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Crew chief Tony Gibson reflects on Danica Patrick’s season thus far

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It’s been a rough road for Danica Patrick in her first full season in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Other than winning the pole and finishing eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500, Patrick has struggled for much of the 16 races since then.

In fact, Patrick has finished in the top 20 just twice since Daytona: 12th at Martinsville and 13th at Michigan three weeks ago.

In the 14 other races, she has finished between 20th and 29th 11 times and three times between 30th and 39th.

But it’s not only Patrick who has born the brunt of the struggles. So, too, has veteran crew chief Tony Gibson, who shifted over to lead Patrick’s team this season after spending the last three four seasons atop the pit box for Ryan Newman.

Gibson was on Tuesday’s weekly NASCAR media teleconference and talked about working with Patrick, returning to his native Daytona Beach for this Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 and where Patrick earned the pole in February, and what the rest of the season holds in store for the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet:

Reflecting back on what Patrick did in February at Daytona: “It was obviously extremely gratifying to go down there and run well (in February). To go to your hometown where I grew up and all your friends and family, and to go there and to do something that is pretty amazing, to make history, to just be a part of that is incredible. It was something that obviously will never be done again, and I feel real fortunate to be a part of that. … It was pretty crazy, too, with all the media and all the hype going into it, and actually the pressure of actually testing well and going down there and repeating and making it happen, it was a huge relief, but it was also very gratifying and probably ranks up there as probably one of the greatest things I’ve accomplished in my career.”

On the gameplan for this weekend’s return to Daytona: “Goals for July are the same as they were in February when we went to Daytona. We want to go down there and we want to make a statement. We want to try to sit on the pole again, obviously, and this time come up (finish) a few spots further up. We felt like we had a shot to win it, ran in the top three or four all day and had a fast car, and it came down to the last lap and kind of got snookered a little bit there at the end. But we felt like we were definitely in contention to win it, so we’re going back there with the same mindset, to try to be the fastest car in qualifying and try to close the deal at the end of this thing.”

On whether the No. 10 team is put under the microscope more so because Danica is the driver: “Yeah, we do, and we knew that going into it. Most of us on the 10 car, most of my guys were with me when we were with Dale Jr. at DEI, and we’ve been through some of the microscope deal with a high-profile driver. So we were kind of used to it. At least we thought we were. But obviously it’s a little bit more than that with Danica. The fan base is a little more spread out. There’s kids and little girls and boys and women and men, and she has a huge fan base now. You’re dealing with a lot of different folks at the racetrack and talking to different people and things like that.”

On how the microscope is different with Patrick than with other drivers you’ve worked with, like Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., etc.: “It’s a little different than what we’ve experienced in the past. So moving forward you want to please everybody. You want your performance to be good because you don’t want to let your fans down. You don’t want to let her fans down. When you’ve got to look a little girl in the eye and she asks you what happened last week or why didn’t Danica win, it’s pretty hard to come up with an answer that’s going to satisfy a little girl. But it’s crazy. It’s different. But we approach every week the same. We want to go in, and we set goals, and we want to do the best we can every week as a team, and we want to build a stronger team and a relationship with Danica because it’s only going to help us down the road. But the demands to perform and run better and to do things like that seem to be a little higher than they were because of the expectations she puts on herself and that the fans want to see her do good. So that’s a little bit different for us. That’s been a little bit of a struggle for us to get our hands wrapped around and absorbing that and trying to make things — try to justify each thing we do and keep ourselves in check, you know.”

On Danica having better performances and consistency in the last month-plus: “I think we’ve definitely made some gains as a company. We’re nowhere near where we want to be or where we need to be each and every week on every level, from the 39 (Ryan Newman), the 14 (Tony Stewart) or the 10 (Patrick). I mean, our goals are a little bit less than the other two guys, at least the goals we set for ourselves are a little lower but reachable. But we have struggled as a company and with the Gen-6 car, and we’ve worked really hard. We’ve done a lot of testing here lately, and I think the testing that we’ve done has definitely paid off in her performance. Has it taken us from a 15th-place organization to a winning organization? Well, not really. Dover was a good day and it was a good race for the 14 to win it, but they weren’t the dominant car all day. They put themselves in a good position. They were a top-10 car and put themselves in position to win it and did so. But the performances have been better, but our expectations and where we need to be is not there yet.”

On the plusses of Patrick getting in as much testing as possible: “Yeah, it’s huge. Any time that we can get to go do a test at the right racetrack on the right tire, even if you’re not on the right tire, but to be at that racetrack that you’re going to compete on is huge. Any lap behind the wheel of this Gen-6 car for her is a plus. You know, it’s definitely been a plus for the seat time side of it. The tests that we have done have been huge, and the biggest thing that’s really helped her is having the data from the other two drivers, the EFI data from the other two drivers as far as breaking traces and throttle traces and steering traces and those things that we really — that we can sit down and look at, and she can talk to Stewart or Newman and they can help her if she’s struggling and they can kind of go to some of these racetracks where she hasn’t been. Some of these tracks she’s never been to in any kind of car. Having those two guys at a test when we go has been huge for us. And it shows. I know it doesn’t make us run top 10, but it makes us run 15th to 20th. That has been huge for her. That’s been the biggest thing I’d say for us is going to those tests and being able to do that, and if we could do it more, we would, and we go to VIR, we go to Road Atlanta, we go to Nashville, we go to Greenville Pickens, we go anywhere we can go to make laps and learn.  And a lot of these tracks we have — even when we go to Nashville, all of our drivers have been there and the Hendrick guys have been there obviously, so we have a lot of data we can look at that helps her on the driving side as well as on the setup side, too.”

On how excited the team is to return to Daytona, particularly after what Danica and the team did in February down there: “Yeah, you can feel the excitement in the shop. The guys are just rubbing and detailing and they’re pumped up and they’re excited. We have our trophy from Daytona for the pole down here, and so that stuff we bring out — we brought it out this week just to remind everybody of what we can do when we get down there. It’s a little bit of a morale booster. The vibe is different. When we get ready to go here, everybody gets jacked up, and we know we can go here and we can do really well.”

On the team’s chances returning to Daytona: “I think it’s obviously a track that we feel like we can win at. I feel like that’s right in Danica’s wheelhouse there. She likes the drafting. She likes the high speeds, and I think most of that comes from the IndyCar side of it. So yeah, it’s exciting for us. We went to Daytona — and before when she was running the Nationwide car, she was really good at the restrictor plate stuff with the drafting and the air and that kind of deal. So we were pretty excited for going into this year, and then when we went to Daytona and tested, we knew that we were going to be fairly strong down there. So it’s exciting for us, and we’re working really hard. We work hard every week, but when it comes to the restrictor plate racing, especially going to Daytona, we go all out. We put every little thing we can into those cars, because we know that that’s a track that we can win at and we can really do some damage, on the good side.”

Davidson would not turn down Jaguar Formula E drive

Anthony Davidson (GBR) 
Toyota Hybrid Racing
World Endurance Championship. 6 Hours of Bahrain. 18th-21st  November 2015. Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain.
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SPA – Anthony Davidson is open to a move into Formula E with Jaguar upon its entry to the championship later this year, but is yet to receive a serious offer from the British manufacturer.

Jaguar confirmed at the end of last year that it would be entering Formula E from the 2016-2017 season, and is expected to be competitive from the very beginning thanks to its relationship with championship battery supplier Williams.

As a result, the Jaguar seats are among the most coveted for the new season, leading to speculation that 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship winner and Toyota racer Davidson could become the latest driver to combine endurance racing duties with Formula E.

Davidson confirmed to NBC Sports that he’d be interested in doing so, but said he is yet to receive a serious approach.

“If I was approached seriously and wasn’t messed about by having to do a driver shoot-out or anything ridiculous like that, then maybe I would,” Davidson said.

“So far I haven’t had a serious approach. I would be up for it. I’m always up for racing in different cars, especially to drive a single-seater again would be nice, but it’s not high on my priority list at the moment.”

When asked by NBC Sports if a move to Jaguar would be of interest, Davidson confirmed that preliminary talks had been held but nothing had been firmed up.

“I got in touch, we were in touch. We had a chat and that’s about all that came from it,” Davidson said.

“I wouldn’t turn down an offer, let’s put it that way. But I’m not going to break a leg falling over myself to get into one.

“I’m 37 years old now. If I can’t sell myself now then there’s no point.

“If people don’t know what I’m capable of then that’s their loss.”

Verstappen never saw a reason to leave Red Bull setup

MILTON KEYNES, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Red Bull Racing arrives at the Red Bull Racing Factory on May 5, 2016 at the Red Bull Racing Factory, Milton Keynes, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen says that he did not consider leaving the Red Bull setup for a rival before being promoted to the energy drink giant’s senior Formula 1 team.

Red Bull announced on Thursday that it would be swapping Verstappen, previously of Toro Rosso, with Daniil Kvyat in a bid to ease the pressure on the Russian following a disastrous Russian Grand Prix.

Verstappen has made a significant impact on F1 since making his debut with Toro Rosso last year at the age of 17, leading to speculation about a possible move away.

However, the Dutchman said that he never considered leaving Red Bull as he feels happy within its racing programme.

“To be honest, I was always very happy at Red Bull,” Verstappen said.

“I never saw reason to change and of course with this opportunity there is no reason to change so I’m happy to be here.

“It’s a great honor and it’s a top team and that’s where every driver wants to drive I think. I can’t wait to get started.”

Verstappen paid his first visit to Red Bull’s factory in Milton Keynes, England on Thursday to meet his new team, but says he has no expectations for the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix.

“I go there with no expectations to be honest,” Verstappen said.

“I just want to adapt to the car, understand it better and better every session and like I said before, study the data and see what my teammate is doing because the most important thing is to score points.

“Of course I’m driving for a top team now, but in the end you always try to do your best which is what I always try to do. For me, I don’t feel more pressure.”

Porsche sweeps to one-two in Spa WEC qualifying

Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber
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SPA – After seeing its streak of pole positions in the FIA World Endurance Championship end at Silverstone, Porsche bounced back in style by sweeping to an impressive one-two finish in qualifying for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

Porsche debuted its low downforce aero kit in Spa on Friday to prepare for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, and it proved to be potent from the outset as the no. 1 car shared by Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard set the pace in qualifying.

Under unusually sunny skies at Spa, Hartley set the early pace despite reporting a clutch issue before Bernhard went faster still on his run, resulting in a two-lap average for the car of 1:55.793.

Porsche’s Silverstone-winning no. 2 car followed in P2 with Marc Lieb and Neel Jani sharing driving duties, albeit seven-tenths of a second down.

The battle for P3 between Toyota and Audi appears to be closer than ever at Spa, with just three-tenths of a second separating all four cars. Traffic for the Audis allowed the Toyotas to edge ahead, with the no. 6 car finishing third ahead of Audi’s no. 8. Toyota’s no. 5 followed in P5 ahead of the sister no. 7 Audi.

In LMP2, G-Drive Racing secured class pole thanks to Roman Rusinov and Rene Rast as their two-lap average was half a second clear of the field. The no. 36 Signatech Alpine team followed in P2, while Manor enjoyed a strong showing to get its cars third and fifth on the grid, with the Jota Sport-run no. 38 Gibson car splitting them.

GTE Pro’s qualifying saw the new Ferrari 488 GTEs excel once again as AF Corse stormed to a one-two in class with the no. 71 of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon taking pole. The duo claimed victory at Silverstone in their first race together, and managed to edge out the sister no. 51 Ferrari by three-tenths of a second in the first qualifying session.

Aston Martin Racing finished as the best of the rest with its no. 97 Vantage V8 slotting into P3 ahead of the two Ford GTs in fourth and fifth, both seven-tenths down on the pole time. Porsche struggled once again as the no. 77 911 RSR ailed to P7 in class, 2.3 seconds off the pace.

AMR made up for its GTE Pro qualifying defeat in GTE Am as the no. 98 car took pole by 1.8 seconds in the hands of Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana. AF Corse followed in a distant second place, while the Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR followed in third.

The 6 Hours of Spa kicks off at 2:30pm local time (8:30am ET) on Sunday.

For full results from Spa qualifying, click here.

Webber: Red Bull decision to drop Kvyat ‘harsh’ but not surprising

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16:  Mark Webber of Australia and Porsche Team 919 Hybrid talks to the media during previews the FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of Silverstone race at the Silverstone Circuit on April 16, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
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SPA – Ex-Formula 1 driver Mark Webber believes that Red Bull’s decision to drop Daniil Kvyat in favor of Max Verstappen is “harsh” but has been brewing for some time.

On Thursday, Red Bull announced that Verstappen would be moving up from junior team Toro Rosso to take Kvyat’s seat from the Spanish Grand Prix, with the Russian moving in the opposite direction.

Webber enjoyed a turbulent spell with Red Bull in F1 between 2007 and 2013, enjoying a particularly frosty relationship with team advisor Helmut Marko who was instrumental in the decision to promote Verstappen to the senior outfit.

Speaking at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps ahead of this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship race, Porsche driver Webber said he was not surprised by the call.

“It was probably on the cards even before Russia, so in a way you probably feel there was something brewing,” Webber said when asked about the decision by NBC Sports.

“They’ve done it. And let’s see if Max can break Red Bull records again. He’s got no choice [to be ready]. He has to be ready.

“[Kvyat has] had a year and 30% there in terms of time. They don’t believe that he’s done enough. In their eyes he hasn’t done enough and they see that one other guy is doing enough.

“Normally you wait until the end of the year but obviously you know that doesn’t happen sometimes, particularly with Red Bull. They change it whenever they feel – bang.

“Helmut just wants performance. He wants to put the fastest guys in the best scenario as quick as possible.

“People just say that the mistakes that Dany made, it was off the back of that, but obviously it was probably accumulating to a point where they were not overly happy with his performance in the build-up.”

Webber said that he felt it was harsh on Kvyat, but believes that part of the move was a ploy by Red Bull to ensure that Verstappen is tied down to them for longer and prevent rivals from signing him for the 2017 season.

“Yeah, I feel it’s harsh but it’s a big business and things move fast and I think also again getting ahead of the ’17 market a bit, making sure everything’s ready,” Webber said.

“It’ll be a complete non-topic in six months as usual in F1, even three months. Everyone moves on.

“In Formula 1 you have nowhere to hide.”