Danica Patrick says she’s “open-minded” about crew chief swap

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Danica Patrick feels she has made some noticeable progress during the second half of this Sprint Cup season.

But with Stewart-Haas Racing still looking for better race results out of her, they’ve decided to switch crew chiefs between herself and teammate Kurt Busch.

Starting next weekend at Texas, Busch’s old CC, Daniel Knost, will serve the same role for Patrick in an “interim” basis for the rest of 2014 while Busch will be paired with Patrick’s old CC, Tony Gibson, for 2015.

The decision seems odd considering Patrick’s improvements in her race craft. But today at Martinsville, she said that she was intrigued to see how she’ll work with Knost, who carries more of an engineering-based feel as a CC that might be more suited to her background.

The two have previously worked together back when Patrick ran a limited Cup schedule in 2012, with Knost as her race engineer in that stretch.

“Really nice guy, very smart, and he’s definitely like the kind of engineers – in fact, in IndyCar, it was called an engineer instead of a crew chief – that I was used to dealing with,” she said. “We’ve gotten along anyway whether he’s been on my car or not. I’m definitely open-minded and looking forward to the opportunity to see how it will go with him.”

“I just think that [the approach] is something that I’m used to…I don’t think it has to be that way, but everybody’s looking for some magic and a relationship that takes you to the next level. Maybe getting back to something – actually, just having something I haven’t really had in NASCAR yet, I’ve had more old-school crew chiefs – maybe it’ll be something that will work better.”

With Knost currently listed as an interim that could become Patrick’s permanent crew chief for 2015, she’s hoping that their camaraderie in the shop will also mean that they’ll get along on the track.

“I think we click and the things that are felt in the race car and then conveyed over the radio and the changes that are made in relationship to that – if that takes a fast course in a good direction and we seem to click well and make progress throughout the weekend, then I think that will be a really positive sign,” Patrick said about what she’d like to see working with Knost.

Of course, SHR would like to see Patrick up front more often at the finish.

“She’s made a ton of progress,” SHR vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli said today at Martinsville. “Her speed on the racetrack, her qualifying is better, but her race finishes aren’t. And at the end of the day, that’s really what counts. So how do we help and encourage that?”

Also, Zipadelli hopes the changes will spark better results from Busch, who won this spring at Martinsville to make the Chase but was eliminated in the opening Challenger Round. In between, Busch often had sub-par performances during the summer months.

“We just can’t wait another year for that (relationship with Knost) to continue to grow,” Zipadelli said about the No. 41 team. “It’s as simple as that.”

Jack Miller wins MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his points slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.