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.”

Conor Daly, Jack Harvey crash out of Indy 500

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Conor Daly and Jack Harvey have crashed out of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on lap 65.

Daly, in the No. 4 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet, was working his way through traffic and attempted an outside pass on Charlie Kimball entering Turn 3.

However, Daly’s car broke loose on the outside in the middle of the corner. He corrected, but drifted too high and impacted the wall exiting the corner. He immediately took responsibility over the radio and apologized to his team before exiting the car on under his own power.

Jack Harvey, in the No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda, was an innocent bystander and spun to avoid debris off Daly’s car. However, he spun to the inside wall between Turns 3 and 4. He, too, climbed from his car unhurt, although on replay it appeared his car was not far removed from one of the Holmatro Safety Team rescue vehicles.

Jack Harvey was an innocent bystander in Conor Daly’s accident. Photo: IndyCar

Both drivers were checked, cleared, and released from the infield medical center.

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Dixon OK after airborne crash with Howard; Indy 500 red-flagged

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Polesitter for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Scott Dixon’s race has come to an early end.

Jay Howard hit the wall coming out of Turn 2 and rolled through the middle of the straightaway with a broken car, with his right front suspension askew. Dixon was coming out of the turn and was unable to avoid the wreckage of Howard’s car.

Dixon bounced off and went airborne, turning over once before landing on all four wheels. Somehow during all of that, Helio Castroneves was able to sail under the airborne Dixon and was not involved in the incident.

Both drivers climbed out of their cars and were taken to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield care center.

The race was red flagged on Lap 55 to allow safety teams to clean up a significant amount of debris from both cars, as well as to repair safety fencing on the inside of the track.

Former two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso is scored in first place, followed by last year’s Indy 500 winner, Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato.

Dixon, mercifully, was OK.

“Yeah just a little beaten up there. A bit of a rough ride,” Dixon told ABC’s Dr. Jerry Punch. “I’m bummed for the team and for Camping World. We got a little loose on the first stint. We were a bit light on downforce. I’m just bummed for them and glad everyone is OK. Definitely a wild ride. Thank you for Dallara and the safety status.

“It’s tough. I was hoping Jay would stay against the wall. I’d already picked that way to go and there was nowhere else to go. I’m glad he’s OK too. You believe in the safety progress of these cars.”

Howard told Punch, “Yeah, I’m fine. Credit to INDYCAR, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the safety team, Dallara for building this car. I’m fine thanks to them. I’m really glad Scott’s okay. He was a victim of this. It sucks.”

Howard said he wasn’t sure what caused him to hit the wall, whether a part broke in the suspension or something else. But he did blast fellow driver Ryan Hunter-Reay.

“Hunter-Reay gets a run on me, I lift to let him go, try to be a nice guy, he moves right over on me and cuts me into the gray and all the marbles and the rest is history, he causes a massive accident,” Howard told ABC. “To say I’m unhappy is an understatement.”

Both Howard and Dixon have been checked and released from the care center and cleared to drive.

The race was red flagged for 19 minutes from 1:09 p.m. to 1:28 p.m. Engines have now been restarted as the field completed Lap 56.

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Hamilton exceeds Mercedes’ expectations with fightback to P7 in Monaco

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Lewis Hamilton was left pleased with his fightback from 13th on the grid to finish Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix in seventh place, going some way to limit the damage of Formula 1 title rival Sebastian Vettel’s victory for Ferrari.

Hamilton qualified a lowly 14th on Saturday in Monaco after struggling with setup and tire management, but gained one place on the grid following Jenson Button’s penalty.

Hamilton passed just one car in the opening stint of the race and struggled to keep up with the cars ahead, prompting Mercedes to extend the Briton’s ultra-soft run for as long as possible.

Hamilton was able to find some clear air when the cars ahead made their pit stops, giving him the chance to lay down some rapid laps that vaulted him up to seventh thanks to the overcut, where he would finish the race.

“I’m really, really happy that I was able to fight back to seventh. The strategists said P10 was probably the maximum today, so it feels great to have beaten that target,” Hamilton said.

“To score six points, considering where I was on the grid after a disastrous day on Saturday is a good recovery. Today it was impossible to overtake and I tried everything to get past Carlos [Sainz] at the end!

“I’m just grateful to have ended up in P7. I went on the radio at the end there to make sure the team know that this battle isn’t over.

“We’ll be sure to push those red cars hard next time out in Canada. We’ve got a real fight on our hands, but there are still 14 races to go.”

With Vettel’s victory, Hamilton now sits 25 points behind in the F1 drivers’ championship with 14 races remaining this season.

Raikkonen disappointed as strategy calls costs him shot at Monaco win

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Kimi Raikkonen was left disappointed following Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after Ferrari’s strategy call cost him a shot at his first victory for the Scuderia since 2009.

Raikkonen took his first pole for almost nine years on Saturday in Monaco and led the early part of the race from teammate Sebastian Vettel.

Ferrari pitted Raikkonen just before half distance, but opted to keep Vettel out as the German put in a series of quick laps to get the overcut on his teammate.

Vettel emerged from his stop ahead of Raikkonen on-track and retained his advantage to the checkered flag, clinching Ferrari’s first win in Monaco since 2001.

While P2 marked Raikkonen’s best result of the season so far, the Finn was careful with his words in the post-race podium interviews, his disappointment clear to see.

“Hard to say really,” Raikkonen said when asked how he was feeling.

“Obviously… you know it’s still second place, but it doesn’t feel awful good. This is how it goes sometimes.

“We go for the next race and try to do better. One of those days that you wish you had a bit more.”