Sprint Cup owner sues fellow owner, seeks NASCAR charter

NASCAR PR
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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.

Long: NASCAR needs to quickly correct officiating issue from Texas

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NASCAR’s admission that it did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is troubling.

With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team vigorously arguing for relief, there were enough reasons for series officials to take a closer look at putting Hamlin back to second before the race returned to green-flag conditions. Or some other remedy even after the race resumed. 

Add the lack of access series officials had to Byron’s in-car camera— something fans could readily see at NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes need to be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

While NASCAR should make every effort to judge matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, that it was two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded greater attention. With three races per round, one misstep can mean the difference between advancing or being eliminated. 

Just as more is expected from drivers and teams in the playoffs, the same should be expected of officials.

“If we had seen that (contact) good enough to react to it in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Sunday night. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”

Here is how the incident played out:

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.

As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

About 90 seconds after the caution lights illuminated, the USA broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and apparent contact. 

Contact can happen in multiple ways. It can come from the lead car hitting the brakes and forcing the car behind to hit them, or it can come from the trailing car ramming into the car ahead. The first video replay did not make it clear what caused the contact, making it difficult for any official to rule one way or the other based solely on that.

This also is a time when NASCAR officials were monitoring safety vehicles on track, checking the lineup and making sure pit road was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR does effortlessly much of the time. Just not this time. 

A different replay aired on USA 11 minutes, 16 seconds after the caution that showed Byron and Hamlin’s car together. That replay aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. Throughout the caution, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart argued that Hamlin should have restarted second.

But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.

Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted in-car video that showed Byron running into the back of Hamlin’s car while the caution was out. Such action is typically a penalty — often parking a driver for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done during the rest of the event. 

After the race, Miller told reporters that series officials didn’t see the contact from Byron. 

“The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them,” Miller said. “By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

”By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green,” Miller said.

NASCAR didn’t act. By that time maybe it was too late to do so. But that’s also an issue. Shouldn’t the infraction be addressed immediately if it is clear what happened instead of days later? Shouldn’t officials have been provided with access to the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and meted the proper punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a possible penalty to Byron this week.

Miller didn’t reveal details but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He’s 24 points from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position ahead of Truex) could be logical and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him near the cutline. 

Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have been done. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race at Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for an earlier incident.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

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Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.

 

 

Blown tires end race early for several Texas contenders

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A Goodyear official said that air pressures that teams were using contributed to some drivers blowing tires in Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all crashed while leading after blowing a tire. Among the others who had tire issues were Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher Cole Custer and Christopher Bell twice. 

“We’re gaining as much information as we can from the teams, trying to understand where they are with regard to their settings, air pressures, cambers, suspicions,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing Sunday. “For sure I can say without a doubt air pressure is playing into it. We know where a lot of the guys are. Some were more aggressive than others. We know that plays a part.

MORE: NASCAR says it missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution 

“I’m not saying that’s the only thing, but it’s certainly a factor, so we’re just trying to understand everything else that is going on with regard to specific teams. We know a lot of guys have not had issues. We’ve had guys put full fuel runs on tires, but, obviously, other guys have had issues. We’ll be working with them to try to sort through that is.”

Eight of the 16 cautions were related to tire failures that caused drivers to spin or crash.

“It’s not a good look, that’s for sure,” Ryan Blaney said of the tire issues others had. “How many leaders blew tires tonight? Three or four?

“You just don’t understand what is making these things do that. From last week to this week, it’s really unfortunate. It’s just luck now.

“You never know if you’re going to blow one. You go into (Turn) 3 almost every lap with 40 laps on your stuff and I don’t know if one is going to blow out or not. That’s not safe. That’s for sure. Running (180) into (Turn) 3 and the thing blows out and you have no time to react to it. It’s unfortunate. I hope we can figure that out.”

Blaney said he was confused that the tires were blowing partly into a run instead of much earlier.

“It was weird because those tires didn’t blow right away,” he said. “Like the pressures were low. They blew like after a cycle or two on them, which is the weird thing.”

Asked how he handles that uncertainty, Blaney said: “Nothing I can do about it. Just hope and pray.”

After his crash, Elliott was diplomatic toward Goodyear’s situation:

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault,” he said. “Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

Tyler Reddick, who won Sunday’s race at Texas, said his team made adjustments to the air pressure settings after Saturday’s practice.

“We ran enough laps, were able to see that we had been too aggressive on our right front tire,” he said. “So we made some adjustments going into the race, thankfully.”

This same time was used at Kansas and will be used again at Las Vegas next month in the playoffs. 

Reddick is hopeful of a change but also knows it might take time.

“I just think to a degree, potentially, as these cars have gotten faster and we’re getting more speed out of them, maybe, hypothetically speaking, we’re putting the cars through more load and more stress on the tire than they ever really thought we would be,” he said. 

“I know Goodyear will fix it. That’s what they do. It’s going to be a process. I know they’re going to be on top of it. Hey, they don’t want to see those failures. We don’t want to see them either. They’re going to be working on looking through and trying to find out exactly what is going on. We’ll all learn from it.

“It’s a brand-new car. It’s the first time in the history of our sport we’ve gone to an 18-inch wheel and independent rear suspension. All these things are way different, diffuser. All these things, way different. We’re all learning together. Unfortunately, just the nature of it, we’re having tire failures.”