Ray Evernham leaving ESPN for expanded role at Hendrick Motorsports

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Ray Evernham is going from in front of the cameras to back behind the scenes.

Evernham announced on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway” that he will not be part of ESPN’s NASCAR broadcast team in 2014. Rather, Evernham will further expand his role as a consultant to Hendrick Motorsports, which he has done for nearly the last three seasons.

“Now not doing the ESPN thing will allow me to be involved in some of the management and some of the things that they’re doing at (Hendrick) Motorsports,” Evernham told show hosts Dave Moody and Angie Skinner. “The best way to avoid a conflict of interest is to choose one or the other. I’m excited about being able to go and being involved in the management team on the motorsports side.”

Evernham, who led Jeff Gordon to three Sprint Cup championships in the 1990s, will essentially be going back to his roots as an innovative mechanic, serving in HMS’s competition department. He’ll work with the organization’s four Sprint Cup crew chiefs as well as others in an attempt to further enhance HMS’s overall performance.

He will also sit atop the pit boxes of all four teams, although he’ll only likely attend 15 races, similar to what his schedule with ESPN was last season.

But don’t think that Evernham’s expanded duties mean he’ll be returning to his old crew chief days, which is all the more poignant because HMS will be looking for a new top-level crew chief soon. Steve Letarte will leave HMS as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief at the end of the 2014 season to assume a role as an analyst on NBC Sports’ TV broadcasts of NASCAR, which begin in 2015.

Evernham has repeatedly said he will not become a crew chief and reiterated that with Moody and Skinner.

“I’ll be working with everybody at Hendrick Motorsports,” he said. “I’ve met with crew chiefs. I think I’ve got a good perspective as they face different challenges. I will be going to meetings and be involved in competition things that I’ve not been involved with in the past three years or so.”

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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