Photo courtesy Richard Childress Racing

Will long wait for breakthrough season finally be at hand for Paul Menard in 2014?

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When Paul Menard won the Brickyard 400 in 2011, not only was it his first career Sprint Cup win, it was a huge leap forward in what had been a rather nondescript Sprint Cup tenure up to that point.

By winning what has become one of NASCAR’s crown jewels, Menard finally had something no one will ever be able to take away from him: that he’ll forever be known and referred to as both a Brickyard and Indianapolis Motor Speedway champion.

But since that huge win, Menard has been kind of stuck in neutral. With the Brickyard triumph, four top-5 and eight top-10 finishes, he ended the 2011 season in a career-best 17th place.

In 2012, he improved slightly to a winless 16th in the standings, and last season, went right back to 17th, again without another win.

That has to change this season, Menard told NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk during last week’s NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C.

“I think we’re definitely capable and our goal is to make the Chase,” Menard said. “And to make the Chase, we have to win races. That’s what we’re going for. That’s what we do every week.”

Menard comes into 2014 in a significantly different position and role than he was in during his first three seasons driving for Richard Childress Racing.

With Kevin Harvick having moved on to Stewart Haas Racing and Jeff Burton running a part-time schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing as a prelude to becoming a TV analyst for NASCAR on NBC in 2015, Menard is now the guy with the most seniority at RCR this season,

But even with new teammates Ryan Newman and Sprint Cup rookie (and Childress grandson) Austin Dillon, Menard claims there really hasn’t been that much of a change in the overall dynamic at RCR.

“Honestly, it’s not that different,” Menard said. “(Dillon and Newman are) guys I’ve known for a long time. I’ve worked with Austin for the last several years, and Ryan, I’ve raced against him for years. It’s really not that different.

“It’s welcoming Ryan into how RCR does things. He’s a smart guy, he’s going to fit right in, has a lot of the same interests as Richard and myself and Austin and Ty. So, it’s been pretty seamless.”

With so much attention focused on Dillon, at least at the beginning of this season due to his driving the fabled No. 3 car for the first time on the Cup circuit since the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, and with Newman coming over from SHR, Menard loves the position he finds both himself and the organization in.

“Yeah, it’s two new guys and two guys that are very different in their personalities and the way they think,” Menard said. “You have Ryan, who is a degreed engineer, been around the sport a long time, a multi-time race winner and a Chase guy every year.

“And then we have Austin, who is this young and enthusiastic guy and full of energy. It’s really cool to see how all three of us are going to work together. I feel like we all have the same interests, we can talk about racing, talk about hunting, talk about just being outside or doing something totally different, spend time together doing that and get to know each other a lot better.”

Ever since that win in the Brickyard, it has appeared Menard has been ready for an even bigger career breakthrough.

Unfortunately, he’s still waiting.

But now in his fifth season with crew chief Slugger Labbe, Menard believes this could be a magical year for him, Labbe and RCR.

“We balance each other out really well, I think,” Menard said of Labbe. “Slugger is a very hands-on crew chief, at the shop every day, with the cars, really enjoys the cars and understands the mechanics of the cars. He’s a real go-getter, I guess.

“Myself, I enjoy working with the engineers and understanding what makes the car go fast. That’s pretty cool for me. I guess we just learned to work together a long time ago, it’s clicked, we enjoy working together, we’re good friends on and off the track and this is just one of those deals that works.”

One thing that won’t work is Menard returning to Indianapolis behind the wheel of an Indy car. While his father John has been involved in the Indianapolis 500 for more than three decades, Paul will not try to emulate what AJ Allmendinger and Kurt Busch are hoping to do – namely, race in the 500 in May and then compete later that same day in NASCAR’s most grueling race, the Coca-Cola 600.

“It’s something I’ve thought about, for sure, but I don’t think it’s doable, honestly, to give it a good, fair shake,” Menard said. “I drove an Indy car 10 years ago, they’re just totally different today. They have a ton of grip until they don’t, there’s no saving them.

“I’ve seen a lot of good guys get hurt really bad, and I think it’s something you definitely have to respect. If you’re going to run a race, especially the Indy 500, you have to be there the whole month. You have to start with a lot of downforce in your car and start trimming it out until you feel that comfort. It’s going to be real hard to go out there and go fast and have your car trimmed out and not crashed and not break both your legs. That’s just my opinion.”

And then with an impish grin, Menard added, “Besides, those guys (IndyCar drivers) are little. They’re 5-foot-5 and 120 pounds. I’m six foot and 200 pounds. For one, I don’t think I could fit in the car with enough padding and security to be safe with it, and secondly, it’s a huge weight disadvantage, carrying 60 more pounds than the next guy.”

So, will 2014 really, truly be the long-awaited breakthrough year that Menard and his fans have long hoped for?

“I’m really looking forward to 2014,” he said. “It’s a year of change, for sure, not only for RCR but our sport. I’m really excited about the changes coming down the pike in our sport, and I’m really looking forward to working with Austin and Ryan this year.

“I’m just excited to get down to Daytona and kick the year off. I’m looking forward to getting back into the race car and kicking off 2014 on the right foot.”

Menard already has a Brickyard 400 win. Could a Daytona 500 win in less than two weeks be next?

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Repsol extends MotoGP title sponsorship with Honda Racing Corporation

VALENCIA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 11:  Marc Marquez of Spain and Repsol Honda Team rounds the bend during the MotoGP of Valencia - Free Practice at Ricardo Tormo Circuit on November 11, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Spanish energy company Repsol has extended its title sponsorship agreement with Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) in MotoGP, the premier class of motorcycle racing.

Repsol and Honda have worked together since 1995, with the extended contract now set to run to the end of the 2018 season.

Repsol and Honda have won 12 rider world championships during their time together, the latest coming in 2016 courtesy of Marc Marquez.

“We are very proud to be part of this team and to renew an alliance that has borne so much fruit in the fields of sports and technology,” Repsol’s Begona Elices said.

“We have two exceptional riders in Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, who perfectly represent Repsol’s values such as teamwork and the spirit of improvement.

“High competition is the best incentive to improve as a global company, to research and develop state-of-the-art fuels and lubricants, and to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.”

Both Marquez and Pedrosa are contracted to race for Repsol Honda to the end of the 2018 season, matching the length of the sponsorship agreement.

They’re back for more: ‘Dinner with Racers’ 2 kicks off today

dwr2promo
Photo courtesy Dinner with Racers
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The second season of “Dinner with Racers,” presented by Continental Tire, drops its first batch of episodes today.

The 28-episode season follows the first 28 episodes released last year. This year, podcast hosts and sports car veterans Sean Heckman and Ryan Eversley saddled up in a Honda Odyssey minivan for the cross-country tour, while riding on Continental Tires.

There’s some great guests and details. Here’s the full breakdown, plus a video, below:

One year after the successful debut of the motorsport podcast series “Dinner with Racers,” the antics of Ryan Eversley and Sean Heckman have returned for the binge release of “Season Two,” launching today. Following their 2015 debut that featured a month-long road trip recording 26 conversations “over dinner” with some of the most interesting characters in motorsports, the duo will launch another 28 recordings for their 2016 adventure. The second season will be released in two waves, with “Release One” launching the first 14 recordings immediately, and “Release Two” featuring an additional 14 recordings slated to release on December 16. All episodes can be found at www.dinnerwithracers.com or via iTunes.

Traveling for 40 days across 29 states, and covering 12,000 miles in 2016, the trip was made possible in part by the Honda Odyssey that was lent to the team by American Honda Motor Co., Inc, and most importantly thanks to a continuing title partnership with Continental Tire, who not only provided Cross Contact LX20 tires for the trip but covered the team’s expenses, as well as every meal.

Continuing the same theme from the debut season, #DWR2 follows a nearly identical format. A factory racing driver for Acura in the World Challenge series, Ryan Eversley makes up half of the hosting lineup, with motorsport marketing / creative content veteran Sean Heckman completing the duo. Using their unique blend of humor, insight, experience, as well as genuine love of the sport, Eversley and Heckman pick up right where they left off in Season One, exposing some of the most unique and entertaining stories from their variety of guests.

Meeting up with 28 different characters “over dinner,” listeners will exposed to a variety of personalities, everything from NASCAR and IndyCar star drivers, to some of the most respected engineers and mechanics, journalists, and broadcasters in the business. Stories cover everything from what it was like to be the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and then Daytona 500, to giving up a contract worth over $2mil just to be a “good guy,” to turning a satiric twitter account in to a full-time job, as well as enjoying life after nearly three decades in prison. Topics include everything from a transgender pig, to being given dead cat whiskers as a good luck charm, to having guns pulled in the middle of a race shop, and even buying a race track in the hopes of laundering money through it.

For Ryan Eversley, a chance to continue the series was a welcome one.

“I know it’s a cliché, but It truly is such an honor and a privilege to be able to do this,” stated Eversley. “Both Sean and I were truly blown away by the fan support from Season One, it’s honestly something we weren’t expecting. It really meant a lot to get so many nice comments, and that kept us very motivated for Season Two. I think our genuine love of the sport translates when people listen, because we really enjoy hearing the real back stories in what makes everyone so unique. This season did not disappoint us at all. This show lives and dies by its guests, and we couldn’t have been luckier to have such a great group who were not only engaging and interesting, but also incredibly gracious with their time. It’s an absolute blast doing this, and we really appreciate Continental for continuing their support, as well as Honda for giving us an incredibly comfortable car for such a long trip.”

For Sean Heckman, a similar sentiment is shared.

“What he said,” stated Heckman.

Additionally, the series will continue to support less exposed musical acts, with each episode promoting a variety of musicians and bands at the close of every episode.

THE FULL GUEST LIST

RELEASE ONE (available now):
Johnny O’Connell
John Eversley
Calvin Fish
Joey Hand
Janet Guthrie
Brad Kettler
Mike Shank
Marc Miller
Landon Cassill
Dan Binks
Kenny Wallace
Kevin “Rocket” Blanch
Mike Hull
Ed Carpenter

RELEASE TWO (coming soon):
NASCARCASM
Matt Hardigree
Justin Marks
Marty Smith
Max Jones
David Hobbs
Hurley Haywood
Don Whittington
Randy Lanier
Eddie Gossage
PD Cunningham
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (with Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney)
Brendan Gaughan
Alex Gurney

Wolff: Mercedes was wrong to issue Hamilton orders in F1 title decider

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Toto Wolff has conceded that Mercedes was wrong to issue orders to Lewis Hamilton in his Formula 1 championship showdown in Abu Dhabi with Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton risked angering Mercedes’ management when he went deliberately slow during the closing stages of the final race of the year, in a bid to cause teammate and title rival Rosberg to lose positions.

Hamilton was told on multiple occasions to pick up speed, with Mercedes fearing that it could lose the race win to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Mercedes F1 chief Wolff admitted that the team was wrong to tell Hamilton to pick up speed, adding that the title contenders should have been left to fight it out on-track.

“In the heat of the moment, sometimes when you make decisions you get them wrong,” Wolff said.

“In our mind, the way we think, this race is giving us the same number of points as other races and we try to win that one, not considering that there was much more at stake for the drivers.

“How the race panned out, we should have communicated differently and in hindsight let them race in the way they deemed to be appropriate.”

Hamilton held on to win the race in Abu Dhabi, but Rosberg clinched the championship by finishing second ahead of Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Rosberg announced five days later that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, freeing up a seat alongside Hamilton for the 2017 season.

Hamilton has previously said that he was not concerned who his new teammate was, so long as he had equal rights within the team.

However, Wolff acknowledged that Mercedes’ new driver would need to create a good balance with the three-time world champion.

“He has been a great pillar in the team’s success. When he came, everything changed, so he has played a role,” Wolff said of Hamilton.

“It’s very important to keep him in a good place. The dynamics between the two drivers is one of the factors we will consider.”

Sim racers join Formula E teams ahead of Las Vegas eSports event

2016/2017 FIA Formula E Championship.
Marrakesh ePrix, Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan, Marrakesh, Morocco.
Saturday 12 November 2016.

Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _SLA8272
© FIA Formula E
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Ten sim racers have joined up with teams on the Formula E grid ahead of the Las Vegas eSports event at the beginning of January.

Formula E announced last summer that it would be holding a non-championship event in Las Vegas that would pit its drivers against racers from the virtual realm.

With $1 million in prize money on offer, the race is poised to be one of the most lucrative eSports events.

Ahead of the event in Las Vegas, each of the 10 of the sim racers that have qualified have been paired up with a Formula E team.

“I’d like to officially welcome the sim racers who qualified through the Road to Vegas Challenge to participate in the inaugural Visa Vegas eRace,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said.

“I’ve been following the progress of the sim racers throughout the qualification process, and I can’t wait to see them on the same track as the rest of the Formula E grid.

“Accessibility and fan engagement are two of the key cornerstones of Formula E, and what better way to promote this than getting the sim racers to compete in the same colours as their Formula E counterparts – it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top.”

The sim racers in the event are:

  • Gregor Huttu (FIN) – Panasonic Jaguar Racing
  • Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola (FIN) – Andretti
  • Olli Pahkala (FIN) – Mahindra
  • Enzo Bonito (ITA) – Techeetah
  • David Greco (ITA) – Renault e.dams
  • Graham Carroll (GBR) – DS Virgin Racing
  • Aleksi Elomaa (FIN) – Venturi
  • Bono Huis (NED) – Faraday Future Dragon Racing
  • Petar Brljak (CRO) – NextEV NIO
  • Patrick Holzmann (DEU) – ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport

The Vegas eRace will take place on January 7.