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.

Alonso enjoys maiden Toyota LMP1 test, ends as second-fastest rookie

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Fernando Alonso took his first step towards a possible entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2018 by testing an LMP1 car for the first time with Toyota in Bahrain on Sunday.

Two-time Formula 1 world champion Alonso has made no secret of his desire to race at Le Mans, having signed a deal to race in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January as preparation for a possible entry at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Toyota confirmed after Saturday’s FIA World Endurance Championship finale in Bahrain that Alonso would be testing its TS050 Hybrid LMP1 car in the traditional rookie test on Sunday.

Alonso was given the car for the bulk of the five-hour test day following an initial shakedown by Sebastien Buemi, completing 113 laps in total – more than any other driver – and posting a best lap time of 1:43.013.

“It was a great day,” Alonso said. “Testing an LMP1 car is always a nice thing for any racing driver because these cars are amazing to drive. They are very consistent throughout a stint which is a positive thing.

“I have wanted to test a car like this for a long time now and today I could achieve that, so I am happy.”

However, Alonso did not finish as the fastest rookie, with that honor instead going to Pietro Fittipaldi, who was the final driver to drive the Porsche 919 Hybrid ahead of the closure of the German marque’s LMP1 program.

Alonso is now set to head back to Europe before a test in United Autosports’ LMP2 car on Tuesday as part of his Daytona preparation, before then returning to the Middle East for the F1 season finale in Abu Dhabi next weekend.