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Danica Patrick’s goal for 2017 is simple: ‘Be my best’

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The question was posed to several drivers who walked into the room.

In 2017, I want to …

They said “win another championship” or “win more races” or some variation of those.

One response, though, was different. It was more open-ended.

“In 2017 I want to … be my best.’’

The speaker was Danica Patrick.

“I just want to be my best,’’ she told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “I want to know that I’ve left no stone unturned, know that I have made minimal mistakes in the races, that I dug deep and stepped outside my comfort zone to go faster and do better.

“Do my best. That’s all that I can do.’’

She enters her fifth full-time season of Cup after a frustrating campaign. She finished no better than 11th in any of the 36 points races last season. She has gone 64 Cup races since her last top-10 finish, a ninth-place result at Bristol in April 2015.

Patrick struggled as all three of her teammates each won at least a race last year. Kevin Harvick won four races, Kurt Busch one and Tony Stewart one.

She conceded during the NASCAR on NBC Podcast with Nate Ryan in November her frustrations.

“It’s just not much fun,’’ Patrick said on the podcast. “Running in the top 15 every weekend would be so much more fun.

“It breaks my heart every Sunday when it doesn’t go well.’’

The offseason also has had its ups and downs. She appeared at last week’s NASCAR Media Tour in her TaxAct uniform instead of a Nature’s Bakery uniform, raising questions about the company’s primary sponsorship. The company was slated to be the primary sponsor for more than 20 races this year.

Stewart-Haas Racing stated that it and Nature’s Bakery were in “discussions about how the sponsorship might look in 2017. Both sides have options, and it’s a matter of determining what is best for both parties.’’

Nature’s Bakery website, though, does not feature Patrick, and a press release on the company’s sponsorship of Patrick’s team from Aug. 2015 no longer is on the site. The TaxAct uniform Patrick wore on the NASCAR Media Tour did not include a Nature’s Bakery patch.

Patrick can’t control that situation. Her focus is on the track.

Patrick said she’s spent additional time with crew chief Billy Scott to discuss how they can improve her performance.

“What are we going to do to get the result that we want because if you want the same thing that you’ve had, then just go on and keep doing the same thing, but I want something different,’’ Patrick said. “I want more. I want to do better. I want to have fun. Running 20th or 24th is not fun and I don’t come to add a car to the field and just be out there.

“If I’m not having fun for a long enough time, then there’s so much more to life. This is a year to really see what we can do to have some fun out there and perform. I think they go hand in hand. When you’re having fun, you perform. When you perform, you have fun.’’

Patrick notes that Stewart-Haas Racing’s move from Chevrolet to Ford could lead to greater results. Previously, the organization received engines, chassis and technical support from Hendrick Motorsports. Now, Stewart-Haas Racing will use its own chassis and receive engines from from Roush Yates Engines.

“For me, as a racer, I feel like the best results are going to come from you being able to create your own destiny, your own future by working really hard and having something that somebody else doesn’t,’’ Patrick said. “It’s pretty tough to beat people when you’re getting equipment from them.The best you can expect is the same.’’

Patrick is looking for anything but the same this year.

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NASCAR’s preliminary entry lists for Richmond International Raceway

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NASCAR makes its first visit of the year to Richmond International Raceway this weekend as the Cup and Xfinity Series compete on the .75-mile track.

Cup teams will hold the Toyota Owners 400 while Xfinity teams gear up for the ToyotaCares 250.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races.

Cup Series – Toyota Owners 400

There are 38 cars on the entry list for the Cup race.

Last year, Carl Edwards won this race with a bump-and-run on teammate Kyle Busch on the final turn. Busch had led 78 laps in the race before Edwards, who led 151 laps, powered his way to the victory.

Denny Hamlin won the fall race from the pole after leading 189 laps.

Click here for the full entry list.

Xfinity Series – ToyotaCares 250

Five Cup drivers are among the 42 cars entered into the race, including: Ty Dillon, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson.

The race is the third Dash 4 Cash race of the year, meaning Cup drivers with five years or more experience are not eligible to compete in the race.

Last year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won this race after leading 128 of 149 laps. Kyle Busch won the fall race after leading 197 of 250 laps.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR, sports world reacts to Dale Earnhardt Jr. retirement announcement

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Tuesday morning’s news that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire from NASCAR at the end of the 2017 season has sent earthquake-like shock waves throughout the sports world, as well as the social media universe.

Earnhardt will formally announce his retirement at a press conference later this afternoon, which will be covered thoroughly by us at NASCAR Talk.

Here’s some of the top posts from social media on Junior’s bombshell announcement (we’ll be updating throughout the day, so please check back):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring from NASCAR after 2017 season

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced Tuesday morning that he is retiring from NASCAR after this season.

In a release from Hendrick Motorsports, the team said the 14-time most popular driver will discuss the decision at a news conference today at 3 p.m.

Here is the release from the team.

CONCORD, N.C. (April 25, 2017) – After 18 seasons and more than 600 races behind the wheel, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will bring his NASCAR Cup Series driving career to a close at the conclusion of 2017. Today, he shared the news with members of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team.

The fan favorite and two-time Daytona 500 champion will discuss his decision in a press conference this afternoon. He will be joined by Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, for whom Earnhardt has driven since 2008. The two first met about the driver’s decision on March 29.

Earnhardt, who will turn 43 in October, made his first career Cup Series start on May 30, 1999, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Since then, the Kannapolis, North Carolina, native has captured 26 points-paying Cup race wins and been voted by fans as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver a record 14 consecutive years. He has qualified for the NASCAR playoffs eight times.

Now in the midst of his 18th full-time season at the elite Cup level, Earnhardt made his 600th career series start on March 26 at Fontana, California. He will compete in his final NASCAR Cup Series race on Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports will announce plans for its 2018 team alignment at a later date.

After missing the last 18 races of the 2016 season while recovering from concussion symptoms, Earnhardt returned for the season-opening Daytona 500. He repeatedly has said he would take about two months to decide if he wanted to continue driving beyond 2017, the final year of his contract at Hendrick Motorsports.

Earnhardt finished 38th Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway, his fourth finish of 30th or worse in the first eight races of the 2017 season. He fell to 24th in the Cup points standings.

The 14-time most popular driver finished 38th in Monday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, crashing on a Lap 218 restart after an apparent problem with his oil cooler under caution. He lost four spots in the rankings and is 50 points behind the current cutoff for qualiyfing for the 16-driver playoff on points.

Earnhardt hinted the news was coming in an early morning tweet Tuesday.

NASCAR America: Jimmie Johnson’s patience propels him to victory lane in Food City 500

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Jimmie Johnson is known for his patience behind the wheel. Where other drivers may get too hot under the collar and over-react, Johnson is typically cool as a cucumber — and that’s helped lead him to many of his 82 career NASCAR Cup wins.

That patience once again played out in Johnson’s win Monday in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, only his second career triumph (and first in seven years) at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.”

On Monday’s NASCAR America, Greg Biffle and Kyle Petty discussed Johnson’s patience throughout Monday’s race.