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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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Staff picks for Coca-Cola 600

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Martin Truex Jr. Feels as if the previously used Kyle Busch Rule applies in reverse: I’ll pick Truex until he doesn’t win on a 1.5-mile track.

Dustin Long

Kevin Harvick. He becomes a three-time winner of this event and scores his first victory of the season and first for Stewart-Haas Racing since the Daytona 500.

Daniel McFadin

Erik Jones becomes the second first-time winner this season, following in the footsteps of Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Matt Kenseth in getting his first win at Charlotte.

Jerry Bonkowski

Charlotte Motor Speedway is Jimmie Johnson‘s track. In 31 career starts, he has eight wins — including four in the Coca-Cola 600 — plus 15 top-5 and 19 top-10 finishes. He won there last fall, and he doubles up Sunday night.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Winning Coke 600 in final attempt ‘would mean a lot’

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CONCORD, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. “couldn’t have told you what year it was.”

It was 2011 and it was the Coca-Cola 600.

In his fourth year with Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt led two laps in the race. On his way to lead a third – the last lap – his No. 88 Chevrolet ran out of gas in Turn 3. He finished seventh as Kevin Harvick went to Victory Lane.

He’s had better finishes before and since, but that was closest Earnhardt has ever come to winning a Cup points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“(That race) doesn’t really weigh on me that much,” Earnhardt said on Thursday. “It was tough to get over for a few weeks, but I believe (former crew chief) Steve Letarte might still talk about it today, but a lot of things, a lot of water under the bridge since then.”

Earnhardt said two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway winning tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 is the one box he’d like to check off the most during his retirement tour, which has 25 races remaining in it. Earnhardt will visit nine track he hasn’t won at.

“The 600 would be awesome,” Earnhardt said. “Any of them that we haven’t won at would be great. Any win this year, right, would be good. But if I had to pick Charlotte would be … winning the 600 would mean a lot.”

While the tracks in Daytona and Talladega carry a lot of weight in Earnhardt’s history, it’s the 1.5-mile track in his own backyard where he first got a taste of what the sport he would one day be the face of.

Dale Earnhardt poses in Victory Lane with his two sons, Dale Earnhardt Jr., left, and Kerry Earnhardt, right, after winning the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24, 1992. (Photo by Dozier Mobley/Getty Images)

“I grew up here and went to all the races here when I was a little kid,” Earnhardt said Thursday. “I used to go to the dirt tracks with Dad when I was very small, but the first memories of actually being at a Cup event were here. The Eury’s and the Earnhardt family would park up on the hill of the road course, about the tallest peak of elevation there.

“And we had these plastic cars, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough, and we would roll them down the hill of the road course and spend the whole weekend there watching Dad race the Xfinity race and the Cup race.”

The 14-time most popular driver watched his father win at Charlotte five times, including three times in the longest race in NASCAR.

But in 33 of his own Cup starts here, Earnhardt hasn’t driven into Victory Lane.

Even Earnhardt can’t quite believe it.

“I thought, considering we’ve had some decent success in the sport, I would have guessed I’d have got a win here in a point race at some point, but it just hasn’t happened,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve had some close ones, but the way we ran out of the gate as a rookie, we ran pretty good.”

Earnhardt made his Cup debut in the Coke 600 on May 30, 1999, starting eighth and finishing 16th. A year later, he claimed his first career pole in the race. Earnhardt led 175 laps before finishing fourth.

“I thought that this would be a good track for us, but since the repave (in 2006), for whatever reason it’s really been tough for me,” Earnhardt said. “We just really haven’t been able to hit on how to get around here. Either how to set the car up or what I’m looking for or what I need to be doing with the car driving it.”

Earnhardt has six top fives at Charlotte, the most recent coming in the 2015 Coke 600. In his 33 starts, he has an average finish of 19th, which is his third worst among active tracks.

Earnhardt’s bumpy retirement tour hasn’t smoothed out during the season’s two-week layover in Charlotte. Last week, Earnhardt’s final start in the All-Star Race ended with him 18th in a field of 20 cars. He start 19th in tonight’s race.

“We totally eighty-sixed all that stuff we ran last week and we put in Jimmie (Johnson’s) set-up, we’re just like him,” Earnhardt said.

If the No. 88 team should lean on anyone, its Johnson’s team, which has won at Charlotte eight times.

“(Crew chiefs) Greg (Ives) and Chad (Knaus) got real close this week and me and Jimmie have been in communication and Jimmie has come by the car a couple of times in practice already looking at notes and printing out our driver traces and trying to figure out whatever we can do to help me,” Earnhardt said. “One of the things about Jimmie that I’ve always thought was pretty cool was he was always open to looking at other drivers traces and adjusting how he drives.

“If he sees a guy go through the corner and does something different with the gas or the brake he will try it.  And he encourages me or any other teammate to do the same thing.  He comes over with these print outs and says this is what I’m doing with the gas and this is what you are doing and this is where the time is getting lost and maybe try this and that and the other, he is a super teammate.  I’m lucky to be able to work in the same shop with him.  He has certainly been an influence on my success and my enjoyment in the sport.”

If Johnson’s help turns into the desired win for Earnhardt, it will be only his second top 10 finish of the year. His first came with a fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, a sister track to Charlotte.

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How an encounter at NASCAR Hall of Fame changed Ryan Newman’s view of the military (video)

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Ryan Newman‘s appreciation for the military and its purpose was strengthened by a chance encounter with a service member at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

In an interview with NASCAR America, the Richard Childress Racing driver spoke about the meeting, which resulted in a friendship.

“He came up to me and introduced himself and looked me square in the eye and says ‘You’re who we fight for,” Newman said. “I’m like, ‘what are you talking about?’ He goes, ‘You. You and your family, that’s who we fight for. That’s why we go do what we do. Because you represent America. You represent the freedoms that we try to keep and have for our kids. You’re who we fight for.'”

“It hit me and it hit me hard,” Newman said.

Newman and the rest of the drivers in tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 will feature names of fallen soldiers on the top of their windshields.

Newman’s No. 31 Chevrolet will honor Lance Corporal Daniel Freeman Swaim of the United States Marine Corps.

Swaim is the cousin of Cruz Gonzales, the gas man on Newman’s team. Swaim served in the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. On Nov. 10, 2005, he passed away from wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces during Operation Steel Curtain in Iraq.

Tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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Kyle Busch seeks to follow his All-Star win with the first points win of the season tonight for Joe Gibbs Racing. Martin Truex Jr. won at Kansas earlier this month, the last points race before tonight, and will look to repeat his dominance in this event last year.

Before they and others take the green flag, Charlotte Motor Speedway will honor military members on this Memorial Day weekend.

Here are the particulars for today’s Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Channing Tatum, co-star of the upcoming movie “Logan Lucky,” will give the command for drivers to start engines at 6:10 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 6:18 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 400 laps (600 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 100. Stage 2 ends on Lap 200. Stage 3 ends on Lap 300.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. The drivers meeting is at 4 p.m. Driver introductions are at 5:20 p.m.

AMAZING GRACE: Charlotte Fire Department Pipe Band will perform this song at 6 p.m.

21-GUN SALUTE: Fort Bragg Firing Party will perform this at 6:02. It will be followed by the playing of “Taps” by a bugler from Fort Bragg.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: The 82nd Airborne Division All-American Chorus will perform the Anthem at 6:03 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 6 p.m. Its coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at gorpn.com. PRN’s coverage begins at 5 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 83 degrees at race time with a 38 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Martin Truex Jr. led a record 392 of 400 laps to win last year’s Coca-Cola 600. Kevin Harvick was second and Jimmie Johnson third. Johnson won at Charlotte last fall in the Chase. Matt Kenseth was second and Kasey Kahne third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup