Some big NASCAR names discuss, finally, their interest in being part of a Panthers bid

Brendan Marks and Rick Rothacker, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Some of the biggest names in NASCAR say they're interested in joining a bid to buy the Carolina Panthers.

As they prepare for the Daytona 500 this weekend, drivers Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch told the Observer on Wednesday that they have had conversations with potential bidders for the NFL franchise, which owner Jerry Richardson put up for sale last month.

"I'm not the leader of it at all, but I have had a conversation, one conversation, with one of the groups that is interested in buying it," Busch told the Observer. "I've put my name in the hat just to kind of have a seat at the table, if you will, when it comes to what is going to happen next."

Jimmie Johnson said he has been asked if he would be interested and has signaled that he would.

"I'm not actively in anything. I would love to. I've been asked if I would be interested in doing it, and absolutely," Johnson said. "I don't have anything legally kind of binding me to an offer that's out there or any money invested. I would love to have a shot at it, as I'm sure anybody in the world would to have ownership in an NFL team, especially a team where you live in the town, that would be off the charts."

Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates has previously told the Observer that he is part of a group of businessmen, including current Panthers minority owners and NASCAR drivers, who are considering a bid for the NFL franchise. He has said he would not be the majority owner by a "long shot" but has not disclosed any other names in the group.

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Sabates, a longtime fixture on the local sports and racing scene, declined to comment this week about the ownership group. He has previously said he has had discussions with Marcus Smith, the CEO of Concord-based Speedway Motorsports, about joining his group, but it's not clear if the Smith family is involved.

This week, a source who declined to be identified because the bid is not public told the Observer the NASCAR drivers interested in joining the Sabates group include Johnson, Busch, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The source also said Chip Ganassi, a team owner who is a business partner with Sabates, is also interested, as well as musician Kid Rock.

Ganassi declined to comment. Representatives for Kid Rock, who was born Robert James Ritchie, did not respond to requests for comment. A representative for Jeff Gordon could not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earnhardt Jr. last month said Sabates had not asked him to be involved but that he did call Smith to express his interest. A representative for Earnhardt could not be reached on Wednesday.


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