Danica Patrick says this will be last full-time season as a driver

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — In an emotional press conference where she struggled to keep from crying, Danica Patrick said this will be her final full-time season as a driver.

After uttering that phrase, Patrick repeatedly stopped to wipe her eyes and cry.

“But I’m not totally done,” she said Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a press conference that included her family, sister and boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse in attendance. “I’m going to do the Daytona 500 next year and the Indy 500. I’m really excited about that. I think it’s going to be a great way to cap it off.’’

Patrick did not announce the teams that she’ll drive for in both races next year.

“We’re down the line with difference facets in moving forward, but nothing is final yet but hopefully it will be soon,” she said of the teams.

Patrick announced Sept. 12 that she was out at Stewart-Haas Racing after this season. Patrick, 35, didn’t have sponsorship and the team will replace her with Aric Almirola next season. Patrick, who is 27th in the points entering Sunday’s seasone finale, has been with Stewart-Haas Racing since 2013. No female has run as many races as her in NASCAR’s history. Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be Patrick’s 190th career Cup start.

“She is a very talented race car driver,’’ car owner Tony Stewart said on the NBC Monday Morning Donuts podcast Sept. 20. “She has the ability to do what probably 95 percent of the drivers in the field don’t have the ability to do. She can stay in NASCAR if she wants. She can go back to IndyCar. She can go sports car racing. She’s very versatile. I want her to do what she’s passionate about and what feels good to her.’’

Danica Patrick after winning the pole for the Daytona 500  on February 17, 2013. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Daytona International Speedway has been the site of some of Patrick’s top career NASCAR highlights.

Patrick made her NASCAR debut in the 2010 Xfinity race at Daytona. Her first career Cup start came in the 2012 Daytona 500. She won her lone Cup pole in 2013 for the Daytona 500. She finished eighth in that race, her best finish in that event.

Patrick drove in the Indianapolis 500 from 2005-11. She finished a career-high fourth in 2005 and placed in the top 10 in six of her seven starts in that race.

“I never thought I would do it (again),” Patrick said of the Indianapolis 500. “I really didn’t. I always thought in my head never, but I never said never because I know better and thank God because here I am. It was really a conversation with my agent Alan (Zucker) … we ran through so many different ideas, different teams, different scenarios, just do these races, just do this race. I have been much more in the flow with it. I have not poked or prodded and asked many questions. I wanted this to unfold naturally and what was going to be was going to be.

Danica Patrick in the Indianapolis 500 on May 11, 2005. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

“As I said to many of you years ago, if it’s not going to get better I don’t want to do it because it’s not fun. Here I am. It’s not fun. My urgency to push to keep doing everything was just not really there. So if something that wasn’t really enticing didn’t come up, I wasn’t going to push for something else.

“He called and just said ‘What about finishing up at Daytona? I don’t know where it came from but then out of my mouth came, ‘What about Indy?’ I don’t even know why I said it necessarily. It was really sort of the first idea that got me really excited. That was it.

“It just came from my heart. I think it’s going to be awesome.”

Although Patrick has not competed in IndyCar since 2011, there are signs that with the right team she could do well in next year’s race.

Formula One driver Fernando Alonso started fifth and led 27 laps before a mechanical issue sidelined him in this year’s race, the first time he had driven in that series. Kurt Busch placed sixth in 2014 when he competed in the race for the first time. Both Alonso and Busch won Rookie of the Year.

Even so, Patrick admits there will be challenges.

“I think it will take a little bit of adjusting,” she said. “It’s different for sure, but I don’t feel that today I’m a worse driver than I was when I drove IndyCars. I’m essentially a better driver. It will take a little bit of acclimating. We’ll cross that bridge once we get a little bit closer. I would like to get in a car before Indy.

“I definitely have like a level of fear and nervousness about it, just a little bit, because it’s been so long, but I believe I will catch on and remember quickly.”

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Five defining laps of Cup season, Ray Evernham

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will look back at the first half of the season.

Krista Voda hosts with Jeff Burton and Kyle Petty from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

On today’s show:

·     With NASCAR about to enter its summer stretch, it’s easy to think “Wait, how did we get here?” Throughout today’s show, we’ll examine the five defining laps of the season’s first half and their impact.

·     Father’s Day was on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s mind during the latest Dale Jr. Download podcast. We’ll show you a clip ahead of the Download’s TV debut at 5:30 p.m. ET Thursday. Plus: Get more Dale Jr. tomorrow as he joins the show at the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

·    One of NASCAR’s most innovative minds is about to take a very unique car on a “Race To The Clouds.” We’ll chat with NASCAR Hall of Famer Ray Evernham as he prepares to run the world-famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on Sunday.

·    From rattlesnakes to bears, sometimes the Victory Lane trophy is more dangerous than the race itself. We highlight a few of our favorites in today’s My Home Track.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Indianapolis to add dirt track race to NASCAR weekend

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway plans to build a quarter-mile dirt track inside Turn 3 to run a USAC race to kick off the NASCAR weekend, the track’s president confirmed in reports by Racer and The Indianapolis Star.

The move is being made to connect the NASCAR event, which has seen a steady decline in attendance in the last decade, with race fans.

“The short-track community in a lot of ways is the heart and soul of racing across America,” Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway told The Indianapolis Star. “USAC midget racing, especially in the Midwest, is really strong and competitive, and attracts people like Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Rico Abreu when they have time to come race.

“So for us, we thought, is there away we could connect with that short track guy or gal, who spends their weekend at the local track on Saturday? And we thought this was good way to experiment with connecting with that fan base.”

IMS constructed a 3/16-mile flat dirt track inside Turn 3 in 2016 as a gift to Tony Stewart to celebrate his final Cup start at that track that year. Sarah Fisher and Bryan Clauson, who died from injuries suffered in a crash at the Belleville Midget Nationals about a month later, joined Stewart in running midget cars on that track.

Stewart ran about 20 laps. Even then, he looked ahead to the possibility of a dirt race at the Brickyard.

“If we get to actually watch a race here at IMS on a dirt track, that is going to be pretty awesome,’’ Stewart said that day. “They haven’t been able to do that for the first 100 years, but they can do it for the next 100.’’

The dirt track that IMS plans to construct for the NASCAR weekend will have 60-foot wide straights and 8-degree banking in the corners, according to Racer. The track plans to build bleachers to hold 5,000 fans. IMS began bringing in dirt Tuesday.

The date has yet to be announced for the event but both reports stated it would be the Thursday or Friday before the Sept. 9 Cup race at the track.

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Kyle Petty Charity Ride raises $1.3 million for Victory Junction

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This year’s Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America raised $1.3 million for the Victory Junction Gang camp during its 1,200-mile trip from Maine to North Carolina, the charity announced Tuesday.

The camp in Randleman, North Carolina, is devoted to providing life-changing camping experiences for children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. Donations support maintenance programs, building projects and camperships.

Along with Petty, 225 participants joined the NBC Sports analyst in the drive from Portland, Maine, to Greensboro, North Carolina, that visited nine states in seven days.

The camp has been the primary beneficiary of the charity ride since the camp’s founding in 2004 as a tribute to his late son, Adam, who was killed in a crash during Xfinity Series practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000.

“From lapping the track at New Hampshire (Motor Speedway) to our homecoming at Victory Junction, this year’s Ride was a little bittersweet,” Petty said in a press release. “It was more emotional for me this year than past Rides because we ended at Camp. I’ve said it a million times – when I see a camper, I see Adam in their smile and I know he’s still here with us. And there were campers everywhere as we pulled into Camp.”

Since 1995, more than 8,400 riders have logged more than 12 million cumulative motorcycle miles and raised $19.3 million for Victory Junction and other children’s charities.

Road course domination hard to come by these days – unless you’re one of the ‘Big 3’

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It might be a total coincidence, but the drivers that make up the “Big 3” in Cup competition this season have one thing in common.

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. enter this weekend’s race at Sonoma Raceway as the only active drivers to win at the track in the last five years.

They also are the only active drivers with multiple victories at either Sonoma or Watkins Glen International (the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval makes its debut on Sept. 30).

Busch leads the way with four wins, with two at Sonoma (2008, 2015) and WGI (2008, 2013).

“There are a lot of guys out there who have the road-racing background, who know a heck of a lot more about road racing and technique than we do,” Busch said in a media release. “It’s definitely something you have to work on. With rule changes and tire changes, it’s something you work on every year. There’s always change that you have to work on to be competitive.

“When I was a kid back in Las Vegas in Legends cars, that’s where I was able to learn about shifting and turning left and turning right. I had the natural instincts for it and won a couple of championships in the winter series we had out there. We actually went to Sonoma back then and ran the national championship races two years in a row and finished third both times, so I had a little bit of experience on road courses as I came up through the ranks.”

Truex and Harvick follow Busch with two wins each, but they didn’t join this exclusive club until last year.

Harvick won his first race at Sonoma, 11 years after his lone victory at WGI.

Truex then won at WGI, four years after he claimed his second career Cup win in 2013 at Sonoma.

“I love the challenge of road racing,” Truex said in a media release. “I grew up racing go-karts on road courses (in New Jersey) and fell in love with that quickly. The excitement level definitely goes up a few notches when we compete at a road course.”

Truex led a race-high 25 laps last year at Sonoma before falling out with engine problems.

“Sonoma is more like a short track,” Truex said. “It has a lot of slower speed corners and a lot of elevation changes. The worn out pavement causes tires to wear out fast. It’s almost like Darlington on a road course. You have to be disciplined at Sonoma. One little hiccup can knock you off the course and most likely out of the race.”

Outside the “Big 3” there are seven active drivers who have a single road course win.

Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger have victories at Watkins Glen. Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer have won at Sonoma.

Gone are the days of Jeff Gordon (series-high nine road course wins) and Tony Stewart (eight wins, including five at WGI).

Why is it so hard for drivers to string together consistent success at road courses today? Why have there been nine different winners in the last nine Sonoma races?

Front Row Motorsports’ David Ragan shared his thoughts.

“I think the phrase of ‘just keep all four wheels on the track’ is a little outdated,” Ragan said in a media release. “I think the drivers have gotten so much better. You don’t have as many guys spinning out and making mistakes as we did 10 years ago. I feel like 25 guys are really good when we go to Sonoma. And when you see short track guys, like a Martin Truex or Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch, they’re really good at Sonoma without having that road course background. I just think all the drivers have worked on their road racing skills.”