Ryan Ellis becomes Matt DiBenedetto’s PR rep for 2017

Ryan Ellis made 24 starts across NASCAR’s three national series last year, another young driver trying to stay alive in the sport by jumping into whatever ride he could.

But Ellis, tired of waiting for his big break and facing another exhausting season of trying to chase sponsorship, realized it might be best to take a year off from driving, then reset and try again in 2018.

His job for this season, though, is perhaps unprecedented for a driver who raced in the NASCAR Cup Series as recently as November.

Ellis is now the public relations representative for Matt DiBenedetto, who joins GoFas Racing’s No. 32 car this season.

“I’ve always said, ‘Hey, PR person Ryan,’ because he would always just do everything for me and he’s so good at working with people and just kind of winging everything,” said DiBenedetto, who is close friends with Ellis. “That joke actually turned into a reality for this year.”

It was actually such a running gag between the two that when DiBenedetto sat down and sincerely offered the position, he kept trying not to laugh. All joking aside, he said, there was a lot Ellis could do to help the team.

And Ellis, 27, didn’t have to think very hard about it before accepting. Despite having what he called “the best racing year of my life” in 2016, every potential opportunity closed up.

“It’s just so hard to claw and scratch and still be able to pay the bills halfway through a season,” Ellis said this week in between shuttling DiBenedetto to various stops on the NASCAR Media Tour. “I’ve been able to do it the last couple years, but it just takes such a burden on you.”

That’s no exaggeration; Ellis has taken side jobs like working at the Richard Petty Driving Experience and even mopping floors at a BMW dealership to make ends meet.

So the opportunity to try his hand at PR — which comes with a steady salary — was too good to pass up, especially while working with a good friend.

“(Finding a ride) is only getting harder,” Ellis said. “With the self-funded drivers or the drivers who know the right people, you’re just not going to get one of these opportunities without money. I need to pay the bills, so I’ve just got to accept it and do all I can.

“Outside of it being weird, it’s not going to be hard.”

But it is definitely going to be weird. Ellis joked he already wanted to quit while hearing DiBenedetto, a feel-good story last season for BK Racing, tell reporters over and over again how the key to surviving in NASCAR is sticking around long enough to get one great opportunity.

Ellis said the biggest challenge will come when he’s at the track every week but can’t get in a car despite still wanting to race.

“Being emotionally stable (will be the hard part),” he said with a smile. “It’s great to be working with a friend and hopefully bettering his career, but it’ll be hard not making those comparisons to the drivers you think you’re better than who are on the track every week. That will never go away.”

DiBenedetto said Ellis will be “one of the best in the industry” despite a lack of experience because “he’s pretty much done his own PR and self-promoted himself for so many years.”

Of course, if Ellis gets really desperate to get back into a car before 2018, there’s always one sinister option.

“The good news is I control Matt’s food for the most part, so I can poison him at certain tracks,” he said.

Matt DiBenedetto (left) and Ryan Ellis take a break from playing iPhone billiards during the NASCAR Media Tour on Wednesday. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

Hat-tip to Chris Knight for first tweeting about this development.

First Impressions: Kevin Magnussen and the mysterious tattoo

It’s not every day someone invites JeffGluck.com to participate in a group interview with a Formula One driver (FACT CHECK: This has never happened before), so I decided to take advantage of Haas F1 Team’s generous offer on Thursday.

Kevin Magnussen, a 24-year-old from Denmark, is the team’s new addition. He replaced Esteban Gutierrez and joins Romain Grosjean as the drivers for America’s (F1) Team this season.

I’d never met Magnussen before and didn’t know much about him, aside from that his dad (Jan) made a Cup start for James Finch at Sonoma in 2010 (FACT CHECK: I actually didn’t remember that without looking it up).

Anyway, my professional colleagues asked Magnussen a bunch of racing questions, and it seemed like he gave sort of the standard answers. Excited about the opportunity and all that.

Magnussen smiled a lot when he spoke and generally seemed to be very pleasant, but was a bit guarded. I tried asking a couple personality-based questions to see what he was all about, but they didn’t get me very far.

For example: What’s the best and worst part about being an F1 driver aside from the actual driving?

“The best part is obviously in the car and the race weekend,” he said. “Everything in between is just preparation. When you go racing, that’s the best feeling. … Sometimes traveling can be tough, but that’s a small price to pay.”

Why is Denmark the happiest country in the world?

“Maybe because our wives are so pretty,” he said.

But one thing I couldn’t get past was the giant tattoo on Magnussen’s right forearm. This dude was INKED by race car driver standards, with a tat featuring a large stopwatch, roses, dice and playing cards.

Fortunately, NBC’s Nate Ryan broached the subject: What’s the story behind the tattoo?

“There’s no story,” Magnussen said.

“Viva la Vida?” Ryan prodded, reading the wording on one part of it.

“Yeah,” Magnussen said.

Everyone chuckled. I chimed in and noted I saw dice and playing cards as part of it.

“Good,” he said with a half-smile.

Motorsport.com’s Lee Spencer tried to help, too. Are you a gambler, she asked?

“I guess racing is a little bit of a gamble,” he said. “You could do more safe things.”

“So the cards (on the tattoo) –”

“– have nothing to do with it.”

More laughter.

It was clear he didn’t really want to talk about it, which is fine, but of course it piqued my interest. So I Googled “Kevin Magnussen tattoo” after the interview, and it turns out he shared a pretty simple explanation with Formula1.com last year:

Everything together has a meaning: hope, belief and love! For us Danish it is a way to live – probably like Sisu for the Finnish. I changed that a bit to my situation: the dice are hope, the stopwatch of course is time, or belief that I will make it, and the roses symbolise love.

So maybe the tattoo isn’t much of a mystery after all. It was likely more a case of interview weariness after a long day of answering questions.

ICYMI: Notable Nuggets from the NASCAR Media Tour

Look, you’re a busy person. You don’t have time to stay up to date on every single freaking thing that happened on the NASCAR Media Tour.

So ICYMI, here are some quick takeaways from this year’s two-day event.

Everyone seems to love the new NASCAR changes

Nothing close to a bad word was spoken about the new format — which normally doesn’t mean anything since drivers could get fined if they criticize the sport.

However, I got the sense they actually meant it in this case and weren’t just trying to be politically correct. Drivers seem to be very optimistic and positive about the upcoming changes, and so am I. The fans are, too:

Danica Patrick might have some sponsor trouble

This was odd because it didn’t come up in her news conference at all, although the absence of a Nature’s Bakery firesuit tipped off reporters that something was amiss. Shortly afterward, there were several reports about how Nature’s Bakery might be backing off its sponsorship for this season.

Furthermore, there was no Nature’s Bakery patch on Patrick’s firesuit — even as an associate sponsor. Hmm…

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Carl Edwards’ decision is still a mystery to everyone

No one pretended to really “get” Edwards’ exact reasons for retirement, even friend Matt Kenseth (who said he had talked to Edwards). Former teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch sounded similarly clueless (and less than thrilled) about it.

But then a Missouri political columnist speculated Edwards could run for U.S. Senate, a notion Edwards didn’t exactly shoot down via a text message conversation with the AP’s Jenna Fryer.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ready to go

It was nice to see the sport’s most popular driver looking happy and healthy — and he’s clearly anxious to get started again.

In an excellent but all-too-brief media session (where Earnhardt said he wished he could have stayed longer), the recently married driver spoke of the perspective he gained while being out of the car and said he eventually wanted to retire on his own terms — not because of poor health.

Bubba Wallace needs some funding to run a full season

The Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity Series driver said he’s good for the first six races of the year with sponsor Leidos, but then needs some help to run the rest of the schedule. However, Wallace said he’s optimistic that will happen.

No pizza allowed

Box lunches weren’t cutting it for the aforementioned Jenna Fryer, who did everyone a solid on Tuesday and ordered four pizzas from Papa John’s (they were half price because the Charlotte Hornets scored 95 points the previous night).

But the Charlotte Convention Center was like OH HELL NAH, and Wednesday morning’s session opened with a reminder that no outside food is permitted on the Media Tour.

Lesson learned.

So, about that name…

As you might have heard, I’m now “Jeff Gluck from JeffGluck.com.” And people seem to be getting a kick out of the name.

For example:


It sounds funny and it IS funny. I’m laughing along with everyone else, and people sort of grin when they ask me if I’m keeping the name.

The truth is, I tried to come up with a bunch of different names before launching this new venture. None have worked out so far, but I figured you might get a kick out of the backstory.

At first, I thought I hit on a good name: Starting40.com (get it? Forty cars in a NASCAR race?). I bought the website domain and then even convinced the dude who had the Twitter name @Starting40 to give it to me for free (although I sent him a $25 gift card to Amazon because I felt bad).

But then I realized there was a big problem: It looks there might not be 40 cars in many Cup races this year! So that would be pretty dumb if I used it and it was really a starting 37.

Next, I thought of a really cool website name that involved the word “restart” in it (I don’t want to say what exactly it is). It would be appropriate because I’m restarting my career and there’s an obvious racing connection to the word, too.

So I looked up the dude who owns the site (which doesn’t have anything on it) and emailed him out of the blue, asking if he’d consider selling it. I got a reply saying it was his wife’s site and he needed to talk to her about it.

A couple days later, some good news!

Hi Jeff,

I talked to my wife and she is ok potentially selling the domain so if you like please name a reasonable price and see if we can work it out together. I was super pumped about this, but I wasn’t sure how much to offer. How much does a website name cost? I dunno.

I wrote back:

That’s very kind of her, please tell her thanks for considering it. I’ve actually never done this before and, embarrassingly, have no concept of what would be an appropriate price. Is $100 in the ballpark? No offense intended if not, I just really don’t know.

Well, apparently that was an insulting offer, because I never heard from them again despite following up several times. Damn.

Then I came across a site called OnTheTrack.com, and I thought that name was semi-cheesy but not terrible. And the site actually had a form on it where I could ask for sales info.

Sweet!

I filled it out and sent it off, with fingers crossed for a reasonable price.
Then I got this email back:

Hi Jeffrey,

My name is (Redacted) and I’m a Domain Broker with (Redacted). We represent the current owner of onthetrack.com.

I discussed this with my client and based on many criteria, their expectations are $19,000.00.

Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to make an offer. Thank you for your inquiry.

LOLOLOL … WHAT??? I couldn’t believe it. $19,000 for a website name? Who pays for this stuff?

Anyway, I went back to GoDaddy and tried to come up with a non-lame name that ends in a .com (I don’t want a .net or .info, personally) and struck out.

With time running out before my site launch, I realized I was stuck with JeffGluck.com for now.

My media friends have been very encouraging so far and keep telling me to say it in news conferences. “Own it,” they say. But instead, I’ve only said things like, “Hi, Jeff Gluck, over here in the middle” after initially mentioning it in the format changes presser.

Anyway, hopefully I can either come up with a good idea or enough money to buy a good name at some point.

In the meantime, we can all laugh together.

Matt Kenseth clueless as to why Carl Edwards quit racing

Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards have been fairly tight the last few years, with their infamous Martinsville altercation buried long ago.

But even Kenseth says he’s still not sure why Edwards stepped away from racing — this despite speaking with Edwards on the phone about it.

“I called him and asked him (why) straight out, and when I hung up, it was probably less clear than before I picked (the phone) up,” Kenseth said. “I tried to listen to what he was saying, I tried to listen to what he wasn’t saying and I didn’t really come up with anything.”

Kenseth said he had no idea Edwards was thinking of leaving until Joe Gibbs put all the drivers and crew chiefs on a conference call together on a Sunday night — which was the first time that had ever happened in Kenseth’s tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing.

“(Gibbs) told us about it then, and I guess the announcement was (the next) Wednesday,” Kenseth said. “That was the first time I heard about it, and I was very, very surprised.”

But Kenseth said after thinking about it more, he wasn’t totally shocked — because that’s sort of Edwards’ nature.

The AP’s Jenna Fryer asked why that is.

“Carl has always been his own guy, right?” Kenseth said. “He kind of does his own thing, and if he decided that’s what he needed to do at the time, it doesn’t shock me he actually went through with it.”

Below: Matt Kenseth cracks jokes in a sarcastic press conference.

Untitled Jeff Gluck Podcast: Episode 1

In the first-ever episode of my new podcast, Jordan Bianchi from SBNation.com joins me to help digest all the changes announced for the 2017 NASCAR season. (Warning: I didn’t know how to edit a podcast very well yet, so the volume is uneven at times — sorry!)