Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Instead of significant improvement, 2014 starting off the way 2013 ended for Danica Patrick


Danica Patrick was supposed to have a much better season in 2014, her sophomore campaign on the Sprint Cup circuit.

But after the first two races, 2014 is starting to look a lot like 2013 for Patrick, unfortunately.

Patrick struggled to a 36th-place finish in Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

While it was a slight improvement from her 40th-place showing (after being involved in a multi-car wreck) in the season-opening Daytona 500 last Sunday, it’s obviously not the kind of start Patrick, crew chief Tony Gibson and Stewart Haas Racing were likely hoping for.

Patrick, who finished 27th in the 2013 final season standings, is now 39th in the Sprint Cup rankings after the first two races, already 77 points behind points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“It’s tough,” Patrick said. “That’s two weeks in a row we’ve had good cars and nothing to show for it. The car was good all day, we just needed track position. I’m starting to think if we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all. The GoDaddy guys built me a great car for the second week in a row. I hate it for them, and I hate it for GoDaddy. This is obviously an important race for them (GoDaddy is headquartered in Phoenix). Hopefully, things turn around in Las Vegas.”

Even though Patrick has lived in suburban Phoenix for the last few years, PIR has not been very welcoming to her.

Patrick now has four Sprint Cup starts at the flat one-mile track under her belt, the last three being finishes of 30th or worse.

She finished 17th in her first Cup race there in fall 2012, followed by 39th in spring 2013 (due to a crash), 33rd last fall 2013 (10 laps behind race winner Kevin Harvick) and now 36th (six laps behind the winning Harvick).

She was on pace for a possible top-10 showing in the fall 2012 race, but slammed into the wall on the final lap after being hit from behind by Jeff Burton.

And then as Patrick limped her damaged car down the frontstretch, she was hit from behind by Paul Menard after a big wreck as the checkered flag fell.

On a restart on Lap 171 in Sunday’s race, Patrick was headed into Turn 1 when she tangled with Justin Allgaier, causing her car to spin around against the outside retaining wall.

Both drivers were able to continue after quick damage repairs on pit road, but as she pulled away from her pit stall Patrick told Gibson over the team radio that she smelled smoke inside the car.

About a dozen laps later, Patrick went for a single-car spin and flat-spotted her left rear tire, requiring another visit to pit road.

Granted, we’re only two races into the 36-race Sprint Cup schedule, but Patrick isn’t the only driver having early season struggles. Kurt Busch left Phoenix 30th in the Sprint Cup standings, while Martin Truex Jr. (who started the Daytona 500 on the outside pole) left in 35th place.

Maybe the third race of the season in Las Vegas next Sunday will be the charm for Patrick.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Verstappen heads up Red Bull 1-2 in final USGP practice at COTA

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Max Verstappen closed out Formula 1 practice for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas at the top of the timesheets, finishing two-tenths of a second clear of the field at the Circuit of The Americas ahead of qualifying.

Verstappen headed up a Red Bull one-two in FP3 as Mercedes failed to get in a qualifying simulation for either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg, leaving them fourth and fifth respectively in the timesheets.

Verstappen put in a fastest lap time of 1:36.766 with over 10 minutes remaining in the session, although the Dutchman did appear to exceed track limits at both Turn 19 and Turn 20 in the process.

Nevertheless, Verstappen’s time stood, giving him P1 come the end of the session despite a late charge from Hamilton.

The Briton crossed the line to start his final flying lap with one second left on the clock, but backed off through the final sector and told his team it was “really poor timing”.

Rosberg also failed to get in a flying lap, setting the fastest middle sector of any driver before abandoning his effort and coming into the pits with a minute left.

Daniel Ricciardo finished the session second for Red Bull, while Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was half a second off Verstappen in third place. Teammate Sebastian Vettel followed the Mercedes duo in sixth place.

Nico Hulkenberg continued his streak of top-10 finishes in practice at COTA, ending FP3 in seventh place ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. The McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10.

The session was red flagged after 20 minutes when Pascal Wehrlein’s Manor snapped off the track at Turn 19, becoming beached in the gravel. The German waited for the marshals to arrive at his car in the hope of being pushed back onto the track, but was ultimately forced to switch his car off and end his FP3 running.

Carlos Sainz Jr. was another driver to hit trouble in final practice, suffering two separate punctures in the hour-long session that limited him to just six laps in total.

The qualifying show for the United States Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12:30pm ET today, including a full re-run of FP3.

Mercedes’ Suzuka protest over Verstappen down to ‘miscommunication’

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo locks a wheel under braking as he tries to overtake Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2016 in Suzuka.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff has revealed that the team’s brief protest over Max Verstappen’s second-place finish in the Japanese Grand Prix was the result of a “miscommunication”.

Mercedes contacted the FIA following the race at Suzuka on October 9 to lodge a protest against Verstappen, believing his on-track defence from Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps to have breached the sporting regulations.

Verstappen finished less than a second clear at the checkered flag, meaning a time penalty would gain Hamilton a position and three extra points in his bid for the drivers’ championship.

The FIA stewards informed Mercedes that a decision could not be made at Suzuka as both Hamilton and Verstappen had already left the track, postponing a hearing to the United States Grand Prix weekend in Austin.

Mercedes withdrew its protest not long after, making the result of the race official and leaving Verstappen in second place with Hamilton third.

Ahead of this weekend’s race in Austin, Wolff explained what caused the mix-up over the protest, saying that Mercedes had to make a split decision before leaving Japan.

“It was a miscommunication,” Wolff said.

“When we left the circuit, I said that the Verstappen manoeuvre was a hard manoeuvre but probably what we want to see in Formula 1. He’s refreshing and I think that the drivers need to sort that out among themselves on track.

“And we decided not to step in and then it was an unfortunate coincidence that we took off, we left. The team had a minute to decide whether to protest or not and that’s what they did.

“Once we were able to communicate again, which was 30 minutes after take-off, we decided to withdraw the protest.”

WATCH LIVE: FP3 into USGP qualifying, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

AUSTIN, Texas – The third and final free practice session and qualifying for Sunday’s United States Grand Prix are on tap from Circuit of The Americas in Austin, and you can watch coverage of both on NBCSN and streaming via and the NBC Sports App.

A mega-show will run on NBCSN covering both sessions, from 12:30 to 4 p.m. ET.

Coverage of FP3 can be seen live online at ( and the NBC Sports App for participating cable providers at 11 a.m. ET, and will run until 12 p.m. ET.

That FP3 coverage will then lead off the NBCSN show at 12:30 p.m. ET, and run for an hour. A half-hour pre-qualifying show then runs from 1:30 p.m. ET into the start of LIVE qualifying at 2 p.m. ET. Qualifying runs for an hour until 3 p.m. ET.

From 3 to 4 p.m. ET, there will be a post-qualifying show from Austin.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are in the commentary booth with Will Buxton patrolling the pits and paddock for today’s coverage.

Again, that’s 11 a.m. ET for the live stream of FP3, then 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN for TV coverage of FP3, and LIVE qualifying from Austin.

Full times and details for the weekend are linked here.

Ecclestone: ‘Difficult’ to get more F1 races in the United States

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone walks in the Paddock  during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
1 Comment

Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone believes it will be “difficult” to get more races in the United States despite a renewed drive to grow the sport in the American market.

The Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas plays host to the United States Grand Prix for the fifth time this weekend, with track chairman Bobby Epstein predicting its second-highest attendance.

Following a recent takeover of F1 by American company Liberty Media, a renewed drive on developing the sport’s presence in the USA is expected.

New F1 chairman Chase Carey has expressed a desire to grow the American fanbase, leading to questions about holding multiple races in the United States.

However, Ecclestone is unsure that getting another race in the USA would be possible, having tried to get the Grand Prix of the America in New Jersey off the ground in recent years.

“I think it will be difficult to get more races [in the U.S.]” Ecclestone told Reuters.

“I tried in New York. The trouble with the Americans is you want to do a deal with them and they want guaranteed profit before they start.

“I said if I knew that was going to happen, I wouldn’t need you.”

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff would like to see more American races added to the calendar, believing it to be an important market for the German manufacturer.

“It’s great to be in such a great place like Austin. Every year we are coming here, it’s really a fantastic venue,” Wolff said.

“Having more grands prix in such an important market for Mercedes, it would be good and wherever we can help, we will do that.”

However, Epstein expressed caution when talking to NBC Sports earlier this month about adding more U.S. races to the calendar, with the cost of hosting a grand prix being a huge stumbling block.

“The ability to support a number of multiple races in the U.S. is going to depend largely on the size of the fanbase,” Epstein said.

“It’s kind of a chicken and the egg equation. If you put on more races, it will create more fans, not just in the first year but over time hopefully it does.

“As much as anything, promoting the sport on TV and having races on our timezone over five to 10 years will build more fans.”