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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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Friday 5: Questions about size of future Hall of Fame classes

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After NASCAR celebrates the ninth Hall of Fame class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), questions may soon arise about how many inductees should be honored annually.

NASCAR inducts five people each year. When NASCAR announced eligibility changes in 2013, a former series executive said that the sanctioning body would “give strong consideration” to if five people should be inducted each year and if there should be a veteran’s committee “after the 10th class is seated.’’

The 10th class — which Jeff Gordon will be eligible for and expected to headline— will be selected later this year and honored in 2019. That gives NASCAR a year to determine what changes to make if officials follow the schedule mentioned in 2013. NASCAR has discussed different scenarios as part of its examination of the Hall of Fame.

Among the questions NASCAR could face is should no more than three people be inducted a year? Should only nominees who receive a specific percentage of the vote be inducted? Should other methods be considered in determining who enters the Hall? 

Only one of the last five classes had all five inductees selected on at least 50 percent of the ballots. Five people in the last three classes each received less than 50 percent of the vote.

The challenge is that if NASCAR reduced the number of people inducted after the Class of 2019, it could create a logjam in the coming years.

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (provided Edwards does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2020.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth (provided Kenseth does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2021.

Stewart would appear to be a lock for his year and it seems likely Earnhardt would make it as well his first year.

If the Hall of Fame classes were cut to three a year, and Stewart, Earnhardt and Kenseth each were selected in those two years, that would leave three spots during that time for others.

The nominees for this year’s class included former champions Bobby Labonte and Alan Kulwicki, crew chief Harry Hyde (56 wins, 88 poles) and Waddell Wilson (22 wins, 32 poles), car owners Roger Penske, Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs and Cup drivers Buddy Baker, Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd.

A 2019 Class that might feature Jeff Gordon, Harry Hyde, Buddy Baker and two others would still leave some worthy candidates who might not make it for a couple of years if the number of inductees is reduced.

Of course, there are those who haven’t been nominated that some would suggest should be, including Smokey Yunick, Humpy Wheeler, Buddy Parrott, Kirk Shelmerdine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant and Tim Richmond. That could further jumble who makes it if the number of inductees is reduced.

Those are just some of the issues NASCAR could face as it examines if any changes need to be made.

2. Hall of Fame Classes and vote totals

Note: NASCAR did not release vote totals for the inaugural class (2010 with Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr., and Bill France Jr.). Below are the other classes with the percent of ballots each inductee was on:

2018 Class

Robert Yates (94 percent)

Red Byron (74 percent)

Ray Evernham (52 percent)

Ken Squier (40 percent)

Ron Hornaday Jr. (38 percent)

2017 Class

Benny Parsons (85 percent)

Rick Hendrick (62 percent)

Mark Martin (57 percent)

Raymond Parks (53 percent)

Richard Childress (43 percent)

2016 Class

Bruton Smith (68 percent)

Terry Labonte (61 percent)

Curtis Turner (60 percent)

Jerry Cook (47 percent)

Bobby Isaac (44 percent)

2015 Class

Bill Elliott (87 percent)

Wendell Scott (58 percent)

Joe Weatherly (53 percent)

Rex White (43 percent)

Fred Lorenzen (30 percent)

2014 Class

Tim Flock (76 percent)

Maurice Petty (67 percent)

Dale Jarrett (56 percent)

Jack Ingram (53 percent)

Fireball Roberts (51 percent)

2013 Class

Herb Thomas (57 percent)

Leonard Wood (57 percent)

Rusty Wallace (52 percent)

Cotten Owens (50 percent)

Buck Baker (39 percent)

2012 Class

Cale Yarborough (85 percent)

Darrell Waltrip (82 percent)

Dale Inman (78 percent)

Richie Evans (50 percent)

Glen Wood (44 percent)

2011 Class

David Pearson (94 percent)

Bobby Allison (62 percent)

Lee Petty (62 percent)

Ned Jarrett (58 percent)

Bud Moore (45 percent)

3. Charter Switcheroo

Five charters have changed hands since last season. One will be with its third different team in the three years of the charter system.

In 2016, Premium Motorsports leased its charter to HScott Motorsports so the No. 46 team of Michael Annett could use it.

The charter was returned after that season, and Premium Motorsports sold the charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car of Erik Jones for 2017.

With Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing not finding enough sponsorship to continue the team, the charter was sold to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 team of Chris Buescher for this season. (The No. 37 team had leased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing last year).

So that will make the third different team the charter, which originally belonged to Premium Motorsports, has been with since the system was created.

4. Dodge and NASCAR?

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne excited fans when he said in Dec. 2016 about Dodge that “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.’’

One report last year stated that Dodge decided not to return to NASCAR, and another countered that report.

While questions remain on if Dodge will return to NASCAR, Marchionne announced this week at the Detroit Auto Show that he’ll step down next year, and that Fiat Chrysler will release a business plan in June that will go through 2022. The company will announce a successor to Marchionne sometime after that.

Marchionne said, according to The Associated Press, that the U.S. tax cuts passed in December are worth $1 billion annually to Fiat Chrysler.

A Wall Street Journal story this week stated that Fiat Chrysler makes most of its profit from its Jeep and Ram brands, writing that those brands “have been on a roll as U.S. buyers shift to these kinds of light trucks and away from sedans, which is a segment the company has largely abandoned.’’

5. NMPA Hall of Fame

The National Motorsports Hall of Fame will induct four people into its Hall of Fame on Sunday night. Those four will be drivers Terry Labonte and Donnie Allison and crew chiefs Jake Elder and Buddy Parrott.

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BRANDT returns for third year with JR Motorsports in Xfinity Series

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BRANDT Professional Agriculture will return as a sponsor for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, the team announced Wednesday.

The company will be a primary sponsor of Justin Allgaier‘s No. 7 Chevrolet in 19 races and an associate sponsor of Allgaier and his three teammates the rest of the season.

Brandt has sponsored Allgaier for eight years, including the last three with JR Motorsports.

Allgaier is a native of Riverton, Illinois, which is 15 miles from Springfield, Illinois, where the company is headquartered.

JR Motorsports

Allgaier, 31, is coming off his second season that ended with him in the Championship 4. He earned two wins, 10 top five and 17 top-10 finishes. He also led a series-high 495 laps among Xfinity regulars.

He will be teammates with Elliott Sadler, Tyler Reddick and Michael Annett this year.

The Xfinity season begins Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway.

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NASCAR revamps Rookie of the Year points system in national series

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NASCAR has changed how it determines the Rookie of the Year in all three national series, it announced Thursday.

The new system, which will debut in a month at Daytona International Speedway, reflects the points system that decides the champion in each series, including the stage format in races.

A race win will earn a rookie candidate 40 points and five playoff points. A second-place finish will is worth 35 points and a third-place finish is 34 points, etc.

A rookie candidate who wins a stage will earn 10 points and one playoff point.

“The focus on our rising stars has never been stronger and simplifying the Sunoco Rookie of the Year system made perfect sense,” said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations in a press release. “Our fans track closely the progress of our young drivers and matching the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points structure with the championship points will help them follow this prestigious program and award more closely than ever before.”

Erik Jones was Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series last year. William Byron won the honor in the Xfinity Series and Chase Briscoe won it in the Camping World Truck Series.

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Watkins Glen, Michigan announce multi-year sponsor deals

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Watkins Glen International and Michigan International Speedway announced multi-year sponsorship deals for their Cup Series races Thursday.

WGI announced the Aug. 5 race at the road course will be sponsored by GoBowling.com. The 90-lap race will be called “Go Bowling at the Glen.”

This is not the first time the bowling brand has sponsored a Cup event. It sponsored the spring race at Kansas Speedway from 2016-17 and the August event at Pocono Raceway from 2013-14.

As part of the deal, Go Bowling will have two bowling lanes at the track for the race weekend.

Michigan has renewed its sponsorship deal with FireKeepers Casino Hotel for its June Cup race for “many years.”

The hotel in Battle Creek, Michigan, began its relationship with MIS by sponsoring pole day in 2014. It began sponsoring the June race in 2016.

TheFireKeepers Casino 400 is scheduled for June 10.

ISM Raceway (Phoenix) also announced the title sponsor for its March 11 Cup race.

The event will called the TicketGuardian 500.

TicketGuardian is a mobile ticketing insurance provider. When fans purchase tickets to events at ISM Raceway, they will be given the option to add TicketGuardian’s ticket protection coverage. This allows fans to have insurance on the tickets they’ve purchased in advance.

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