Indy was just a solid day all the way around and we were able to get a good finish out of that.”

“Some of the finishes we’ve had aren’t indicative of how we are running,” said Ganassi.  “But that happens in this sport.”

What Kenseth and the entire CGR team is looking for is more runs like at Indy, Pocono and Darlington.

“Whenever you run well, you build more confidence, not just for myself but for the team and everybody involved,” said Kenseth.  “Running bad has opposite effect. Certainly when you run bad, you never feel good about it. When you run better, certainly builds confidence. Kind of shows us all as a group that we can do it. I’m hoping we can just carry that momentum into Kentucky, just keep moving forward running up front where this team belongs.”

Kenseth hopes to continue what they’ve been doing to be successful because the veteran knows the ups and downs of a NASCAR season, where his sense of humor and quick wit help keeps things in perspective.

“Walking through the shop you think they are whispering, ‘got the short straw with this replacement driver'”, Kenseth joked.  “Certainly you have all those weeks where you’re running in the 20s with a team that we know is capable of running like we ran at Indy, that’s kind of tough on your ego, confidence, whatever.”

Ganassi, whose organization is celebrating its 30th Anniversary this season, knows what the team and the driver are capable of and feels they are still in the running to make the NASCAR Playoffs.

“By no means are we out of the Championship yet so we feel good,” said Ganassi.  “I don’t think there is anybody any better that I could have put in there or I would have.  I think he is doing a stellar job.”

The Quaker State 400 from Kentucky Speedway takes place Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.

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