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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 retired 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 airplane and heads over the France.

“The realism is unbelievable. 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, Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Chip Ganassi Racing GT driven by Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller last year.

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 will be likely Thursday or Friday.

NASCAR America: What should Joe Gibbs Racing do about Kyle Busch’s pit crew?

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The first race of Kyle Busch‘s 2017 playoff run did not go well.

After leading 85 laps and winning the first stage, Busch’s day was plagued by consecutive miscues by his new pit crew, which had just been swapped with the one for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez.

After pitting early in the stage because of a loose tire, the No. 18 was penalized for crew members going over the wall too soon.

Busch went two laps down and ultimately finished in 15th, one lap down.

On NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman and Kyle Busch addressed the situation Busch’s team finds itself in after one playoff race and what they should do. Both believe JGR should continue with the pit crews as is.

“Is this nerves? Here’s a team that Daniel has run sixth, seventh and eighth (with)” Petty said. “Now you’re asking them to pit for a car that’s running for the championship. The pressure ramps up. Everything’s a little more intense at the sharp end of the stick than when you’re lost in the crowd. Did that get them yesterday? It was just a mental let down. A mental mistake by the gas man to step over the wall. Over than that, I think they could’ve recovered and I think they will recover. This is one race.”

Said Kligerman: “I agree with the decision of going with the 19’s pit crew, because they used analytics. … I’m glad to seem them do that. They saw the numbers, they said ‘this team is better, let’s use them. This is what we’re going to go off of.’ But that doesn’t account for the human factor, which is that you are pitting for a different driver and drivers enter the box differently.”

Watch the video for the full discussion.

NASCAR America: Testing of tires during races ‘fairly common practice’ for NASCAR

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Eyebrows were raised during Sunday’s Cup Series playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway when NASCAR officials disappeared into a blue tent to test tires belonging to the teams of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., dunking them in water.

But Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said it is a “fairly common practice” Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“It’s been going on for a few years,” O’Donnell said. “It’s something we’ve done just to make sure for the competitors, everybody’s on a level playing field. It helps us with Goodyear as well to make sure the tires are legit, which we’ve always found they are.”

It’s an issue the crew chiefs for Busch and Truex are OK with.

“Usually when you’re running good, they’re going to come take them,” Cole Pearn said Sunday. “That’s fine. They’re just doing their due diligence, doing what they should be doing. No issue there.”

NASCAR America’s Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman weighed in on the story and why fans need to know about NASCAR’s practices concerning tires.

“This is something fans haven’t known about,” Petty said. “This is something maybe the guys inside that square, fenced-in area called the garage area all know about and just take for granted. But the fan … they want to know. ‘Why are you guys doing this? What’s this all about?'”

Said Kligerman: “It’s good that they’re doing this because they’re checking on the fact that teams could be trying to cheat the rules a little bit by making the airs leak out of the tires, therefore having a car on the long run that would be really fast because it would keep the right air pressure.”

Watch the above video for more.

Report: Lawsuit reveals Farmers Insurance paid $666,000 a race to sponsor Kasey Kahne

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Almost a year after Farmers Insurance announced it would cease sponsoring Kasey Kahne following the 2017 season, a report by ESPN reveals that Farmers Insurance paid Hendrick Motorsports roughly $666,000 a race to sponsor the No. 5 Chevrolet in 2017.

ESPN’s report is based on documents in a lawsuit filed by Sports Marketing Consultants related to “a dispute on the percentage of commissions owed on the deal” between Farmers Insurance and Hendrick Motorsports.

Farmers Insurance, which has sponsored Kahne for six seasons, was the primary sponsor on the No. 5 car in 12 races from 2015-17. There are three races left on the 2017 deal.

Farmers was on the No. 5 when Kahne won the Brickyard 400 in July.

Great Clips announced it would also cease sponsoring Kahne in May. A few weeks after the Brickyard win, Kahne’s only victory since 2014, Hendrick announced he would not be back in the No. 5 next season.

Farmers’ initial contract ran from 2012-14, when it sponsored the No. 5 for 22 races each season. Farmers paid Hendrick $13.5 million in 2012, $14.04 million in 2013 and $16.348 million in 2014, according to the ESPN report.

With the decrease to 12 races a year beginning in 2015, the company paid $7.6 million that season, $7.8 million in 2016 and $8 million this season.

The report also describes various performances bonuses for Hendrick in the initial three-year deal, such as winning a race ($450,000-$550,000) and the Cup championship ($1,157,895).

Read the ESPN story for more details on the contracts.

MORE: Kasey Kahne has new crew chief for rest of playoffs

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Social Roundup: Jimmie Johnson helps out with Lowe’s Hurricane Irma relief efforts

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A day after opening the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Jimmie Johnson went to work helping victims of Hurricane Irma in Florida.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver traveled with one of his daughters to Naples, Florida, to work with his sponsor, Lowe’s, to help those whose lives were upended by the storm that impacted the state last week.

Johnson helped to install air conditioning units, clear away fallen trees and more in his efforts.

The trip to Florida comes after Johnson and his fellow Hendrick drivers established the Team Hendrick Disaster Relief Fund in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. With a goal of $500,000, the fund has raised just over $341,500 so far.

Below is a look at Johnson’s day in Florida.