Bourdais leads IndyCar points heading to Barber. Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar heads south to Barber on NBCSN this weekend

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ annual trip to Birmingham, Ala. at Barber Motorsports Park has quickly emerged as one of the perpetual favorite stops on the calendar, and marks Round 3 of the 2017 season on NBCSN.

NBCSN will air qualifying and race coverage this weekend from Birmingham, highlighting the picturesque road course that has often been called the “Augusta of race tracks.”

Thus far it’s been a surprising start to the 2017 IndyCar season as Sebastien Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe have made it two winners from the smaller budget Dale Coyne Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teams, both driving Hondas, on the street course races at St. Petersburg and Long Beach.

The proverbial powerhouse teams, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, are yet to win in 2017. Meanwhile Andretti Autosport has shown improved form in both qualifying and the races, but have yet to deliver a result to validate those improvements. They have provided a lot of the headlines in recent weeks, thanks to the confirmation of two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso in a jointly entered McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport car for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Interestingly, this is the first time since the IndyCar and Champ Car series merged in 2008 that none of these three teams, Penske, Ganassi and Andretti, have won the first two races.

All five past winners of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama are in Sunday’s field. Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud won here last year after a titanic scrap with Graham Rahal; Josef Newgarden won his first career race here two years ago, also defeating Rahal.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won here back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, with Will Power winning back-to-back in 2011 and 2012. Helio Castroneves won here for the first race in 2010.

Rahal has two second-place finishes here in as many years and seeks a breakthrough victory. Scott Dixon has an incomparable record of six podium finishes from 2010 through 2015, four runner-up finishes and two third-place finishes, but has not won here.

Bourdais and Coyne lead the points, but his best finish at this track is only eighth place.

Add in Alonso making a guest appearance for his first time in an IndyCar paddock and rookie Zach Veach making his series debut as an injury replacement for JR Hildebrand at Ed Carpenter Racing and there will be no shortage of story lines.

Leigh Diffey will anchor alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy; Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller are in the pits.

Here’s the schedule with where to watch on TV on digital platforms. Live streaming can be found here for both qualifying and the race.

Beyond NBCSN, fans can catch all the action via NBC Sports online at NBCSports.com/Live, or through the NBC Sports app which is available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.

The next race is the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, on April 29.

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/