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Ford would ‘never rule out’ Stewart racing at Le Mans

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Jeff Gordon’s return has been a major storyline entering the Rolex 24 this weekend.

Another recently retired NASCAR star could have joined him at Daytona International Speedway – and also could be headed to a future debut in the globe’s most prestigious sports car event.

Tony Stewart explored running both the Rolex 24 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, and he remains interested in the world-renowned race in France in the future.

Ford returned to Le Mans last year and won the LM GTE Pro class with Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller in the No. 68 Ford GT fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.

The victory came 50 years after Ford had scored a 1-2-3 sweep at Le Mans in 1966.

Ford Performance began a new multiyear deal this season with Stewart-Haas Racing, the NASCAR team that remains co-owned by Stewart.

During a recent event at Ford’s racing facility in Concord, North Carolina, Raj Nair, executive vice president for Global Product Development and chief technical officer for Ford Motor Co., said the company was interested in Stewart running Le Mans in the future.

“I’d never rule that out,” Nair said. “I’m not sure what’s going to be happening in the meantime. I think he’s going to stay sharp. Right now we’re pretty happy with our driver lineup.”

That brought a friendly staredown from Stewart, who was sitting beside Nair.

“Not that we wouldn’t be happy if you were in it,” Nair said with a laugh. “He’s also got those eyes that burn, you can really feel it. So if he stays in shape and makes sure he can handle 24-hour races …”

“I have incentive now,” Stewart said.

Stewart has started the Rolex 24 four times, most recently in 2006. He scored a career-best third twice, in 2004 and ’05 with Howard Boss Motorsports.

Though he has left NASCAR, the three-time champion still is racing and intends to enter as many 80 races this year (many are expected to be in sprint cars on dirt tracks).

GoDaddy to sponsor Patrick in ‘Danica Double’ at Daytona, Indy — now all she needs are rides

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By The Associated Press

Danica Patrick is going back to green.

GoDaddy Green, to be exact – a fitting color for her farewell tour.

The company will sponsor Patrick in the upcoming “Danica Double” that will close out her racing career, The Associated Press has learned. Patrick has no ride yet for next month’s Daytona 500 or the Indianapolis 500 in May, but she now has the financial backing to pull it off.

This time around, the original GoDaddy Girl will symbolize the new core mission of the company that helped make her one of the world’s most recognizable athletes.

“There’s this great story: I left IndyCar with GoDaddy on my car, I started NASCAR with GoDaddy on my car, I’m most recognized as the GoDaddy green car and driver, and so to finish up my career that way feels appropriate,” Patrick told the AP from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Her final race will be the Indy 500, an appropriate choice because it was “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” that rocketed Patrick and GoDaddy into pop culture notoriety.

GoDaddy and Patrick grew up together. The company switched series with her and marketed her as a strong, sexy woman in 13 Super Bowl commercials – a record appearance for celebrities. Now, the company is most interested in Patrick the budding businesswoman who is firmly closing the door on her racing career and rebranding herself as an entrepreneur . She has a book out, an apparel line, a wine label and confirmed to AP this week that she’s dating Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“Our goals are so well-aligned,” Barb Rechterman, the chief marketing officer of GoDaddy, told AP. “She’s passionate, tenacious and creative just like so many of our customers who are also looking to leverage the power of the internet and turn their `side hustle’ into a full-time business. Danica absolutely epitomizes the heart of our GoDaddy customers.”

Prepare to hear a lot about the “side hustle” as GoDaddy climbs aboard the so-far fledgling “Danica Double.”

Patrick announced in November she would end her driving career with the Daytona 500 and Indy 500, but didn’t have a deal completed for either race. Still doesn’t. Yet somehow, Patrick always figures a way to get what she wants. Talks ended with Chip Ganassi Racing about a possible ride, and late last month, Patrick said, she called former GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons and asked about a reunion.

GoDaddy has rebranded since it last teamed with Patrick. The company now touts itself as “the world’s largest cloud platform dedicated to small, independent ventures,” and there’s no better spokeswoman than Patrick, who is in the next chapter of her life and her brand.

GoDaddy pulled out of racing after the 2015 season, and Patrick hasn’t had the same level of funding and marketing support since. Patrick has slowly reshaped her image, first into a Instagram model and is now a full-blown lifestyle guru. She realized – at the age of 35 – she was on her own.

She and GoDaddy aligned for a splashy move into NASCAR, where she was glamorous off the track but only mediocre on it. Through all of this, she was married, divorced, spent five years dating fellow driver and competitor Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and then seemed to find herself through a tailored diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

She is cutting the cord on racing after Indy, and her focus is on a sense of well-being far away from the track.

“Their business is so perfectly paired to what is going on with mine, so when we sat down and met, it was like, `Let’s talk about our business. Let’s talk about the messaging. How does this work?”‘ Patrick said. “And this is undeniably perfect for both of us. Not only is it a huge two races and the biggest two races of the year, but on top of that, you have so much `side hustle’ going on, and all the messaging and our brands, and where we are going is so perfectly paired.”w

GoDaddy can help Patrick move on to whatever it is for racing’s former “It Girl.” The company will help her streamline her online presence. Patrick, for the company, is back as a neon green-and-yellow symbol to all the wannabe entrepreneurs chasing dreams.

She’ll get those rides, too. Patrick said she knows she will because she believes she will.

“That’s just the way the universe works,” she said. “You have to ask for what you want. Things have taken a long time with this, but you just have to go with the flow on these things. The universe is not on your time schedule.”

More AP auto racing: https://racing.ap.org/