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Stewart-Haas Racing files suit against sponsor of Danica Patrick’s team

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Stewart-Haas Racing filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery, the sponsor of Danica Patrick‘s team, Friday in North Carolina Superior Court.

The Associated Press first reported the suit.

Stewart-Haas Racing seeks $31.7 million in actual damages, plus interest. Nature’s Bakery was to pay $30.4 million of base fees for the remaining two years of the contract, along with another $1 million in other fees.

Stewart-Haas Racing stated in the lawsuit that the actions of Nature’s Bakery “set SHR up for a devastating loss of revenue just before the beginning of the 2017 race season; and rendered it nearly impossible for SHR to have any reasonable hope of mitigating its damages.”

Stewart-Haas Racing issued a statement Friday night:

“Nature’s Bakery is in material breach of its contract with Stewart-Haas Racing. It is an unfortunate situation, as the team has delivered on all aspects of its contract and was prepared to do so again in 2017. Ultimately, this is a situation that will be resolved in a court of law.

“Stewart-Haas Racing remains focused on its preparation for the 2017 NASCAR season where it will again field four entries in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series while also introducing a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series team. The litigation with Nature’s Bakery will not impact the organization’s on-track efforts.”

Stewart-Haas Racing stated in the complaint that “this is an action to recover substantial damages from the Defendants’ unfair trade practices and associated intentional and bad faith breaches of a multi-year primary sponsorship agreement associated with the #10 SHR race team.”

Stewart-Haas Racing stated in the complaint that after Nature’s Bakery expressed interest in 2015 in sponsoring Patrick’s team, the organization “expressed significant concern that Nature’s Bakery would be unable to afford a primary sponsorship of the magnitude it requested. Mr. (David) Marson, for himself, and the Marsons, for the Marson Trust, and Nature’s Bakery, provided repeated assurances that Nature’s Bakery had the cash flow and funds to meet all financial requirements of the proposed sponsorship agreement.”

The suit states that for the 2016 season, Nature’s Bakery was to pay $15,212,000 to sponsor the team. It was to pay the team $5 million on or before Oct. 1, 2015; $3,404,000 on or before Feb. 1, 2016; $3,404,000 on or before May 1, 2016; and $3,404,000 on or before July 1, 2016.

For 2017, Nature’s Bakery was to pay $15,212,000 to sponsor the team with the same type of payment schedule.

For 2018, Nature’s Bakery was to pay $15,212,000 to sponsor the team with the same type of payment schedule.

The complaint states with the contract set, Stewart-Haas Racing moved forward on other matters, including signing Patrick to a multi-year agreement that goes through the 2018 season.

The complaint states that “soon after executing the Sponsorship Agreement, Mr. Marson and Joe Marshall (Nature’s Bakery Chief Financial Officer) reached out to SHR executives, and stated that Nature’s Bakery was having cash flow issues, and asked if the payment amounts and deadlines in the Sponsorship Agreement could be modified to assist Nature’s Bakery with its cash crunch.”

Stewart-Haas Racing changed the payment schedule for 2016 for Nature’s Bakery to pay $2.5 million on or before Oct. 1, 2015;  $1 million on or before the 15th of each month from January to May 2016; and $1.928 million on or before the 15th of each month from June to September.

For 2017, the payment schedule was adjusted to $2.5 million on or before Oct. 1, 2016; $2.5 million on or before Dec. 1, 2016; and $3.4 million on or before the first day of February, May and July 2017.

Among the many extra benefits Stewart-Haas Racing provided Nature’s Bakery, according to the lawsuit, were two additional races free in 2016 when both Patrick’s car and the No. 14 car of Tony Stewart had Nature’s Bakery as a primary sponsor at the Dover race in October. The team also stated in the lawsuit that Stewart-Haas Racing helped Nature’s Bakery avoid track fees for activation access and “upon learning of the mold outbreak in Defendants’ product, SHR worked to open and dispose of many samples of Nature’s Bakery products that contained heavy mold, to avoid fans from receiving tainted product (and the resulting reputational issues that would surely follow).”

Stewart-Haas Racing states that Nature’s Bakery reached out to the team in late summer 2016 to modify the base fee payment terms, “representing that modification was again necessary due to Nature’s Bakery’s internal cash flow issues.”

The payment schedule was again changed. Nature’s Bakery was to pay Stewart-Haas Racing $1 million on before the 15th of each month from January to March 2017 and $2,042,400 on or before the 15th of each month from April to August 2017 and $1 million on or before the 15th of September and October 2017. The 2018 payment schedule also was adjusted.

Stewart-Haas Racing accused Nature’s Bakery of concocting “a scheme to avoid further payments” by claiming that Patrick had endorsed competing products and did not use her social media presence enough to promote Nature’s Bakery. Stewart-Haas Racing states in the complaint that “these claims are false.”

Stewart-Haas Racing states that “the thrust of Nature’s Bakery’s complaints about Danica Patrick supposedly endorsing competing products is her personal endorsement of Six Star Pro Nutrition’s protein powder. Protein powder is not competitive with fig bars or brownies. Furthermore, Danica Patrick had been endorsing Six Star Pro Nutrition’s protein powder, publicly, for many months prior to the execution of (the) Sponsorship Agreement, and continued to do so afterwards.

“Never once did Defendants claim that her doing so amounted to a breach of the Sponsorship Agreement (nor could it, because, again, the protein powder is not a competing product).  … Danica Patrick never endorsed Six Star Pro Nutrition’s protein bars. Worse, Nature’s Bakery “liked” numerous of Danica Patrick’s Instagram posts regarding Six Star Pro Nutrition and other protein powders. Clearly, even Nature’s Bakery did not consider Danica Patrick to be endorsing a competing product, until it decided to drum up reasons to terminate the Agreement.”

The suit says Nature’s Bakery sent a letter to Stewart-Haas Racing on Jan. 19 seeking its desire to terminate the sponsorship agreement.

Stewart-Haas Racing stated in the lawsuit: “In every respect, SHR complied with its obligations under the Sponsorship Agreement.

“In every respect, Defendants materially breached their obligations under the Sponsorship Agreement, and did so using unfair, deceptive, manipulative and bad faith tactics.

“Left with no options to protect its rights and interests, SHR files this action seeking to recover all amounts due pursuant to the Sponsorship Agreement, plus interest, and all other damages.”

Nature’s Bakery served as the primary sponsor on Patrick’s car for 27 points races last year along with what was called the Sprint Unlimited and the Sprint All-Star Race. Nature’s Bakery was to have served as the primary sponsor of Patrick’s team for a minimum 25 races this season, according to the lawsuit.

Patrick 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 of her team.

The Nature’s Bakery website does not contain references to Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing or NASCAR.

Messages to representatives of Nature’s Bakery about this matter have yet to be returned.

Click here to view the lawsuit

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Long: After 27 years away, lucky charm returned for Martin Truex Jr.’s championship

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — Its origins remain mysterious, just as if the good luck charm really has any power.

But a series of fortunate events followed after it was given by a Los Angeles firefighter to hall of fame drag racer Darrell Gwynn in 1989. After sitting in his trophy case 27 years, Gwynn gave it to Martin Truex Jr. on Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Two days later, Truex pulled the lucky rabbit’s foot from his uniform pocket after winning his first Cup championship.

“That son of a bitch worked!’’ he said.

Was it luck? That would discredit the effort Truex, crew chief Cole Pearn and the rest of the Denver, Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing team did to win Sunday’s season finale.

Even in a year when things seemed to come easy for this team — Truex’s eight victories were the most since Denny Hamlin accomplished that feat in 2010 — this race was a struggle. Truex did not have the strongest car much of the race. He only asserted his strength late in the race when the sun set over South Florida.

He also had help. When title contender Brad Keselowski pitted on Lap 198 of the 267-lap race, Pearn called Truex to pit immediately. Title contender Kevin Harvick followed. They all would have to pit again but with fresh tires so much faster than old tires, it was a move they felt they had to make.

“We hadn’t talked about it a lot, and kind of realized in a split‑second way that that was what we were going to have to do to be something different because one split stop in the run wasn’t going to beat (Kyle Busch) being better than us on the long run.’’

Crew chief Adam Stevens kept Busch on track and in the lead until Lap 215. It was Busch’s last scheduled stop.

But a caution on Lap 229 ruined the strategy for Stevens and Busch. Truex led and Busch was fourth as they entered pit road. Truex exited first and Busch gained a spot to third but it meant he would restart on the inside of the second row. The outside line — where Truex chose to start as the leader — was the preferred line. Busch lost two spots on the restart and fell to fifth with 34 laps to go.

While Busch charged, he couldn’t get close enough to Truex make a move for the win and finished second.

“I just found a line that worked for my car with 20 laps to go that I couldn’t find all day long,’’ Truex said. “Not only did it help my car but it hurt Kyle’s car. He got to second, and when he did, he was three, four tenths (of a second) faster than I was before I found the line, and that was the difference.

“Just found it when I needed it. The timing was right, and we made it happen.’’

When the white flag flew for the final lap and Truex knew the race was “over.’’

The next time he came by, he scored the win and the championship by leading his 78th lap of the race in the No. 78 car.

“Are you serious, 78 laps?’’ Truex said when informed of that.

“You know, some things are just meant to be, I guess. That’s all you can say. Last year wasn’t meant to be. We worked just as hard as we did this year, and this year just it all came together. It felt right. It was our time, and that’s proof right there, there is a higher power.’’

And maybe the power of a rabbit’s foot.

Gwynn’s lucky charm came from a friend who often volunteered to work for Gwynn’s drag racing team at the California races. The first time he showed up at Pomona to work with the team, they won. One year, the friend took the rabbit’s foot to Pomona and rubbed the starting line with it. Gwynn won.

He doesn’t know where the rabbit’s foot came from but knows sometimes a little luck doesn’t hurt. His friend later convinced Gwynn to put it in his dragster at the 1989 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. Gwynn qualified first, set the national record and won the title. The next week, Gwynn dominated the Keystone Nationals in Pennsylvania. He won the Gatornationals in early 1990 with the rabbit’s foot in the car.

Gwynn didn’t have it when he suffered life-threatening injures in an April 1990 crash in England that has left him in a wheelchair since.

“After I got hurt, the rabbit’s foot meant so much to me,’’ Gwynn told NBC Sports. “I took it out of my car and put it in my trophy case. This week, I had it hanging in my garage. I got a text from Martin and I asked him, ‘Hey can I count on you to fish in the tournament (at Homestead on Friday). Martin’s answer is always ‘Of course you can count on me.’

“It just made me think a little of Martin as a person. As I was going out of my garage, I saw the rabbit’s foot there and I said I know somebody who can use that this weekend. He’s been running good all year long but he needs some luck here because the way the format is, it’s all down to one (race). I took it out of the trophy case after 27 years.

“The deal was if it worked, he got to keep it. If it didn’t work, I got it back for sentimental reasons. I’m glad it worked. I wanted to him to win. I love his story. I love him.’’

Truex, though, is blunt about his belief in such items.

“I don’t believe in lucky charms,’’ he said. “I don’t have superstitions.’’

So why did he take the rabbit’s foot?

“I carried it because I respect Darrell a lot,’’ Truex said. “He’s a good friend of mine, and the fact that it meant enough to him ‑ this weekend meant enough to him for him to take something out of his trophy case after 27 years that he really believed would help me, I was going to put it in my damned pocket. Period. End of story.’’

And there it was as Truex celebrated his title.

“Whether this rabbit’s foot contributed to this win or not,’’ Gwynn said, “the fact is he won and to me that’s what I wanted to see happen this weekend.’’

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Emotional year helped inspire Martin Truex Jr. to championship

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Martin Truex Jr. felt he could only do so much in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400. But if he was to win his first career NASCAR Cup championship, he was going to need some help.

Following all of Sunday’s post-victory celebrations, Truex and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex joined Krista Voda, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett on the NBC stage.

And that’s when Truex revealed he did what he could, but he left the outcome in the hands of a higher power.

“I’ve learned along the way that God has a plan, you never know what it’s going to be and sometimes, it’s your time,” Truex said. “This year felt like our year. Everything went the way we needed it to go. We worked hard, we worked our butts to get here.

“But at the end of the day, there is a higher power. And we worked hard, had faith in each other and had each other’s backs through thick and thin, no matter what it was.

“I’m just so thankful for (owner Barney Visser), his team, what he’s built and believing in me, four years ago when we were just awful. … The whole team is just a big family and it was just meant to be, I guess.

“There was a long time in this race where I thought, ‘This is tough, I don’t know how we’re going to get better,’ but I kept digging and telling them what I needed. Cole made the decision to change his pit strategy, caution comes out and we get the lead, and it’s ‘alright, it’s in my hands. I’ve gotta find it.’

“They were better than me all night long and I found something. I didn’t know if it was there, but I went and looked for it and I found it. Unbelievable.”

Even with the eight wins and now the championship, it’s still been a trying year for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Cole Pearn lost his best friend, Jacob Damen, to a bacterial infection in early August at the age of 35.

There also was the loss of team fabricator Jim Watson on Oct. 21, who died of a heart attack while the team was in Kansas City for that weekend’s playoff race.

And then Visser suffered a heart attack Nov. 4 and then underwent bypass surgery two days later. He’s still recovering, so much so that his doctors forbade him from traveling to Homestead and didn’t even allow him to watch the race on TV (he got updates via text throughout the event).

But the most emotional and difficult time of the season for Truex was what Pollex underwent. Pollex had been in remission from ovarian cancer, only to have it recur in early July.

Through Truex’s path to the championship, Pollex has continued to undergo chemotherapy treatment. It was the inner strength from her medical battle that proved to be an inspiration for Truex.

“I thought about this moment so many times but I couldn’t let myself get there because the emotions were just so strong after everything we’ve been through,” Pollex said. “To hear (Truex) say that, he understands now that there’s a bigger picture and God has a bigger plan for us, and that this is where we’re supposed to be, to help and inspire other people at home that are going through any struggle in their life, not just cancer, but everybody’s going through something.

“I feel like God put us in this place for a reason. I don’t want to have cancer, but I do, and I’m going to use my platform to help other people through our foundation and ‘#SherryStrong’ and I think we’ve done that this year.

“I tell him all the time that if you inspire and do things for other people, good things are going to happen to you one day and I truly believe that. I knew that in the end, they were going to come out a winner and it was amazing to be part of it tonight.”

Catch the entire interview with Truex and Pollex in the video above.

Matt Kenseth after potential final Cup start: ‘I did the best I could every week’

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While Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave one of his last TV interviews as a Cup driver in the middle of a loud throng of crew members and fans, Matt Kenseth‘s was typical of the 2003 Cup champion.

After finishing eighth, the 45-year-old driver spoke to NBC’s Kelli Stavast in a much quieter part of pit road by himself.

A week after his emotional win at Phoenix, Kenseth said he “didn’t think about much in the last 20 laps” of the Ford EcoBoost 400, likely the last race of his NASCAR career.

The only thing on his mind was “getting by the 2 car” of Brad Keselowski for one more position.

“Obviously, last week was a magical week or race – to win that race and then this week has been really fun,” said Kenseth, who won his 39th Cup race last Sunday. “The pre-race stuff was really fun. I was glad Katie (wife) was able to get down here and all and having the kids here, my dad, my sister and everybody.

“It was really fun, obviously, what DeWalt did with this paint job and Habitat for Humanity, but doing my rookie paint job was cool as well. So it was a really cool day.”

Kenseth and Earnhardt each drove the paint schemes from their 2000 rookie years. Before the race, Kenseth and Earnhardt’s cars were placed together on the starting grid so the long-time friends could take in the moment together.

Two hundred and sixty-seven laps later, Earnhardt finished 25th, three laps down. Kenseth took his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Toyota to his 327th top-10 finish.

His Phoenix win gave him 181 top fives.

Kenseth was asked what he hoped his legacy, which spans more than 20 years on the NASCAR circuit, would turn out to be.

“Some people are going to like you, some people aren’t,” Kenseth said “Some people are going to respect you, some people won’t. So I mean, whatever people think, they think. I did the best I could every week. Didn’t always do the right thing, that’s for sure, but raced as hard as I could and at the time I always felt like I was trying to do the right thing and gave it my all every time I went to the race track, so that’s all I could do.”

Watch the above video for the full interview.

Cup Championship drivers sound off after Miami finale

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Martin Truex Jr. triumphed over his three championship contenders Sunday night in the Ford EcoBoost 400, claiming the title against Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.

The 37-year-old driver earned the title in his 12th full-time Cup season.

NBC talked with all four championship drivers following the race. Watch the above video for Truex’s first interview as a Cup champion. Below are interviews with the three other drivers.

Kyle Busch

Busch may have had the fastest car at the end of the race, but in the closing laps he was held up for an extended period of time by Joey Logano. He eventually got by the No. 22 Ford, but ran out of time to get around Truex and finished second in the race and the championship standings.

Busch shared his frustration with how Logano raced him when he talked to NBC.

Kevin Harvick

Harvick finished fourth in the race and third in the title standings. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was in the Championship 4 for the third time and put SHR within reach of a title in its first year with Ford. Harvick was the only one of the four title contenders who didn’t lead a lap Sunday afternoon.

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski led one lap in the race and finished seventh in his first time in the Championship 4. Keselowski said the No. 2 team “threw everything we could at it” but couldn’t find enough speed to challenge the Toyotas of Truex and Busch. The Team Penske driver later lamented that non-Toyota teams didn’t have much of a chance to win the title.