Danica Patrick says she is out at Stewart-Haas Racing after this season

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Danica Patrick says she will not drive for Stewart-Haas Racing after this season, telling fans in a note on her Facebook page: “My time driving for them … has come to an end due to a new sponsorship arrangement in 2018.”

She did not reveal what her plans for next season would be.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday morning that Smithfield would join the team as a sponsor in 2018 and that a driver who will be added to the team would be announced at a later date.

Patrick, who is in her fifth full-time season with Stewart-Haas Racing, had said that her future with the team was dependent on sponsorship.

Patrick’s message on her Facebook page to fans:

“It has been my honor to drive for Tony Stewart, Gene Haas and everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing for the past six seasons. Together we earned a Daytona 500 pole, seven top-10 finishes and we also had some exciting racing along the way. My time driving for them, however, has come to an end due to a new sponsorship arrangement in 2018. Sponsorship plays a vital role in our sport, and I have been very fortunate over the course of my career, but this year threw us for a curve. Our amazing partners, such as Aspen Dental and Code 3, stepped up in a big way on short notice this year and I am incredibly grateful.

“I wish SHR the best of luck with their new sponsorship and driver. Thanks for the memories. Right now, my focus is on the remainder of the 2017 season and finishing the year strong. I have the utmost faith in myself and those around me, and feel confident about my future.”

In a recent appearance on the NASCAR on NBC podcast, Patrick told Nate Ryan that she was not worrying about her uncertain future.

“I just don’t feel the weight of anything anymore,” Patrick, 35, said.  I just don’t feel angry about anything. It’s just gone. There are plenty of things I look back and think, ‘That sucked, but you know what? I’m going to go on’.”

Patrick’s future grew cloudy in January when sponsor Nature’s Bakery sought to end its three-year agreement with the team with two years left. Stewart-Haas Racing filed a  $31 million lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. The two sides reached a settlement on May 26 with Nature’s Bakery serving as a sponsor for four races this season. The company was to have the primary sponsor for Patrick’s car in 28 races this season.

Patrick made her Cup debut in the 2012 Daytona 500. She was the first female to race in NASCAR’s premier series since Shawna Robinson last raced in 2002.

Patrick’s 180 career Cup starts heading into Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET,  NBCSN) is more than twice the number of Cup starts from all other female drivers combined. The 15 other female drivers listed in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series media guide combined to make 78 starts, led by Janet Guthrie’s 33 starts from 1976-80.

Patrick’s best career finish in Cup is sixth in 2014 at Atlanta. She ranks 28th in the points this season with a best finish of 10th at Dover in June.

Patrick becomes the latest driver who has not announced a ride for 2018, joining Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch.

She said Aug. 15 that she would like to continue racing “if I have an opportunity to do well.” She also said she would drive only in the Cup Series.

Patrick’s interest outside of racing have flourished. Her first book (Pretty Intense”) will be released in January and she has made plans for a sequel. She has opened a Napa Valley vineyard. She has launched her “Warrior” athleisure clothing line, which sponsored her car last weekend at Richmond Raceway.

But Patrick said in the NASCAR on NBC podcast that doesn’t mean she’s ready to leave NASCAR.

“They are not an escape plan, they are not a backup plan, they are purely extensions of things I already do,” she said. “They really are. What I love about racing is the art of it. I love the challenge, the journey. I love the work involved between a group of people to find success. Whether it be through my communication about how the car feels, then you make changes, and it gets better.”

 and on Facebook

 

Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

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With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma

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Kyle Larson won his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr. will line up alongside Larson on the front row.

Chase Elliott qualified third, the best of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers who advanced to the top 12. Jamie McMurray qualified fourth to place both Chip Ganassi Racing on the first two rows.

AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for full qualification results.

 

Kyle Larson wins pole for Sonoma Cup race

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Kyle Larson posted a lap of 94.597 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350. It was his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and the sixth of his career.

Larson beat Martin Truex Jr. (94.484 mph) by .090 seconds.

Chase Elliott (94.461), Jamie McMurray (94.227) and AJ Allmendinger (93.925) rounded out the top five. He was fastest in round one of qualification with a speed of 94.477 mph.

Hendrick Motorsports placed three of their drivers in the final round. Jimmie Johnson (93.824) qualified seventh. William Byron (93.756) qualified eighth. Alex Bowman (93.267) qualified 17th.

In his first race back since Matt Kenseth took over the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Trevor Bayne barely missed advancing to the final round. With a speed of 93.455 mph, he qualified 13th.

Clint Bowyer (93.252) was unable to back up his time from Friday’s practice and will roll off the grid 19th.

Click here for full qualification results.

For Clint Bowyer, Sonoma Raceway is a lot like Martinsville

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Clint Bowyer didn’t grow up road racing; he cut his teeth on dirt tracks in the Midwest. And yet, he had an immediate affinity for Sonoma Raceway. In his second start there, while driving for Richard Childress in 2007, he finished fourth.

In fact, Bowyer enters the Toyota/SaveMart 350 with seven top-five finishes in 12 starts that includes a runner-up finish in last year’s Sonoma race. If not for a couple of misfortunes (crash damage in 2010 and an electrical problem in 2016), he might well have swept the top 10 since scoring that first top five as a sophomore.

Perhaps the reason for that immediate success is that he considers Sonoma to be a twisted version of Martinsville Speedway – a track on which he won this March to snap a 190-race winless streak.

“I think you embrace this track and road racing in general just like you do Martinsville,” Bowyer said on Friday before heading out to put his No. 14 Ford at the top of the first practice speed chart. “Nobody shows up at Martinsville and goes to the top of the board and is fast and has success and navigates traffic to win that race right off the bat. It just doesn’t happen and it doesn’t happen here either.”

His Sonoma success has not translated to road courses in general, however.

Yes, Bowyer swept the top five on NASCAR’s two road courses last year, but the fifth-place finish he scored at Watkins Glen International was only the second of his career on a track that many drivers consider to be less technical than Sonoma. In 12 starts there, he has earned only five top 10s.

“Watkins Glen is so fast. It is just dive-bombs and you are really carrying a lot of speed at a place like Watkins Glen.

“Here, it is like that short track. It is like being at Martinsville. Did you see my car at the end of the race last year? It was destroyed. I drove up through and passed the field twice because of mistakes that we made and got spun out once. It was a wild race to be able to finish second. You can’t do that at Watkins Glen. That car wouldn’t have ran in the top 10 at Watkins Glen.”

Nine different drivers have won at Sonoma in the last nine races. Given the dominance of Harvick (who won last year) and Kyle Busch (the 2015 winner), many think they are the most likely to end that streak. But Bowyer also has an opportunity to end the streak of unique winners. He won the 2012 edition of this race by holding off Tony Stewart – the driver with the second-most road course wins in NASCAR history.

“You have to be able to have fun on this race track,” Bowyer said. “It is a challenge. Each and every corner is different. There is no perfect setup or perfect line. It is literally one of the only tracks you go to where you are out there racing and have a smile on your face. You might even get a chuckle.”