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Wood Brothers playoff run could be worth $1 million to another Cup team

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JOLIET, Illinois — Car owner Archie St. Hilaire is nine weeks away from what could be a $1 million payout after winning the equivalent of the NASCAR lottery.

When Ryan Blaney won at Pocono in June to make the playoffs, it wasn’t just the Wood Brothers who celebrated. Although Matt DiBenedetto finished 32nd for St. Hilaire’s team that day, St. Hilaire says he was “hooting and hollering’’ when Blaney held off Kevin Harvick to win.

A victory for the Wood Brothers also was a victory for St. Hilaire’s team.

Go Fas Racing benefits because it leased its charter to the Wood Brothers before the season — something teams can do once in a five-year period.

The decision to lease the charter before this season was easy for St. Hilaire. Any team that finishes in the bottom three among charter teams for three consecutive years can lose its charter to NASCAR. Last year, Go Fas Racing finished in the bottom three among charter teams.

“I think NASCAR is pretty serious of the bottom three and you’re out,’’ St. Hilaire told NBC Sports at Chicagoland Speedway. “The marketability of one being in the bottom three two years in a row probably decreases. The first year, you’re the negotiator and the second year, they’re the negotiator and you’re trying to bail out to not be in the bottom three.’’

When St. Hilaire partnered with the Wood Brothers, he admits he thought about the extra money he could receive if the Wood Brothers made the playoffs.

Charters fund Cup teams in four different ways. There’s money for entering each event, race purse, points fund and historical performance.

St. Hilaire says his team received less than $100,000 last year from the historical category. He says that total could be close to $1 million based on how well Blaney does in the playoffs. Blaney is 10th after the first of three races in the opening round. The top 12 advance to the second round.

“I’m rooting for them,’’ St. Hilaire said of Blaney and the Wood Brothers.

For a team with about a budget of about $5.5 million, adding $1 million could increase the budget by nearly 20 percent.

“That’s all funds that we’ll use to race in the future and make us a better team,’’ said St. Hilaire, whose team ranks 33rd in the owner standings heading into Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The better Blaney does in the playoffs, the more valuable the charter becomes.

St. Hilaire, though, must decide what to do with the charter when it is returned after this season. He could keep it and take the money. Or he could sell the charter since it is worth more with the increase in the historical category.

There are a few teams that could be candidates for charters. The Wood Brothers won’t have one for next season after returning their charter to Go Fas Racing. Also, Team Penske will expand to a third car for Blaney and could use a charter. Already, JTG Daugherty has purchased a charter for the No. 37 of Chris Buescher for next season after leasing a charter from Roush Fenway Racing this year.

Should St. Hilaire sell his charter, he’ll lease one like he did this season. After leasing his charter to the Wood Brothers, St Hilaire leased a charter from Richard Petty Motorsports.

There could be many other options for St. Hilarie to lease charters next year.

“I just don’t see that being too hard to find,’’ St. Hilaire said. “We’re talking to about four people. They’re available.’’

He also said he would consider acquiring two charters to run a second team provided a driver can bring funding to the team.

Whatever St. Hilaire does with the charter, he knows what he wants to do with the expected extra money.

“We don’t even have an engineering package,’’ St. Hilaire said. “We’re checking old-fashioned tire temps, spring rates. Matt does a great job. (Crew chief Gene Nead) does a great job. That would be our next step, to get engineering help.’’

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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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Ryan Blaney paces final Cup practice at Bristol

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Ryan Blaney posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final Cup practice at Bristol Motor Speedway with a lap of 128.554 mph.

He was followed by Kyle Larson (128.065 mph), Ryan Newman (127.784), Jamie McMurray (127.487) and Kyle Busch (127.258).

Chris Buescher, who will remain with JTG Daugherty after this season, was next on the speed chart with a lap of 127.098 mph.

Matt Kenseth had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 125.930. Busch was next at 125.601 mph.

Click here for practice report

In the session’s only incident, Timmy Hill spun but did not hit the wall.

Qualifying is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

AJ Allmendinger says team struggling with new aero package

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — After finishing third in the Daytona 500, it has been a struggle for AJ Allmendinger and his JTG Daugherty team.

He has not finished better than 17th in the four races since. Allmendinger says the team is struggling to find the right setup with the new aero package.

“For a team like ours, every time NASCAR changes the aero package it’s tough because we don’t have any wind tunnel time really,’’ he said Friday at Martinsville Speedway. “At times, we are going out there and testing and that is kind of what the last three weeks have been is really trying to test and figure out what type of setup this aero package is. 

“To me, at least for our race team, this package is way different than the last couple of years where they took off some downforce, but it seemed like generally the setup was still the same. This aero package seems so front heavy on downforce compared to rear, even though they have taken off both ends.’’

One thing Allmendinger has this weekend is crew chief Randall Burnett. NASCAR suspended Burnett for three races after discovering at least three lug nuts not secured on Allmendinger’s car after the race at Atlanta.

“Randall being out was a difficult challenge, but Ernie Cope did a fantastic job,’’ Allmendinger said of the director of competition for JTG Daugherty. “Obviously, Ernie has got the experience level to know how to do it. I felt like over those three races our practices went really well. The stuff that we learned was good throughout those three races. 

“So, having Randall back is definitely going to help, but I didn’t feel like we were hindered a lot, like that was the reason that we struggled was the fact that just Randall wasn’t there. We are just struggling because we haven’t figured out the aero package yet.’’

Aero won’t matter as much this weekend. Allmendinger finished second in this race last year at Martinsville. He’s placed 11th or better in five of the last six Martinsville races.

“When I first started I had no clue how to get around and just over the years trying to learn the techniques,’’ Allmendinger said of how his record at Martinsville has improved. “It’s somewhat like a road course in the sense of the way you brake and some of the stuff you can do with the throttle and things like that. A driver can make a bit of a difference here, so more than anything just trying to learn the techniques. You still have to have a great race car.  The last couple of years we’ve had a good setup and been able to use it to have some pretty good runs.’’

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JTG Daugherty appeal rejected

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The National Motorsports Appeals Panel rejected JTG Daugherty’s bid to overturn a NASCAR penalty issued earlier this month at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

NASCAR penalized JTG Daugherty for having at least three unsecured lug nuts on AJ Allmendinger’s car after the race.

NASCAR penalized the team and Allmendinger 35 points each, fined crew chief Randall Burnett $65,000 and suspended Burnett three races.

JTG appealed the fine and point penalty. Burnett began serving his suspension at Las Vegas and also skipped Phoenix.

The point penalty leaves Allmendinger 31st in the standings heading into this weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

National Motorsports Appeals Panel Statement

(March 22, 2017)

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel today heard and considered an appeal of an L1 level penalty issued on March 8 to Randall Burnett (crew chief), JTG Daugherty Racing (owner) and AJ Allmendinger (driver), relative to the No. 47 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team at Atlanta Motor Speedway. 

The penalty concerns the following sections in the 2017 NASCAR Rule Book: Sections 10.9.10.4 Tires and Wheels.

The original penalty assessed: Burnett was fined $65,000; JTG Daugherty Racing was assessed with the loss of 35 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series owner points; Allmendinger was assessed with the loss of 35 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver points; and the race finish was encumbered.

Upon hearing the testimony, the decisions of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel are: 

The Appellants violated the Rules set forth in the Penalty Notices.

The Panel affirms and upholds the original Penalties assessed by NASCAR.

The panel consisted of the following three individuals:

-Mr. Richard Gore

-Mr. Bill Lester

-Mr. Steve York

The Appellants have the right to appeal the decision of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel to the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer in accordance with Section 15 of the NASCAR Rule Book.