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Furniture Row Racing owner: Not competing in 2019 ‘not an option’

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Barney Visser, owner of the defending Cup champion Furniture Row Racing, issued a statement Wednesday declaring the team has “every intention” to compete beyond 2018.

“Furniture Row Racing continues to develop sponsorship opportunities for 2019 and beyond. We have aligned ourselves with great partners over the years and are very proud of the success our organization has achieved, especially the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series championship with Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Racing not fielding a team in 2019 is not an option and we have every intention of continuing to build on our success for years to come.”

Visser’s statement – first reported by Sports Business Journal – comes less than a month after sponsor 5-Hour Energy announced it would leave the sport after the 2018 season.

5-Hour Energy serves as a co-primary sponsor on Truex’s No. 78 Toyota this season with Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats in 30 races.

Visser’s own Furniture Row was the team’s sole primary sponsor from its inception in 2005 until Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats and Auto-Owners Insurance joined in 2016. Auto-Owners Insurance sponsored Truex in six races in 2017 and has been a sponsor in three races so far this season.

The loss of 5-Hour Energy came with the defending series champion’s contract set to expire at the end of this season. Through 22 races, Truex has four wins and 15 top fives and top 10s. He is third in the point standings behind Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

After he finished second in Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen, Truex said “No” when asked if there was an update to contract situation.

On July 20 at New Hampshire, Truex lamented the timing of the announcement of 5-Hour Energy’s departure.

“Obviously, it’s not great timing with all that is going on,” Truex said. “I’ve got confidence in my team and what we’re doing and hopefully we can find a replacement for that. I don’t see Barney putting Furniture Row back on the car and doing that. I don’t know if he can make that work anymore. We’ll see where it goes from here.”

Asked about working on a contract extension even with 5-hour Energy’s departure, Truex said: “I think we can. Certainly makes things more difficult. We’ve been talking about it and honestly it’s not like we were waiting on this to happen.

“We’re just trying to figure everything out, what’s the best direction to go and get all the details. Honestly, we haven’t worked that hard on it. It’s not a pressing issue for me. I know what the team wants and where we’re all at. It’s not like I’m nervous they’re going to sign somebody else, or I’m going to be searching for a ride. It’s more just trying to focus on racing and feel like it will get done when it gets done.”

Friday 5: A long waiting game for Christopher Bell

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While winning on the race track, the key question for Christopher Bell is if he’s losing off it.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver heads into Saturday’s Xfinity race at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBC) seeking a record-tying fourth consecutive series victory.

Saturday’s race will be his 81st career start in either the Xfinity or Camping World Truck Series. While Bell has won 15 percent of those races, he has yet to make his Cup debut. That puts him behind many drivers who have since moved to Cup full-time.

There seems to be little doubt about Bell’s ability to move to Cup, it’s just a matter of when.

He said Wednesday that his preference is to run in Cup next year if there is an opportunity.

“I don’t feel like I need another year of Xfinity,” said Bell, who has won five of his 27 career Xfinity starts. “I think the best way for me to win at the Cup level is to get there and start trying at it.

“You know, I feel like I’m different than the guys that have been coming up here over the last couple years, and everyone is saying that they’re moving guys up too quick, and the difference is that I’m 23 years old, I’m not 18, 19 or even 20 years old. I’ve got a lot of racing experience, and right now I feel like I’m in my prime as a race car driver. If the opportunity comes to go Cup racing next year, I definitely don’t want to waste another year in my prime, so to speak, of not learning and not getting that experience of Cup racing.”

Many of the drivers he hopes to race against in Cup made their series debut after fewer Xfinity and Truck starts than Bell.

Consider the list of how many races in Xfinity and Truck that current Cup drivers competed in before making their Cup debut:

12 races — Joey Logano (12 Xfinity, 0 Truck)

33 — Erik Jones (12 Xfinity, 21 Truck)

36 — Kyle Larson (30 Xfinity, 6 Truck)

36 — Alex Bowman (36 Xfinity, 0 Truck)

46 — Chris Buescher (46 Xfinity, 0 Truck)

47 — Chase Elliott (38 Xfinity, 9 Truck)

48 — Trevor Bayne (48 Xfinity, 0 Truck)

49 — Matt DiBenedetto (49 Xfinity, 0 Truck)

54 — Ryan Blaney (20 Xfinity, 34 Truck)

57 — William Byron (33 Xfinity, 24 Truck)

58 — Austin Dillon (11 Xfinity, 47 Truck)

80 — Christopher Bell (27 Xfinity, 53 Truck)

84 — Ty Dillon (36 Xfinity, 48 Truck)

95 — Daniel Suarez (68 Xfinity, 27 Truck)

130 — Bubba Wallace (85 Xfinity, 45 Truck)

Every driver progresses at their own rate and what works for one driver isn’t going to work for another. Still, five of those drivers on the above list (Logano, Jones, Buescher, Bayne and Blaney) won a Cup race by their second full-time season.

The bottom line on what Bell does next year will be money. If there’s enough sponsorship money backing him, there will be a way to get him to Cup. Without that money, he seems headed for another year in Xfinity with Toyota’s Cup lineup seemingly set.

Cup organizations are limited to four teams and Joe Gibbs Racing already employs former champion Kyle Busch, former Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, 2017 Cup Rookie of the Year Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez, who is coming off a career-best runner-up finish last weekend at Pocono.

The only other high-profile Toyota organization is Furniture Row Racing, which cut back to one team this season because of sponsorship and faces new sponsorship questions after 5-hour Energy recently announced it won’t return after this season. While reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. is a free agent at the end of the season, he said last month at Kentucky that “I don’t plan on doing anything different” for next season.

Bell said Friday at Watkins Glen that he was not aware of any plans to put him in a Cup car for a race this season.

“Right now, we’re right in the middle of closing out the regular season with three road courses in front of me, so I’ve got my hands full right now, especially going into road course season here and trying to maintain our points lead,” Bell said. “Nothing’s been talked about or said to me about that.”

He said he would be open to running a Cup car this year even if it came during the Xfinity playoffs. Bell said he believes it would still help him.

2. The mystery of Kyle Larson and road courses

Kyle Larson has an average starting spot of 5.2 in his Cup career at road courses.

His average finish in those races is 18.1.

Only once — Aug. 2014 at Watkins Glen — has Larson finished in the top 10 at a road course.

“I didn’t grow up racing anything close to a road course, but I always enjoy the challenge of competing at places like Watkins Glen,” Larson said. “We usually have pretty good speed at the road courses on short runs, but just need to be better a few laps after we fire off.

“I’ve got two poles at Sonoma now and have started the last two races at Watkins Glen on the front row in second, so we have speed but unfortunately haven’t been able to carry that speed for the whole race. Even though the tracks are fairly different, hopefully we learned a good bit about a month ago at Sonoma that we can put to use this weekend and put together a good race up until the finish.”

Larson’s frustration with road courses was evident at Sonoma in June. After starting on the pole, he finished 14th.

“I just don’t understand how I can try and take care of my tires and still be the worst car on long runs here. I don’t understand,” Larson said on the radio to his team during the race.

“That makes two of us,” Larson’s crew chief Chad Johnston responded.

To help his road course ability, Larson is running in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

3. Extra laps for many Cup drivers

Several drivers who score points in the Cup series are competing in other events this weekend at Watkins Glen International to gain extra experience on a road course.

Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace are entered in today’s K&N Pro Series East race.

Austin Dillon, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola are entered in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

Logano won the Xfinity race at Watkins Glen in 2015 and ’16. Keselowski won this race in 2013.

This is the first time Allmendinger, who won the 2014 Cup race at Watkins Glen, has competed in the Xfinity race at Watkins Glen. He last drove in the Xfinity Series in 2013. He ran two races that season, winning at Road America and Mid-Ohio.

4. Could history repeat?

Chase Elliott seeks his first career Cup win. If he gets it this weekend, he would match his dad Bill in scoring his first career Cup win at a road course. Bill Elliott’s first career Cup victory came at Riverside International Raceway on Nov. 20, 1983.

Already Chase Elliott has matched his dad in runner-up finishes before scoring that first win. Chase has eight runner-up finishes. That’s how many his dad had before he scored his first Cup win.

5. Something to shoot for

While the Big 3 of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have seemingly won everything this year, there’s one are they’re short.

They’ve yet to score a win on a road course, restrictor-plate track, short track and a 1.5-mile track in the same season.

The last to do it was Joey Logano. He won the Daytona 500 and the fall Talladega race for his restrictor-plate wins. He was conquered Watkins Glen for the road course element and added wins at Bristol (short track) and Charlotte and Kansas (1.5-mile tracks).

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Joe Gibbs on Christopher Bell: ‘We have to keep him’

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Christopher Bell’s three consecutive Xfinity wins have raised questions of if he’ll move to Cup next year, but car owner Joe Gibbs said Wednesday on “The Morning Drive” that the youngster is “scheduled” to be in Xfinity next year.

Bell’s status has gained attention because there’s seemingly no place for him in a Toyota Cup ride next year.

Joe Gibbs Racing already has Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones in its four-car lineup. The only other high-profile Toyota team, Furniture Row Racing, has reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr., and seeks sponsorship for that team. That leaves the possibility of a second ride there less likely. Truex is a free agent after this season but indicated last month at Kentucky that “I don’t plan on doing anything different” for next season.

If Toyota added another organization, it could provide Bell with a path to Cup as early as next year.

“We have to keep him,” Gibbs said to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio of ensuring Bell remains in the Toyota and JGR fold. “Just put it that way. We have to. I think Toyota has a lot invested. We do. I really think he’s a future star. You never know when you step up to the next level, that’s a huge step. We think he’s well on his way. I think he’s showing everyone what his abilities are and his talents.”

Bell won the Camping World Truck Series title last year for Toyota-backed Kyle Busch Motorsports. He ran eight Xfinity races last year for Joe Gibbs Racing, winning in his fifth series start, before moving to that series full-time with JGR this year. Bell has four victories and 12 top-five finishes in 19 Xfinity races this season. He goes for his fourth consecutive Xfinity win — an accomplishment achieved only by Sam Ard in 1983 — Saturday at Watkins Glen (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Bell’s rise and the limited number of Toyota seats in Cup create a conundrum the manufacturer has faced before. Toyota’s driver development program goes from midget racing all the way to Cup, providing a ladder system for drivers to climb as they progress. But with limited seats in Xfinity and Cup, Toyota has lost some young drivers to other manufacturers and organizations.

Kyle Larson, who had been racing on dirt for a Toyota-backed team, signed with Turner Motorsports, a Chevrolet team, to drive in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2013. He later moved to Chevrolet’s Chip Ganassi Racing in Cup. After that, Toyota began to examine its development program to find more avenues for its young drivers.

Even with that in place, the manufacturer lost William Byron, who won a series-high seven Camping World Truck races in 2016 for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Byron moved to JR Motorsports, a Chevrolet team in the Xfinity Series, in 2017. He won the title before moving up to Cup with Hendrick Motorsports this season.

If there’s no room immediately at Joe Gibbs Racing in Cup for Bell, could the organization move him elsewhere as it did when Jones ran as a rookie last year at Furniture Row Racing before returning to JGR?

“Well, it’s so far in the future,” Gibbs said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think that’s what we’re all right now planning and looking at. I think it’s kind of up in the air right now. We’re kind of set next year. We want to keep him in Xfinity next year.

“I think he may have a chance to race a few other things. I think that’s kind of our plan. A year away, a lot can happen in a year. We’re just glad that we’ve got him under our banner.”

Hendrick Motorsports seeks to snap yearlong winless streak

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When Kevin Harvick crossed the finish line first Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, it not only continued the dominance of the sport’s Big 3, it also continued Hendrick Motorsports’ winless drought.

The organization, which has won a record dozen Cup titles, has gone 36 races — a full season — without a series win. Monday was the one-year anniversary of Kasey Kahne’s overtime victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports has not won since, leaving it at 249 career Cup victories (ranking second to Petty Enterprises’ 268 wins on the all-time list).

This is the second-longest winless drought for Hendrick Motorsports. It had a 40-race drought that went from June 1991 at Sonoma to September 1992 at Richmond. Ricky Rudd snapped the organization’s drought the following race at Dover.

“We’re working really hard right now on our performance from the entire organization side,” said Jeff Andrews, vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, on a periscope video posted by the team Wednesday morning. “Everybody is working really hard to get us back to the standards where we expect to be.”

NASCAR AMERICA: Chase Elliott joins Dale Earnhardt Jr. on today’s show at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

While Hendrick searches for its next win, it could celebrate Chase Elliott winning a stage last weekend at New Hampshire — the first stage a Hendrick driver has won this season.

Elliott scored his team-high fifth top-five of the season at New Hampshire, placing fifth.

“We took a step in the right direction,” he said after the race.

His best finish this season is a runner-up performance at Richmond. Short tracks have been good for Hendrick Motorsports this season. Jimmie Johnson’s best finish of the year is third at Bristol. Alex Bowman’s best finish of the year is fifth at Bristol.

Johnson, Elliott and Bowman are in a position to make the playoffs. They hold what would be the three final spots. Bowman, who holds what would be the final playoff spot, has finished 11th or better in four of the last five races. He holds a 28-point lead on Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and a 29-point lead on Paul Menard for that spot.

Johnson was 10th at New Hampshire and also saw signs of progress.

“Top five right now on sheer speed is something we are achieving and trying to get to,’’ he said at New Hampshire. “All-in-all we had a good day, always could be better, but a nice solid step forward.”

WINLESS STREAKS BY ORGANIZATION

0 races – Stewart-Haas Racing

1 – Furniture Row Racing

2 – Joe Gibbs Racing

10 – Team Penske

19 – Richard Childress Racing

30 – Chip Ganassi Racing

36 – Hendrick Motorsports

39 – Roush Fenway Racing

42 – Wood Brothers Racing

71 – Front Row Motorsports

142 – JTG Daugherty Racing

147 – Richard Petty Motorsports

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Martin Truex Jr. laments timing of 5-hour Energy’s decision not to return

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LOUDON, N.H. — Reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. said that the timing of 5-hour Energy’s announcement that it won’t return after this season is challenging for the team.

But Truex, whose contract expires after this season, said he thinks he and the team still should be able to work on an extension even with the sponsorship question for next year. 5-hour Energy became the major co-primary sponsor this season on the No. 78 team with Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats for 30 Cup races.

Truex, who won last weekend at Kentucky Speedway, said he wasn’t necessarily surprised by the decision of 5-hour Energy to leave.

“They had been the fence for quite a while, and we had been waiting on a decision,’’ Truex said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I wish it didn’t take as long as it did and kind of put us in a tough spot now. I’m not really, really worried. I think something good can come out of this.

“Obviously, it’s not great timing with all that is going on. I’ve got confidence in my team and what we’re doing and hopefully we can find a replacement for that. I don’t see (owner) Barney (Visser) putting Furniture Row back on the car and doing that. I don’t know if he can make that work anymore. We’ll see where it goes from here.”

Asked about working on a contract extension even with 5-hour Energy’s departure, Truex said: “I think we can. Certainly makes things more difficult. We’ve been talking about it and honestly it’s not like we were waiting on this to happen.

“We’re just trying to figure everything out, what’s the best direction to go and get all the details. Honestly, we haven’t worked that hard on it. It’s not a pressing issue for me. I know what the team wants and where we’re all at. It’s not like I’m nervous they’re going to sign somebody else, or I’m going to be searching for a ride. It’s more just trying to focus on racing and feel like it will get done when it gets done.”

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