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Go Fas Racing secures charter by partnering with Circle Sport Racing

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Go Fas Racing has secured a charter for Matt DiBenedetto’s No. 32 Ford by partnering with Circle Sport Racing.

The move comes after Go Fas Racing’s owner Archie St. Hilaire entered into a partnership with the Wood Brothers that allowed the Wood Brothers to retain the charter they leased last year from Go Fas Racing.

That move left Go Fas Racing without a charter. That matter was resolved with the partnership with Circle Sport Racing car owner Joe Falk, who recently split with TMG.

“This deal pretty much fills our plate for the 2018 season,” St. Hilaire said in a statement from the team. “We decided that the best long-term strategy for GFR’s original charter was to strike a deal with our good friends at Wood Brothers Racing, which left us seeking a charter for our own No. 32 car. I think this partnership with Joe Falk is mutually beneficial for both Joe and ourselves going into the future. Joe has been in the business for a long time and will add a wealth of knowledge to our programs in 2018 and beyond.”

Said Falk in a statement: “We have been talking about doing this for over a year and it was a big decision to switch to Ford, but we believe it will pay off. This is a performance business and we have not had the team to get good finishes. We are also working on running the No. 33 car in select events with young drivers such as Joey Gase to help get them prepared for a full Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season going forward.”

CHARTERS THAT HAVE CHANGED TEAMS FOR 2018

— Furniture Row Racing #77 charter sold to JTG Daugherty for No. 37 car

— Roush Fenway Racing #16 charter sold to Team Penske for No. 12 car

— Richard Petty Motorsports #43 charter leased to Rick Ware Racing for No. 51 car

— Wood Brothers Racing forms long-term partnership with Go Fas Racing owner Archie St. Hilaire that grants Wood Brothers full operating control of the No. 32 team’s charter it leased last year.

— Go Fas Racing forms partnership with Circle Sport Racing owner Joe Falk for his charter for the No. 32 team.

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Hulu to serve as primary sponsor for Jeffrey Earnhardt in 19 races

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DOVER, Del. — Hulu announced Friday morning that it will sponsor the No. 33 car of Jeffrey Earnhardt for 19 Cup races this season, beginning with this weekend’s event at Dover International Speedway.

“We are looking forward to having this influx to get us to the next level,” said car owner Joe Falk, whose team is aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

Earnhardt is 37th in the driver points. His best finish is 26th in the Daytona 500.

The deal is for 19 races because that’s what the team had left available. In the other five races, Hulu will serve as an associate sponsor.

“Hulu is driving the next generation of TV, and Jeffrey Earnhardt represents the next generation of racing, so this is the perfect partnership to bring our brand to NASCAR fans,” said Patrizio Spagnoletto, Hulu’s Vice President of Subscriber Acquisition, in a statement “As a proud sponsor, we’re beyond excited to work with – and cheer for – Jeffrey and the entire #33 team.”

The Hulu with Live TV plan allows fans to stream NASCAR races, along with other major sports events, including the NBA Finals, Major League Baseball and Monday Night Football for $39.99 a month.

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Circle Sport and The Motorsports Group merge for 2017 effort

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Joe Falk and Curtis Key Sr. have merged their respective operations to field a single entry in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season.

The team will be led by Falk, who brings a charter to the partnership. Falk had been a part of the Circle Sport – Leavine Family Racing effort in 2016, which fielded a car that was split between Ty Dillon and Michael McDowell.

However, NASCAR viewed the alliance as Falk having leased his Charter to Bob Leavine. It resulted in Falk needing to use the Charter this season or sell it.

In 2016, Key also fielded a single car effort. The No. 30 qualified for 30 of the 36 races with drivers Gray Gaulding and Josh Wise.

Under the Falk and Key partnership, the team will field the No. 33 Chevrolet. Falk’s charter guarantees the team, with a driver to be announced in the coming weeks, will compete in every Cup Series race.

“It’s great to join forces with Curtis Key, I’ve known him for a very long time and know we share the same feelings about racing,” Falk said in a team release.

Veteran crew chief Pat Tryson will oversee the effort. Tryson has 541 starts at the Cup level and eight career wins. Throughout his career, Tryson has worked with drivers such as Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Kurt Busch, and Martin Truex Jr.

Tryson also previously worked with The Motorsports Group when the team made the transition into the Cup Series in 2015.

“It’s great to have Pat back with us, he was instrumental when we got started with our Cup program and we look forward to his insight in 2017,” said Key.

The team will operate out of The Motorsports Group shop in Mooresville, North Carolina.

Wheeling and dealing keeps Sprint Cup owners busy

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Deep in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage, well away from the championship contending teams, a race for survival takes place.

Owners seek partners. Others look to sell or buy a charter, the sport’s golden ticket that guarantees a revenue stream and a starting spot in every race.

The movement is taking place because of a performance clause with the charters.

If a chartered team finishes in the bottom three among the 36 chartered teams in the owner standings three consecutive years, NASCAR has the right to remove that charter. Although the first year with this system isn’t yet complete, teams aren’t waiting to act.

“Let’s face it, anybody in the bottom three is exploring all their options right now,’’ car owner Archie St. Hilaire told NBC Sports on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway.

St. Hilaire’s Go Fas Racing team ranks last in the standings among charter teams. He seeks a partnership. He is willing to lease his charter and partner with another chartered team if that will help his team grow.

That’s just among the many movements taking place. Leavine Family Racing is expected to purchase the charter from Tommy Baldwin Racing after this season. Leavine Family Racing has been partnered with Joe Falk’s Circle Sport Racing this year and used Falk’s charter.

Falk told NBC Sports that NASCAR viewed his action as leasing the charter. Owners can lease their charter only once in five years. That means Falk must keep his charter and partner with a team without one or sell the charter after this season.

“You’ve got too many sellers and not any buyers, so the price is dropping,’’ Falk said of the charters. “It’s dropped dramatically on what some people have been able to acquire one. Even if (a team has) an investor who is willing to put up the $3-5 million to buy one, it won’t work unless a sponsor comes along.’’

There’s even more movement that could take place. Premium Motorsports leased its charter to HScott Motorsports for the No. 46 team this year. That charter must be returned after this season. Furniture Row Racing is expected to secure a charter for next season for the No. 77 car that will have Erik Jones as a teammate to Martin Truex Jr. The Wood Brothers remain without a charter.

As all that swirls in the sport, St. Hilaire, who said his team has a $5 million budget, knows he must react.

“To really stay out the bottom three I think $10 million is a key number,’’ he said. “We’ve got to get that thing to $10 million to be competitive.’’

The team, which has had seven different drivers this year, has a best finish of 19th by Bobby Labonte at Talladega in May. Labonte is in the car this weekend.

St. Hilaire acknowledges his team is young. His joint venture with Fas Lane Racing began in 2014. Still, he wants better results.

“I need to peak that fun meter a little more,’’ St. Hilaire said. “Thank God I don’t live off this business. I do it for fun, and I’m not having a lot of fun right now,’’ he added with a chuckle.

Even so, St. Hilaire remains committed to the sport and hopeful his team’s performance can improve.

“It’s nothing money can’t fix,’’ he said. “Money buys speed in this business, no doubt about it. We just need an affiliation, which we’re shopping like hell for.’’

St. Hilaire said he hopes to have an idea in the next month what direction he’ll go.

“All options are on the table to make the team better,’’ he said. “We’re going to go racing. I just got to look at how and where.’’

That’s similar to what car owner Tommy Baldwin told NBC Sports this week, saying he was “exploring all my opportunities’’ for the team’s future.

“If you don’t have the money to keep up with the Joneses, you’re going to be left behind,’’ Baldwin said. “If you told me eight years ago when I first started this team I would be pretty much in the same spot as when I started, I would have told you that you were crazy. This sport has taken off so much here as far as how smart we’ve all gotten. It’s not that we don’t know how to do it, it’s just that we don’t have the money to apply the proper resources to do it.’’

Any deal likely will not be finalized until after the season and some might not get done until January, depending on how quickly teams move. Falk notes that he and Leavine decided to partner last December. NASCAR announced the charter system Feb. 9. Falk was granted a charter but Leavine’s team did not qualify. That made their pairing even better for this season.

So why doesn’t Falk sell his charter to Leavine? Falk admits he wants to have some hand in a team, while he said Leavine wants 100 percent control. Falk admits they still might be together next year if a sponsor can be found for a second car.

If not, Falk will be looking for a partner.

“Still something might pop up at (Richard Childress Racing) where they need another car,’’ said Falk, who has been aligned with Childress. “I’ve got a lot of things working. I’ve also got some things you wouldn’t expect. There’s a lot of stuff going on right now.’’

One thing he said he might consider is partnering with Curtis Key of The Motorsports Group, which does not have a charter for the No. 30 car.

“I truly don’t know what I’m going to do,’’ Falk said. “I wish I did. Curtis Key and I are from Chesapeake (Virginia). We’ve known each other our whole life. I don’t really have a problem going over there to help Curtis. We have to have sponsorship.

“At the end of the day, Curtis Key has everything sitting there, he’s got a very nice shop and his cars all come from Stewart-Haas. He’s got a relationship with Hendrick. I’ve got a relationship with Childress. It would be easy to make it work, but we cannot make it work without sponsorship.’’

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.