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.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”