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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.

Vettel ‘expected a bit more’ than fourth in Hungary

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel says Ferrari “expected a bit more” than fourth place in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix as Red Bull moved to within a point of the Italian marque in the Formula 1 constructors’ championship.

Vettel claimed his second race win for Ferrari in Hungary last year, but was left to settle for P4 this time around after failing to pass Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo for third in the closing stages.

The result extended Ferrari’s winless run in 2016, and allowed Red Bull to pull up just a point behind in the constructors’ championship.

When asked by NBCSN if Ferrari now how to admit it was in a battle for second, Vettel said: “We never denied it! We have to fight Red Bull.

“Our target is always to fight for P1 but Mercedes is strong. It’s not big news. We try everything. So is Red Bull.

“I think we had a good package today. We expected a bit more. But we’re up against it trying to improve it. We have the best pace right behind it.

“We need to get better Saturdays to have a chance on Sundays.”

Vettel was left fuming over the radio on multiple occasions during the race on Sunday after getting stuck behind lapped cars, calling for blue flags to be respected.

“I calmed down. I don’t think they showed the bit where I said please wave a blue flag,” Vettel said after a couple of his messages were broadcast, albeit censored.

“Obviously you get the impression you lose more than others. Lapped cars are usually doing a good job.

“Mirrors aren’t that big. It’s not like a 75 inch 4K resolution mirror you’re looking into. And we’re quite a bit faster in three to four corners.

“I know that I got pretty loud in the car but I’m not going to criticize anyone.”

Gutierrez calls Hamilton ‘disrespectful’ after in-race gesture

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23:  Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico driving the (21) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Esteban Gutierrez has called three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton  “disrespectful” after being shown the middle finger during Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Towards the end of the race at the Hungaroring, leader Hamilton got stuck behind Gutierrez while trying to lap the Haas driver in the final sector.

Hamilton’s lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg dropped by two seconds, with Hamilton only managing to pass Gutierrez down the start/finish straight.

While passing, Hamilton raised his hand and showed Gutierrez his middle finger, angered by the incident.

Hamilton managed to retain his lead and win the race, while Gutierrez was handed a five-second time penalty for ignoring blue flags that dropped him to 13th in the final classification.

Hamilton batted away a question about the incident after the race, but Gutierrez took to Twitter to express his thoughts.

Ricciardo feels “really satisifed” in happy return to podium

during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.
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Daniel Ricciardo’s first podium of the year at the Monaco Grand Prix was soaked in disappointment, with a sure win going away thanks to a botched pit stop and a hard luck second place.

His second podium of the year, at a similar short track that suits both the Red Bull RB12 chassis and the likable Australian, brought the return of the smiling Daniel we all know and love in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo was the only driver to even make a remote crack at the Mercedes teammates at Turn 1, launching strongly from third place on the grid into an attempt at the lead around the outside of the corner.

Problem was, Lewis Hamilton got out ahead in the lead and then Nico Rosberg made it back past Ricciardo for second into Turn 2.

Third was always going to be the best case scenario from there for Ricciardo, and he held off Sebastian Vettel’s late-race charge to the finish en route to third place.

“It’s great to have another podium this year. First one was bittersweet but this one I can definitely enjoy,” Ricciardo said on the podium.

“I’m super happy to be here today. Three years in a row at this circuit. Thanks to the team. We’re continually getting better, and I’m having fun.”

Ricciardo’s third place is his second third place at the circuit after coming third last year, and then winning in 2014.

His result, plus the fifth place achieved by Max Verstappen after his battle with Kimi Raikkonen, has put Red Bull within one point of Ferrari for second place in the Constructor’s Championship (224-223).

Ricciardo expanded on it in a separate post-race interview with NBCSN’s Will Buxton.

“I’m so happy to be back up here. It’s been a while since I’ve left Sunday feeling really satisfied,” he said. “Podium is the icing on the cake but all weekend I got the maximum out of the car. For that, I’m pleased.

“At the time we looked quite competitive. But in the end they were quite quicker. They sucked us into that, but I held Seb behind. Anyway I enjoyed it and it was quite fun to cross the line and knowing I’m back on the podium.

“From my side it was nice to be first out of Red Bull and Ferrari. I felt I did my job. Hopefully this means second in Constructor’s later in the year.”

Raikkonen: ‘Very questionable’ not to penalize Verstappen

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Kimi Raikkonen believes it was “very questionable” of the Formula 1 stewards not to penalize Max Verstappen following their clash during Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Raikkonen lost part of his front wing while trying to pass Verstappen for fifth place late on, the pair making contact at Turn 2.

Raikkonen fumed over his radio to Ferrari after the incident, claiming that Verstappen moved more than once while trying to defend his position.

Both drivers were able to continue, their scrap lasting to the line where Verstappen finished 0.3 seconds clear.

Speaking to NBCSN after the race, Raikkonen questioned the decision not to penalize the Dutchman.

“I think it was very questionable, but it’s not my decision to decide,” Raikkonen said.

“I’ve seen penalties for much less. It depends on the stewards.

“In the end it didn’t damage our race, but it’s more disappointing to have such a good car and not be in a better position since we started so far back.”

Verstappen had been in the battle for the podium early on, but his race was compromised when he emerged from the pits behind Raikkonen, who was running a reverse strategy after starting down in 14th place.

“It was very frustrating,” Verstappen told NBCSN after fading from the podium fight.

“We were quick but then I got stuck. Ferrari was catching me… then you get stuck behind Kimi, destroy your tires, and do your own races, and the guy behind you catches up on fresher tires.”

Of Raikkonen’s penalty claim, Verstappen simply replied: “It’s his opinion. I tried to defend my position.”