Richard Petty Motorsports

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Cup teams testing Tuesday, Wednesday at Chicagoland Speedway

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Ten Cup teams are scheduled to take part in an organizational test today and Wednesday at Chicagoland Speedway. The track hosts the opening race in the playoffs Sept. 17.

Each Cup organization is allowed to have one team at the test.

Those scheduled to test, according to NASCAR, are:

Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing)

Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing)

Ty Dillon (Germain Racing)

Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing)

Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports)

Brad Keselowski (Team Penske)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing)

Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports)

Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing)

Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing)

Also, each manufacturer will have a car testing. Alex Bowman will drive the Chevrolet car. David Ragan will be in the Ford car. Drew Herring will drive the Toyota car.

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Keep track of busy Silly Season with this scorecard (video)

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William Byron will move up to Cup next year for Hendrick Motorsports, filling a void left by the departure of Kasey Kahne.

With the news last week that Stewart-Haas Racing had declined to pick up the option for next year for Kurt Busch, it leaves the reigning Daytona 500 winner (Busch) and Brickyard 400 winner (Kahne) without an announced ride for next season.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as the Cup series heads to Michigan International Speedway this weekend.

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 No. 12 car and signs multi-year contract extension (announcement made July 26)

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

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

OPEN/POSSIBLY OPEN RIDES

— No. 10: Sponsorship has yet to be announced for next season, and Danica Patrick could be out. Patrick told USA Today on Aug. 5 that there’s “no buyout needed. I don’t have a sponsor. It’s contingent on the sponsor.’’  

— No. 27: Richard Childress Racing states it will announce its 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. 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 for next year at this point. Key could be what kind of salary he’s willing to take next year. On his future, Kenseth said last weekend at Watkins Glen: “Believe it or not, it’s really not at the front of my mind.’’  

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 chance Busch could sign a new 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 through an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports. 

Danica Patrick: Sponsorship uncertainty leaves her status murky for next year.

Aric Almirola: Hasn’t been announced yet as returning to Richard Petty Motorsports next season. He’s tied closely to sponsor Smithfield, which also is in its final year with the team, but Richard Petty has said he’s confident Smithfield will return.

Chris Buescher: He said previously he plans to be back at JTG Daugherty with Roush Fenway Racing expecting to remain a two-car team with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne. That leaves no room there for Buescher, who was loaned to JTG this season. No deal is in place yet. “We are working on next year, trying to get everything in place,’’ Buescher said last month at Indianapolis. “We should have more information in the next couple of months.’’

GMS Racing/Spencer Gallagher: This could be one of the wildcards. This Xfinity team is exploring a move to Cup if it makes financial sense. Some in the garage believe this team will move and could be a two-car team with Spencer Gallagher and a veteran driver. GMS already has an engine deal in the Xfinity Series with Hendrick Motorsports but would need to upgrade that for a Cup effort and possibly add a technical alliance (it has one with JR Motorsports). It also would need to get at least one charter, if not two.

Darrell Wallace Jr.He continues to look for an opportunity after his Xfinity ride with Roush Fenway Racing went away in June because of lack of sponsorship and Aric Almirola returned to the No. 43 earlier this month from injury after Wallace filled in for a few races. Wallace showed well in Almirola’s ride. Key is to find sponsorship. 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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NASCAR team owner says sport should enact a spending cap

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Andrew Murstein, co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, says NASCAR team owners need to agree to a spending cap to create a “level playing field’’ in the Cup Series.

“Every single league has a cap now these days, it creates a level playing field,’’ Murstein told NBC Sports. “It’s salaries … its wind-tunnel time, it’s the whole kit and caboodle. It’s better for the fans, I think, if there is a level playing field. No one can outspend the other guy. It’s better for the owners. It creates more competition, more excitement.’’

Murstein’s comments might seem hollow in a season that has seen 10 consecutive different winners heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Watkins Glen International. Nine different teams have won Cup races this year with no organization winning more than four races.

That balance appears to be an anomaly. In nine of the previous 10 seasons, one organization won more than 25 percent of the races each year. Joe Gibbs Racing won 38.9 percent of the races in 2015 — the highest percentage since Hendrick Motorsports won 50 percent of the races in 2007 with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Casey Mears.

Murstein, founder and president of Medallion Financial Corp., said he raised his points about a spending cap to NASCAR Chairman Brian France at a dinner last month in New York that included John Tisch, owner of the NFL’s New York Giants.

“(Tisch) was shedding a lot of light on why that league was so successful,” Murstein said, “both from fan interests and from the economics of the sport.’’

Murstein said France appeared open to his ideas “if we came up with some more details.’’

NASCAR has stated that its three most important components are safety, competition and costs. The sanctioning body has created a number of rules, including limits on engines used during a race weekend and tires that teams can purchase for an event to help owners cut costs. For the third consecutive weekend, Cup teams are on track two days instead of three, helping cut a day of travel expenses. Last weekend, owners had to submit votes on potential rule changes intended to help defray costs and balance competition.

Murstein, whose company was involved in the purchase of Richard Petty Motorsports in late 2010, said he would like to see more done toward an overall cap on spending. Such a move would be revolutionary for a sport where owners do not share their financial information and athlete contracts are kept secret.

“I think this sport needs to start coming up with revolutionary concepts, so they have to leave the past in the past and they have start looking to the future,’’ Murstein said.

Because teams are not the same size, there would have different cap amounts. It would be unreasonable to have Richard Petty Motorsports, which is fielding one team this year, have the exact same cap as Joe Gibbs Racing, which fields four cars. Still, proportional caps could be created for each team to help keep costs in line. Murstein suggested independent auditors could monitor the spending.

Should teams spend beyond their limits, Murstein has a plan. A luxury tax.

“Kind of punish the ones that don’t care about spending and that extra money goes into a pool that would help the other owners, and hopefully they would use their money to make their cars more competitive, too,’’ Murstein said.

While Murstein is looking to cut costs, he understands that drivers are underpaid relative to other athletes. As teams struggle to find sponsorship, driver contracts take a hit.

With the new generation of racers, it’s easier for an owner to go with a younger driver, who can cost less, than a veteran. Former champion Matt Kenseth does not have a ride for next year. Stewart-Haas Racing did not pick up the option on former champion Kurt Busch’s contract for next year but tweeted it still expected him to drive for the team next year.

“I do think that even the older drivers, when they come off their contracts, they’re seeing the reality of the sport today and they’re willing to take pay cuts,’’ said Murstein, whose team seeks to renew deals with sponsor Smithfield and driver Aric Almirola. “It’s one sport where there are so few seats. NBA athletes, there’s what 30 teams, about 360 professional athlete. Here you’re talking about 40. It’s probably the hardest sport to be a superstar in.

“I see hockey guys who play a third of the game make $17 million a year. Now you’re talking about (drivers) who are 10th best in the world at what they do getting only salaries of $5 million, so I actually think their salaries are low compared to other sports but the business needs that right now with the sponsorship decline.

“I love the fact of how no other sport has a partner with the athletes where here the athletes get 40 percent of the race winnings. So each race they go into as your partner vs. other sports where they win or lose, it makes no difference at all.

“There are a lot of bright sports in NASCAR, too. I’m just trying, as the new kid on the block, to throw new ideas out there. Some of them will get knocked down right away, which they should because I don’t have the experience that a lot of these other team owners do, but they have to start thinking, in my view, of new and better ways to get the fans interested.’’

Murstein said he understands a cap likely won’t be instituted soon. He admits it could start with more standardized parts for teams.

“I think you probably settle that you’re going to start at parts and pieces but that’s the wrong way to do it, which is probably what will happen,’’ Murstein told NBC Sports. “I think it will happen because it will be the easy one to do. It won’t remove the 800-pound gorilla, which is all the other costs involved and dealing with that. Maybe you tippy-toe into it by starting that way and then eventually you look at the overall spending.

“The sport could even evolve years from now where there’s one manufacturer making all the Toyota cars. That’s the way I actually think it should be. That’s 100 percent the way it should be.’’

For teams that provide chassis to other teams, it seems unlikely they would want to give up a way to make money.

“At some point there’s a tipping point, you have so start looking past … I think you’ve got to point the sport back in the right direction,’’ Murstein said. “It’s a fantastic sport. I go to every other sporting event in the world and none parallel NASCAR, but the direction of it right now needs to be, I think, spun a little bit differently.

“It could happen if the owners get together and I’m sure the ownership of NASCAR would be behind it, so I think it’s more an ownership issue than a NASCAR issue.’’

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Here’s your updated Silly Season scorecard for 2018 (video)

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Hendrick Motorsports took care of one ride with the announcement last week that Alex Bowman will take over Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s No. 88 car after this season, but questions remain around if Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne will remain in the No. 5 car.

That is just among many of the questions as Silly Season progresses. Here’s a look at where many of the key issues stand at this point as the Cup series heads this weekend to Pocono Raceway.

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

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

— Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88, 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 No. 12 car and signs multi-year contract extension (announcement made July 26)

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

OPEN/POSSIBLY OPEN RIDES

— No. 5: With Great Clips and Farmer’s Insurance not returning, this Hendrick Motorsports team needs sponsorship. Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne’s status remains uncertain even though he has a contract through next season. If sponsorship isn’t found, contraction could be an option or even leasing this team’s charter. Car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday at Indianapolis that “our plans are not set for the No. 5 car.’’ Kahne told NBC Sports: “I have a deal with Hendrick through ’18 and we’re trying to figure out how to make all that stuff work.’’

— No. 10: Sponsorship has yet to be announced for next season, and Danica Patrick is in the last year of her contract.

— No. 27: Richard Childress Racing states it will announce its plans for a third Cup team at a later date with Paul Menard leaving to join the Wood Brothers.

— No. 41: Monster Energy is mulling if to return as team sponsor since it is the series sponsor. Monster must inform NASCAR within the next few months if it’s picking up the option on the series title sponsorship (it has a two-year deal with a two-year option). Co-owner Gene Haas has indicated Stewart-Haas Racing wants to stay at four cars. If there isn’t sponsorship, contraction could become an option. Also, Kurt Busch said at Daytona in July that he was awaiting news from the team that it had picked up his option for next season, although he expected it to happen.

— No. 77: With Erik Jones returning to Joe Gibbs Racing, team owner Barney Visser said at Kentucky that “we have nothing concrete … we hope to have two cars.” 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 for next year at this point. Key could be what kind of salary he’s willing to take next year. On his future, Kenseth said last weekend at Indianapolis: “I’m not that concerned about it. I’m more concerned about trying to get a win here and get in the playoffs. It’s been a full year now since we won a race, that’s not acceptable.’’

William Byron: Whether he moves up to Cup and replaces Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 car could come down to sponsorship. Car owner Rick Hedrick says “the plan” is to run four cars next year. As to if Byron would be in one of his Cup cars next year, Hendrick said last weekend: “We’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.’’

Kurt Busch: The 2017 Daytona 500 winner said at Daytona that he is waiting for Stewart-Haas Racing to pick up his option for next season and was optimistic that would happen. Also mentioned there were many “moving parts” involving Monster and NASCAR.

Kasey Kahne: He has a deal with Hendrick Motorsports through next season but team controls the option and it was widely believed before his Brickyard 400 win last weekend that this could be his final year with the organization.

Danica Patrick: In her final year with Stewart-Haas Racing. She said last month she intends to drive next season but the sponsorship uncertainty leaves her status murky for next year.

Aric Almirola: Hasn’t been announced yet as returning to Richard Petty Motorsports next season. He’s tied closely to sponsor Smithfield, which also is in its final year with the team, but Richard Petty has said he’s confident Smithfield will return.

Chris Buescher: He said previously he plans to be back at JTG Daugherty with Roush Fenway Racing expecting to remain a two-car team with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne. That leaves no room there for Buescher, who was loaned to JTG this season. No deal is in place yet. “We are working on next year, trying to get everything in place,’’ Buescher said last weekend at Indianapolis. “We should have more information in the next couple of moths.’’

GMS Racing/Spencer Gallagher: This could be one of the wildcards. This Xfinity team is exploring a move to Cup if it makes financial sense. Some in the garage are convinced this team will move and could be a two-car team with Spencer Gallagher and a veteran driver. GMS already has an engine deal in the Xfinity Series with Hendrick Motorsports but would need to upgrade that for a Cup effort and possibly add a technical alliance (it has one with JR Motorsports). It also would need to get at least one charter, if not two.

Darrell Wallace Jr.He continues to look for an opportunity after his Xfinity ride with Roush Fenway Racing went away in June because of lack of sponsorship and Aric Almirola returned to the No. 43 earlier this month from injury after Wallace filled in for a few races. Wallace showed well in Almirola’s ride. Key is to find sponsorship.

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Richard Petty confident that Smithfield will return as sponsor for 2018

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Car owner Richard Petty told NBC Sports that he’s confident that sponsor Smithfield will return to the team after this season and would like to have Darrell Wallace Jr. back if they have a place for him.

Smithfield is in the final season of a three-year extension announced in January 2014. The executive who oversees the motorsports program recently left the company, but Petty said that won’t impact the team’s discussions with Smithfield.

“He’s like everybody else, he’s just a worker,’’ Petty told NBC Sports on Wednesday after unveiling the throwback paint scheme Aric Almirola will drive in the Southern 500. “We work with the top guys. It’s just another movement within the company and they’ve revamped their company in the last year anyway. We’re not worried about that part of it. We’re still looking forward to having Smithfield again back next year.’’

If Smithfield remains at the same level — the company has sponsored the No. 43 car in 15 of the first 18 points races this season — then the focus will be on RPM’s second car.

The organization cut back to one car for this season but has two charters. It leased a charter to the Go Fas Racing for the No. 32 car. Charters can only be leased once every five years.

That charter returns after this year. RPM could lease the charter of the No. 43 car and use the charter returning for that car. Another option would be to sell the charter returning from the No. 32 team if RPM doesn’t believe it will return to a two-car operation. Or it can keep both charters and be a two-car team. If so, it will need a driver.

Darrell Wallace Jr. could be a candidate.

“We were very impressed,’’ Petty said of Wallace, who finished his four-race run with the team with an 11th-place finish last weekend at Kentucky Speedway. “He got to know the crew and crew got to know him and he got better. If we had a place for him I’d like to have him back again. Right now, our focus is getting our team back … getting Aric back to winning races and doing good and then we’ll look at the next step.’’

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