Danica Patrick ‘had a feeling’ boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. would get first Cup win

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Danica Patrick “had a feeling” all day that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. would be able to win his first NASCAR Cup Series race.

Thanks to an 18-car crash that eliminated her from the Geico 500, she was able to watch her feeling become a reality while she packed to leave the track.

Patrick, who has been dating Stenhouse since before the 2013 season, was in her bus in the Talladega Superspeedway infield when Stenhouse took the checkered flag after a last-lap pass of Kyle Busch.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver had exited the Geico 500 when her No. 10 Ford was part of the large wreck 20 laps from the finish.

“I mean obviously he qualified on the pole, but at the beginning of the race when he was leading I was thinking he was either gonna stay in the lead or something bad might happen,” Patrick said in victory lane. “But I got the feeling that it was just one of those days where he was gonna make it happen. It’s a very good day.”

Stenhouse grabbed his first Cup win in his 158th start.

When he pulled his No. 17 Ford into Victory Lane, the first people Stenhouse saw were Patrick and team owner Jack Roush.

“Pulling into Victory Lane and seeing Jack and Danica standing there together, they’re the same height (laughter), it was super special,” Stenhouse said. “She supports me through anything I need to do, whether it’s spending more time at the shop, whether it’s we need to fly somewhere a little bit later because I need to spend a little bit more time with the guys at the shop, or I want to go to dirt races or anything like that. She’s been so supportive and knows how hard that I’ve worked, and to have her there was really awesome.

“I thought that I would get pictures with her and I and she’d still be in her driving suit, so it worked out that she wasn’t, but it was really special. I was definitely glad that she was there right when I pulled in.”

Patrick said she’s often thought about how post-race festivities would play out if either one of them won a race.

“I honestly think it couldn’t have gone any more perfect than I just had to put my shoes on,” Patrick said. “It really worked out very well. But more than anything, I got to see it. I got to watch the last 19 laps. See how good of a job he did live.”

Patrick’s winning feeling began when Stenhouse claimed the pole Saturday. It was just his second pole and his first since Atlanta in his 2013 rookie campaign.

“We all say qualifying doesn’t really man anything, but what I say is that it is a sign of the speed of car,” Patrick said. “I think that was pretty evident. He was able to pull up on Kyle (Busch) pretty easily without any help. He manipulated the air perfectly and it was meant to be today.”

Over the last few years, Stenhouse has often been identified simply as Patrick’s “boyfriend” in headlines or stories about her (like this one).

But the 29-year-old driver said it “doesn’t matter” to him how he’s labelled in his relationship with his fellow competitor.

“We’ve got a great relationship, just like anybody else does, and both of our main focus is to go out and run well and win races and do what we have to do to do that,” Stenhouse said. “She understands that I’m going to go to the shop a lot, and to have that support and her knowing where I’m coming from is great to have. I don’t mind being known as her boyfriend. She doesn’t mind being known as my girlfriend. Either way, it goes either way, and we couldn’t be in a better place right now.”

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Ford chooses Sebastien Bourdais replacement for Le Mans (and it isn’t Tony Stewart … yet)

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CONCORD, N.C. —  Ford has chosen a replacement for injured Sebastien Bourdais at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is expected to announce the driver soon – but don’t hold your breath NASCAR fans.

It isn’t Tony Stewart, who has indicated his desire to run the renowned event.

While taping an upcoming episode Thursday of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said the three time champion who returned from NASCAR’s premier series last year still is lobbying “every time he sees us” to race a Ford GT car.

“We love Tony, and he wants to get behind the wheel of that GT but not at LeMans” in 2017, Pericak told NBC Sports at the Ford Performance Technical Center.

However, the new co-driver will be relatively inexperienced on the famous Circuit de la Sarthe road course in France. Pericak said Ford’s high-tech simulator (which mainly is used for NASCAR but also is used for sports cars and street models) at its North Carolina facility would help prepare the replacement.

“We will be using the simulator heavily between now and then for that driver to become fully up to speed not only in the GT but at Le Mans,” Pericak said. “There’s a great example of where we’re going to get tons of hours behind the wheel before that driver gets on an airplanes and heads over the France.

“The realism is unbelieveable. It’s a fantastic tool to have with this situation. Otherwise, you pick a driver, send him to Le Mans and take your chances. We’re going to be much more prepared. We already have the simulator ready to run that track because we ran it all last year.”

Returning to France last year, Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Chip Ganassi Racing GT driven by Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller.

Bourdais, who suffered pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in an Indianapolis 500 qualifying crash last Saturday, was released from an Indianapolis hospital Thursday.

“Thank God, he’s going to be OK,” Pericak said. “We’ve talked to him, he’s in good spirits, but we’re really pleased he’s going to make a full recovery.”

Pericak said an announcement of Bourdais’ replacement was likely Thursday or Friday.

NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck crew chief one race

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NASCAR has suspended Camping World Truck Series crew chief Kevin Bellicourt one Truck event and fined him $5,000 because Justin Haley‘s truck failed minimum height requirements after last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The L1 penalty also docked Haley 10 points and the team 10 owner points. He finished 17th in an encumbered finish.

NASCAR also announced Thursday that Joseph P. Light has been reinstated after successfully completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He was indefinitely suspended March 16.

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Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach tentative settlement

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Counsel for Stewart-Haas Racing reported to North Carolina Superior Court on Wednesday that it has executed settlement documents with Nature’s Bakery.

A status report was pushed back 21 days to June 23 in the event the that the parties have not filed a stipulation of dismissal by that date.

No details of the settlement documents were detailed to the court.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

Click here to read court document

Thursday’s schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte

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Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off its weekend leading up to Sunday’s main event, the Coca-Cola 600, with today’s action.

The Xfinity Series will hold two practices, while the NASCAR Cup Series has one practice and qualifies in the evening.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All Times Eastern)

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. – First Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (FS1)

6 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)