silly season

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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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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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Keep track of Silly Season with this scorecard

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GMS Racing announced this week it won’t field a full-time Cup entry in 2018, removing a possible landing place for a driver or two for next season. As NASCAR heads to Darlington Raceway for the Southern 500, Silly Season continues.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands with less than three months left in the Cup season.

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 a 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. 24 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 driving the No. 37 car. (announcement made Aug. 18)

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. 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 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. She’s not looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series. “Cup only,’’ she said.  

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.

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.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 from injury to the No. 43 in July 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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Confused why big-name veterans don’t have rides for 2018? Let Dale Earnhardt Jr. explain it to you

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Why are Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne without confirmed Cup rides next season despite their sterling resumes?

It essentially comes down to money, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Saturday in one of the most insightful and revelatory answers yet about a tumultuous season of driver movement in NASCAR’s premier series.

Younger drivers “taking smaller contracts” is a good thing, the 14-time most popular driver said.

“You’ve got a guy who you think has got a lot of talent, very young, a lot of potential and a veteran who is established but he wants three, four, five, six times the amount of money,” Earnhardt said between practices at Watkins Glen International. “I mean, you’re going to go with a younger guy because it’s a better deal financially. That’s something that I think is transitioning in the sport. It took a while, but when we had our major reset when the recession hit and the value of everything changed, the trickle-down effect is coming through the drivers’ contracts and making a big difference into the decisions these owners are making.

“You can’t pay a driver $5 to $8 million a year if you ain’t got but $10 million worth of sponsorship.  You can’t. That ain’t going to work. Guys aren’t getting $20, $30, $40 million a year on sponsorship. Owners aren’t getting that anymore.”

MORE: Cup owner says time is now for spending limits on teams

Despite the availability of Kenseth, the 2003 champion with 38 career victories, Hendrick Motorsports recently announced relatively inexperienced Alex Bowman as the replacement for Earnhardt, who is retiring after the 2017 season.

Cup rookie Erik Jones is replacing Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing, and Hendrick still is mulling whether to keep Kahne after his Brickyard 400 win (Xfinity Series rookie William Byron is a candidate to fill the No. 5 Chevrolet). Busch’s status for next year is unclear after Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up the option on his contract.

After the introduction of team charters last year altered how teams’ revenue streams from NASCAR work, drivers’ contracts were reworked in a way that became more driven by purses (which haven’t been made public since last year) than base salary.

The new wave of young drivers consequently are signing for far less guaranteed money than veterans whose deals began before the charter system, Earnhardt said.

“You’ve got a lot of young guys coming in being offered and accepting contracts that are a fifth to a 10th of what veterans are getting paid,” he said. “And that’s money that can go into the team. These sponsors aren’t giving teams the money that they used to, so the owners, everybody’s got to take a little cut. Everybody’s got to dial it back. Everybody’s got to realize they have to accept some of that fallback and difference. That’s the same with the drivers’ contracts.

“So a lot of these veteran drivers are getting paid multiple millions of dollars. A lot of these young guys coming in are getting a fraction of that.”

At NASCAR’s peak sponsorship climate in the mid-2000s, a driver salary could comprise as much as 40 percent of a championship-caliber team’s budget (which typically ranged from $20 to $30 million annually).

Earnhardt, who is a co-owner of the JR Motorsports team in the Xfinity Series, said it’s a positive that driver salaries are being reset because more money will flow into team coffers and make the business more sustainable.

“Drivers are having to understand that change is coming down the pipe,” he said. “If it haven’t happened to ‘em yet, it’s going to happen to them. And the young guys, they don’t know any better. They’re taking a nickel to race. They’re taking whatever they can get. That’s a good change for the owners. Somewhere in a quote years ago, I admitted to being overpaid, but I wasn’t going to complain.

“That’s a shift that’s going to be better for the sport. Get those salaries in a realistic range for how much money that we have from corporate America. All those things have to change, driver salaries included.”

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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