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Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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Danica Patrick to join NBC Sports for Indianapolis 500 broadcast

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Danica Patrick, one of motorsports’ most popular figures, will join NBC Sports’ inaugural coverage of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge when drivers start their engines for the 103rd iteration of the race on Sunday, May 26. This year marks the first time that the Greatest Spectacle in Racing has been broadcast on NBC.

The former IndyCar and NASCAR driver will serve as a studio analyst on race day, contributing to NBC Sports’ pre-race, in-race, and post-race coverage alongside host Mike Tirico. Patrick will also participate in NBC Sports’ coverage of Indy 500 Pole Day on Sunday, May 19.

A seven-year IndyCar veteran, Patrick immediately broke barriers and set numerous records when she joined the circuit in 2005. In just her first season, she became the first woman ever to lead a lap in the Indy 500 on her way to winning Rookie of the Year honors. In 2008, she became the first woman ever to win an open-wheel race in a major series when she finished first at the Indy Japan 300.

In 2013, Patrick pivoted to NASCAR and became the first woman ever to win the pole for the Daytona 500. Before retiring from driving at the end of last year’s season, she completed the “Danica Double,” racing in both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 in the same season.

“Danica has a perspective unlike any other driver in the history of motorsports and will be a great addition to our first-ever coverage of the Indy 500,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President, Production, NBC Sports & NBCSN. “She has proven to be as fearless with her opinions and analysis as she was in breaking barriers while racing in the most competitive motorsports circuits in the world.”

“The Indianapolis 500 holds a very special place in my heart,” said Patrick. “The moment I drive into the facility, I’m flooded with positive emotions. I have no doubt it’ll be the same this year when I come back as an analyst. To be on the NBC Sports team with Mike Tirico will be an honor and I look forward to adding my unique perspective. I’ve been in the race eight times, including last year, so I’m familiar with the dynamics within IndyCar after being away for seven years. To me, Indy feels like home!”

In addition to her analyst responsibilities, Patrick will help promote the Indy 500 by appearing across numerous NBCUniversal programs and platforms in the days and weeks leading up to the race.

This won’t be Patrick’s first time as a race analyst. While still an active driver in NASCAR, Patrick gained broadcasting experience by serving as a guest analyst for Fox Sports’ coverage of NASCAR Xfinity races in Michigan, Pocono and Talladega.

The 2019 IndyCar season is the first under a new media rights agreement that was announced in March 2018 in which NBC Sports Group acquired the exclusive rights to all NTT IndyCar Series races – including the Indianapolis 500 for the first time – qualifying and practice sessions, and Indy Lights races across its numerous platforms.

NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series continues March 24 with the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app.

Jimmie Johnson hopes for ‘more crossover’ between auto racing stars

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For one day last November, Jimmie Johnson was the envy of the NASCAR community.

A week after the end of the Cup season, the seven-time Cup champion swapped rides with Formula One star Fernando Alonso and piloted a F1 car around the Bahrain International Circuit.

It was the third such swap between NASCAR and F1 drivers following the Jeff Gordon-Juan Pablo Montoya switch in 2003 at Indianapolis and the Tony Stewart-Lewis Hamilton swap in 2011 at Watkins Glen.

On Tuesday, Johnson expressed a desire to see “more crossover” between auto racing’s elite in competitive circumstances and to see stars moonlighting to support smaller series.

“I just think that in motorsports in general, we need guys to cross over from a local level,” Johnson said during Hendrick Motorsports’ media day after being asked about NASCAR’s influence in the Chili Bowl Nationals. “Although the Chili Bowl is huge, but they’re Midgets and more people typically get their starts (at that level).

“Our stars come back down and run and put on such a great show. That helps them and I think it helps us. It also helps that community and there are a lot of young drivers that are trying to find their way up.”

The Chili Bowl, held last week in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was won by Xfinity Series driver Christopher Bell for the third straight year. He had to battle Cup driver Kyle Larson in the final feature, with the outcome being decided with a last-lap pass.

Johnson then turned to the major racing series and the lack of crossover between them in recent years.

“Hopefully we can get more crossover going, even between IndyCar and NASCAR or NASCAR and Formula 1 or whatever it might be,” Johnson said. “I feel like we had a lot of heroes that we looked up to and those guys would race anything and everything.

“And in the last 20 or 30 years, we’ve focused more on championships than we have marquee events. And I completely understand why, but it’s really nice to see people trying to move around and race other things. Hopefully we’ll have somebody trying the double again at Indy and Charlotte. There is a lot of good that comes from those opportunities.”

Kurt Busch was the last driver to attempt “The Double” of competing in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in 2014.

The prospect of Larson, who competes for Chip Ganassi Racing, making the attempt has been brought up on a somewhat regular basis in recent years with Larson saying in July 2017 that violent IndyCar wrecks at IMS have kept him from committing to it.

Kyle Busch said in July 2017 he had committed to make an attempt at The Double before it was shut down by Joe Gibbs.

In 2016, Brad Keselowski teased everyone when he took a few laps around Road America in a Team Penske IndyCar during a test.

There were crossovers between IndyCar and NASCAR in 2018 with Danica Patrick competing in the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 and a Xfinity Series start by Conor Daly at Road America.

Other than that, the list of drivers who have expressed an interest in making the jump from open-wheel to stock cars without fulfilling it gets longer every year.

That goes both ways. In November, Johnson expressed a desire in giving IndyCar a try on road courses.

But Johnson said he doesn’t have any forays into other series planned right now.

“I have some great new friends at McLaren and they have lots of things getting involved with racing-wise,” Johnson said. “So, down the road there could be some opportunities there for me potentially. I’d love to go endurance racing with Fernando (Alonso).

“We joked about that some. Nothing has developed from that yet, but hopefully down the road we can send some more teasers out and have some more fun.”

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NASCAR drivers sound off on the search for star power

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On Thursday night, NASCAR officially crowned its newest Cup champion and its first new most popular driver in 15 years.

Joey Logano was recognized as champion after 10 years in the series, and Chase Elliott won the majority of fan votes after three years (and the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won it 15 years in a row).

The Cup champion and the series’ most popular driver have not synched up in 30 years. It last occurred in 1988 when Hall of Famer Bill Elliott won his only title and the fifth of his record 16 most popular driver awards.

NASCAR has seen a mass exodus of its biggest stars in the last five years with the retirements of four-time champion Jeff Gordon, three-time champion Tony Stewart, Earnhardt, Danica Patrick and Carl Edwards prior to 2018.

Out of that group only Earnhardt won most popular driver.

After Thursday’s banquet, three of the four Championship drivers, including Logano, were asked what they need to do to find and establish themselves as the next big stars in the same vein as those who have recently hung up their helmets.

Here’s what they had to say.

Kevin Harvick

“That’s never going to happen. I think as you look at our sport and you look at the Elliott name and the Earnhardt name, those are names that a guy like myself (a native of California) and Clint Bowyer (Kansas native) and Kyle Larson (California) are never going to overcome. You will never have the Southern, the Southeast fan base that an Earnhardt or an Elliott has. That’s just the way it’s going to be.”

Kyle Busch

“Changes of the guard always happen. I’m now in my 14th season, something like that, so I’ve been here for a long time. I guess it’s not necessarily my time at the forefront. But I feel as if I’ve learned a tremendous amount and it’s sort of coming down to the point now where you have that opportunity to be able to go out there with all that you’ve learned and now have success.

What do you and the other leaders need to do to establish yourselves as the next Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr., Tony Stewart, etc.?

“Good question, I just think for some reason we’re just not quite getting the same amount of attention that we’ve had years ago. Why that is, I’m not sure. I think the racing is so competitive and some of the most compelling racing in all of motorsports. It’s exciting to me behind the wheel each time. You look at Chicagoland, we don’t have those finishes every week. But people strive for those finishes every week and tell me how many times those finishes have happened in the course of our lifetime. There’s been thousands and thousands of races and there’s probably hundreds of times people talk about great finishes in out sport. It’s just so competitive, everybody wants the picture perfect finish and the excitement of (that) every week.”

Joey Logano

“I think Chase is deserving, a deserving member of that. He does a great job as our most popular driver. … Yeah, we all knew that (he would win). You can tell just by the T-shirts walking around. But like I said in my speech, love me or hate me, the fact that you love NASCAR means the most to me. Honestly, that’s what keeps every one of us that are standing around here employed. That’s a big deal for the growth of our sport. For me, I’m a fan before I was a driver and I’m still a fan before I’m a driver. When you think of what it means just to watch racing and to be a race fan and watching it and enjoying every second of it, that’s me. That’s who I am. I’m passionate about the people that I like and the ones I don’t root for in other sports You have to have that. You have to have ones you really like and the ones you don’t. That’s just part of it. I think being a hard racer, sometimes that’s what brings out the boos. Like I said, that doesn’t bother me because I know they’re passionate people and I like people that are passionate.

On driver personalities

“We have big personalities still, which is great. Everyone has their own. I don’t think we’re as vanilla as you think. There’s plenty of interesting personalities. You got Kyle Busch, he’s got so much personality. It’s great. Everyone is just who they are. I like that part. I like that everyone is who you are and not fake. You obviously want to do the right thing for your sponsors, but still being who you is still most important piece.’

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Jimmie Johnson intrigued with racing IndyCar, sports cars in the future

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After his “mind-blowing” experience driving a Formula One car, Jimmie Johnson said he would be interested in competing in IndyCar and sports car races when he’s done driving NASCAR.

Johnson’s contract with Hendrick Motorsports expires after the 2020 season and he could try other forms of racing then.

“I’ve been approached many times for the Indy 500,” Johnson said Monday after driving a Formula One car as part of a ride swap with Fernando Alonso. “I’m not overly excited about those fast ovals, but I think with my status and relationships, I could put together some road course races in IndyCar.

“I’d look at anything. I’ve done sports car racing in the past. I’ve finished second in the Rolex 24. Would love to get back to doing that. Anything is open. I’m far from done. I want to keep driving and hopefully I can find some good opportunities.”

The 43-year-old Johnson knows age will slow him at some point but he says not yet. 

“Certainly age is a number and at some point it will start to fade on you, but I think most drivers deeper in their career, the workload that goes with it is what they don’t enjoy,” Johnson said. “For whatever reason, I like to work. From training and suffering, the longer the ride, the longer the run, the better I perform. I just really enjoy working. I don’t subscribe to that you get to a certain age and you can’t do it. I think you get to a certain age and it’s hard to stay motivated to put in the time and I don’t feel like I’m there yet.”

Three of the top four drivers in points in IndyCar last year were age 37 or older, led by 38-year-old series champion Scott Dixon. Tony Kanaan, who turns 44 on Dec. 31, will return to A.J. Foyt Racing for his 21st season of open-wheel racing in the U.S.

Johnson’s focus Monday was on driving a 2013 Formula One car around Bahrain International Circuit. Alonso drove one of Johnson’s Cup cars.

“The sensation of speed, clearly the speed is so high,” the seven-time Cup champion said. “The simulator was a really nice experience, great visual aid but to have the wind moving by and your sensation of speed and G-forces, it takes a little while to kind of absorb that and have the newness of that go away and focus on what you’re doing. I felt like every time I went out, my surroundings went slower and it was easier to piece together my braking points.

“Literally my first outing, my helmet was trying to leave my head, and I was staring at the microphone because my helmet was so high. I got my helmet under control and it was really my eyes trying to find their way far enough ahead and far enough around the turns. At the end, I really quit focusing on the braking markers themselves and was able to look at the apex (of the turns) and had an idea of when to hit the brakes and was able to put together some good laps. It was fun.”

Johnson said the experience could help him when NASCAR races on its road course events.

“Just the philosophy of how the use the car under brakes will be really good for me in the road course racing we will do,” he said. “I will start trying to get more out of the car on the straight line and then get off the brakes … and roll the car through the apex.”

Johnson admits “at the end of the day I got a way better swap experience than (Alonso) did. If we could come for a day or two, get our gearing dialed in, do some suspension changes, the proper tire, the (stock car) could have been quite a bit faster. I rode in a car with him at Abu Dhabi on hot laps and then again today and he should be a dirt racer. He loves to be sideways and smoking the tires.”

Johnson said he encouraged Alonso to drive a stock car on a NASCAR track to get the true experience of the car.

“When you can put them on a banked track, they really have the chance to shine,” Johnson said. “Dover, Bristol, even some of the banked mile-and-a-halves, really impressive. We’ll put a little pressure on him to do it. The way he likes to drive things I don’t see why he would say no.”

Johnson was asked if Alonso would do well on NASCAR’s road courses.

“Oh yeah,” Johnson said. “When you look at Juan (Pablo Montoya), when Juan was able to jump in a Cup car, he was fantastic on those tracks. In talking to Dario (Franchitti), in talking to Juan and Danica (Patrick), they don’t drive a car often with oversteer, so I assume that would be something (Alonso) wouldn’t like, but every time I looked he was dead sideways. Maybe he’s the perfect open-wheel driver to go to a stock car.”

Alonso said his focus for the first part of 2019 will be on the select races he will do, including the Indianapolis 500.

Asked if he could imagine what it would be like to drive a stock car at Daytona International Speedway with 39 other cars, Alonso said: “I told Jimmie before, it’s hard to imagine for me now after the feelings I had today with the very low grip and a lot of problems with traction how this car would feel on oval racing because they are no more traction demanding. That I think is a very different way to drive the car.”

Will Alonso jump in a stock car again?

“For now, it’s OK,” he said. “I have now a couple of weeks off but then immediately at the beginning of the year I will be very busy. I don’t want to put any extra tests or thoughts because I really need to charge the battery.”