Silly Season: Daniel Suarez could hold key to what happens next

5 Comments

Daniel Suarez could hold the next key in what happens in Silly Season as he considers his options for 2019.

Suarez is expected to lose his ride in the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing to Martin Truex Jr., who is in need of a ride after Furniture Row Racing announced it would cease operations after this season.

Car owner Joe Gibbs is hopeful to formally announce his team’s plans soon.

“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Gibbs said after Kyle Busch won for JGR on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. “There’s a lot of things in contracts and everything else about what you can and can’t do, and it’s just one of those things that is hard for us. I’m anxious, too. I would like to be able to announce it, but there’s still a lot up in the air with it.”

The three most likely destinations for Suarez would be the No. 41 at Stewart-Haas Racing, the No. 31 at Richard Childress Racing and the No. 95 at Leavine Family Racing, which is expected to partner with Toyota next season. The SHR ride, based on its performance, would seem to be the most attractive option.

“I’m sure good things will come our way,” Suarez said this weekend at Richmond.

Here’s a look at where things stand in Silly Season so far (based off what has been announced):

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

No. 6: Ryan Newman joins Roush Fenway Racing for next season (announcement made Sept. 22)

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28)

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 1: The Associated Press reported Sept. 10 that car owner Chip Ganassi had offered Jamie McMurray a contract to drive in the 2019 Daytona 500 only and then move into a management position. Ganassi was awaiting McMurray’s decision. The move means the No. 1 will be open for 2019.

No. 23: Front Row Motorsports purchased the BK Racing team in bankruptcy court in August. Front Row needs the team to run the rest of the season to maintain the charter. After this season, Front Row could run a third car, lease this charter or sell this charter.

No. 31: Ryan Newman announced Sept. 15 that he would not return to the No. 31 after this season. Car owner Richard Childress told NBC Sports: “We’ll announce who our driver is in the near future.”

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto’s announcement Sept. 7 that he won’t return to the team after this season.

No. 41: Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal in December to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing. He said Aug. 31 at Darlington that he has two contract offers for 2019 but did not reveal what teams they were from. Busch said Sept. 7 he had no updates on his status.

No. 95: Kasey Kahne announced Aug. 16 that he would not return for another full-time season. Also, this team has told Richard Childress Racing it won’t be a part of its technical alliance next year. Car owner Bob Leavine said Aug. 5 that “in our talking to the manufacturers this year, Toyota has been head-and-shoulders above the rest so far.”

DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Kurt Busch: 2004 champion’s contract expires after this season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Matt DiBenedettoSaid he was betting on himself by leaving Go Fas Racing and looking to race elsewhere. While he would like a full-time ride, he would entertain a part-time ride in the Xfinity Series with a winning team, following what Ryan Preece has done.

Daniel Hemric: The Xfinity driver for Richard Childress Racing was asked Aug. 17 at Bristol about his future and he described it as: “Cloudy, very cloudy.” He said then he has not signed anything for the 2019 season, adding: “I’m trying to do everything I can on the race track to prove to somebody that would be willing to put me in a car and give me a shot.”

Jamie McMurray: Although he has not revealed his plans, car owner Chip Ganassi told the AP that he had offered McMurray a contract for only the 2019 Daytona 500 before McMurray would move into a management role.

Ryan Preece: Modified ace who has run a limited schedule in the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing and had great success has not announced his 2019 plans.

Daniel Suarez: With reports stating that Martin Truex Jr. will go to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive the No. 19, Suarez would be looking for a ride. He said Sept. 21 that “we’re talking to a lot of people.”

Martin Truex Jr.: Reigning series champion has not announced a ride for 2019 with the Sept. 4 news that Furniture Row Racing is shutting down after this season. Truex, though, is expected to move to the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing and replace Daniel Suarez.

XFINITY SERIES

OPEN RIDES FOR 2019

1: Elliott Sadler announced Aug. 15 that he will not run full-time in NASCAR after this season, creating an opening at JR Motorsports for 2019.

Furniture Row Racing to cease operations after 2018 season

20 Comments

Furniture Row Racing, the reigning Cup championship team, announced Tuesday it will cease operations after this season, citing a lack of necessary funding.

“I’ve always felt that we could be a competitive team and run for a championship even when it seemed like a pipe dream to many racing insiders,” car owner Barney Visser said in a statement. “But to be successful in any business you need to assemble the right people and make a strong commitment to succeed. We achieved what we set out to do and feel like we climbed Mount Everest. To continue with anything less than a competitive team would not be acceptable. It’s been one incredible ride.”

The announcement comes less than a month after car Visser issued a statement that “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.”

The move also comes after primary sponsor 5-hour Energy announced in July that it would no longer remain in NASCAR after this season. 5-hour Energy is serving as co-primary sponsor of the team with Bass Pro Shops for 30 races this year. Furniture Row Racing was unable to find any income to replace what it would be losing.

“This is not good for anybody,” Visser said in a statement about closing the team down after this season. “The numbers just don’t add up. I would have to borrow money to continue as a competitive team and I’m not going to do that. This was obviously a painful decision to arrive at knowing how it will affect a number of quality and talented people.

“We’ve been aggressively seeking sponsorship to replace 5-hour ENERGY and to offset the rising costs of continuing a team alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing but haven’t had any success. I feel that it’s only proper to make the decision at this time to allow all team members to start seeking employment for next year. I strongly believe that all of our people have enhanced their careers by working at Furniture Row Racing.”

This announcement comes as Martin Truex Jr. is third in the points after winning his first series title last season.

Truex, who joined Furniture Row Racing in 2014 as the driver of the No. 78 car, said: “While I am saddened by today’s announcement, I totally understand the decision. Barney Visser, Joe Garone and the entire Furniture Row Racing team took me in while my career was in a bad place, and together we reached the pinnacle of the sport. I will forever be grateful to each and every one of them, and also to Furniture Row, Denver Mattress and the Visser family.

“But make no mistake this is not the immediate end. We still have unfinished business to attend to and that’s to give everything we have to successfully defend our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. Right now that is foremost on my mind as it is with the entire team.”

With Furniture Row Racing leaving after this season, it will have a charter to sell. That will be among the more valuable charters. Cup charters guarantee a starting spot in each race but also a set amount of money per race. One portion of the team payments is based on performance in the past three years. Furniture Row Racing has made the playoffs each of the past two years and will again make the playoff this season.

Furniture Row Racing, based in Denver, Colorado, started its NASCAR program in 2005 as an Xfinity team before moving to Cup. The team made its Cup debut in Nov. 13, 2005 at Phoenix with Jerry Robertson. He started 43rd and finished 41st, completing 51 laps.

The team’s first Cup victory was by Regan Smith in the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The team has since scored 17 more wins with Truex, including victories this season at Auto Club Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Sonoma Raceway and Kentucky Speedway. Furniture Row Racing has won 12 of the last 59 Cup races (16.9 percent).

Others who drove for Furniture Row Racing included Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Kenny Wallace, Joe Nemechek and Jimmy Spencer.

“There are so many people I want to thank because without them winning a championship and being competitive would never have happened: Joe Gibbs Racing for our technical alliance, Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Bass Pro Shops, 5-hour ENERGY, Auto-Owners Insurance, Furniture Row and Denver Mattress,” Visser said in a statement from the team.

“A heartfelt thank you to Joe Garone, Martin Truex Jr, Cole Pearn and all of our team members for their talent, dedication and sacrifices they made along the way. To the Furniture Row and Denver Mattress employees I want to express a special thank you for always having my back from the early years of our race team to our championship run.

“I also want to thank the fans, the Denver community, NASCAR, International Speedway Corporation (ISC), Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) and independent track owners for providing and maintaining the venues that we compete at. A special tip of the hat to the media and to NASCAR’s broadcast partners – FOX, NBC, Motor Racing Network (MRN), Performance Racing Network (PRN) and SiriusXM Radio. We’ve always been treated fairly by members of the media and I appreciate their hard work in one of the most demanding schedules in major league sports.”

NASCAR issued a statement Tuesday: “NASCAR wishes the very best to Barney Visser and his family. Barney has been a successful owner and an amazing champion, and his presence will certainly be missed. We look forward to seeing Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn and the entire No. 78 team finish the 2018 season strong and competing for another championship. NASCAR will continue to work on growing the sport and working with the race teams on competitive and operational excellence. Much of those efforts have already been put in place, and will continue to be a focus.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs, whose team is aligned with Furniture Row Racing, said in a statement: “We have a great partnership with Barney and everyone at Furniture Row Racing. It’s unfortunate that they will not be continuing after this season and I know it was a difficult decision for them. They have accomplished so much and I know they would like nothing more than to win another championship this season.”

In a statement, Laura Pierce, General Manager for Motorsports, Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) said: “We want to thank Barney Visser, Joe Garone, Martin, Cole and everyone at Furniture Row Racing for a successful partnership over the past few years. The team’s dedication and hard work in the sport was instrumental to our racing family as they helped us win our first NASCAR Cup Series manufacturer’s championships as well as reach the pinnacle of the sport with last year’s championship. We look forward to continuing to work with the Furniture Row Racing team as they defend their championship in the upcoming playoffs.”

Christopher Bell would prefer not to ‘waste another year’ of ‘prime’

Leave a comment

Whether he is racing in the Cup or Xfinity Series next year, Christopher Bell would be “thrilled either way,” but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver thinks he’s ready for NASCAR’s biggest stage after 27 starts and five wins in Xfinity.

“I don’t feel like I need another year of Xfinity,” Bell said in a Wednesday teleconference.

The defending Camping World Truck Series champion made his comments hours after team owner Joe Gibbs told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio “we have to keep him,” and that Bell is “scheduled” for another season in Xfinity.

Gibbs said Bell’s future is “kind of up in the air right now. We’re kind of set next year. We want to keep him in Xfinity next year.”

But Bell is confident in what his future has in store for him.

“I think the best way for me to win at the Cup level is to get there and start trying at it,” Bell said. “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.”

As of now, all four of JGR’s Cup rides are filled for next year and Furniture Row Racing, where Erik Jones was teammates with Martin Truex Jr. in 2017, is now a one-car team seeking additional sponsorship for Truex in 2019.

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.

Regardless, Bell said he has “every intention of staying” with JGR and Toyota, adding he’d “probably be running either the All‑Star sprint cars or maybe the (World of) Outlaws” if Toyota hadn’t added him to its driver development program in 2015.

“Even if the Cup deal doesn’t work out for next year, which it looks like it’s not going to, I’m still going to be sitting in a really fast race car at a level in motorsports where I never really dreamed I’d be at,” Bell said.

In his rookie season, Bell leads the Xfinity points standings after 19 races and is coming off winning three consecutive races. He will try to make it four straight Saturday at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBC). The last series regular to win four in a row was Sam Ard in 1983.

All of Bell’s five Xfintiy wins to date have occurred on ovals.

Bell will get just his fourth chance to compete on a road course in a national NASCAR series this weekend.

“Going for four in a row would obviously be huge, but obviously it’s going to be a tall order to win four in a row going to a road course that I’ve never been before with guys that are racing that have a ton of experience there,” Bell said. “I’m not going to be heartbroken if I don’t win four in a row, but I will be heartbroken if I don’t win five races this year.  So that’s the only stat that matters to me are those race wins.”

Bell has two concerns heading to WGI, the first of three road courses in four races. The first is shifting.

“I don’t know if I’ve had a road course weekend where I haven’t blown a motor yet by missing a downshift or missing an upshift and accidentally downshifting,” Bell said. “So that’s the No. 1 goal is to get through the weekend without blowing a motor.

“It’s just so opposite of everything that I’ve done in my past, but I’ve really enjoyed the road races that I’ve done, especially at Canada. I feel like I’ve been fairly competitive up there.”

In two Truck Series starts at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bell has finishes of fifth and 26th (engine).

“The only thing that’s hindering my confidence right now is just the fact that I was so awful at Road America last year,” Bell said of the race where he started fourth and finished 19th. “That’s the only reason that I don’t feel like I could compete for the win this week.”

Points are another concern for Bell on the road course.

“(Justin) Allgaier is an excellent road racer,” Bell observed. “Daniel Hemric does a really good job on the road courses.  So there’s a lot of guys that I’m in a really tight points battle with that are really good road racers, and unfortunately for me, I don’t have that star by my name that says I’m a really good road racer.”

Bell has a 16-point lead over second-ranked Elliott Sadler. Hemric is fourth (-23 points) and Allgaier is fifth (-52).

Said Bell: “So luckily with the stages, I feel like the guys that are competing for wins will pit before the stage ends, and that’ll open up some stage points for us if I’m not up to speed and I’m not competing for the win.”

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

Leave a comment

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.”

Erik Jones’ first Cup win fueled by father’s Corvette

1 Comment

At the age of 20, Erik Jones lost his father to cancer. At the age of 53, Dave Jones lost his life. More tragically, he lost the opportunity to watch his son race full time in the Cup series. He was not present to watch the sophomore driver win his first Cup race in his 57th start Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway – two years and one month to the day of his father’s passing.

Dave was diagnosed with lung cancer early in 2016 and an aggressive form of the disease took him three months later on June 7.

A piece of Dave lives on with his son’s career – a career that would not have happened without sacrifices to give Erik the best equipment possible during his formative days as a late model racer.

One of these sacrifices was a blue 1965 Corvette.

After winning the Coke Zero Sugar 400, Jones recalled the day his dad first sold the car.

“I was, I don’t know, maybe 12 or 13. We were just trying to get into late model racing around that time, whenever it was, and my dad was in the car business, specifically Corvettes at the time or selling reproduction parts and doing restoration, and he had bought a Corvette of his own when I was maybe five or six years old.

“One day he came home, and he had sold the car, and I was like, ‘man, why did you do that,’ and he’s like, ‘well, we’ve got to fund the racing somehow.’”

MORE: Erik Jones wins in overtime at Daytona

The relationship between Dave and Erik is an integral part of what makes Erik so special to his car owner Joe Gibbs and Toyota.

“I asked (Dave) one time if he raced,” Gibbs said following the race. “He said, ‘no, Erik just said, I want to do this.’”

That was enough for Dave to commit to his son’s dream.

“He was so supportive, and (his death) was just a horrible thing,” Gibbs continued. “It was just terrible. So that’s a part of Erik, I think, winning tonight. I think obviously it’s an emotional thing for him because his dad would have absolutely loved it.”

The early sacrifice paid dividends almost immediately. While Dave did not get chance to see Erik’s first Cup win, there was plenty that he did get a chance to witness.

A couple of years after the sale of the Corvette, Jones grabbed Kyle Busch‘s attention by beating him in the 2012 Snowball Derby, along with Chase Elliott and David Ragan. The next year, Busch hired Jones to race in his No. 51 late model. Jones won back-to-back Snowball Derbies as well as several other high-profile late model races that year.

Dave was there to see his son race for Busch in the Truck series. The pair won in their first season together in 2013. Jones went on to win six more Truck races and the 2015 championship. Dave saw Erik win four of his nine Xfinity races for Gibbs.

Six months after his father’s death, Jones tracked down the Corvette and repurchased it.

“That wasn’t the only thing that was sold along the way, and things that were – chances that were taken financially to get me to this point,” Jones continued. “But I was able to buy that car back actually about a year and a half ago, and that was pretty cool, same car, so that was pretty neat to get that back. I always wanted to give it back to him, but it sure feels good to have it in my hands now. … I definitely wish he could have been here to see this one.”

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.