Some big NASCAR names discuss, finally, their interest in being - | WBTV Charlotte

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

(Jeff Siner | Charlotte Observer) (Jeff Siner | Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Brendan Marks and Rick Rothacker/Charlotte Observer) - 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 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 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.

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.

Richardson announced plans in December to sell the team at the end of the season. The move came shortly after Sports Illustrated reported allegations of workplace misconduct by Richardson during his ownership tenure. The NFL is investigating.

To assist with the sale, the team has hired New York investment bank Allen & Co., a blue-chip firm known for working on sports and media deals, as well as New York and Charlotte lawyers. As the sale process moves forward, some interested parties have already signed confidentiality agreements. After the Panthers select a winning bidder, NFL owners would have to approve any sale.

Before the Super Bowl, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said there won’t be a stipulation that the Carolina Panthers remain in Charlotte as part of an ownership change, but he said he expects the league’s owners to prefer the team stay in Charlotte.

“That will clearly be the intent of our ownership,” Goodell said in response to an Observer question during his state of the league address to the media.

It’s possible, however, a new owner might want to find a stadium to house the team. Sabates has said Bank of America stadium is outdated and the city needs a domed building to attract other events.

Busch told the Observer that to be involved with his hometown team would be a “big deal” for him, even though realistically he can only attend a few games a year with the NASCAR schedule.

“Hopefully, there’s a guaranteed seat at the stadium with part ownership, and that would just be fun also,” Busch said. “The guys that we’ve been talking with, they’ve been real open and communicating well.”

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