Danica Patrick

Hendrick Motorsports, Danica Patrick documentaries announced for later this year

4 Comments

Two NASCAR-based documentary projects, focusing on Hendrick Motorsports and Danica Patrick, were announced this week. They will premiere later this year.

The Hendrick Motorsports project, Road to Race Day, is an eight-part series that will debut July 19 on go90.com 

Produced by Complex Networks, Peter Berg’s Film 45 and Markay Media, the series documents the team’s 2016 season. The season included Chase Elliott earning the pole for the Daytona 500 in his rookie year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing 18 races because of a concussion and Jimmie Johnson winning his seventh Cup championship.

The project is directed by Cynthia Hill (A Chef’s Life, Private Violence) and executive produced by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Patriots Day).

“At the heart of the series is a team of people who share an incredible passion for and dedication to stock car racing and a drive to win,” Berg said in a press release. “Hendrick Motorsports believed in us and gave us unparalleled access to share their story, and we’re grateful to them for inviting us into their family. Road to Race Day adds a personal dimension to the sport, and it spotlights the passionate individuals who make Hendrick Motorsports one of the most successful racing teams of all time.”

You can watch the trailer for the series above.

Also announced is the epix documentary Danica. Directed by ESPN’s Hannah Storm and debuting this fall, the documentary focuses on the career of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Danica Patrick.

According to deadline.com, the feature “will take a rare, candid look at an icon, capturing never-before-seen moments on and off the track with Danica Patrick and those closest to her.”

and on Facebook

Danica Patrick suffers another hard hit in a season of hits

6 Comments

For the fourth time in the last eight races, Danica Patrick failed to finish because of an accident.

Her car slammed into the inside backstretch wall after a late restart Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, marking her second hard hit in the last five races. Her car was destroyed in a crash May 13 at Kansas Speedway (the same wreck that left Aric Almirola with a T5 compression fracture expected to sideline him until next month).

Patrick’s No. 10 Ford was one of five cars involved in the crash with 10 laps left at Michigan.

The field was going down the backstretch when Kevin Harvick was sandwiched between Ryan Blaney on his outside and Daniel Suarez on the inside.

Contact between the three sent Suarez down the track. Darrell Wallace Jr. hit the left rear of Suarez’s car, which made an impact with Patrick that sent her car sliding toward the inside backstretch wall.

“I went into (Turn 1) and got super loose,” Blaney said. “I hate that it took a couple cars out off  (Turn 2). I got really free for some reason. It caught me off guard, which made it look bad. We had a decent enough car to run up there once we got track position.”

Said Patrick: “I knew when there was a caution with about 15 laps to go that there would end up being another one. I had a good run and went for it and just got hit.”

Patrick finished last in 37th for her sixth DNF, five because of crashes. Blaney, who won last week at Pocono, finished 25th after running as high as second. Harvick placed 14th. Darrell Wallace Jr. finished 19th in his second Cup start as a substitute driver for the injured Amirola.

The crash was the latest hard hit for Patrick in a Cup career that has been full of them (recently documented here by NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan).

At one point this year, Patrick exited three races in four weeks — Bristol, Talladega and Kansas — because of wrecks.

Sunday’s accident marked the end to a tough week for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver, who made negative headlines with a viral Facebook Live video that captured her lecturing fans at Pocono after they booed her for not signing autographs.

Patrick later admitted that she “had a moment,” and that she should have just continued walking.

That was in the midst of reports that Patrick may not be with Stewart-Haas Racing after 2017.

Following her finish at Michigan, Patrick is 30th in the points standings. She is two spots and 12 points behind Almirola, who has missed the last four points races.

MORE: Nate Ryan looks at looming Silly Season movement.

 

Tony Stewart slams NASCAR for final debris yellow that ‘ruined’ race for many

5 Comments

After keeping a mostly low profile during his first season as a retired Cup driver, Tony Stewart took a shot at NASCAR officiating Sunday.

The three-time series champion was unhappy with a debris yellow on Lap 181 of 200 that changed the complexion of the 400-mile race at Michigan International Speedway. The race’s second debris caution helped spawn two more yellow flags that involved three Stewart-Haas Racing drivers in crashes shortly after restarts.

Clint Bowyer, who took over the No. 14 Ford from Stewart this season, slapped the wall on a Lap 187 restart, setting up a Lap 191 restart. Ryan Blaney made contact with SHR’s Kevin Harvick on the backstretch when the race went green, triggering a multi-car pileup that sent Danica Patrick’s No. 10 Ford hard into the inside wall.

Stewart, who was watching the race atop Bowyer’s pit box, expressed his displeasure with a tweet about an hour after the checkered flag.

Debris cautions have been on the decline this season with the advent of stage racing.

Sunday’s final debris yellow at Michigan also was curious because it mysteriously took so long to remove the debris — the five-lap caution was longer than the four laps needed to clear the track during the final yellow for the five-car crash.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. also was displeased by the debris yellow.

“I just wish, with the stages, I don’t know why they’ve got to throw so many damn debris yellows,” Earnhardt said on his postrace Periscope session. “The purpose of having stages was really because the networks want more cautions, more restarts because people tune in when we have a caution. They tune in a for a restart. That’s the whole reason why we have the stages to try to create a little more drama, so I don’t know why we keep throwing the damn debris yellows and stuff.’’

Stewart later added a few more thoughts on the matter and his opinionated style.

Dustin Long contributed to this report

 

Kyle Larson holds off Chase Elliott to capture FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan

2 Comments

Talk about bookending: Kyle Larson started the race weekend by being fastest in practice, then qualified No. 1 and went on to win Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Larson has now won the last two Cup races at MIS, having scored his first career Cup win there last August.

Sunday’s win is the third career win for Larson, who won earlier this year at Fontana. That means Larson has won the last three races at NASCAR’s two 2-mile speedways.

Larson led a race-high 96 of 200 laps. The win also put him back into first place in the NASCAR Cup standings, overtaking Martin Truex Jr. Larson now leads Truex by five points.

“For us to withstand a few restarts there at the end with some tough competitors was pretty important,” Larson said in victory lane to FS1. “Cool to win it and a great Father’s Day present for myself, too.”

MORE: Results of Michigan 400

MORE: Kyle Larson moves atop points standings, but Martin Truex Jr. increases playoff lead

For the third consecutive race at MIS, Chase Elliott finished runner-up.

“From where we started the day to where we ended up, I was real proud of our effort,” Elliott told FS1. “I’m happy we could have a solid day, put ourselves into position … had a couple opportunities to get the lead, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. We’ll move on … and try to get ’em next week.”

Joey Logano finished third, his best finish since his April 30 win at Richmond. In five races between Richmond and Michigan, Logano hadn’t finished higher than 21st.

Denny Hamlin finished fourth, followed by Larson’s teammate, Jamie McMurray. Sixth through 10th were Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson

Truex won both Stage 1 and 2, giving him 10 stage wins for the season. Kyle Busch is second with four stage wins.

HOW LARSON WON: On the final restart with five laps to go, Larson bumped fenders with Denny Hamlin going into Turn 1, regained the lead and then sailed away to victory lane. He also had the most dominant car of the day, leading almost half of the race.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Joey Logano broke his five-race run of poor performances with a third-place finish. Likewise for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished ninth to earn his third top-10 finish of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Danica Patrick finished last in the 37-car field, but it was not her fault. She was involved in a late-race crash after Bubba Wallace ran into the rear of Daniel Suarez, who slammed into Patrick. Her Ford hit hard on the inside wall.

NOTABLE: Ryan Sieg finished 33rd in his first NASCAR Cup race. … Darrell Wallace Jr. finished 19th in his second career Cup race. … Trevor Bayne finished 17th and made a quick getaway as his wife is expected to give birth to the couple’s second child on Monday.

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “We’ve been so close to so many other wins. This is our second Cup win of the year, but we’ve had (five) second-place finishes. All in all a good season so far and we’ll continue to keep building on what we’ve got.” – Race winner Kyle Larson.

WHAT’S NEXT: The series goes west June 25 at Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350, the first of two road-course races.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

Ryan: In sizing up silly season, the most recent winner could be among first again on the move

5 Comments

Amidst seemingly infinite permutations of potential impending driver movement in the Cup Series, there is one constant in the swirl.

NASCAR’s latest fairy tale has a finite shelf life.

The Ryan Blaney breakthrough at Pocono Raceway represented many positives: the furthering of an omnipresent youth movement expected to carry NASCAR to the next generation; the resurgence of a storied organization that seemed headed for the boneyard eight years ago; the expansion of a playoff field that promises to be Cup’s first winners-only championship invitational (despite including some unexpected qualifiers).

But the 23-year-old’s inaugural victory also signified a mostly overlooked reality: Blaney’s tenure with the venerable No. 21 Ford has an expiration date that rapidly is approaching.

Blaney’s initial contract was with Team Penske, which essentially has farmed him out to technical affiliate Wood Brothers Racing since 2015. The partnership strengthened when the 67-year-old team returned to a full schedule last year for the first time since 2008 and took another step in the offseason with the relocation of Wood Brothers Racing headquarters in close proximity to Penske’s sprawling shop in Mooresville, N.C.

But just like Trevor Bayne, Elliott Sadler, Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty before him, Blaney isn’t expected to stay long since earning his first Cup win with Wood Brothers Racing.

Jarrett was off to Joe Gibbs Racing within six months of his August 1991 win at Michigan. Petty had moved onward within three years of February 1986 at Richmond.

For the team’s two previous winners before Pocono, Sadler was announced as joining Robert Yates Racing roughly 15 months after March 2001 at Bristol Motor Speedway, and Bayne’s plans for a full-season ride at Roush Fenway Racing were unveiled barely theee years after his  2011 Daytona 500 shocker (a departure that probably was delayed by the driver’s illness while running a partial schedule).

Because of his existing contract with Penske, a parting with Blaney could be announced more suddenly than any of those.

But it’s become an accepted way of doing business to survive for Wood Brothers Racing, which deserves credit for evolving over the past quarter-century from a storied powerhouse (99 victories with the likes of David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Neil Bonnett among more than a dozen winners in the No. 21) to a solid satellite of Penske in the Ford Performance stable.

As Petty noted on NASCAR America this past week, other legacy teams belonging to Petty Enterprises, Junior Johnson and Bud Moore couldn’t make the transition because they didn’t embrace the mandatory survival instincts as well as Wood Brothers Racing did.

Team co-owner Eddie Wood was candid when asked by NBCSports.com about the understanding that Blaney can’t stay long-term.

“The relationship we have is great,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “Nobody can ever take this away. Just like with Trevor Bayne, nobody can ever take that win away.

“When Ryan came to drive our car, it was actually kind of understood that he was going to be moving on probably the next year, and then it didn’t happen, and whenever it happens, that’s fine. Everybody will move on, and he’ll go on to bigger and better and greater things. He’s going to win a lot of races, and I think he’s going to win some championships. Whatever we do from there, it’ll be fine.”

Blaney’s thoughts? “What (Wood) said,” he said. “I like where I’m at.”

The most authoritative voice on the matter belongs to Roger Penske, who wasn’t heard from in the postrace news conferences at Pocono. “The Captain” already had tipped his hand a week earlier in a USA Today Sports story that quoted Penske hinting Blaney would join the Team Penske fold “sooner rather than later.”

There have been rumblings since May of overtures about Blaney’s availability since Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced the 2017 would be his last season in the No. 88 Chevrolet.

Consecutive axle failures at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway for the No. 21 prior to Pocono (perpetuating the negative perception of whether the team’s purpose was partly as an R&D outfit) helped fuel the conjecture, and Penske’s recent on-the-record reaffirmation of keeping Blaney under his umbrella seems conspicuously timed, considering contracts can contain escape clauses predicated on teams fielding cars for their drivers.

Blaney’s future fits into a larger tapestry of teams that could reshuffle driver and sponsor lineups based on an array of factors ranging from performance to preference to purse strings.

Who could be involved? Here’s a lap around the Cup circuit.

Brad Keselowski: He reiterated his loyalty to Penske this week and said he hopes to announce his plans soon, but there hasn’t been a definitive declaration of his landing spot.

The 33-year-old, who also owns a truck team that has lost seven figures annually, needs to secure the most financially lucrative deal possible while in the prime of his career (“Some great charts show a driver’s best years are right around age 39 … so I still have six of the best years of my career left”), and he has leverage. 

When he left to join Team Penske, Rick Hendrick famously said he would like to bring Keselowski back, and Earnhardt’s vacant No. 88 offers that option.

It still would be stunning to absorb Keselowski exiting Penske, where he has emerged as a star over the past eight seasons. He shares Michigan roots with Penske (whose empire is based in the Detroit area) to make the pairing a natural fit.

Yet a move doesn’t seem improbable. Asked six weeks ago whether he’d be interested in the Hendrick ride, Keselowski replied, “Do I have to have a yes or no?” with a smile.

“It’s a Hendrick car, which by nature means it’s going to be one of the best cars available for a long period of time,” he said. “But I also would say the car that I’m in is one of the best available. The team I’m with, I have a lot of equity in, so I’m pretty darn happy where I’m at, but I’ve learned in this world to never say no.”

If Keselowski made the surprising decision to depart, Blaney would be an obvious choice in the No. 2 for Penske.

Besides an established working relationship with teammate Joey Logano (who re-signed with Penske through 2022 in February), Blaney would be an easy sell to primary sponsor Miller Lite. The iconic beer brand surely took notice of Blaney reveling post-Pocono in a beer-swilling celebration on social media while also promoting an edgier side through a weekly podcast that has dabbled in a swath of Barstool Sports-esque ribald humor.

Kasey Kahne: He has a contract with Hendrick Motorsports that runs through next season, but the team would appear to hold all the cards on whether it’s fulfilled.

Whether via performance (Kahne hasn’t won since 2014 and is on pace for his worst points finish since 2005) or sponsorship (the No. 5 Chevy appears to be far short of a full slate for 2018), there are many indicators this could be Kahne’s last season with an organization that recently restructured management (and that Johnson conceded is exploring “a lot of options”).

A cryptic Twitter posting did little to allay this assessment.

Danica Patrick: She said last week she intended to drive next season, but it’s questionable whether it will be in the No. 10 Ford of Stewart-Haas Racing. 

Similar to Kahne, she signed a deal through 2018 (in concert with Nature’s Bakery, whose troubled sponsorship will end a year early in a greatly diminished capacity), but her middling results coupled with financial uncertainty left her status murky beyond this year. The Associated Press reported this week that her contract now will end this season, and the Sports Business Journal has reported Patrick and Stewart-Haas Racing have discussed whether she will drive for the team in 2018.

Erik Jones: His rookie season with Furniture Row Racing’s second car has been a success, but similar to Blaney, his primary contract is with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Team owner Barney Visser, whose bluntness is legendary, made it clear he has Jones locked down for only one year, and that he expected Jones would leave after ’17. If Jones returned to Gibbs, the only available opening would be the No. 20 of Matt Kenseth as Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Daniel Suarez are under contract beyond 2017.

Kenseth: His deal expires after this season, making the 45-year-old’s future the source of seasonlong speculation that has revealed little (aside from an unwelcome reminder of the Internet’s unreliability as a purveyor of journalism). Kenseth recently addressed his outlook with a nugget in his fan club newsletter.

Kurt Busch: Stewart-Haas Racing announced a multiyear extension with Busch in October 2015 that included expanded sponsorship from Monster Energy. The energy drink company became the title sponsor of NASCAR’s premier series this season with a deal for two years plus a two-year option.

After two seasons with SHR and Busch, it’s worth pondering if this also is a contract year for Monster’s team sponsorship, and whether the overlapping outlays might complicate a team renewal.

Paul Menard: His family’s home improvement chain sponsorship typically is an annual renewal that gets negotiated and announced during the summer. After making the playoffs in 2015, Menard is ranked in the mid-20s in points for the second consecutive season, his seventh in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 27 Chevrolet. Prior to RCR, Menard drove for Ford teams from 2009-10.

Carl Edwards: He has passed so far on returning, but the smart money still is on trading in his tractor for a stock car at some point.

XXX

While the attention was focused on Lowe’s committing to only one season with Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet as part of the driver’s three-year extension, the silver lining was the news that the company would be continuing its primary sponsorship for 38 race weekends (36 points races, plus the two exhibition events).

Several companies (such as Miller Lite) have balked at full-season commitments and elected to reduce their investments in recent years. It might be looked at as a preferable compromise to the decrease the length of a deal’s terms in order to maintain the integrity of the $20 million-plus price tag.

If Lowe’s, a full-season sponsor of Cup for more than two decades, had reduced its slate of races, it certainly would have been viewed as a major canary in the coal mine on the state of team sponsorship.

“I certainly would hope and think that it would go on further, but very excited to have a one-year contract with them now,” Johnson said of Lowe’s. “Thirty-eight races at a full-time primary sponsorship is nothing to sneeze at.”

Now that Hendrick has secured Lowe’s at least for 2018, the focus shifts to what Nationwide chooses after Earnhardt leaves the No. 88. Hendrick has signaled optimism about keeping the company, but the decision inextricably will be linked with the car’s next driver.

XXX

Crew chief Chad Knaus also is signed through next season with Johnson. Knaus indicated this weekend he planned to stay until at least 2020 (when he turns 49; he doesn’t intend to work as a crew chief past 50), and he said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast in February that a record eighth championship with Johnson is the goal.

“I don’t see why there isn’t an opportunity for that to happen,” Knaus said on the podcast. “Obviously we all know the structure of the industry is changing with the rules, the formatting, the competition is tougher than it ever has been. Racing is a harder thing to do now than at any other point in our lives because the culture and the environment has changed so much.

“Technology has come into play that has taken a little bit of the basic racer — which is what I am. I’m just a racer, I’m not an engineer. I’m not as smart as half the people that work for me — out of our hands to a degree. You approach it differently. My job has changed significantly since the first time I was a crew chief in 1999. We’ve got possibilities. We’ve got a lot of good stuff coming. There’s a lot of really neat things coming on the horizon that will be good for the 48.”

Listen to the rest of Knaus talking about his future on the podcast here (it starts around the 32-minute mark).

XXX

Chevrolet program manager Alba Colon was a guest on the most recent NASCAR on NBC podcast and shed some light on the new spirit of cooperation between Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

Colon, who has worked in NASCAR for General Motors since 1994, said the teams’ collaboration on a wheel force transducer project proved the spirit of unity was at an unprecedented level.

“One team was building the vehicle, the others were testing and sharing the information and going to the tests together,” Colon said. “We didn’t see that before. They all realize the goal is to beat the other (manufacturers). We have to do it working together.”

Part of that cooperation has stemmed from a Chevy Racing simulator that opened in Huntersville two years ago. Ford Performance and Toyota Racing Development were ahead in building and unveiling their driver simulators to the public, but Colon said Chevy recently has been validated by buy-in from several drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. tested on the simulator before Dover International Speedway, and Colon said Johnson logged several sessions of making laps in virtual reality.

“You see drivers asking for that, you’re doing something right,” Colon said.

XXX

The afterglow of Blaney’s win at Pocono also fueled a debate over exposure values. Brett Wheatley, executive director of North America for Ford Customer Service Division, said Friday that Blaney’s 2017 season had delivered “upward of $50 million” in media value for Ford, Motorcraft and its other brands that sponsor the No. 21.

Jon Wood, the director of business development at Wood Brothers Racing, tweeted the metrics were derived partly through Joyce Julius. That prompted several social media posts about the authenticity of exposure values, which isn’t a new discussion.

In a Twitter exchange earlier this year, Richard Childress Racing’s chief marketing officer noted many NASCAR teams had moved away from Joyce Julius to relying on Nielsen’s Repucom to measure sponsorship impact.

Interestingly, in the most recent post on Joyce Julius’ site, Blaney was listed as the 10th most mentioned driver during Cup broadcasts in the 2017 season through Dover (the race before his win).