Stewart-Haas Racing

Stewart-Haas Racing’s focus turns to filling No. 41 seat for 2018

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With Stewart-Haas Racing announcing that Aric Almirola will drive the No. 10 next season, that leaves the team with one opening for next year.

Will Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch be back next year to drive the No. 41?

“We are in negotiations,’’ Busch said after winning the pole last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. “Days like today help quite a bit.”

The ride is open after Stewart-Haas Racing did not pick up the option on Busch’s contract for next year. The team did so because sponsor Monster Energy had not indicated if it would return. The team is awaiting notification from Monster Energy on its plans.

“We’re still working through all that,’’ co-owner Tony Stewart said at Texas. “Obviously it’s pretty busy right now. Obviously we’re going to have a big announcement … for the 10 car. We’re still working on the 41 right now.

“That’s our goal, is to have Kurt back in that car for next year.’’

Busch is completing his fourth season with the organization. He has five victories. Busch has finished in the top 10 the past two years and is 11th in the points with two races to go.

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Keep up with all the Silly Season changes for 2018 with this scorecard

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Aric Almirola became the latest driver to secure a ride for 2018 when Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that he’ll drive the No. 10 car.

Even with that announcement, more questions remain on which drivers will be in what rides next season.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as Cup teams head to Phoenix Raceway for Sunday’s playoff race.

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

— Aric Almirola will join Stewart-Haas Racing and drive the No. 10 car. (announcement made Nov. 8)

Darrell Wallace Jr. will join Richard Petty Motorsports and drive the No. 43 car. (announcement made Oct. 25)

Kasey Kahne will 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 RIDES

— 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. Key will be sponsorship money on what happens with that car.

— No. 34: Front Row Motorsports informed Landon Cassill on Oct. 9 that he would not be returning to the team next season. The team has not announced its driver lineup 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 said Nov. 3 that “we are in negotiations’’ to remain in the No. 41. Co-owner Tony Stewart said Nov. 5: “That’s our goal, is to have Kurt back in that car for next year.’’

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth: He said Nov. 4 on the NASCAR on NBC podcast that he has “decided to take some time off” after the 2018 season. Kenseth isn’t using the word retirement but says he has no ride for 2018.

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.  

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

Landon CassillSearching for a ride after being informed he will not be back at Front Row Motorsports. He said Oct. 10 that he did not have sponsorship to bring with him at the time.

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Aric Almirola to drive the No. 10 next year for Stewart-Haas Racing

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As expected, Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that Aric Almirola will drive the No. 10 car next season.

He takes over the ride Danica Patrick has had since the 2013 season.

Smithfield will be the primary sponsor for the full season.

“This is the opportunity every racer wants,” Almirola said in a statement. “Stewart-Haas Racing is an experienced organization with a lot of depth, great technical support from Ford, and staffed with racers from top to bottom. They lean on each other, challenge each other and make each other better. I’m really looking forward to being a part of that.

“I’ve known Tony Stewart since our time together at Joe Gibbs Racing. I know what he expects and he knows my commitment. I can’t thank him and Smithfield enough for believing in me and providing this opportunity.”

Almirola, 33, joins SHR after six seasons at Richard Petty Motorsports. He won once with the organization, capturing the Daytona race in July 2014.

Almirola missed seven races this season after suffering a back injury in a crash at Kansas Speedway in May. His best Cup finish this year is fourth in the Daytona 500 and at Talladega in the spring. He finished in the top five in each of the three restrictor-plate races he ran this season (he missed the July Daytona race while recovering from his injury).

With Almirola signed, Stewart-Haas Racing’s lineup for next season is closer to being set. Kevin Harvick, who will race for a championship in Miami, will be back in the No. 4 car. Clint Bowyer returns in the No. 14. The team has not announced who will be in the No. 41 car.

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Clint Bowyer’s crew chief suspended one race for Martinsville post-race infraction

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Mike Bugarewicz, crew chief for Clint Bowyer‘s No. 14 Chevrolet owned by Stewart-Haas Racing, has been suspended one Cup race and fined $25,000 for a L1 infraction at Martinsville Speedway.

Bowyer’s car violated Section 20.18.5.2 of the rule book for its TV Video Package simulated weight not meeting NASCAR specifications.

The weight is meant to simulate on-board cameras that are on select cars.

Bowyer’s team was also docked 10 driver and owner points and Bowyer’s third-place finish is encumbered. It was Bowyer’s first top-five finish since Watkins Glen in August.

SHR will not appeal the penalty or suspension. Richard Boswell, crew chief on the team’s No. 41 car in the Xfinity Series, has been named interim crew chief.

NASCAR also fined Daniel Suarez‘ crew chief, Scott Graves, and Ty Dillon‘s crew chief, Robert Barker, $10,000 each for having one unsecured lug nut each on their car.

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Here’s your Cup Round of 8 and Martinsville history primer

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Martinsville Speedway may be the smallest track on the NASCAR Cup circuit, but it’s one of the biggest and most important tracks in the Cup playoffs.

Sunday’s First Data 500 kicks off the Round of 8 semifinal round of the playoffs. Sunday’s race is followed by races at Texas Motor Speedway next week and Phoenix Raceway in two weeks.

Thanks to Racing Insights, here’s everything you need to know about NASCAR’s oldest track:

NASCAR Cup 2017 Season Breakdown:

  • Different Winners: 14.
  • Most Wins: 7 – Martin Truex Jr.
  • Most Poles: 8 – Kyle Busch.
  • Most Runner Ups: 8 – Kyle Larson.
  • Most Top-fives: 15 – Martin Truex Jr.
  • Most Top-10s: 22 – Marin Truex Jr.
  • Most Laps Led: 2068– Martin Truex Jr.
  • Stage Wins: 19 – Martin Truex Jr.
  • Stage Top-5s: 42 – Martin Truex Jr.
  • Stage Top-10s: 51 – Kyle Larson
  • Playoff Points: 69 – Martin Truex Jr.

2017 NASCAR Cup Season Highlights:

  • Joe Gibbs Racing (six), Furniture Row (five) and Chip Ganassi Racing (two) won 13 of the last 15 races.
  • The pole winner has won six times in 2017: Kyle Larson ACS, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Talladega-1, Kyle Larson MIS-1, Kyle Busch POC-2, Kyle Busch NH-2, Martin Truex Jr. KS-2.
  • The final lead change came in the last 10 laps in 17 of 32 races in 2017, the final three laps in 12 races and on the last lap in three races.
  • Either Martin Truex Jr. or Kyle Busch have won a stage in 23 of 32 races in 2017.
  • Martin Truex Jr. has won at least one stage in 14 of 32 races in 2017 but has not won a stage in the last four races which is tied for his longest stretch of races without a stage win.
  • Martin Truex Jr. is the only driver to win both stage 1&2 and go on to win the race (Las Vegas, Kentucky).
  • Five drivers have won a race but have not won a stage in 2017.
  • Four drivers have won a stage but have not won a race in 2017.
  • Atlanta, Pocono-1, Michigan-2 and Chicagoland are the only races without a caution before the end of stage 1.
  • Atlanta, Michigan-2 and Chicagoland are the only races to not have a caution other than stage breaks in the first two stages of the race.
  • Three cautions at Watkins Glen are the fewest in a race in 2017.
  • 15 cautions at Kansas-1 and Dover-1 are the most in a race in 2017.
  • The last three races all had 10 or more cautions, there were less than 10 cautions per race in the prior nine races of 2017.
  • Three times a driver has won after going to the rear: Jimmie Johnson Texas-1 (unapproved tire change), Joey Logano Richmond-1 (transmission change), Jimmie Johnson Dover-1 (rear gear change).
  • Denny Hamlin won in New Hampshire-1 after going to a backup car prior to qualifying.
  • Three times in 2017 a driver has gone on to win after a speeding penalty: Kurt Busch Daytona-1, Brad Keselowski Martinsville-1 and Martin Truex Jr. Chicagoland.
  • Martin Truex Jr. won at Kansas after a restart violation on lap 36, it was the fourth time in 2017 a driver has recovered from a in race infraction to win and the second time by Martin Truex Jr.
  • Three drivers got their first career win in 2017: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Talladega-1, Austin Dillon Charlotte-1, Ryan Blaney Pocono-1, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the first first-time winner to get his second win in 2017.
  • There has been one track record set in 2017: Kyle Busch (Kentucky).
  • Three races were won with a last lap pass: Daytona-1 Kurt Busch passed Kyle Larson, Talladega-1 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed Kyle Busch, Talladega-2 Brad Keselowski passed Ryan Newman.
  • Three drivers ended the longest winless streaks of their career in 2017: Ryan Newman 127 races, Kasey Kahne 102 races, Kyle Busch 36 races.

Martinsville recent race history:

  • October 2016 ended a six race Martinsville winless streak for Johnson, tied for his longest drought at the track.
  • The last seven Martinsville races were won by seven different drivers, the previous 19 races were won by six different drivers.
  • In April Brad Keselowski became just the sixth first time Martinsville winner in the last 25 Martinsville races.
  • The race winner has started seventh or better in the last four Martinsville races.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing drivers were passed for the win in four of the last five Martinsville races, Kyle Busch was passed by Brad Keselowski with 43 laps to go in April.
  • The winner of five of the last eight Martinsville races got his only win of the season.
  • Only once in the last eight Martinsville races has the driver who led the most laps gone on to win (Kyle Busch in April 2016).
  • The Martinsville race winner led less than 100 laps in six of the last eight Martinsville races.
  • Since caution data has been available there has never been a Martinsville race that went caution free for the first 130 laps (length of stage 1.
  • Last October at Martinsville the final 114 laps went green, the longest green flag stretch to end a race at Martinsville in the last 54 races.
  • There were 14 cautions at Martinsville in April, more than both races at Martinsville in 2016 combined.
  • Although there were 14 cautions in April there was still a green flag stretch of 120 laps.
  • There have been five overtime finishes at Martinsville, the most recent was April 2012.
  • There was one last lap pass for the win at Martinsville, Darrell Waltrip passed Dale Earnhardt on lap 500 in September 1987 after Earnhardt and Terry Labonte made contact in turn three and Waltrip took the lead from third.
  • 12 Drivers got their first Cup win at Martinsville but only one has done so in the last 33 years, Ricky Craven in 2001.
  • 11 of the last 14 Martinsville races were won from a top-10 starting position.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Martinsville in April, Ford’s only Martinsville win in the last 29 races at the track before April they had not won at Martinsville since October 2002.
  • Chevrolet drivers won 10 of the last 13 Martinsville races, Chevrolet has not gone more than one Martinsville race without a win since 2010.
  • 28 of the last 29 Martinsville races were won by four organizations: Hendrick Motorsports (16 wins), Joe Gibbs Racing (7 wins), Stewart-Haas Racing (3 wins), Team Penske (2 wins) (RCR won the other race).
  • Hendrick Motorsports has 24 Martinsville wins, including the organization’s first win by Geoff Bodine in 1984, the most wins at a single track by an organization in Cup Series history.
  • Five different drivers won a race at Martinsville driving for Hendrick Motorsports, tied with Junior Johnson for the greatest number of different winners by an organization at Martinsville.
  • Jimmie Johnson won at Martinsville last October, it was his ninth win at the track again tying Jeff Gordon for third in Martinsville wins.
  • The all time Martinsville wins leader is Richard Petty with 15, Darrell Waltrip is second with 11, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are third with nine.

Martinsville Playoff Highlights:

  • Martinsville has been a playoff race in all 14 years of the playoffs.
  • 11 of the 13 playoff races held at Martinsville have been won by a playoff eligible driver.
  • Chevrolet has won 11 of the 13 playoff races held at Martinsville including the last six straight.
  • Hendrick Motorsports drivers won the last five playoff races at Martinsville.
  • Ford has never won a playoff race at Martinsville.
  • Jimmie Johnson has won six of the playoff races held at Martinsville, the most of all drivers.
  • Johnsons six Martinsville playoff race wins are the most by a driver at a track.
  • Only five drivers won the 13 Playoff Races at Martinsville: Jimmie Johnson (6 wins), Jeff Gordon (3 wins), Denny Hamlin (2 wins), Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1 win each).
  • Three organizations have won the 13 playoff races at Martinsville: Hendrick Motorsports (10 wins), Joe Gibbs Racing (2 wins), Stewart-Haas Racing (1 win).
  • In the three years of the elimination format (since 2014), Jimmie Johnson in 2016 is the only driver to win at Martinsville and go on to win the championship.
  • Five cautions in the 2016 Martinsville playoff race, the fewest in the 13 playoff races at the track and the only race with less than 11 cautions.
  • There was a caution in the first 50 laps in all 13 playoff races at Martinsville Short Track Highlights.

Short Track Highlights:

  • Jimmie Johnson’s 14 short track wins are the most of all active drivers, Kyle Busch ranks second with 11.
  • Five different drivers won the five short track races in 2017, the last time six different drivers won the six short track races in a year was 2013.
  • Three drivers finished in the top-10 in four of five short track races in 2017: Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.
  • Six drivers led 84% (1,937 of 2,304) of the laps raced on short tracks in 2017: Kyle Busch (469), Martin Truex Jr. (356), Kyle Larson (353), Matt Kenseth (264), Erik Jones (260) and Brad Keselowski (235).
  • Joey Logano has an average finish of 5.0 on short tracks in 2017 the best of all drivers and is the only driver to finish in the top-five in four of the five races on short tracks this season.
  • Six drivers finished on the lead lap in all five short track races in 2017: Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  • Six different drivers won a stage on a short track in 2017, Martin Truex Jr.’s three stage wins on short tracks are the most.
  • Kyle Larson’s 61 stage points on short tracks are the most of all drivers.

Martinsville Track History and Fast Facts: 

  • Henry Clay Earles was the owner of The Spot service station and several houses in Martinsville. After attending a few races in 1947 with his friend Sam Rice, the budding entrepreneur thought that racing would be a profitable business. With partner’s Sam Rice and Henry Lawrence, a site for a racetrack was located at an overgrown 30 acre cornfield just outside Martinsville. The track was soon underway and ended up costing $60,000. The first race was for modified stock cars on September 7, 1947 (pre-NASCAR). William H. G. France had persuaded Earles that stock cars were the future of racing and he helped to promote the event for a percentage. The total purse was $2,000. Only 750 of the planned 5,000 seats were ready and parking capacity was 1,400 cars. The crowd was overwhelming. Earles said that nearly 10,000 fans attended, 3,000 unpaid. Red Byron won the race and $500.
  • The first NASCAR sanctioned race was for Modified stock cars won by Fonty Flock on July 4, 1948. The eighth place finisher was Bill France.
  • The first NASCAR Cup (Grand National) race on September 25th, 1949, won by Red Byron over Lee Petty. Byron drove the No. 22 Raymond Parks owned Oldsmobile led by crew chief Red Vogt, the race consisted of a 15 car field.
  • The track surface was dirt for the first 12 Cup races.
  • In 1964 Earles decided it was time for a different type of trophy for race winners. His choice was a grandfather clock produced by nearby Ridgeway Clock Company. On September 27, 1964, Earles awarded the first Clock trophy to Fred Lorenzen, the winner of the Old Dominion 500 that afternoon.
  • Richard Petty has the most clocks with 12 (he won three times at Martinsville prior to the introduction of the clock. Darrell Waltrip won 11 Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson each have 9 clocks.
  • In 1976 the corners were resurfaced in concrete. The track was completely resurfaced following the spring 2004 race when Jeff Gordon ran over a chunk of concrete that had come loose in turn 3.
  • International Speedway Corporation (ISC) purchased privately owned Martinsville Speedway in 2004 for $192 million.
  • Starting in March of 2015 the Iconic Martinsville Hot Dog has been provided by Valleydale Hot Dogs, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. Valleydale provides a dog that closely resembles the Jesse Jones Southern Style hot dog in taste and color and will continue to cost $2. The change ended a relationship with Jesse Jones that dated back to 1947. South Boston Speedway and Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C. continue to sell Jesse Jones dogs.
  • On October 12, 2016 Martinsville track president Clay Campbell announced that the track would have an LED lighting system in place for the 2017 season, which would coincide with Martinsville’s 70th anniversary. The project cost an estimated $5 million and is described as more of an “insurance policy” against late after noon finishes like the one in October 2015. No night races are scheduled for 2017 at Martinsville.
  • Martinsville has become the 15th of 23 tracks on the Cup circuit with permanent lights in place. The only tracks that now remain without lights: Dover, Indy, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pocono, Sonoma, Talladega and Watkins Glen.
  • October 29th will be the 138th race at Martinsville, every season since 1949 and multiple races a year every year since 1950.
  • Martinsville is the only track to host a race in every season of NASCAR’s existence, and is the only remaining active “Charter Track” on the schedule.
  • At 0.526 miles in length Martinsville is the shortest track on the Cup schedule.