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Silly Season heats up with more driver moves

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Tuesday brought the news that Danica Patrick won’t be back with Stewart-Haas Racing after this season and that Aric Almirola also won’t return to Richard Petty Motorsports for 2018.

Neither driver announced their plans for next season. Other drivers who have not announced 2018 plans include Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne and former champion Matt Kenseth.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as the Cup playoff are set to begin Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

Erik Jones will drive the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Matt Kenseth (announcement made July 11)

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. (announcement made July 20)

Brad Keselowski agrees to contract extension to drive the No. 2 car for Team Penske (announcement made July 25

Ryan Blaney moves to Team Penske to drive the No. 12 car and signs a multi-year contract extension (announcement made July 26)

Paul Menard moves to Wood Brothers Racing to drive the No. 21 car (announcement made July 26)

William Byron will drive the No. 5 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kasey Kahne (announcement made Aug. 9)

Matt DiBenedetto will remain with Go Fas Racing in the team’s No. 32 car (announcement made Aug. 12)

Chris Buescher signs a multi-year contract to remain at JTG Daugherty and drive the No. 37 car. (announcement made Aug. 18)

Ty Dillon signs a multi-year contract to remain at Germain Racing and drive the No. 13 car. Sponsor Geico also extends its deal with the team (announcement made Sept. 5)

OPEN/POSSIBLY OPEN RIDES

— No. 10: Danica Patrick is out after this season at Stewart-Haas Racing. No replacement has been announced. 

— No. 27: Richard Childress Racing states it will announce plans for a third Cup team at a later date with Paul Menard joining the Wood Brothers for next season.

— No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up the option on Kurt Busch’s contract for next year on Aug. 1. Even so, the team tweeted that it expected Busch back with sponsor Monster Energy for next year. Busch told reporters Aug. 5 at Watkins Glen that “there are a couple of offers already, so we’ll see how things work out.’’  

— No. 43: Richard Petty Motorsports announced Sept. 12 that Aric Almirola will not return to the team. Smithfield also is not returning. Smithfield and Richard Petty Motorsports exchanged terse statements about their parting. RPM is selling Darrell Wallace Jr. to prospective sponsors.  

— No. 77: With Erik Jones returning to JGR, team owner Barney Visser is looking to fill that seat. The first concern, though, is sponsorship. Visser told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Aug. 9: “We’ve got no sponsorship right now for the 77,” for next season. “So we’ve got to find something. We don’t want to give up that car, but if we don’t get sponsorship, we’ll have to.” Sponsor 5-Hour Energy has an option to return. The company can’t go to any other Cup team with Monster Energy as series sponsor.

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth: Out of the No. 20 after this season. Doesn’t have anything announced for next year at this point. At Bristol, Kenseth was asked about his plans for 2018. He said: “I’ll be honest with you … I’m not worried about (2018) even really one percent anymore to be honest with you. I’m just not concerned about it.’’  

Kurt Busch: With Stewart-Haas Racing declining to pick up his option for next year, Busch is a free agent. Even with Stewart-Haas Racing’s action, there’s still a good chance Busch signs a deal to remain with the organization.

Kasey Kahne: The 2017 Brickyard 400 winner is available after Hendrick Motorsports announced it had released him from the final year of his contract. Rick Hendrick said Aug. 9 that he’s working to help Kahne land a ride for next season and hinted it could be through an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports. 

Danica Patrick: She will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing after this season. Patrick has not announced any plans for next season. She’s not looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series. “Cup only,’’ she said.  

Aric Almirola: Won’t return to Richard Petty Motorsports, team announced Sept. 12.

GMS Racing/Spencer Gallagher: GMS Racing confirmed on Aug. 30 that it will not have a full-time Cup entry in 2018. The organization, which fields teams in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series, had looked into moving to Cup.

Darrell Wallace Jr.: Richard Petty Motorsports is selling Wallace to prospective sponsors for the No. 43 car for next season. He gained interest from RPM after driving in four races for the team while Aric Almirola was injured. Wallace said Aug. 4 that he’s focused on finding a ride for next year with so few options left for this year.

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Germain Racing signs multi-year extension with Ty Dillon, GEICO

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Germain Racing announced Tuesday it has signed multi-year contract extension with rookie driver Ty Dillon and long-time sponsor GEICO insurance.

The announcement comes with 11 races left in Dillon’s rookie campaign in the No. 13 Chevrolet.

GEICO has been a sponsor of Germain Racing since 2008 in the Xfinity Series. The team and sponsor moved up to the Cup level part-time in 2009 and full-time in 2010 with Max Papis and then Casey Mears. Mears drove for Germain Racing until last season.

The team will continue to be part of a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Dillon, a grandson of Childress, drives part-time for RCR in the Xfinity Series.

“Being able to partner with GEICO all these years has been a source of great pride for our race team and for me personally,” said team owner Bob Germain, Jr. in a press release. “They’re an incredible company and they support our sport in so many different ways. We’re very fortunate to be the team that gets to represent GEICO on the race track. I appreciate their support and I look forward to working with them in the years to come. Ty Dillon has given us some very exciting races in his rookie season. We have extended Ty’s contract, and look forward to crew chief Bootie Barker and Ty leading the team to more success. They will be supported by all of the same great team members who have helped build Germain Racing.”

Through 25 races Dillon is 24th in the point standings. Without any top five or top-10 finishes, Dillon’s best result is 13th twice, in May at Talladega and Sunday in the Southern 500. He has an average finish of 20.5 and has led 40 laps, including 27 at Dover in June.

Dillon is third in the rookie standings behind Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez.

“GEICO is an amazing sponsorship partner and a great supporter of NASCAR as a whole,” Dillon said in a press release. “I love having the chance to represent them and be a part of their widespread footprint in the sport, along with their long-standing relationship with Germain Racing. We’ve experienced success together during my rookie season and I’m excited for what the future holds for our No. 13 GEICO team,”

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Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger involved in 18-car crash with 20 to go in Geico 500

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A large multicar crash occurred with 20 laps left in the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

AJ Almmendinger’s No. 47 Chevrolet, which started the wreck via contact with Chase Elliott, rolled upside down. The crash involved 18 cars.
Allmendinger walked away from the wreck, which forced the race to be red-flagged for 26 minutes and 51 seconds.

The crash began exiting Turn 2 when Allmendinger was drafting with Elliott, whose No. 24 Chevrolet was loose when Allmendinger hit the left-rear bumper.

Elliott turned toward the wall and briefly went airborne.
The accident involved Elliott, Allmendinger, Logano, Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick, David Ragan, Corey LaJoieBrad KeselowskiGray GauldingMatt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Trevor BayneMichael McDowellAustin Dillon, Danica Patrick, Cole Whitt and Matt DiBenedetto.

Elliott and Jones were eliminated from the race by NASCAR after they continued to drive after the red flag was displayed.

“Just battling for the lead, (Kyle Busch) and (Elliott) were kind of leading the two packs,” Allmendinger told Fox. “(Harvick) was just on me. Once I got to Chase, I got loose. I barely tapped him, and I tried to get off him, but it was too late.”

Chase Elliott: “I don’t know that it was really his fault, per se. I think he had a big run, and he kind of got to my bumper and happened to be in a bad spot, kind of coming up off the corner. Was a skewed a little bit to my left rear. When that happens, it just unloads the cars.”

Austin Dillon: “I just saw somebody come across the field there, and started checking up. I got kind of pushed back into it. It’s just Talladega. It’s part of it. We’re three-wide trying to get as much position as we can.”

Joey Logano: “I don’t really know what happened, but I saw (Elliott) tank slapping down the backstretch. I was hoping he was going to go to the left and go toward the inside, but he came up top.”

Danica Patrick: “NASCAR is always making more and more efforts to make the cars safe, so I’m fine. Definitely wasn’t as big as last years’, that was really, really bad. It’s kind of a bummer to be part of an accident and not even be at the core of the accident. I thought somebody clipped me from behind, but it looks like I came down in front of somebody else. I couldn’t see anything, but my spotter just kept saying ‘go low, go low.’ It’s hard to trust them sometimes, but they can see more than I can right now. I was gradually coming low and obviously, he didn’t see me.”

Casey Mears joins Biagi DenBeste Racing for 12 Xfinity Series races

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casey-mearsCasey Mears is sitting on the sideline during Speedweeks in Daytona Beach, but he’ll soon be racing himself in the Xfinity Series.

Mears, a veteran of 14 NASCAR Cup Series seasons, will compete in an initial 12 Xfinity races for Biagi DenBeste Racing beginning with the March 25 race at Auto Club Speedway. Mears will pilot the No. 98 Geico Military Ford.

Mears is recently departed from Germain Racing, where he drove its No. 13 Chevrolet beginning in the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2010.  Mears has 488 Cup Series starts since 2003 and one win, the 2007 Coca-Cola 600.

Mears will share the ride with Aric Almirola, who will drive the No. 98 for the superspeedway races.

“I’m thankful for Geico’s continued support and I’m happy we were able to get this deal put together with Biagi-DenBeste Racing,” Mears said in a press release. “Fred Biagi and Bill and Lori DenBeste are great people and I’ve always respected them and how committed they’ve been to NASCAR and building their team over the years.”

Mears last competed in the Xfinity Series in 2010. He has 93 starts in the series, but only one full-time season in 2002. he earned one win in 2006 at Chicagoland Speedway.

“It’s great to have Geico back on-board after experiencing success together early on,” team owner Fred Biagi said in a press release. “Geico is a first class company that has high standards and cares about its customers. Our philosophies line up well and we look forward to working together to have a successful year with Casey and the Geico Military Ford.”

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