After one season together, Circle Sport – The Motorsports Group (CS/TMG) has parted ways effectively immediately. The news was released by Circle Sport owner Joe Falk on Monday, while a formal announcement was made a day later.
“We wish them the best,” The Motorsports Group owner Curtis Key stated. “I will continue this journey and look to rebound in 2018.”
Following Hillman-Circle Sport LLC’s shutdown in 2015, Falk merged Circle Sport’s assets with Leavine Family Racing for the 2016 season, which ran the #95 for Michael McDowell and Ty Dillon along with a part-time #59 for McDowell. Falk eventually departed LFR after 2016 and partnered with Key and The Motorsports Group to form CS/TMG, fielding the #33 for Jeffrey Earnhardt. Earnhardt ran every race in 2017 minus the two road course events (which were run by the retiring Boris Said), recording no top-20 finishes, a best finish of 26th at Indianapolis, and a 37th-place points finish. The #33 car also finished 37th in the Owner’s Championship. In spite of the team’s struggles during the year, it acquired sponsorship from video service Hulu in the summer, which produced a series documenting Earnhardt’s journey titled “The Driver”. Hulu would sponsor the #33 for the Earnhardt’s races from the first Dover event onwards.
In conjunction with the split, Earnhardt was released from the team. “Well this comes as a shock to me just as much as everyone else but hey like your parents always tell u don’t cry over spilt milk one door closes for another to open so let’s see what’s behind this door #NeverGiveUp #comeback #aintscaredofhardwork 💪🏼 thanks for everyones support,” Earnhardt tweeted. The status of Hulu’s sponsorship is unknown.
TMG, which competed full-time in the Xfinity Series, started its Cup operation in 2015 with four-time Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. in the #30, but he struggled and was subsequently replaced by 2000 Xfinity (then Busch) champion Jeff Green at Richmond. The #30 was later driven by Travis Kvapil and Josh Wise, the latter eventually running much of the 2016 season until he was released prior to the fall Talladega race that year. Gray Gaulding eventually raced for the team to finish the season before departing for BK Racing.
Despite the split, TMG intends to continue racing in the Monster Energy Cup Series in 2018, starting with Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway. Eric Pardue, who replaced Pat Tryson during the 2017 season and is a close friend of Key, will return to his duties as crew chief in 2018. A driver and sponsorship have not been arranged.
“This is sudden for us but we put a plan together rather quickly,” Key said. “We’ve had discussions with potential drivers but it’s only been a day since the news and we have more calls to make, we look to have a driver announce[d] in early January.”
Featured image by Justin Nguyen