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Danica Patrick continues to improve — and Jimmie Johnson notices

September 29th, 2014

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NASCAR driver Danica Patrick gets ready to practice for Sunday’s NASCAR auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/David Tulis)

In her second full season as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, Danica Patrick has made significant strides.

Among those who are paying attention?

Try Jimmie Johnson, the reigning and six-time Sprint Cup Series champion.

“She’s been quick,” said Johnson, speaking at a media event earlier this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “There’s been Atlanta, Loudon last week, Chicago, (where) she’s shown a lot of pace in really getting the car figured out. I can only imagine how difficult it is to come from an open-wheel car to a stock car. We’ve seen Dario (Franchitti), Juan (Pablo Montoya), many try it, and it’s not an easy transition, and she’s doing a really nice job.”

Patrick, in her second season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver after two years in the Nationwide Series that followed a lengthy run in the IndyCar Series, has three top-10 finishes in 28 races this season. While that may not be a stat worth celebrating, it’s certainly a marked improvement from last year’s rookie campaign when she recorded only one top 10 over the entire 36-race schedule.

Patrick also has qualified much better this season under the new “knockout”-style format, and seems to be gaining confidence with almost every outing.

Patrick has finished in the top 20 in five of the past six races, with the highlight being a career-best sixth-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend.

With eight races still remaining in the 2014, NASCAR’s most recognizable female hopes to continue her climb in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, one of the toughest tracks on the NASCAR circuit and one where Patrick has struggled.

“It can be a real challenge,” Patrick said of the high-banked, 1-mile oval. “It’s quite quick, and when you come off turns two and four, it drops you down like a roller coaster. You just have to have a good setup and make sure everything is working right, or it can be a long day. It’s actually a pretty long race, so you have to be prepared. But it’s a fun track and I’m looking forward to it.”

In four Sprint Cup starts at “The Monster Mile,” Patrick has never finished better than 23rd and never come home fewer than four laps down.

Despite her dearth of success, Patrick actually likes racing at the Delaware venue.

“The track is pretty fun,” she said. “I remember everyone telling me how unique and challenging Dover was prior to my first race. At the time, I didn’t have a whole lot to compare that track to. They said it was like a larger version of Bristol, but I hadn’t raced at Bristol yet, either. It’s nice to have more of a handle on what to expect heading in there now.

“Dover is fun. It’s fast and it can make for a really long day of racing. I think that’s part of the appeal of it — how demanding it can be. We definitely want to stay out of trouble, which is easier said than done at these types of tracks.”

While the task ahead of her this weekend is clearly no small one, Patrick is upbeat based on her recent performances.

“Everyone just works hard, and it’s paying off,” Patrick said. “We actually should have finished better at New Hampshire (19th) but the yellows at the end probably didn’t help. We’re just getting better. Tony Gibson (crew chief) and the GoDaddy guys are giving me really good cars, and we just keep finishing better. I haven’t run that well at Dover, but we’ve done better at all the tracks we’ve been to lately, so we’re ready.”

Danica Patrick scores career-best sixth-place finish in Atlanta

September 2nd, 2014

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NASCAR driver Danica Patrick gets ready to practice for Sunday’s NASCAR auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/David Tulis)

Entering Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Danica Patrick had been mired in a slump — and that’s just putting it mildly.

But after six consecutive races in which she failed to crack the top 15 in the final rundown, Patrick seemingly come out of nowhere to deliver a career-best sixth-place finish in Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500.

Starting 27th on the 43-car grid, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver methodically marched her way forward, and thanks to some key adjustments from crew chief Tony Gibson, was in position to possibly earn her first Sprint Cup win — and with it a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Lining up fourth and in the non-preferred outside line on the second of two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, Patrick lost two positions over the final two laps to come sixth — but it was still her best finish in 71 career Sprint Cup starts.

“It was a long night,” said Patrick, whose best finish prior to Sunday was a seventh-place finish at Kansas Speedway in mid-May. “Man, that race felt like it was 700 miles. Sometimes when you are running well they feel like that because you are hoping it stays there, keeps going well, and you keep improving and don’t lose it. There were definitely a couple of times late in the race when we fell back. In the middle of the race the car was very good. We took a little step back, and then it came back in the end. Tony Gibson just reset everything to where we were when we were running well.”

Fast pit work by Patrick’s No. 10 crew moved her up to seventh after all the leaders hit pit road following a caution brought out when Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. tangled on Lap 324, setting up the first green-white checkered attempt.

“Obviously the pit stop at the end that was 11 seconds was so good,” Patrick said. “There were a couple of rough ones in the beginning but that one made up for it because it put us seventh on that restart, and we had a good line on the inside and didn’t get caught up on the outside.”

Patrick climbed three spots when Kevin Harvick’s dominant No. 4 Chevrolet got sandwiched between Paul Menard and Joey Logano, hitting the wall and setting up what would be the last restart.

Despite slipping to sixth over the final two laps, Patrick couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome — and was already harboring high hopes for next weekend’s regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway, a track she doesn’t consider a favorite.

“I am just so happy for the team,” said Patrick, who recorded her third top-10 finish of the season after posting just one top-10 last year as a Sprint Cup Series rookie. “We have had pretty fast cars for quite a while now and not really great finishes for it. So this is for everybody and GoDaddy. I have sucked at Richmond every time, so I sure hope I can run well at Richmond now.”

Texas racer dies from injuries in Pikes Peak wreck

June 30th, 2014

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Bobby Goodin rounds a corner near the end of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.AP

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo –  Authorities say a racer from Texas has died after he crashed his motorcycle at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb near Colorado Springs.

Sgt. Greg White of the El Paso County Sheriff’s office tells The Associated Press that 54-year-old BobbyGoodin died from his injuries after Sunday’s accident.

Race host Colorado Springs Sports Corp. says Goodin’s death is the first for a motorcycle racer since 1982 and the fifth race-related death in the event’s 92-year history.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that the Flower Mound, Texas, man lost control as he tried to slow down on a gravel parking lot after crossing the finish line on Pikes Peak’s 14,115-foot summit, landing on rocks.

He was flown to a hospital after emergency crews found him unconscious and paramedics performed CPR.

Goodin was racing for the second time.

Danica Patrick discusses F1 possibility

June 18th, 2014

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AP

Danica Patrick has yet to rule out entering Formula One in 2016.

The 32-year-old American currently races for Stewart-Haas Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, a team co-owned by F1′s newest team owner, .

“She surely fits the bill,” Haas said in an interview with Formula1.com. “Danica Patrick in one of our cars would be the dream driver.

“She is a woman in a man’s sport – that would attract a lot of attention. She weighs about 50 kilos – which these day sounds fantastic – so indeed she’s got a lot of attributes that would be good to have.”

“I agree that anything is possible,” said Patrick in a recent interview with the Toronto Sun, “but nobody has said anything to me. I am happy where I am at right now as far as racing goes.

“I am just starting to get the hang of (NASCAR) Sprint Cup racing.

“Out of respect for Gene, if he came to me I would certainly listen, but I am almost getting too old to start a third career,” she added.

Danica to Formula One with Gene Haas? Don’t rule it out

June 12th, 2014

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With Danica Patrick still struggling in NASCAR, could she be headed back to open-wheel racing as one of the drivers for her boss, Gene Haas, who will launch a North Carolina-based Formula One team in 2016?

That question was posed to Haas Saturday afternoon following qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix, and while he sounded intrigued by the possibility, he also sounded as though it would be unlikely to actually happen.

Asked if Patrick would be a good candidate for the Haas Formula One team, Haas said, “I think she would. I think she would. She would bring an awful lot of viewership. I think it would be great for America. I think she would be a great candidate.”

Haas then quickly added, “Whether that’s going to happen or not … that’s, that’s, that’s … you know I think that’s kind of a long shot there, too.”

Right now, Haas is building his Formula One operations in an industrial park in Kannapolis, N.C., adjacent to Stewart-Haas Racing, the NASCAR Sprint Cup team he owns with three-time series champion Tony Stewart.

Haas had hoped to launch his Formula One team in 2015, but recently said he was pushing back the start to 2016.

In the Verizon IndyCar Series, Patrick posted one victory and seven top-three finishes in 115 races from 2005-11. In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, she has two top-10 finishes in 59 starts, with her best result a seventh-place run at Kansas Speedway last month.

Earnhardt Jr. out of Texas race after fiery wreck

April 8th, 2014

Associated Press

A video screen shows a replay of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s (88) car during a wreck at the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway, Monday, April 7, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Larry Papke)

FORT WORTH, Texas –  NASCAR points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. is out of the race at Texas after a wreck.

Earnhardt drove into the rain-drenched grass and then had a fiery crash against the wall after just three laps in Monday’s rain-delayed race. Earnhardt was trailing Aric Almirola on the frontstretch when the left side of his car suddenly went into the grass, and the No. 88 Chevrolet then shot across the track, bursting into flames after slamming into the wall.

Earnhardt, who climbed out of the car and was OK, says he didn’t see the grass. He says it was just “a mistake” on his part.

That wasn’t fun. Sorry 2 the fans of the 88 team. Feel bad for my guys and the 48 team also. Made a mistake there that was costly for every1

 

Jimmie Johnson had damage on the windshield and front left of his No. 48 car from mud and debris after the crash by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

Racing’s concussion problem: Lowering risk for head injuries among NASCAR drivers

April 2nd, 2014

FoxNews.com

Jimmie Johnson, six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. The HANS device is the collar attached to the helmet via tether; it is also secured to the shoulder harness and seat. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)

While concussions are commonly associated with football and contact sports, race car drivers are at risk, too.

“We’re different than a lot of stick and ball sports because we’re not a contact sport, but we do have accidents and crashes at the race track,” John Bobo, NASCAR’s senior director of racing operations, told FoxNews.com. “We average two or three [concussions] a year.”

Following the 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt from head injuries sustained during a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500, NASCAR has made advances in driver safety, including mandating use of a head and neck support (HANS) device, constructing barrier walls out of crushable material and reinforcing the belt restraints so the driver’s entire body is pinned to the seat.

“The system of tubing restraints in the car that make up the cage around the driver has been markedly strengthened so the driver is sitting in a cocoon, so to speak,” Dr. Robert Cantu, clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine and director of sports medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts, told FoxNews.com. “That is an incredibly strong structure.”

Almost all head trauma in automobile racing results from collisions, when the head is shaken violently, according to Cantu, who also consults for numerous NFL, NHL and NBA teams. However, accidents aren’t the only cause of concussion.

“The important thing for people to understand is that you don’t have to hit your head to have a concussion and don’t have to have been unconscious to have a concussion,” Dr. Stephen E. Olvey, associate professor of clinical neurology & neurosurgery at University of Miami Health System told FoxNews.com. “If the movement of the head is violent enough and the brain hits the inside of the skull, for example, you can still have significant injury or concussion.

Concussions are caused by rotational acceleration, which occurs when the head is put into motion. If that motion is too violent or extreme, the brain, which is attached to the spinal cord, can rotate or have some shearing injury to the nerve fibers, causing a concussion, Olvey, a founding fellow of the FIA Institute for Motorsports Safety, said.

According to Bobo, NASCAR has almost removed the risk of drivers experiencing rotational force in accidents through implementation of the HANS device and seat restraint safety measures.

Additionally, NASCAR mandated the use of pre-season baseline neurocognitive testing this year, using the ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) test. In 2002, they introduced a medical liaison department, which keeps records of each driver’s personal medical history and works with every driver’s team, in-field care centers’ board-certified emergency room physicians and outside medical experts, as needed.

“Nothing happens in our drivers’ lives that we haven’t recorded,” Bobo said.

Concussions are recognized by 26 basic symptoms that fall into four different categories— sleep, mood, cognitive and physical, Cantu said. After one to 14 days, roughly 80 percent of victims will no longer have symptoms and will not test for deficits in reaction time, thought processes or other symptoms. For the 20 percent who are still symptomatic after two weeks, it’s possible to have side effects for several years.

While drivers may be hesitant to report injuries, one factor that is uniformly present when a patient is still symptomatic is slow reaction times, both physical and mentally.

“For somebody that’s essentially a fighter pilot on wheels, those reaction times are crucial,” Cantu said. “For an individual to be racing while symptomatic with concussion not only puts themselves at risk but everybody else on the track.”

Notably, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pulled out of races in 2012 after sustaining two concussions in six weeks, including one he self-diagnosed after a private team test practice.

Education is an important part of keeping drivers safe and NASCAR and their Research & Development Center hold regular driver safety meetings and presentations on health issues, including concussion.

Bobo also noted that NASCAR has revamped their playoff system, the Chase for the Sprint Cup, to an elimination format that allows drivers to take a medical exemption for a race and still make the playoffs.

“I think that change in the rules, it really gives an incentive to report [injuries] if you need to,” he said.

These efforts, many of which were put in place after Earnhardt’s death, are the right way forward, Cantu said.

“NASCAR is to be greatly complimented, I believe, for having spent the many millions of dollars to try to make their sport safer for their drivers,” he said.

Danica Patrick becomes first NASCAR driver with 1 million Twitter followers

February 25th, 2014

FoxNews.com
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Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. may be known as NASCAR’s most popular driver, but when it comes to Twitter, he’s got some catching up to do.

Danica Patrick became NASCAR’s first driver with over 1 million Twitter followers in the days leading up to Sunday’s big race, ranking her among the top racing drivers and female athletes in the world.

“It just shows what incredible and loyal fans I have,” she told The Associated Press before the race. “It’s pretty humbling that 1 million people are curious about what I have to say and what I’m doing. I really can’t thank everyone enough for their passion and interest.”

Of course, Dale Jr. didn’t even have a Twitter account before the Daytona 500, but celebrated his second win there by opening an account and quickly attracted over a quarter of a million followers.

Although Patrick receives harsh criticism from die-hard NASCAR fans who accuse her of not having earned her ride in the Sprint Cup Series, she’s enormously popular among casual sports fans and her loyal supporters.

She thanked longtime personal sponsor TISSOT for getting her started on Twitter, and GoDaddy, her NASCAR sponsor, for allowing her to be “organic, real and fun” while using social media.

The 1 million mark easily tops all NASCAR drivers. Next highest is six-time champion Jimmie Johnson’s 530,000 followers. Juan Pablo Montoya leads all IndyCar drivers with just under 800,000. Patrick’s boyfriend, fellow NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., has 126,000 followers.

Topping the 1 million mark ranks Patrick among the top female athletes. She’s got more followers than Lindsey Vonn, Maria Sharapova, Mia Hamm and Anna Kournikova.

Those she still trails? Serena Williams’ 4 million followers and U.S. soccer player Alex Morgan’s 1.3 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Petty says Patrick can’t win a race

February 14th, 2014

FoxNews.com
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    FILE – In this Feb. 21, 2013 file photo, NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty speaks during a news conference at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Petty says Danica Patrick can only win a Sprint Cup Series race “if everybody else stayed home.” The seven-time champion made the comment during a Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, appearance at the Canadian Motorsports Expo in Toronto, according to the website wheels.ca. (AP Photo/Terry Renna, File)

NASCAR’s king is taking on its queen.

Hall of famer Richard Petty says the only way Danica Patrick will ever win a Sprint Cup race is “if everybody else stayed home.”

Wheels.ca reports that Petty, the sports all-time winningest driver with 200 trips to victory lane, made the comment at the Candian Tire Motorsports Expo in Toronto on Sunday, adding that Patrick only gets attention because she’s a woman, but that the attention she brings to the sport is good for NASCAR.

“If she’d have been a male, nobody would ever know if she’d showed up at a racetrack,” Petty said, according to the website. “This is a female deal that’s driving her. There’s nothing wrong with that, because that’s good PR for me. More fans come out, people are more interested in it. She has helped to draw attention to the sport, which helps everybody in the sport.”

Petty still maintains partial control of Richard Petty Motorsports, which fields cars for Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola in the Sprint Cup Series.

Patrick is headed to Daytona International Speedway this week to begin her second full season at NASCAR’s top level. She became the first woman a year ago to win the top starting spot for the Daytona 500 and she finished eighth.

It was Patrick’s best finish during a rough rookie year in which she averaged a 26th-place finish. Patrick was 27th in the final Sprint Cup standings.

A year ago, Petty’s son, Kyle, called Patrick a “marketing machine” during various media appearances. Kyle Petty is a former driver and current television analyst.

“That’s where I have a problem — where fans have bought into the hype of the marketing, to think she’s a race car driver,” Kyle Petty said. “She can go fast, and I’ve seen her go fast. She drives the wheels off it when she goes fast. She’s not a race car driver. There’s a difference. The King (Richard Petty) always had that stupid saying, but it’s true, ‘Lots of drivers can drive fast, but very few drivers can race.’ Danica has been the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than what she runs.”

Patrick, who recently starred in her celebrity-leading 13th Super Bowl commercial for sponsor GoDaddy, dismissed Kyle Petty’s comments at the time.

“It’s true that there are plenty of people who say bad things about me; I read them,” she said at the time. “At the end of the day, you get over that stuff and trust that you are doing a good job.”

Patrick was defended by team co-owner Tony Stewart, the three-time champion, who called Kyle Petty’s comments “way out of line and very inappropriate.” Stewart also said Patrick’s finishes weren’t indicative of her talent.

”When somebody like Kyle beats you up like that, you take it to heart,” he said. “She’s somebody who wants to do things the right way. She works at it. It’s a scenario where somebody has to tell you, ‘You are doing the right thing and disregard what one person says.’”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Up and coming racer Sean Edwards killed in training crash

October 16th, 2013

Associated Press
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    PORSCHE
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    Sean Edwards competing at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. (PORSCHE)

Sean Edwards, a promising British driver and the son of former Formula One driver Guy Edwards, died Tuesday in a crash during training. He was 26.

Edwards, the Supercup Championship leader, was in the passenger seat as an instructor for a private training session at Queensland Raceway at Willowbank, outside Brisbane, Porsche Motorsport said.

A 20-year-old local driver was behind the wheel when the car crashed into a tire wall and caught fire. The driver was taken to a hospital and is reported to be in a critical condition with severe burns and broken bones.

Sean Edwards was recently involved in director Ron Howard’s movie “Rush” about the 1976 Formula One season. Guy Edwards was one of the drivers who helped pull Niki Lauda from his burning car during the 1976 German Grand Prix.

Sean Edwards had told fans he would be in Australia on a short visit before returning for the last two races of the Supercup series.

In his last post on Twitter, he said: “Time to hit Queensland Raceway today, should be fun, hope there aren’t too many kangaroos like at Bathurst!” — a reference to Australia’s premier endurance auto racing event last weekend.

Hartmut Kristen, Head of Motorsport at Porsche, called Edwards “one of the most popular and successful” drivers in the Porsche series. Edwards won the Nurburgring and Dubai 24 Hours this year.

“Sean was a hugely promising young racer who came through the junior formulas in Britain before making a career in international sports car racing,” the British Motor Sports Association said.

Sports News Edition

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