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Sprint Cup owner sues fellow owner, seeks NASCAR charter

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STATESVILLE, N.C. – A Sprint Cup team owner’s lawsuit seeks the charter NASCAR granted his former partner.

Hillman Racing, team owner Mike Hillman and partners Doug Fuller and Matt Miller filed suit Friday in North Carolina Superior Court in Iredell County against former partner Joe Falk, Circle Sport, Leavine Family Racing and Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing.

Hillman Racing and its partners seek a judgment in excess of $25,000, punitive damages, rights to ownership of the No. 33 team, its charter and all the profits and benefits that Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 car enjoys.

Falk aligned with Leavine Family Racing before this season to form Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing.

As part of the merger, the No. 95 was maintained but inherited the No. 33 team’s points and performance, making it eligible for one of the 36 Sprint Cup charters NASCAR granted before the season.

Hillman Racing’s No. 40 was not granted a charter because it had not competed full-time the past three seasons.

The complaint by Hillman Racing states that Falk improperly entered into an agreement with Leavine Family Racing.

Falk told NBC Sports: “We believe the plaintiffs’ claims are without merit but will not comment further since litigation is ongoing.’’

Court documents state that Falk and Hillman Racing formed a partnership in Feb. 2012, agreeing to race under the Hillman Racing banner and operate from the team’s Mooresville, North Carolina, shop.

Michael Waltrip drove the team’s No. 40 car in the Daytona 500. Court documents state that due to NASCAR rules at the time, Waltrip’s run in that car caused it to be considered a fourth Michael Waltrip Racing entry. That prevented Hillman Racing from fielding any other car in 2012 because of the four-car limit.

During Daytona 500 qualifying, according to court documents, Richard Childress approached Falk to see if the group had an interest in purchasing the points associated with the No. 33 car, owned by Richard Childress Racing. They did.

According to the lawsuit, Falk, Hillman, Childress and Torrey Galida, president of RCR, met at Childress Vineyards for lunch before the Phoenix race in March 2012 to discuss arrangements. The points would be sold for $200,000 if the No. 33 car was in the top 35 in points following the first Texas race. If not, the price would be $100,000.

The points were sold for $100,000.

Because Hillman Racing could not operate an additional car because it was considered a fourth MWR entry, the parties agreed that Falk would form Circle Sport for the purpose of purchasing the No. 33 car’s points and contributing those points to the partnership.

Throughout the 2012 season, according to the complaint, the partnership of Hillman Racing and Falk operated the No. 33 car.

The partners initially agreed Falk would use the race winnings from the No. 33 car to reimburse all operating expenses (including engine and tire bills) and pay back the $100,000 purchase price for the No. 33 car’s points, according to the complaint. Whatever winnings remained after payment of expenses would be transferred to Hillman Racing to pay operating expenses, including employees, lease payments, equipment and other items.

The partnership continued in 2013 and included an agreement with Richard Childress Racing for it to operate the No. 33 car in select races. As part of the agreement, RCR arranged for Earnhardt Childress Racing to supply an engine at a reduced price to the team’s No. 40 car for the Brickyard 400. After making the race with that car, Hillman Racing began running it every week.

The complaint states that over time, Hillman purchased equipment and parts in Circle Sport’s name and that Falk negotiated and entered into agreements on behalf of Hillman Racing. The complaint also states that earnings from both the No. 33 (Circle Sport) and No. 40 (Hillman Racing) were combined to pay for operating expenses and pay back the $100,000 note for the purchase of the No. 33 car’s points.

In 2014, the No. 33 and No. 40 cars ran full-time. The complaint states that Hillman and Fuller brought in “numerous sponsors” for the No. 33 car. The complaint states: “During the process of securing these sponsorships, Hillman and Falk explained that Hillman Racing and Circle Sport operated pursuant to a partnership as part of the same organization.’’

The complaint states that “while Falk has invested into the Partnership, his contributions paled in comparison to that made by the other partners. Likewise, Falk rebuked a request by Miller and Fuller to establish a credit line to cure a significant (i.e. at least $350,000) operating shortfall from 2014.’’

The complaint states that as the 2014 season came to an end, “tensions began to mount” between the partners and Falk, “mostly due to Falk’s continued failure and refusal to contribute sufficient funds to continue to properly operate the Partnership’s race teams. As a result, Hillman and Hillman Racing contributed substantially more assets and incurred substantially more debt.’’

Court documents state that for the 2015 season, the partnership agreed to divert more resources to the No. 40 car, making it the flagship car. The partners agreed to allow Richard Childress Racing to operate the No. 33 car for multiple races in return for a payment of $25,000 for all races except the Daytona 500 (in addition to other details regarding the payment of purse and plan money, etc.). RCR would pay $75,000 for the Daytona 500.

The complaint alleges that before the Daytona 500 Hillman “discovered that Falk directed a sponsor for the 40 car to write the sponsorship check (for funds due from the 2014 season) payable to Circle Sport and not Hillman Racing. Of course, the parties had all previously agreed and understood that sponsorship funds were to be utilized to fund racing operations, for which Hillman Racing incurred substantial debt.’’

After the Daytona 500, according to the complaint, Hillman and Falk agreed to terminate their partnership after the 2015 season.

Among the agreements the complaint states is that following the 2015 season, Circle Sport and Falk would “transfer all of their right, title and interest in and to the 33 points, and to all other property acquired by the Partnership to the remaining partners or an entity to be designated by them.’’

In March 2015, then-counsel for Hillman Racing drafted a written “Purchase Agreement” for the termination of the partnership and transfer of assets, including the No. 33 car’s points.

The complaint states that Falk initially did not respond with any objection but later failed and refused to sign the agreement.

In May 2015, according to the complaint, Falk sent Hillman an email stating that he wanted to own the No. 33 car’s points outright at the end of the year. Hillman did not respond because the remaining partners did not want to modify their termination agreement.

The complaint states that in Oct. 2015 Hillman was informed by NASCAR personnel that material terms of the charter system had been agreed upon. Court documents state that NASCAR informed Hillman that the field would be reduced from 43 to 40 cars and that 36 would receive charters. Hillman was informed that the No. 33 would receive a charter but not the No. 40.

The complaint states “because the Partnership continued to have Circle Sport listed as the designated owner of the 33 points, NASCAR personnel informed Falk that the 33 car could receive a charter.’’

In late January 2016, Circle Sport announced its merger with Leavine Family Racing. The complaint states that Hillman and his partners were not included in the discussions with Leavine and that the announcement came as a “surprise.’’

The complaint states: “As a results of the circumstances described … the 40 points are of negligible value, the Partnership is unable to race full-time during the 2016 race season, Hillman and Hillman Racing have no ability to pay for the significant debt incurred in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 race seasons, and the remaining partners have been forced to liquidate many of the Partnership’s remaining assets.’’

Hillman Racing attempted to make the Daytona 500 with Reed Sorenson but failed to do so. The team has not entered a Cup race since.

Daytona road course entry lists

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NASCAR’s national series will make their debuts on the Daytona road course this weekend. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck events will be held without any practice or qualifying.

NASCAR is prohibiting drivers from competing in more than one series this weekend on the Daytona road course in an effort to get extra track time. NASCAR states that is to make the event fair for everyone.

Sunday’s Cup race will be broadcast on NBC.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the races at the Daytona road course 

Cup – Go Bowling 235 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Thirty-nine drivers are entered for the race at the Daytona road course.

JJ Yeley is in the No. 27 for Rick Ware Racing.

Joey Gase is in the No. 51 for Petty Ware Racing.

Gray Gaulding is in the No. 53 for Rick Ware Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is in the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports.

Timmy Hill is in the No. 66 for Motorsports Business Management.

Reed Sorenson is in the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports.

Click here for Cup entry list

 

Xfinity – UNOH 188 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-eight cars are entered.

Andy Lally is back in the No. 02 Our Motorsports car after finishing fifth last week at Road America.

AJ Allmendinger, who finished second last week at Road America, is in the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing.

IMSA driver Earl Bamber will make his Xfinity debut this weekend in the No. 21 for Richard Childress Racing.

Brandon Gdovic will make his second start of the season, driving the No. 26 for Sam Hunt Racing.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

 

Truck – Sunoco 159 (Noon ET Sunday on FS1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered in the race that will be held before the Cup event on Sunday on the Daytona road course.

Alex Tagliani will drive the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Click here for Truck entry list

Silly Season Scorecard: Christopher Bell moves back to JGR

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No surprise that Christopher Bell moves over to the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing next season with Leavine Family Racing being sold and Erik Jones not remaining with JGR beyond this season. Joe Gibbs Racing made the announcement Monday.

While JGR lets the 24-year-old Jones, who has 133 Cup starts go, it brings in the 25-year-old Bell who has made 22 career Cup starts. Jones said before Sunday’s race he was “blindsided a little bit” by JGR’s move.

It’s part of the building momentum of Silly Season. In the last week, Team Penske signed Brad Keselowski to a reported one-year extension and Bubba Wallace said he has an offer for next year not only from Richard Petty Motorsports but also Chip Ganassi Racing.

Here’s how the Cup Silly Season scorecard looks as of Aug. 10.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said in a press conference Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through at least 2021.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 10: Aric Almirola is in a contract year at Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon is in a contract year at Germain Racing.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto is in a contract year at Wood Brothers Racing. He said after the Aug. 9 Michigan race: “I haven’t really talked about that stuff for next year yet, but we’ve just been so focused and head down on digging and trying to make the playoffs and run well. We haven’t even really talked about it, so, hopefully, I stay here for a very long time to come and that’s what they had expressed to me when I came over here.”

No. 32: Corey LaJoie is in a contract year at Go Fas Racing.

No. 42: Matt Kenseth told NBC Sports on Aug. 8 in regards to talks with Chip Ganassi Racing for next year: “We really haven’t had any very meaningful discussions really about any of that to be honest with you.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace said Aug. 9 he has an offer from Richard Petty Motorsports and an offer from Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 42 car next season.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Leavine Family Racing announced it was selling its assets earlier this week. The buyer has not been announced. Christopher Bell will move to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team for 2021.

Christopher Bell to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021

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Christopher Bell will drive for the No. 20 next season for Joe Gibbs Racing, the team announced Monday, a decision that was expected with Erik Jones’ contract expiring after this season and it not being renewed. 

“I’m so appreciative of the opportunity I have this year with LFR and I want to finish this season strong for Bob (Leavine) and everyone there,” Bell said in a statement from the team. “At the same time, I’m extremely excited to return to Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2021. It’s an organization I’m very comfortable with and have had a lot of success with.”

Said car owner Joe Gibbs: “We are excited to bring Christopher into our Cup Series program starting in 2021. He obviously had tremendous success in the Xfinity Series with us and we look forward to his return to JGR.”

Bell drove for JGR in in the Xfinity Series in 2018 and 2019, winning 15 races, before moving to the Cup Series and Leavine Family Racing this season. Leavine Family Racing announced last week that it has been sold.

Entering Sunday’s race at the Daytona International Speedway road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC), Bell is 19th in points. His best finish this season is fourth at the first Pocono race in late June.

Xfinity playoff grid after Road America

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Brandon Brown extended his hold on the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid last weekend at Road America after struggles early in the race.

Brown needed to be pushed back to pit road before the field took the green because of a mechanical issue. He fell a lap down as his crew diagnosed the issue, got his lap back, scored four stage points in the second stage and finished 12th, one spot off his best career finish on a road course.

MORE: Brandon Brown wants to reward father with a special celebration

MORE: Austin Cindric wins at Road America 

Brown’s effort and Jeremy Clements misfortune in being collected in a crash to finish 29th led to Brown extending his lead on Clements for the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid to 53 points. Myatt Snider is 73 points behind Brown. Eight races remain until the Xfinity playoffs begin Sept. 26 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Here is a look at the playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Those shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Xfinity playoff grid.