National Guard to end sponsorship of Dale Jr., IndyCar’s Rahal (UPDATED)

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UPDATE (9:45 p.m. ET): Hendrick Motorsports and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner Bobby Rahal have issued responses to today’s news that the National Guard will not continue to sponsor their respective NASCAR and IndyCar teams.

In their short statement, HMS said that the team has a contract in place to “continue the National Guard program at its current level in 2015.”

“We have not been approached by the Guard about potential changes and plan to honor our current agreement,” the release ends.

As for Rahal’s statement, here it is in its entirety:

“We were informed this afternoon that the National Guard will end all sponsorship of motorsports, including both IndyCar and NASCAR at the conclusion of the 2014 seasons. This is obviously very disappointing news to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing given the significant incremental brand exposure we have worked to produce for the National Guard in our first season together, including various off-track marketing and advertising programs focused on supporting the mission set forth.

“We will continue to work hard to uphold the honor and integrity of the National Guard throughout the remainder of the season. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing would like to thank the National Guard for allowing us the privilege of representing some of the finest men and women, those ‘citizen soldiers’ that protect our freedoms and safety each and every day… as we Focus Forward!”

The National Guard has been one of the most prominent sponsors of American motorsports in recent years. But as part of a planned redesign of its sports sponsorship program, it will sever ties with both NASCAR and IndyCar.

That means the end of their sponsorships with HMS driver and NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr., and second-generation IndyCar pilot Graham Rahal.

Both contracts are set to expire at the end of this season according to the Army National Guard’s acting director, Maj. Gen. Judd H. Lyons.

“Significantly constrained resources and the likelihood of further reductions in the future call for more innovative and cost-effective ways of doing business,” Lyons said in a statement released today.

Lyons added: “We believe industry and open competition can help us identify effective and efficient solutions to help us meet our marketing and recruiting objectives within budget constraints.”

This year alone, the Guard spent $32 million on its NASCAR sponsorship with Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports, plus another $12 million for its IndyCar sponsorship with Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Earnhardt has enjoyed the Guard’s backing since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, while Rahal and RLL took over the Guard’s IndyCar program this season after it had been with now-defunct Panther Racing from 2009-2013.

However, the Guard’s NASCAR program came under fire in May when USA Today released a report stating that the Guard had spent more than $26 million on that particular sponsorship but failed to sign up a single recruit.

The USA Today report also revealed that out of almost 25,000 recruit prospects that the Guard received through the program in 2012, only 20 of them met the Guard’s entry qualifications – and none of those 20 decided to join.

Despite those numbers, Lt. Col. Christian Johnson, the Guard’s marketing head, maintained in today’s announcement that the Guard racing programs played “an important role” in building brand awareness that “helped us achieve extraordinary recruiting and end-strength objectives over the past decade.”

This year, Hendrick Motorsports has appeared to be working hard to prepare for a post-Guard life. The team has recently brought brands like Nationwide Insurance and DC Comics into the fold, with Nationwide in particular coming on as a primary sponsor for Earnhardt over the next three seasons.

Since 2012, the Guard has drawn down its sports sponsorships to just those in NASCAR and IndyCar while eliminating programs in motorcycle racing and professional fishing.

Today’s announcement from the Guard noted that its marketing budget in the 2015 fiscal year is expected to be about half of what it was in the 2012 fiscal year.

Dakar Rally: Potential winners starting to come into focus after Stage 11

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Editor’s note: Check out expanded video highlights of Stage 11 Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Stage 11 of the 2018 Dakar Rally is history and things are really tightening up in the overall standings.

With three stages left – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – several competitors are either pulling away or the battle for the championship is getting tighter.

For example:

* In Trucks, we are seeing the tightest battle in the standings. Argentina’s Federico Villagra leads the overall rankings, but Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev is only one minute, 7 seconds behind. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich is a distant third (3:07:22 behind) and likely won’t have enough time to recover in the final three stages to make a last-ditch bid for the championship.

* In Bikes, Austria’s Matthias Walkner has a 32 minute, 00 second lead over Argentina’s Kevin Benavides. In fact, second through fourth place in the overall standings are less than an hour behind Walkner, meaning anything can happen and there could still be a major shuffling in the final three stages.

* In UTVs, Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela holds a relatively slim 44 minute, 33 second lead over France’s Patricie Garroueste, with Peru’s Juan Uribe Ramos a distant third in the overall standings at 1:53:58 behind.

MORE: Dakar Rally Stage 11 video highlights: Cars, Bikes, Trucks, Quads

Wednesday’s Stage 11 went from Belen, Argentina to Chilecito, Argentina.

Three stages remain to be completed in the 14-stage event, all in Argentina.

Stage 12 kicks off this morning from Chilecito, Argentina and ends in San Juan, Argentina

Here’s recaps of the top three classes from Wednesday’s Stage 11 – Bikes, Cars and Trucks – as well as how the Quads and UTVs look with three more stages remaining.

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BIKES

Australia’s Toby Price avenged his terrible round on Tuesday – when he lost almost an hour’s time after getting lost in a river bed – to bounce back and win Wednesday’s Stage 11.

Price, the 2016 Rally Bikes champion, finished ahead of Argentina’s Kevin Benavides and France’s Antoine Meo in the stage, and the win also allowed Price to move up to third in the overall standings.

Also of note, Spain’s Joan Barreda Bort, who came into Stage 11 ranked second in the overall rankings behind Austria’s Mathias Walkner, withdrew from the Rally. It’s unclear if the reason for Barreda Bort’s decision was mechanical or medical.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. Australia’s Toby Price, KTM, 4:01:33
  2. Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, Honda, 4:03:11
  3. France’s Antoine Meo, KTM, 4:08:04
  4. S.’s Ricky Brabec, Honda, 4:09:07
  5. Austria’s Matthias Walkner, KTM, 4:12:34

AMERICAN RIDERS

4th: Ricky Brabec, Honda, 4:09:07

13th: Andrew Short, Husqvarna, 4:37:55

14th: Mark Samuels, Honda, 4:38:00

23rd: Shane Esposito, KTM, 4:58:49

68th: Bill Conger, Husqvarna, 7:25:28

OVERALL 

  1. Austria’s Matthias Walkner
  2. Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, 32:00 behind
  3. Australia’s Toby Price, 39:17 behind
  4. Spain’s Gerard Farres, 49:17 behind
  5. France’s Antoine Meo, 59:05 behind

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CARS

The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, who has been doing some strong racing and high finishing in recent stages, was the top finisher in Stage 11.

It was ten Brinke’s second career stage win in the Rally, having done so the first time in 2016.

France’s Cyril Despres finished second, followed by Spain’s Carlos Sainz in third.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, Toyota, 4:10:54
  2. France’s Cyril Despres, Peugeot, 4:15:29
  3. Spain’s Carlos Sainz, Peugeot, 4:15:34
  4. France’s Stephane Peterhansel, Peugeot, 4:15:44
  5. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota, 4:16:50

OVERALL 

  1. Spain’s Carlos Sainz
  2. France’s Stephane Peterhansel, 1:00:45 behind
  3. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, 1:24:02 behind
  4. The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, 1:27:35 behind
  5. South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, 1:40:05 behind

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TRUCKS

Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich won his first career stage in the Rally, and maintained his third-place ranking in overall standings with three more stages to go.

Argentina’s Federico Villagra finished second while Russia’s Dmitry Sotnikov was third.

But perhaps the biggest news in the class is the overall rankings, with Argentina’s Federico Villagra holding the lead, but Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev is just one minute, seven seconds behind.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich, Maz, 5:14:10
  2. Argentina’s Federico Villagra, Iveco, 5:15:34
  3. Russia’s Dmitry Sotnikov, Kamaz, 5:43:01
  4. Czech Republic’s Martin Kolomy, Tatra, 5:44:34
  5. Netherlands’ Gert Huznik, Renault, 5:48:23

OVERALL 

  1. Argentina’s Federico Villagra
  2. Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev, 0:01:07 behind
  3. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich, 3:07:22 behind
  4. Russia’s Airat Mardeev, 4:40:00 behind
  5. Kazakhstan’s Artur Ardavichus, 5:28:39 behind

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QUADS

  1. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, Yamaha, 5:20:45
  2. Chile’s Ignacia Casale, Yamaha, 5:35:59
  3. Kazakhstan’s Dmitry Shilov, Yamaha, 5:55:34
  4. Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, Yamaha, 5:57:40
  5. France’s Alex Dutrie, Yamaha, 5:28:24

OVERALL

  1. Chile’s Ignacio Casale
  2. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, 1:34:13 behind
  3. Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, 2:09:15 behind
  4. France’s Alex Dutrie, 3:56:48 behind
  5. Brazil’s Marcelo Medeiros, 4:22:22 behind

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SxS UTV

  1. France’s Patricie Garrouste, Polaris, 6:02:44
  2. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela, Can-Am, 6:06:23
  3. Argentina’s Leonel Larrauri, Can-Am, 6:13:54
  4. France’s Claude Fournier, Polaris, 6:52:15
  5. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, Polaris, 6:54:13

OVERALL 

  1. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela
  2. France’s Patricie Garroueste, 44:33 behind
  3. Peru’s Juan Uribe Ramos, 1:53:58 behind
  4. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, 8:46:25 behind
  5. France’s Claude Fournier, 8:56:52 behind

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THURSDAY’S SCHEDULE:

Stage 12 takes place Thursday, going from Chilecito, Argentina to San Juan, Argentina

After Thursday, only two stages remain in the 2018 Rally on Friday and Saturday.

MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 10 wrapup

MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

MORE: Stage 8 wrapup

MORE: Stage 7 wrapup

MORE: Stage 6 wrapup

MORE: Stage 5 wrapup

MORE: Stage 4 wrapup

MORE: Stage 3 wrapup

MORE: Stage 2 wrapup

MORE: Stage 1 wrapup