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Danica Patrick has Daytona 500, Indy 500 sponsor; now needs ride

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GoDaddy will return to be Danica Patrick‘s sponsor for the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, the company announced Thursday.

Patrick said in November that she would retire from racing after competing in those two events. She has yet to secure a ride for either race but that was slowed by the lack of sponsorship until Thursday’s announcement.

A Chip Ganassi Racing executive said last week that the team was no longer in discussions with Patrick for her to drive for the team in either race. Steve Lauletta, president of Chip Ganassi Racing, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the team would stay focused on its current operations instead of adding another car for those races: “We’re going to stay focused on that rather than put another temporary effort together and not doing it up to the standards that we would want to, so I don’t think you’ll see that happening with us in 2018.”

Ed Carpenter, who owns Ed Carpenter Racing, confirmed to the Indianapolis Star last week he’s had discussions with Patrick but that “it has to be a deal that is beneficial to both parties.”

MORE: Danica Patrick confirms she is dating NFL quarterback

GoDaddy signed Patrick in 2006 when she was in IndyCar and followed her to NASCAR, ending its sponsorship after the 2015 season. While together, Patrick was the face of the company, appearing in 13 GoDaddy Super Bowl ads – the most Super Bowl commercial appearances by a celebrity.

“You could say, ‘we’re getting the band back together,” said GoDaddy Chief Marketing Officer Barb Rechterman. “It makes sense in that our goals are so well-aligned – she’s passionate, tenacious and creative just like so many of our customers who are also looking to leverage the power of the Internet and turn their ‘side hustle’ into a full-time business. Danica absolutely epitomizes the heart of our GoDaddy customers. We love it.”

Said Patrick in a statement: “This is definitely the way I want to finish my racing career – at these two iconic races, backed by my iconic, long-time sponsor. GoDaddy was there for me when my career was just really starting so it’s exciting to be getting back in the GoDaddy ‘green’ for my final two races. Our brands have always been powerful together, and I think it’s awesome to have them at my side when I go ‘all in’ with my businesses after racing.”

Patrick has made six starts in the Daytona 500. She won the pole for the 2013 race. She finished eighth that year, her best finish in the season-opening Cup race. She finished fourth in last year’s Advance Auto Parts Clash. She is eligible for that race this year. Patrick has made seven starts in the Indianapolis 500 from 2005-11. She finished a career-best fourth in her first race there, leading 19 laps. She has two top-five and five top-10 finishes in the Indy 500.

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Danica Patrick confirms she is dating NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers

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Danica Patrick said Monday that she and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are dating. Patrick confirmed the news to The Associated Press.

Patrick, who is from Illinois, is a Chicago Bears fan but will change allegiances.

She told the AP that she and Rodgers met at the 2012 ESPY Awards.

“I told him a long time ago I’d always root for him as a player,” Patrick told the AP. “Now I am probably going to cheer for the whole team. Take out the word ‘probably.’ Now I’m going to cheer for the whole team.”

Patrick ended a five-year relationship with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in November. Rodgers split from actress Olivia Munn in 2017 after three years of dating.

Patrick plans to retire from racing this season after competing in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. She has not announced a deal for either ride. An executive with Chip Ganassi Racing recently told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that they were no longer talking to Patrick about a ride in either race.

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Friday 5: How soon until the next female driver arrives in Cup?

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Danica Patrick’s departure after the Daytona 500 (provided she secures a ride for that race) will leave NASCAR without a female driver in its top series.

It could be years before the next female driver arrives in Cup.

Only two of the 114 drivers who attempted to qualify for an Xfinity race last year were female — Angela Ruch ran four races and Jennifer Jo Cob ran one. Cobb was the only female driver among 103 who attempted to qualify for a Camping World Truck Series race last season.

The last four NASCAR Next classes — which spotlights talented young competitors — featured four female drivers among the 44 racers selected. Those female drivers chosen: Kenzie Ruston (2014-15 class), Nicole Behar (2015-16), Julia Landauer (2016-17) and Hailie Deegan (2017-18).

The 16-year-old Deegan will run the K&N West Pro Series schedule for Bill MacAnally Racing, which has won the past three K&N West titles.

Landauer finished seventh in the points last year in the K&N West Series (after placing fourth in 2016) and Behar was eighth in her second full-time season in that series.

In ARCA, Natalie Decker will run the full season with Venturini Motorsports. She stands to become the fifth female in modern-day ARCA history to compete for a driver’s title, joining Shawna Robinson (2000), Christi Passmore (2003-04), Milka Duno (2013) and Sarah Cornett-Ching (2015).

Former champion crew chief Ray Evernham understands the challenges female drivers face. His wife, Erin, competed in 10 Xfinity races from 2005-06 and 29 Camping World Truck races between 2005-08.

“I think that we’ve got to keep providing opportunities for girls to get that experience,’’ said Evernham, who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 19.

“Now with the technology of the cars, the way they’re doing the setups, things like that, it will make it a little bit easier for newer people to come in. But we’ve just got to continue to provide an opportunity or a path for ladies to get experience.

Just as important will be how well they’ll handle the scrutiny.

“I know it stinks that so many people are so critical of lady drivers, much more critical than they are of a male driver of the same performance,’’ Evernham said. “Each time one of those girls weathers that storm, gets a little bit further down the road, gets some credibility, it gets a lady closer to Victory Lane in NASCAR.’’

NASCAR lists 16 women who have competed in at least one Cup race from Louise Smith, Sara Christian and Ethel Mobley in 1949 to Patrick. Patrick’s 190 career Cup starts are more than the other 15 women combined. Janet Guthrie was next with 33 starts between 1976-80 and followed by Smith with 11 starts from 1949-52 and Robinson, who had eight starts from 2001-02.

Patrick and Robinson are the only females to run a Cup race since 1990.

NASCAR lists 22 females having competed in the Xfinity Series. Patty Moise started 133 races, more than any other driver.  Patrick and Robinson are next with 61 starts each, followed by Johanna Long (42 starts) and Jennifer Jo Cobb (29 starts).

2. “The Great American Race”

The phrase has long been used as the nickname for the Daytona 500, but where did it originate?

Australia.

True story.

Let Ken Squier, who will be among the five men inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 19, explain how he came up with the phrase for the race.

“Well, (Bill) France Sr. had me (in Daytona) from the ’60s.  Daytona always stood out separately, individually, for one thing, the time of year, because most race tracks in America were closed. 

“It was the gathering of the tribes in Daytona Beach, which went all the way back to the turn of the century, when Henry Ford, the Chevrolet brothers, all of that tribe went down there.  They raced down that hard‑packed beach. That never stopped.  One way or another, they continued to go down there in the month of February and toast a few of their friends from the past and turn some wheels.

“That spirit of Daytona is more prevalent than any other when you talk about tracks and parts of the country. In my mind, it needed something that set it aside. Indianapolis was always the greatest spectacle in sports. Indeed, it was.

“But what was Daytona? Well, it was All‑American stock cars in those days, and pretty much the neighbors sounded like your neighbors, particularly if you came from a small town. What would come to mind? I fooled around with that for a long time.

“I was in Australia doing a show. They had a great race over there. It was a long one, it was a dinger, and it was a national holiday. On the way home, I thought, God, that’s what Daytona is. It’s ‘The Great American Race.’

“I got chewed up pretty good about that. Hadn’t I ever heard of Indy? I sure as the dickens had. This was coming from a different place. Sure enough in 1959, when those three cars came across wheel‑to‑wheel at the end of 500 miles, that was The Great American Race.’’

3. Revamped pit stops

Martin Truex Jr. was asked this week about his thoughts on the changes to pit road with five people going over the wall to service the car instead of six this season.

Truex had an interesting take on what pit crew position might grow in importance with the change.

“I think there’s a lot of question marks from all teams, and I know there’s a lot of talk throughout teams and in the industry of how much different it is,’’ he said during a break in the Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. “Everybody is going to think they have a handle on it and then somebody is going to do it different on pit road and whip everybody’s butt in Daytona, so then you’re going to have to re-learn everything and try and figure it out.

“From what I understand, it’s been really difficult. A lot of the weight falls on the jackman as far as making the stops go fast and when all that pressure gets put on one position it makes that one position really important and really different than it’s been in the past.’’

4. Las Vegas test

NASCAR has an organizational test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. That means that one team per organization is permitted at the test.

Among those scheduled to test are William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports), Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske), Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing) and Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing).

5. January racing

While the return of NASCAR can’t come soon enough for many, did you know the last time the Cup Series raced in January was 1981? Bobby Allison won at Riverside, California. That was the season-opening race and the Daytona 500 followed. Riverside opened the Cup season from 1970-81.

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Chip Ganassi Racing not talking to Danica Patrick about Daytona 500, Indy 500 ride

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An executive from Chip Ganassi Racing said Thursday night that the team no longer is in discussions with Danica Patrick to have her drive for the team in either the Daytona 500 or Indianapolis 500.

Steve Lauletta, president of Chip Ganassi Racing, made the comments on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio’s “Dialed In’’ show.

“We’re not talking any longer,’’ Lauletta said. “I think it would have made sense, and we did have conversations if she wanted to run in both races, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, and ultimately we couldn’t come to a solution that worked for both of us.

“We’re going to stay focused on the task at hand … getting (Jamie McMurray) and (Kyle Larson) in Cup and the 42 in Xfinity into Victory Lane as much as we can with the hopes of winning a couple of championships. The same on our IndyCar program. We have got two cars that were testing yesterday in Sebring. We’re going to stay focused on that rather than put another temporary effort together and not doing it up to the standards that we would want to, so I don’t think you’ll see that happening with us in 2018.’’

Patrick announced in November that she planned to finish her driving career by racing in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 this year. Ganassi was viewed as one of Patrick’s best options to compete in both races since it competes in both NASCAR and IndyCar. She said earlier this month on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that finding a ride for both races is “taking longer than I’d like it to take, I’ll be really honest.’’

Asked if he thought Patrick would end up with a ride, Lauletta told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio:

“Ultimately I think she will. She has been fairly successful in some of the races that she’s run at that place. She knows her way around. There are teams that run just the Indianapolis 500 because of the size of the event itself and the history of it. I think that they’ll be able to put something together and certainly wish them luck. I think it would be great for the sport of IndyCar racing to have her come back and run the Indianapolis 500 from an exposure standpoint and people wanting to tune in, and hopefully it will be to see (Ganassi drivers) Scott Dixon or Ed Jones win it while she’s running around behind us.’’

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Aric Almirola starting from ‘ground zero’ with Stewart-Haas Racing

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After six years of racing and struggling to compete for the most famous name in NASCAR, Aric Almirola is getting a reboot to his Cup career.

Tuesday and Wednesday, the 33-year-old drove a Cup car that didn’t have Richard Petty’s famous No. 43 on the side of it for the first time since 2010.

Almirola took part in a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway in his unofficial debut in Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 Ford.

It was just another part of the busiest offseason of Almirola’s career, sparked by the November announcement of his move from Richard Petty Motorsports to SHR.

“We run a long schedule, so I certainly took some time to myself,” Almirola said Tuesday. “But I have spent a lot of time at the shop. Probably more time at the race car shop this offseason then I’ve ever spent. I’ve basically started from scratch, right? Started from zero, with all new seats, pouring inserts in seats and just everything. Gauges, dash and just everything that you can think of that a driver looks at or is a part of inside the race car, I’ve started from ground zero.”

During his six seasons with RPM, the offseason was “pretty mellow and relaxed and routine” for Almirola. That changes when you transition to a larger team.

“New seats, new team, new cars, new people, new names and faces to learn,” Almirola said.

There are some familiar faces at the SHR shop for Almirola from his days racing at Dale Earnhardt Inc. a decade ago.

“That part’s been fun to rekindle those relationships that I’ve had in the past,” Almirola said. “But just to go there (to the shop) and see the operation … when you drive up to the complex it’s so big and so massive. They have so many resources at their fingertips inside their race car shop.”

Almirola, who has just one Cup win in 244 starts, is reminded of Richard Petty Motorsport’s lack of success during his tenure there every time he visits SHR’s Kannapolis, North Carolina, shop. He sees the two championship trophies and trophies from the 39 Cup victories in their first nine seasons.

“You see all their trophies in their trophy case and their championship trophies, it’s very evident why,” Almirola said. “Just the attention to detail, the amount of people pulling in the same direction – it’s incredible to see first-hand, so knowing I’ve had to race against that the last six years has been disheartening, but I’m glad I get to be a part of it finally.”

Of SHR’s roster of drivers – Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Almirola – only Harvick (14) and Busch (five) have wins with the team. Bowyer hasn’t won since 2012.

Almirola replaces Danica Patrick, who went winless in her 180 starts with the team. He said he hasn’t given much thought to replacing Patrick, but that the pressure to drive the No. 10 doesn’t come close to what it took to drive the No. 43 for six years.

“When I get in the car, the only thing I see is the windshield and 39 other drivers that I’ve beaten or want to beat,” Almirola said. “So for me, I’ve driven the sport’s most iconic car for the last six years, so if you want to talk about it from that aspect, there’s been more pressure driving that Petty blue 43 car than I think I’ll ever have driving a black and white 10 car.”