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Cup: Petty lands increased commitment from sponsor Smithfield Foods

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It’s now up to Richard Petty Motorsports to bring home the bacon after sponsor Smithfield Foods, the largest pork processor in the world, announced that it would increase its sponsorship and investment in the Sprint Cup/Nationwide Series franchise today in New York.

Smithfield and its family of meat brands will now serve as primary sponsors of the No. 43 Ford Fusion and driver Aric Almirola for 29 Sprint Cup races in each of the next three seasons. RPM has disclosed that Smithfield’s additional investment will lead to more testing and R&D for the team.

“This expanded partnership is evidence the [NASCAR] platform has worked and continues to work,” Petty said in a team release. “We have worked very hard the past two seasons to position our team as business and marketing leaders in the NASCAR landscape.

“Smithfield’s continued commitment with us for years to come will allow us to focus on winning on the track while still working with Smithfield Foods to expand their business.”

Also included in the deal is a contract extension for Almirola that’s concurrent with Smithfield’s new pact. Last year marked his second full season behind the wheel of the No. 43, and he collected six Top-10 finishes en route to an 18th place finish in the 2013 Sprint Cup championship.

In comments made during today’s press conference in New York, Almirola said that he now feels he has the opportunity to be “a lot more confident” in regards to his future in the sport.

“I’m not worried that if I make one mistake or whatever that they’re going to be looking to figure out the next guy that’s going to come in and do better,” he said.

“[Smithfield’s commitment] gives me a lot of confidence knowing that I have Richard Petty Motorsports behind me, and then obviously Smithfield Foods behind me and that they’re committed to me and they support me…It feels great to not have to be worrying in June or July where I’m going to get my next paycheck from.”

As for Smithfield CEO Larry Pope, whose company first started its partnership with RPM in 2012, he noted that his group has tried racing sponsorships before but didn’t achieve success. However, this time, they know what to do.

“We’ve been reluctant to put so much money – we’ve been racing three times before over the last 20 years without real success because we didn’t know how to activate it,” Pope said. “…With the marketing people we’ve added to our organization, they know how to do it. Some of which have racing experience with Anheuser-Busch, so they know how to activate this. They’re teaching us how to activate it.

“Aric is driving and Aric is a wonderful young man off the track interacting [with fans], and we’re learning how to use it.  Without abusing him, we’re learning how to use it. It’s a process, and the more we do it, the more we like it.”

Gutierrez hoping for more in Russia after finally banking first finish

during practice ahead of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 18, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.
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An accident in the Australian Grand Prix and brake issues in the Bahrain Grand Prix was not the kind of return to competition Esteban Gutierrez was expecting.

After a one-year hiatus and two failures to finish in 2016, the 24-year-old Mexican driver for Formula 1’s new American team was finally running at the end of a race.

As he heads into this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, Gutierrez is keen to start getting any sort of momentum going.

“For sure it was a relief to finish the race finally,” Gutierrez said in Thursday’s FIA Press Conference.

“It’s been a frustrating start for me, a lot of interruptions over the weekends, but I wasn’t satisfied completely just by finishing the race of course, I want much more than that.”

Gutierrez finished the Chinese Grand Prix 14th, as the first driver one lap down to the leaders in the No. 21 Haas VF-16 Ferrari.

Notably, that is precisely where he finished his most recent five races of 2014—one lap off the pace, but running at the end of the show. Gutierrez’s last complete race came in the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix when he finished 15th.

“China overall wasn’t a great track for our car,” he admitted. “Hopefully we can recover from now on, in Russia, and that this track gives us better possibilities.

“Russia offers… yeah, let’s say a medium range of overtaking so it’s not very straightforward but hopefully the strategy can be a bit more viable, that we can have more pitstops. As you say, the prediction is not the case, but hopefully we have a fun race for the people outside to watch, and have fun.”

Last year, Gutierrez spent his year working on race simulations to stay sharp. It was no substitute for race experience, but it provided a different perspective he hopes will lead to eventually finishing in a points’ paying position.

Working on a simulator in 2015 “didn’t change the approach; it changed my knowledge,” Gutierrez added. “I basically experiment a lot.”

“I feel very confident and I feel very prepared right now and everything is in front of me.”

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Kvyat hopeful of continuing China form on home soil

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 28:  Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Red Bull Racing waves at the crowd as he arrives on stage during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 28, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Daniil Kvyat is confident that Red Bull can continue its strong start to the 2016 Formula 1 season this weekend in Russia as he prepares for his home grand prix.

Kvyat became just the second Russian F1 driver when he made his debut in 2014 with Toro Rosso, and the first to race on home soil after the addition of a grand prix in Sochi to the calendar the same year.

Kvyat finished third in China two weeks ago after enjoying a spirited battle with Sebastian Vettel, and arrives in Russia full of confidence thanks to the competitiveness of the Red Bull RB12 car.

“Lately we have been competitive on most of the tracks, any kind really, starting with Australia, Bahrain, China we always looked in quite good shape,” Kvyat said.

“I think Sochi also in the past for us maybe hasn’t been the easiest track, as a team, but now we are just coming to any track and we are just trying to extract everything the car has got.

“I believe also here we can fight for quite strong points. We will do our best and I think the car is looking in great shape.”

Kvyat came under fire from Vettel following an aggressive move at the start of the Chinese Grand Prix, but said that he has moved on from the incident.

“I think everything confirmed my point of view,” Kvyat said. “I think obviously everyone told their opinions on that incident, all the people involved. I think all in all I did what any competitive racing driver would do.

“But now I think there has been enough talk about it. Now it’s time to turn the page and move forward and now we are fully focused on the upcoming races.”

Hamilton: Red Bull F1 cockpit aero screen ‘like a riot shield’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 28: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing sits in his Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer fitted with the aeroscreen in the garage during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 28, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton has made no secret of his opposition to Red Bull’s proposed ‘aero screen’ cockpit protection device, saying that it looks “like a bloody riot shield”.

Formula 1 has been working to improve cockpit safety following the deaths of Jules Bianchi and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson in 2015 from head injuries sustained while racing.

The ‘Halo’ device designed by Mercedes made its first public appearance in Barcelona in February at pre-season testing, meeting a mixed response.

Red Bull’s screen is an alternative proposal that has gained significant traction in recent weeks, meaning that it also could be implemented for the 2017 season.

Hamilton spoke out against the Halo when it debuted in Barcelona, and was just as dismissive of the aero screen ahead of its first public run-out in Russian GP practice on Friday.

“If they are going to do this, close the cockpit like a fighter jet,” Hamilton told reporters in Sochi on Thursday.

“If you are going to do it close the cockpit like a fighter jet, don’t half-ass it.

“That screen looks so bad. It’s like a bloody riot shield.”

“You’ve got this cool, elegant, futuristic Formula 1 car and you’ve got a crappy riot shield sat on top of it, and the other one [Halo], the carbon fibre structure was obviously good but obviously Fernando [Alonso] wouldn’t have been able to get out of the car potentially in his crash in Melbourne.”

However, Hamilton said he was pleased to see the FIA pushing on with its drive to improve safety standards in F1, although he believes danger should remain an inherent part of the sport.

“It is a good thing to see that the FIA do take safety seriously,” Hamilton said.

“It is a constant thing that always needs to be worked on but as long as it doesn’t affect the aesthetics and the style and the coolness of Formula 1.

“Because the reason you look as a kid, you look at Formula 1 [and think] ‘wow, these guys, they are crazy, they could die at any moment.’

“Everyone who comes to me who has just started watching Formula 1 is like ‘ah it’s so dangerous’ and that’s a large part of why they are so in awe of what you do.

“You take away all that and that person could do it almost.”

Rosberg: F1 title rivals have had a ‘messy’ start

during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 28, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Nico Rosberg may enjoy a 36-point lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship, but the German driver is under no illusions about the difficult start to the season his main rivals have suffered.

Rosberg claimed his sixth consecutive grand prix victory in China two weeks ago to extend his advantage over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ standings.

Hamilton is yet to have a clean race and go wheel-to-wheel with Rosberg at the front of the pack, while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel failed to start in Bahrain and suffered damage at the start in China.

Rosberg arrived in Sochi this week ahead of Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix full of confidence, but acknowledged that his rivals have been unlucky and expects them to respond soon.

“Definitely I’m pleased with the way I’ve been driving now in the first three races,” Rosberg said.

“For me, it’s not six in a row because the three last year were last year and they don’t count for anything in this year’s championship so for me it’s winning the first three which I’m really happy about.

“I’ve been driving really well, but my opposition had a really messy start. That’s the reality of it.

“I definitely expect them all to bounce back, especially Lewis and it’s going to be a great battle against them as always and it will be tough, even if I have some points lead now but it’s still such a long season: three races is a seventh or something of the whole thing.

“There’s like 450 points to take still and now I have 30-something in front or whatever. There’s still a massively long way to go so it’s not really changing the situation much.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live across NBCSN, CNBC and Live Extra this weekend. For more details, click here.