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Nature’s Bakery responds to Stewart-Haas Racing lawsuit; claims team could not ‘control’ Danica Patrick

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Nature’s Bakery states in court documents that Stewart-Haas Racing could not “control” Danica Patrick and “was more interested in cashing Nature’s Bakery checks than in making the sponsorship a success.’’

Nature’s Bakery, which served as the primary sponsor for Patrick’s team in 2016, filed a counterclaim Friday in North Carolina Superior Court for Cabarrus County. That was in response to a $31 million lawsuit SHR filed Feb. 3 after Nature’s Bakery terminated its three-year agreement two years early.

Brett Frood, president of Stewart-Haas Racing, issued a statement Saturday morning in response to claims made by Nature’s Bakery:

”Nature’s Bakery is in material breach of its contract with Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s an unfortunate situation, but we know we’ve delivered on all aspects of our agreement and more. We took great pride in elevating the brand awareness and relevance of its products and were prepared to continue activating pursuant to the agreement in 2017 and beyond. Nature’s Bakery chose to breach and terminate the contract. We’re confident with our position.”

Nature’s Bakery stated it court documents it did not see the return it was led to believe by Stewart-Haas Racing that it would experience.

Nature’s Bakery noted in court documents that it relied on Stewart-Haas Racing for guidance with activating the sponsorship properly because of a limited staff and lack of experience in the sport.

“SHR’s promises were illusory and misleading,’’ Nature’s Bakery stated in court documents. “There was no massive increase in sales. NASCAR viewership was retreating. The team had other significant operational problems. SHR lacked the ability to control Patrick’s performance under the Agreement.

“As a result, the Sponsorship came nowhere close to fulfilling its promises, nor justifying the more than $17 million Nature’s Bakery paid SHR in 2016.’’

Nature’s Bakery sent Stewart-Haas Racing a notice of termination on Jan. 19. The sponsorship, which Nature’s Bakery was to pay $15 million a year, was to have gone through the 2018 season. The company was to have been the primary sponsor on Patrick’s car for 28 races each season.

Among its complaints, Nature’s Bakery claimed that Patrick did not properly promote its product and endorsed a competitive product.

Nature’s Bakery stated in court documents that in “roughly 475” messages she posted on her Instagram account in 2016 that “only 15 or 3% referenced Nature’s Bakery.’’

Nature’s Bakery also stated that in “roughly 600 times to her Twitter account in 2016 … only 13 or 2% referenced Nature’s Bakery.

“Patrick posted more than 530 times to her Facebook account in 2016, but only 18 or 3% referenced Nature’s Bakery.’’

Stewart-Haas Racing stated in its lawsuit that the sponsorship agreement does not contain a requirement for such social media postings.

Stewart-Haas Racing previously stated that Patrick endorsed Six Star Pro Nutrition’s protein powder and that it was not a competing product.

Nature’s Bakery also cited that it wanted Patrick to hold its fig bar while walking around the pit area on race weekends. “That rarely happened,’’ the company stated in court documents. “But race fans and TV audiences saw her frequently with a bottle of Coca-Cola or Coke Zero in her hand, another sponsor of Patrick’s.

“When Nature’s Bakery asked SHR why it could not cause Patrick to showcase its products more frequently, SHR said it had difficulty controlling her conduct. Its failure to manage her performance robbed Nature’s Bakery of the fundamental promise and benefit of the relationship.’’

Patrick stated Feb. 22 that she saw no issues with how she promoted Nature’s Bakery.

“I think that it was a shock to all of us that one year into a three-year deal that there was a problem, but everything that was ever asked of me I did to the very best of my ability,’’ Patrick said.

Stewart-Haas Racing stated in its lawsuit that as a “gesture of good faith” it asked Patrick in December to stop posting on social media regarding items that Nature’s Bakery contended were competitive.

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Here’s your primer heading into second half of NASCAR Cup playoffs

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If you thought the first five races of the NASCAR Cup playoffs were intense, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

As the 10-race playoffs move into their second half, the final five races will likely be more competitive than the first five.

That’s particularly true in Sunday’s cut-off race at Kansas, where the current field of 12 remaining playoff contenders will be cut to eight after the checkered flag falls.

And then there will be the Round of 8 cut-off race at Phoenix in four weeks that will set the four-driver field for the championship race in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Thanks to our friends at RacingInsights.com, here’s some of the top playoff insights that will help fans better understand where we are in the playoffs heading into Kansas:

  • Playoff drivers have won all five races in the 2017 playoffs.
  • The last time a driver who didn’t make it into the playoffs won a playoff race was Denny Hamlin at Homestead in 2013.
  • The last playoff race won by a playoff driver who was previously eliminated from the playoffs was Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Phoenix in 2015.
  • Tony Stewart in 2005 is the only driver to go on to win the championship without winning a race during the playoffs.
  • Four of five playoff races so far this season have been won from a qualifying position of sixth or better.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega driving a Ford, ending a four-race playoff winning streak by Toyotas. Also, prior to Talladega, Toyota drivers had won all four poles and all four races in the 2017 playoffs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the pole at Talladega, but finished seventh.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega with a last lap pass for the win, it was the eighth playoff race won with a last lap pass and the only one in the last 29 races.
  • There were 11 cautions at Talladega, the most cautions in the last 18 playoff races.
  • There were a combined 21 cautions in the last two playoff races, the same number as the previous four playoff races combined.
  • Talladega last week: 14 cars running at the finish, 26 total DNFs (including 24 DNFs due to wrecks), three red flags and only two playoff drivers finished in the top 10 – all records for a playoff race.
  • A Chevrolet driver has finished runner-up in each of this season’s first five playoff races.
  • Chase Elliott has finished runner-up three times so far in the playoffs. The record for most runner-up finishes in the playoffs in a season was four by Jeff Gordon in 2014 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006. Elliott has also finished runner-up at both 1.5-mile tracks so far, with three more 1.5-mile tracks still left in the final five races (Kansas, Texas and Homestead-Miami).
  • Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are the only drivers still playoff-eligible that have scored stage points in every playoff race.
  • The best average finish by a driver in all 10 races of the playoffs is 4.9 by Carl Edwards in 2011. Edwards tied Tony Stewart for the championship, but Stewart won on the first tiebreaker – more wins (five to Edwards’ one).
  • Martin Truex Jr. has led the playoff standings through the first five races of the playoffs, tying Matt Kenseth in 2013 for the most races led by a driver to start the playoffs. Truex also won at Kansas in May.
  • Three drivers have won races during the playoffs in all three years of the elimination format entering 2017: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson all three drivers have yet to win in 2017.
  • Only two of the 135 playoff races were won by drivers getting their first NASCAR Cup win: Clint Bowyer in 2007 at New Hampshire and Brian Vickers in 2006 at Talladega.
  • Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to win a race in every season of the playoffs entering 2017. Entering Kansas, Johnson remains winless in the 2017 playoffs.

Long: Lack of stage points could end Jimmie Johnson’s bid for 8th title

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Jimmie Johnson’s spotter says he’ll be “crossing my fingers” this weekend at Kansas that the mistake he made at Talladega doesn’t keep Johnson from advancing in the playoffs.

Should the seven-time series champion fail to move on to the Round of 8 — he holds the final transfer spot entering Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway — it won’t be because spotter Earl Barban told the team it could work on Johnson’s car before NASCAR had withdrawn the red flag at Talladega, incurring a penalty that ended the team’s race.

No, Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the team can look at their failure to collect as many Stage 1 points as their competitors. Even if Johnson advances, his lack of stage points could keep him from racing for a championship if he doesn’t win a race in the Round of 8.

Johnson goes to Kansas with a seven-point lead on Kyle Busch for the final transfer spot. Matt Kenseth trails Johnson by eight points.

Before the playoffs began, Johnson was asked if there would be more of a penalty for his summer slump that cost him stage points.

“I really think so,’’ he said. “We know our qualifying average doesn’t lead to a Stage 1 opportunity.’’ 

Johnson’s struggles in qualifying have put him in a mid-pack spot and made it difficult to score many points in the opening stage. His average starting spot of 17.0 this season is worst among the remaining playoff contenders

The result is that Johnson has scored 59 Stage 1 points in 31 races this season — fewest among all but one of the remaining playoff contenders. Johnson has scored only 35.8 percent of his 165 total stage points in the opening stage. To compare, Kyle Busch, who has an average starting spot of 7.1, scored 58.7 percent of his 315 total stage points in the opening stage. 

Johnson’s difficulties in the playoffs have been as pronounced.

Johnson’s average starting spot of 15.2 in the postseason is only better than Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (16.2 average starting spot in playoffs) and Jamie McMurray (18.2).

Johnson’s 27 stage points are more than only Stenhouse (14) and McMurray (13) in the playoffs.

Johnson also has scored 37 percent of his total stage points in the opening stage — the lowest percentage among the remaining title contenders in the playoffs. 

To compare with Busch, he has an average starting spot of 4.8 in the playoffs. That’s allowed Busch to score 63.5 percent of his 52 total stage points in the opening stage.

Add it together and Johnson could face quite a challenge to stay in title contention.

Having to hold off Busch won’t be easy, provided Busch doesn’t run into problems.

In four of the first five playoff races, Busch has scored five or more stage points than Johnson in the opening stage. If Busch does that Sunday, he will be in position to pass Johnson for a spot in the next round over the final 187 laps of the 267-lap event.

That’s a likely scenario. Busch has outscored Johnson 80-41 in stage points in the season’s eight races on 1.5-mile tracks.

If Busch moves into a transfer spot, Johnson likely will have to beat Ryan Blaney to have a chance to break his tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt in championships. Blaney has a two-point lead on Johnson.

Blaney has scored 108 Stage 1 points compared to Johnson’s 59 for the entire season. Blaney has outscored Johnson 196-165 in total stage points this season. In the playoffs, Blaney has a 10.2 average starting spot (compared to Johnson’s 15.2). Blaney has outscored Johnson 28-27 in total stage points in the postseason.

The challenges could be difficult for Johnson this weekend.

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NASCAR video: A.J. Allmendinger could be spoiler at Kansas

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It’s admittedly been a rough season for A.J. Allmendinger.

In the first 31 races, Allmendinger has one top-five finish and five top 10s.

He’s 26th in the NASCAR Cup point standings, which is on pace to be the worst full-time season of Allmendinger’s Cup career.

But there’s a bright spot for Allmendinger in this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Allmendinger has recorded two top-10 finishes in the last three races at the 1.5-mile track.

And he’s ready to go for another top-10 Sunday.

“In the last few races, the track has widened out for three-wide racing,” Allmendinger said. “It’s a fun race track, run the bottom, middle or top. It’s a place we’ve had success at, we’re ready to go do it again.”

NASCAR America: Dale Jr. on last run at ‘Dega, thoughts on rising new stars (videos)

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In a way, Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was another example of the changing of the guard in NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. took his last ride around the place, starting from the pole and finishing a respectable seventh.

As a special guest on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America on NBCSN, Junior recalled the thrill of his final Cup race at the sport’s longest racetrack, the emotion that went with it and how he felt his day went overall. Check out the video above for his thoughts.

At the same time, Earnhardt also said Sunday’s race was a good example of how some of NASCAR’s young up-and-coming stars like Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are really starting to make their presence felt in the sport.

When Earnhardt retires at season’s end, it’ll be up to drivers like Elliott, Blaney, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Austin and Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and others to keep the sport advancing and growing.

Earnhardt also revealed on the show that he had a “passing the baton” moment at Talladega with both Elliott and Blaney.

He also noticed that in addition to the sell-out crowd cheering him on as it has for the last 18 years, a large number of fans cheered loudly and noticeably when Elliott took the lead.

Will many of Junior’s fans ultimately gravitate to start following drivers like Elliott and others as he closes in on retirement at season’s end?

Check out his thoughts in the following video, as well.