Richard Petty Motorsports

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Silly Season scorecard features many drivers still looking for rides

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Kasey Kahne is off the job market after signing to drive next season with Leavine Family Racing. His arrival means that Michael McDowell, the current driver of the No. 95 car, will be gone after the season.

Leavine Family Racing, which has never won a Cup race, gets an 18-time Cup winner in Kahne, who won the Brickyard 400 in July.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as Cup teams head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s playoff race.

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

— Kasey Kahne to join Leavine Family Racing and drive the No. 95 car. (announcement made Sept. 19)

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)

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

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

William Byron will drive the No. 24 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kasey Kahne (announcement made Aug. 9)

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

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

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

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

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

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: Furniture Row Racing has sold the charter to this team. Although the team is still looking for sponsorship for the team, Joe Garone, team president, said the chances of the organization running only one car next year is “high.’’

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth: Out of the No. 20 after this season. Doesn’t have anything announced for next year. At Bristol, Kenseth was asked about his plans for 2018. He said: “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.

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.

Michael McDowell: Will not return to Leavine Family Racing with Kasey Kahne joining the team next season.

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.

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Aric Almirola expects to remain in No. 43 rest of year

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JOLIET, Illinois — Aric Almirola is the driver for now.

Darrell Wallace Jr. is the driver for next year.

Well, maybe.

Richard Petty Motorsports’ world turned upside down this week when sponsor Smithfield Foods announced it was moving to Stewart-Haas Racing after this season.

RPM announced that Almirola would not return to the team after this season.

Signs point to Almirola moving to Stewart-Haas Racing after Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth both said this week that they’re not replacing Danica Patrick in the car. No official announcement has been made. Almirola declined to discuss his 2018 plans Friday.

With a vacant seat to fill, RPM is pitching Wallace to potential sponsors for the No. 43 car for next season. Wallace drove four races for the team this summer when Almirola was out after being injured in May at Kansas Speedway. Wallace’s best finish was 11th with the team in July at Kentucky.

“They are working hard to figure out something,’’ Wallace said Friday at Chicagoland Speedway. “What we did a couple months ago was pretty special and showcased what we can do as a pair … if we can get things worked out. I think we can bring them really good finishes, represent their brands the way they need to be and get them rolling off on the right start.”

Could Wallace, who is competing in Saturday’s Xfinity race, get into the No. 43 car before the season ends?

“I fully expect to finish the year in the 43 car,’’ Almirola said Friday. “I have a contract that says I will, so hopefully.”

RPM also has two charters. It leased one to Go Fas Racing and will get that after this season. It can either sell that charter or lease the No. 43 charter next season. Either way, the team plans to be a one-car operation again next season. The organization also is looking for a new home after not renewing for lease on its shop for after this year.

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Kasey Kahne hopes to have plans for 2018 set soon

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Kasey Kahne hopes to know soon where he’s racing next season, but he says he’s pondered a schedule that could include sprint cars, IndyCar and NASCAR.

Kahne, though, is not counting on the No. 10 Cup ride at Stewart-Haas Racing.

I don’t really think the 10 is an option,’’ Kahne said Wednesday at NASCAR’s playoff media day at the Hall of Fame. “It hasn’t seemed to be throughout. I’ve talked to them and things, but they’ve obviously been working in other areas. 

“I don’t know exactly what I’m doing yet, but I hope to figure it out pretty soon.’’

Asked about the No. 95 car at Leavine Family Racing, which is piloted by Michael McDowell, Kahne said: “I think the 95 is still an option.’’

NBC Sports reached out to a spokesperson for Leavine Family Racing for comment but had not heard back from the team.

Kahne said he doesn’t believe he has to bring sponsorship for a Cup ride for next season.

The 37-year-old admits he’s intrigued about the idea of racing in different series. He owns a World of Outlaws sprint car team. He has always wanted to race in the Indianapolis 500 but that never worked out with the NASCAR teams he was with at the time.

Kahne’s focus remains on NASCAR, saying “I don’t want to get too far away from it because I think I still have some strong years left in me racing in the Cup Series.

“I’ve looked at everything and I’ve talked to everybody. There was a good bit of interest in different areas, but it’s all up to the teams and manufacturers and how they want to align and what all they can do and want to do.’’

His tweet Tuesday night supporting Smithfield Foods, which is moving to Stewart-Haas Racing from Richard Petty Motorsports next season, made it appear as if he was angling for a ride at SHR. Not so, said Kahne.

“People kind of think whatever they want, but I thought that I was supporting Smithfield for staying in the sport,’’ Kahne said. “And I thought that was cool that they are still in NASCAR. Me and (son) Tanner do eat bacon a couple of days a week and it’s Smithfield, and I think that is how it should be. 

“Just with all of our sponsors in the sport … if I see them and I’m at the store to get something I’m going to go to that sponsor. That was really it. I thought people might take it that way (trying for a ride), but I knew that the No. 10 was not my car so it wasn’t about that. It was about thanking Smithfield for being a part of NASCAR.”

While he tries to sort through his future, Kahne also will prepare for the playoffs. He qualified with his Brickyard 400 win in July — his only top-10 finish in the last 16 races.

He and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates — Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — have struggled this summer. Johnson, Kahne and Elliott, who are all in the playoffs, have combined for four top-10 finishes since the Brickyard 400.

Kahne has no concerns about being viewed in a lame-duck situation heading into the playoffs and his final 10 races with Hendrick Motorsports.

“We talked last week, myself and every guy on my team and they all want to do the best they possibly can in my final 10 races, and I want to do the best I can for them during my final 10 with them,’’ Kahne said. “Yeah, I feel like we have as good of an opportunity to run well in these final 10 that we’ve had all season long.

“Excited to go to Chicago and get it started.’’

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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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Richard Petty Motorsports: Will carry on without Smithfield as No. 43 primary sponsor

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Richard Petty Motorsports released a statement this afternoon on the unexpected departure of Smithfield Foods as a primary sponsor of the No. 43 Ford Fusion.

Here is the full RPM statement:

“We have had numerous discussions with Smithfield Foods regarding the extension of our relationship dating as far back as February. Over the past few months, Smithfield had continually told me they wanted to be with us, and I recently shook hands on a deal to extend our relationship.
“I come from a time when we did major deals with sponsors like STP on a handshake,” Petty added. “I’m sad to see this is where we are now. This decision is very unexpected, and we are extremely disappointed in this late and abrupt change of direction.
“Losing a sponsor of this magnitude in September is a significant set-back to Richard Petty Motorsports, but Andy (Murstein) and I are committed to moving forward with the No. 43 team. We have a lot of great partners who have expressed their continued support, and our fans will rally around the No. 43. We’ve been around since 1949, and we’ll be around a lot longer.”

Smithfield, which had been with Richard Petty Motorsports since 2012, announced Tuesday morning that it would sponsor a car with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018. What car and what driver was not announced.

In other news, a report this afternoon by Motorsport.com said RPM will replace Aric Almirola in the No. 43 Ford for the 2018 NASCAR Cup season with Darrell Wallace Jr.

While Wallace did not confirm the report, he did issue a statement:

“It has been my focus all year to get back in the race car, and my team and I have been working hard to find an opportunity for next year. I enjoyed working with RPM earlier this year and think it would be great if we could get something put together for next year.”

Contributing: Dustin Long

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