Nationwide Insurance gets early start on Dale Jr. primary sponsorship

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Earlier this season, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Nationwide Insurance would come on board as a primary sponsor for Dale Earnhardt Jr. over the next three Sprint Cup seasons.

But it looks like the soon-to-be former sponsor of what’s known as the NASCAR Nationwide Series couldn’t wait to begin its new partnership with NASCAR’s most popular driver.

NWI will be on Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy for next weekend’s regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway, and will be previewing his 2015 paint scheme for the occasion.

“Dale is having a season to remember, and Nationwide is excited to launch our new long-term relationship as a primary sponsor this season as he pursues the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship,” NWI chief marketing officer Matt Jauchius said in a team release.

“We think fans will like the new look of the No. 88 car when they see it hit the track next week in Richmond.”

Earnhardt worked with NWI to come up with the final livery, which will break cover next Wednesday, Sept. 3, at 1 p.m. ET on Twitter at @Nationwide88.

“I’ve worked with Nationwide for years, but never as a primary sponsor,” Earnhardt said in the same release. “Having them on board with Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 88 team is a big opportunity, and I really appreciate them inviting me to help design the car.

“I’m excited for the fans to see it and look forward to kicking off the relationship at one of my favorite racetracks.”

NWI announced last fall that it was going to drop its title sponsorship of the NNS at the conclusion of this 2014 season, and focus on its partnerships with Cup drivers like Earnhardt, Danica Patrick, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Then this past May, NWI inked a deal with Hendrick to serve as primary sponsor for Earnhardt in 12 Cup races next year, and then 13 each in 2016 and 2017.

As NWI prepares to ramp up its Cup presence, NBCUniversal parent company Comcast has emerged as a contender to take over for them as the NNS’ title sponsor.

Toro Rosso at crossroads after Kvyat’s point, Hartley’s strong debut

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In a weekend with something to prove at Circuit of The Americas, Daniil Kvyat rose to the occasion with what he called “his best race of the season for sure” at the United States Grand Prix.

But it may not be enough for the Russian to have saved his seat at Scuderia Toro Rosso for the three final races this year.

Meanwhile, New Zealander Brendon Hartley capped off his roller-coaster debut weekend in Formula 1 with a solid 13th place finish after starting from the rear of the grid, learning as the race went on and bringing home his Toro Rosso chassis to the flag.

Toro Rosso faces a dilemma of three drivers available but only two seats to fill for the final three Grands Prix, with the Mexican Grand Prix coming up just next week.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly will be back after missing Austin due to his Super Formula commitments at Suzuka in Japan, but ultimately that went for naught as the races were canceled due to a typhoon.

Kvyat qualified 12th, was promoted to 11th by way of grid penalties and ended 10th, scoring a point for only the third race this year and first time since coming ninth in the Spanish Grand Prix back in May.

It was a weekend where he would have been expected to outdo Hartley, and did so, but not by a massive margin. And he was already coming in with a track time disadvantage, losing out in FP1 as Indonesian Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael ran in his chassis.

As it was, he rated his weekend performance highly and didn’t do his chances of staying in the car any harm.

Speaking to NBCSN after the race, Kvyat said, “Yeah, it was a perfect race. I did everything well. Brought the points home. It was close with (Felipe) Massa.

“We had some energy release issues on the engine. But it was a massive weekend. It was great. I really enjoyed myself. It was a good job by the team to keep it together with very limited running.

Hartley built up confidence throughout the weekend as he learned the car, the Pirelli tires and how an F1 race races versus an endurance race that he’d been used to doing for several years.

Having coming into the weekend with no expectations and just taking the race session-by-session, he felt good at the end of it.

“There’s so many little things to reflect on,” he told NBCSN. “I’ll put the eyes at rest and process it all. I did the standing start and it wasn’t the best… it’s been a long time.

“But yeah, (you’re learning) in terms of following in traffic, what 20 laps on these tires means, how much you can push it. I’m pretty satisfied. The pace was pretty strong. I made the mistake of getting passed by (Lance) Stroll. I couldn’t pass him back. Lots of challenges. I hope I can get another shot at it.

“Up until this moment… I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to do the job. I’m really relaxed. Now there might be some conversations.”

Toro Rosso figures to reveal its Mexican Grand Prix driver lineup early this week.