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NASCAR Cup Series

Old Guys Still Ruling in 2018

A few months ago, the conversation of the off-season as the excitement of the young stars rising into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018. Drivers like Alex Bowman, Darrell Wallace Jr., and William Byron were heading into the year with full-time rides, some even replacing icons.

We were preparing to witness a year with a great deal of young talent, and many believed it would be proven on the track.

As the season kicked off at Daytona, it fired off fairly strong for the young guns with 25-year-old Alex Bowman winning the pole for the Daytona 500. Additionally, rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second in the 60th running of “Great American Race.”

Wallace entered the media center following the Daytona 500 with much excitement and even let loose his emotions after a runner-up finish. But since then, Wallace hasn’t placed any better than 20th and has an average finish of 22.8.

The youngsters have become quiet since Daytona, and the veterans have become the spotlight of the season.

Six races in, the veterans have showcased their experience and proved they are still the ones to beat. In fact, 42-year-old Kevin Harvick went on to win the next three events following the Daytona 500 and even some in dominating fashion.

Harvick expressed his feelings on social media this past week after his teammate, 38-year-old Clint Bowyer, won the STP 500 at Martinsville.

https://twitter.com/KevinHarvick/status/978636514031800321

That’s right, no driver under the age of 25 has won a race this season. Many thought that Hendrick Motorsports would be a factor going into the year as they added a few young stars and the new Camaro ZL1.

Quite frankly, it has been the complete opposite.

The fresh young faces at Hendrick Motorsports, Alex Bowman and William Byron, have had an uneasy start to the season. Both drivers combined have only scored one top-10 finish this year, and the new Camaro ZL1 has shown inconsistency throughout the first six races.

Meanwhile, a team with veteran drivers are building toward a having a historic season.

Stewart-Haas Racing has won four of the first six events and is going into the off weekend with a grandfather clock as Clint Bowyer snapped a 190-race winless streak.

Greg Zipadelli, Vice President of Competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, said after the win at Martinsville, “This year as a group they’ve been able to work together, and they’ve been able to work on a lot of little details, and I think it’s shown in the performance to start the year.”

Their impressive performance currently has all four of their drivers in the top-12 in points. But will this trend continue for the rest of the season?

The Cup Series schedule is lengthy, and it’s still early, but we shouldn’t rule out the young guns just yet. They’ve earned a spot in NASCAR’s premier series so they’re obviously talented and it will be thrilling to watch them try to break out and beat the “old guys.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Can-Am Duels

Just like the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers are learning more about the style of drafting and what they need with the “no ride height rule,” the fans are seeing what they can expect in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

The same mixed reviews felt after the Clash are still linger now with the Can-Am Duels complete.

The first Can-Am Duel immediately brought the dreadfulness that we completed the Clash with, seeing the drivers run in a single-file line right around the top. They found themselves that way after the first couple of laps, and shortly after each restart without any jockeying for position – until the end, of course.

But if drivers are going to continue to follow this strategy, what does that mean for Sunday? Are we going to see them play follow the leader until the last 10-15 laps of each stage? That’s the best way to chase away fans, frankly. 

It also could bring strategy at times during the event, though, as lack of passing makes track position key. If you want to wait until the end to make a move, you need to be up there first. 

The second Can-Am Duel gave a glimpse at strategy, though. Under the first yellow flag at Lap 13, Chase Elliott was penalized for his crew going over the wall too soon. Rather than going to the back on just the fuel they took, Alan Gustafson elected to bring the No. 9 Chevrolet back down pit road for four tires. Elliott then drove from the back of the field to the lead in 12 laps. So how beneficial are four tires, when handling is at a premium?

Overall though, the second event was stronger with more side-by-side racing, versus riding around single-file, as they only spent about 15 laps, versus over half like the first one. It proved that the jockeying for position witnessed in the first half of the Clash is still there. 

Kevin Harvick also timed a move like Blaney in the first one, ducking out of line with two laps to go, but was unable to get the run as the help behind him fell apart, killing the momentum with Elliott able to block. So the key for Sunday is to have friends, maybe your teammates, to help you make the moves. 

Matthew T. Thacker NKP

Team Penske looked to be set to sail to the win with their cars all in-tact as Joey Logano led Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney entering the final portion. However, Blaney made his move for the lead from the third spot in line, pulling alongside Logano, with three laps to go. It was a surprise as being teammates, it wasn’t expected to someone break the chain. But Blaney has stat he isn’t going to sit in line and ride. Recall he tried a similar move in the Clash, but went too early and ultimately fell short as he was left hung out to dry. 

Of course, that didn’t pay off for Keselowski, who wrecked while trying to shoot the gap between Jamie McMurray and the wall down the backstretch. You can only think of what Roger Penske is probably feeling right now. 

Now we know – wait until the last lap, and it doesn’t work, but you can try with about three or four to go as it seemed to be enough time. 

Rusty Jarrett NKP

Alex Bowman‘s strategy brought mixed reactions from both fans and fellow competitors, as the Daytona 500 pole sitter immediately gave up the lead on the start, keeping himself in pace at the back of the field. The plan was simple – do not risk tearing up the car because that’d force them to give up the No. 1 starting position for the Great American Race. 

Frankly, the car was not set to run in this event – yet. The Hendrick Motorsports drivers admitted post-race that they did certain things for sole qualifying reasons – like mess with the skew, that you would not do for race conditions due to making it hard to drive. With everybody being impounded between qualifying and the Duels, they were unable to change it back – until the first pit stop during this race. That’s how confident they were about getting the pole. 

With so much on the line, and the fact there are three more practices where he can get used to drafting, it seems like no harm, no foul because there’s time to get it right. But while those sessions may include packs, they’re much smaller and calmer than the real thing, therefore not allowing you to put yourself in sketchy situations to test your car’s handling. It’ll be interesting to see how the No. 88 Chevrolet performs compared to others on Sunday. 

Barry Cantrell NKP

Hendrick Motorsports may be sitting alright with Bowman and Elliott, but that wasn’t the case for the other pair as both Jimmie Johnson and William Byron wrecked out of the first Duel. 

Johnson had faded back to just outside of the top-five early, when he blew a left rear tire on Lap 9, crashing into Aric Almirola as Daniel Suarez spun behind to avoid. If you’re keeping track, that’s the second car of Speedweeks for Johnson after wrecking in The Clash. The seven-time Cup Champion has seen a mixed bag of luck at Daytona International Speedway. In the past 10 races, he has won a pair and scored five top-fives, to go with three wrecks. Concentrating on surviving to start the year well could be critical. 

Byron’s crash would come on Lap 38 after he got loose due to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. taking the air off of his left rear while trying to side-draft him. Byron would spin, hitting the outside wall with the nose of the car. Being a rookie, we expected a learning curve – especially considering how sideways he got in practice twice. 

Barry Cantrell NKP

Stenhouse Jr. quickly became the hero of the first Duel (for a little bit) as he was the only driver who seemed to want to make moves for a while, driving underneath his competitors. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out as well as hoped as getting closer to the left-rear on both Byron, and David Gilliland caused the pair to wreck. 

Getting too close to the left rear is nothing new in NASCAR, as we’ve heard about the aerodynamic loss drivers feel when the air is taken away from that corner of the car, whether restrictor plate track or not. Recall the lectures of “don’t ever tap someone on the left rear when bump drafting” but it was okay to do the right side.

With the new rule package seeing teams lower the cars as much as possible, fighting the balance at times, there’s a concern to be stated. Does this make you very vulnerable when side-drafting? 

Notably, Stenhouse wasn’t the only driver to cause an incident of this nature as in Duel 2, Elliott got up on Erik Jones‘ left rear, and he went for a spin down the backstretch. 

“You don’t mean to do it,” Elliott said. “You’re trying to advance your position.  It’s just a bad place to be in when you’re the other guy, right?  There’s not really a whole lot you can do about it. 

“You’re kind of at the mercy of the people behind you when it comes to that.  They know definitely now where the vulnerable spots are.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Pole Allows Bowman to Emerge from Earnhardt Jr.’s Shadow

In the first event of the post-Dale Earnhardt Jr. era, the No. 88 car remained in the spotlight as its new driver Alex Bowman piloted it to the DAYTONA 500 pole position.

Speed from this team should come as no surprise since Earnhardt Jr. started first in half of the restrictor plate races in 2017 and Hendrick Motorsports has now won four consecutive poles in the “Great American Race.”

While this will provide Bowman an advantage to start Sunday’s race, more importantly, it establishes a platform for him to become known as more than just Earnhardt Jr.’s successor.

Much of the conversation surrounding the 24-year-old during the opening weekend of Speedweeks focused on his position as Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement, not his rise to HMS.

Little was mentioned of Bowman’s only other DAYTONA 500 start in 2014 with BK Racing and his climb from the underfunded ranks of the sport to one of the top organizations.

Few drivers have ever been able to advance their careers this way and while Bowman began his time behind the wheel of less competitive cars, it allowed him to make the necessary growth to succeed today.

“Honestly, I think I’m better because of the things that I had to go through,” Bowman said. “I got to make a lot of mistakes without anybody watching. Just never give up.”

He failed to qualify for this race in 2015 and now three seasons later, he will lead the field to the green flag, a feat even Bowman himself still can’t believe.

“Yeah, I mean, I never ‑‑ I mean, if you talked to me in 2015 and told me that in 2018 I was going to be driving the 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports, I would have called you nuts,” Bowman said.

Bowman’s unorthodox – but successful – path to a full-time ride for one of the sport’s top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series organizations is an incredible achievement in itself and should be the focus after accomplishing the most significant feat of his career so far by taking the pole.

“You know, everything happens for a reason,” Bowman said. “My career had a lot of ups and downs, and I’ve been able to lean on my past experiences a lot to make me better and to better prepare myself for this job.”

The week of coverage ahead will be important for Bowman to begin establishing his name and telling his story as the new driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet.

While his connection to Earnhardt Jr. will always be present and essential to where he is today, this pole award is the first opportunity to emerge from the shadow of the 15-time most popular driver and begin writing the next chapter of his career.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

Alex Bowman Wins Pole; Denny Hamlin to Start Second in Daytona 500

For the second straight season, the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will sit on the front row for the season-opening Daytona 500.

But this time, young driver Alex Bowman is piloting the car.

Circling 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway at a speed of 195.644 mph, Bowman notched his second career pole — first at Daytona — in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series during Sunday’s qualifying session. This marks his first season driving the No. 88 full time in the Monster Energy Series, following Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement last season.

“I think it’s still a little surreal,” Bowman said. “It’s a dream come true to get to drive for Hendrick Motorsports. I never thought it would have happened after the path my career took. I’m so thankful to be able to do this. I’m very blessed to be able to call driving a race car my job, and now to get to drive what I think is the best race car in the business.”

Denny Hamlin will line up alongside Bowman after notching a speed of 195.092 mph in his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to nab the second starting spot for the “Great American Race.” Hamlin is the 2016 Daytona 500 winner, but has never started on the front row for the sport’s biggest race.

Bowman and Hamlin also were fastest in the opening round of qualifying.

Sunday’s two-round, single-car qualifying session only produced the front row for the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The rest of the field will be determined by Thursday’s Can-Am Duels (7 p.m., FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The lineup for the Duels will be set based on Sunday’s qualifying speeds.

Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and William Byron all showed speed during qualifying, posting the third, fourth and fifth-fastest speeds (respectively) in Sunday’s session. But their Daytona 500 grid positions, along with the rest of the field aside from the front row, will be set based on the Duels.

The Monster Energy Series is back on track at Daytona shortly with this afternoon’s Advance Auto Parts Clash (3 p.m. ET, FS1), which Austin Dillon will lead to green.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Bowman Confident Heading Into 2018

On Tuesday, fans got their first glance at Hendrick Motorsports’ new look as they addressed the press for the first time in 2018 as part of NASCAR’s annual media tour. A significant portion of the changes is Alex Bowman, who becomes the full-time driver of the No. 88, replacing the now retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The story of Bowman is an interesting one. Unlike most young drivers in the sport, who have entered the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with a team they’ve worked with for several years prior, the 24-year-old spent time with less funded organizations. He drove for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, before getting a part-time opportunity with JR Motorsports which ultimately opened the door with Hendrick.

To perfectly illustrate the wild ride that is Bowman’s time in Cup, in two years, he will go from learning about losing his ride on Twitter, to competing for a championship organization.

“I’m glad that it all worked out this way,” Bowman said. “I could have easily gone a different direction.  Very thankful for how things have gone.”

While he may have only run one race in Cup last year (The Clash in February), the expectations are still high for himself heading into the new season.

“Well, they hired me to go win races and contend for championships and that is what I plan on doing,” Bowman said.

Now, some may see this statement as a reach for a driver who’s been away from competition at NASCAR’s highest level for an extended period, but it isn’t.

After all, this isn’t a new situation for Bowman. In 2016, he faced a familiar circumstance when he was called upon to replace Earnhardt. At the time, he hadn’t been in Cup since 2015 and had zero time in equipment anywhere near as good as Hendrick’s.

For those that don’t remember, the Arizona-native took full advantage of the opportunity at hand. He regularly ran well, scored three top-10’s, led 199 laps after winning the pole at Phoenix, and showed improvement throughout his tenure with the team.

Bowman’s track record shows him being out of a car does not affect him if he returns to a quality ride, and this isn’t just proven with his substitution efforts. Last year, after being out of competition for seven months, he returned to NASCAR in the XFINITY Series with Chip Ganassi Racing at Charlotte and won. Now, XFINITY isn’t Cup but still, an impressive show of his skill nonetheless.

“I have a pretty strong desire to go win races and I’m really hungry for wins.  I think that really matters more to me than any pressure anybody is going to put on me,” Bowman said.

The confidence and determination are there. Bowman has proven himself to be capable. The question is, will he be able to live up to the goals and expectations he has set for himself?

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Strong First Round Places Poole in Championship Conversation

CONCORD, N.C. – Brennan Poole didn’t enter the NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs among the title favorites, but that quickly changed after the Round of 12.

A fifth-place finish in Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway marked the Chip Ganassi Racing drivers’ third consecutive top-five to begin the post-season. 

He also placed highest among championship contenders in two of three races including on Saturday night, showcasing what he could be capable of in the remaining Playoff races.

“I’m just proud of the effort,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “I’m proud of the fast race cars that we’re bringing to the race track.” 

After only capturing one top-five in the regular season, clicking off three consecutive shows increased speed out of the No. 48 team.

Not only did Poole finish well on Saturday but he rebounded after receiving damage early in the race, attesting to the team’s resilience that could play into their title chances.  

“Tonight we had to battle through a lot of adversity,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “The car’s torn to pieces but the guys did some great jobs repairing on it. We just never gave up, and we fought through it.”

The 26-year-old now resets sixth on the Playoff Grid to begin the Round of 8, 20 points behind leader William Byron and three behind Daniel Hemric in the final spot that advances to the season finale.

Poole’s confidence is high heading into the next set of tracks as he looks to make up the difference.

“Kansas has been a great race track for me,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “Of course Texas I’m excited to go to. Not only is it my home state but also being very similar to Kentucky where we were so strong at the first race. And ending up at Phoenix, a place where I have several top-10’s and just looking forward to getting into this next round and taking care of business.”

Stage racing has been a difference maker throughout 2017, and the most significant impact may come as the field is narrowed from eight to four cars in this round.

“It’s just going to come down to stage points,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED. “The field is so tight. Tonight we got caught up in an incident that kept us from getting stage points. We’re just going to have to have a little bit of luck, a little bit of things go our way since the field is so tight.”

With Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 team winning two of the first three Playoff races with Tyler Reddick at Kentucky and Alex Bowman at Charlotte, the organization’s second entry is now seemingly on the verge of victory.

“I feel like we’re more than capable of even winning a race in these next three races, we’ve been so good here recently,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED.  

A strong first round delivered Poole some of his best career results and allowed him to show that he’s capable of competing for the championship.

Now it will again be about rising to the occasion in the Round of 12 and placing his team in the Championship 4 where Poole believes that he could hoist the trophy at Homestead-Miami.

“I really believe that this team has what it takes to win it all,” Poole told POPULAR SPEED.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Hendrick Motorsports Flashes Hot New Looks for 2018

Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t given up on 2017, especially not with drivers Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott still in contention for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

But the 12-time Cup championship team definitely has an eye on 2018, when much will change at Hendrick: A new Cup car in the 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1; new drivers in William Byron (24) and Alex Bowman (88) and a totally new look for the team.

Thursday night at the Charlotte Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom, the team did something it had never done before, unveiling the 2018 Daytona 500 paint schemes for all four of its cars in a flashy and impressive roll out featuring lasers, glow sticks and loud music.

No. 9

For 2018, Chase Elliott moves from the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the No. 9, which was Elliott’s number when he won a NASCAR XFINITY Series championship and, of course, was the number used by his father, NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill Elliott.

While Elliott’s car will still feature the familiar gold-on-blue NAPA Auto Parts logo, the new Camaro has a lot of white in its design as well.

No. 24

William Byron won’t turn 20 years old until next month, but he’s about to take over one of the most iconic rides in NASCAR history, the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet that Jeff Gordon won 93 races and four Cup championships with.

And Gordon fans will no doubt love the fact that Byron’s 2018 Camaro ZL1 while prominently feature the Axalta flames similar to those that Gordon carried on his car.

No. 48

One of the most radical departures for the Hendrick squad is the No. 48 2018 Camaro ZL1 that seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will drive. Trimmed out in solid black, the No. 48 will be sponsored by LowesForPROS.com, continuing a partnership that began in Johnson’s rookie season of 2002.

Johnson is going for his record eighth championship this season and already has 83 career race victories, all in the No. 48.

No. 88

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring after the end of the season and he was instrumental in recommending Alex Bowman to take over the No. 88 in 2018.  Bowman was impressive subbing for Earnhardt in 2016, and his performance was enough to land the ride for next season.

Bowman’s No. 88 Camaro ZL1 will be sponsored by longtime Hendrick partner Nationwide and features the insurance company’s blue and white paint scheme.

Categories
Commentary

Do the Math: 5 Fast Facts Behind Hendrick Motorsports Number Swap

In something of a surprise announcement, Hendrick Motorsports has decided to ditch the No. 5 that has raced in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series continually since its inception in 1984 as All-Star Racing.

Next year, the Hendrick Cup lineup will look like this:

  • Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88, replacing the retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • Jimmie Johnson will remain in the No. 48.
  • Rookie William Byron will drive the No. 24.
  • Chase Elliott’s car number will switch to the No. 9.

Here are five fast facts about the number changes for the team in 2017.

The No. 9

Chase Elliott’s father, 1988 NASCAR Premier Series champion Bill Elliott, won 38 of his 44 races driving the No. 9 and Chase carried that number when he won the NASCAR XFINITY Series title in 2014. Five drivers have won a total of 53 Premier Series races in the No. 9. And in a weird bit of irony, the driver who ranks second to Elliott in victories in the No. 9 is outgoing Hendrick driver Kasey Kahne, with 11 wins in that car number, all before he joined Hendrick. Marcos Ambrose (2), Donald Thomas (1) and Herb Thomas (1) also won with that car number

The No. 24

Just 19 years old right now, William Byron will be taking over one of the most iconic car numbers in NASCAR history next season. No pressure, but consider this fact: The No. 24 has competed in 1,437 Premier Series races, with only one driver finding Victory Lane with that number. Jeff Gordon won 93 races in the No. 24, but no one else has ever won with that car number on the side.

The No. 48

The one constant for the Hendrick armada next year is seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who has been paired with crew chief Chad Knaus and sponsor Lowe’s since his rookie season of 2002. Johnson has won 83 races in the No. 48 and is one of only three drivers to win with that number. The others are James Hylton (2) and Bill Norton (1).

The No. 88

Next year, Alex Bowman will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88, a car Earnhardt has driven to nine wins since joining Hendrick in 2008. The No. 88 has had a lot of success over the years, with some very famous names posting wins in it. Four drivers already in the NASCAR Hall of Fame have won Cup races in the No. 88: Dale Jarrett won 28 races with the No. 88, Darrell Waltrip won 26, Bobby Allison took eight wins and Buck Baker won three times.

The No. 25

No, Hendrick won’t campaign the No. 25 — a number it used to run — next year, but consider this: In 2018, the only Hendrick driver who will be more than 25 years old is Johnson, who will turn 43 on Sept. 17, 2018. Byron is 19 years old now, Elliott 21 and Bowman 24. It looks like Hendrick will be set for years to come with a seven-time champion and three young guns.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Your Ultimate Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season Guide

After a couple of relatively quiet years, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is about to go through a wholesale shuffle of drivers and teams.

Known as “Silly Season,” this is the time of the year when changes are announced or sometimes just rumored for the upcoming season. With lots of upheaval ahead, the 2018 Cup season will have a very different look.

With that in mind, here is your ultimate Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season guide, a detailed list of who’s going where next season.

We’ll start with the drivers.

Aric Almirola

The Richard Petty Motorsports driver’s contract is reportedly up at the end of this season. No official word yet if he’ll be back with the team next year.

Ryan Blaney

After two successful seasons with the Wood Brothers, Blaney will move to the new Team Penske No. 12 Ford next year.

Alex Bowman

An impressive stint for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2016 was enough to earn Bowman the ride in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next year.

Kurt Busch

Officially the elder Busch is a free agent, as Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up his contract option for 2018. But the team has said it expects him back next year. We’ll see.

William Byron

After dazzling performances in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last year and the NASCAR XFINITY Series this year, Byron will move to the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next season, replacing Kasey Kahne.  Axalta and Liberty University will sponsor him.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This is Earnhardt’s last season as a driver; next year, he’ll be in the NBC television booth, where he will add a lot to the broadcast. And, of course, he and sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller will continue to run their successful JR Motorsports XFINITY team.

Erik Jones

It’s one-and-done for impressive rookie Jones at Furniture Row Racing. Next year, he will take over the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota from Matt Kenseth.

Kasey Kahne

Officially a free agent, Kahne is looking for work for next season.

Matt Kenseth

Another top free agent, Kenseth does not yet have a confirmed ride for 2018.

Paul Menard

Following seven years with Richard Childress Racing, Menard will move to Wood Brothers Racing next season.

Danica Patrick

If Stewart-Haas Racing can’t find a sponsor for Patrick next season, she will be released from the final year of her contract, Patrick told USA Today last weekend.

Bubba Wallace

Wallace is one of several good drivers looking for work. He was impressive filling in for the injured Aric Almirola this summer.

 

And now, the teams.

Furniture Row Racing

With Erik Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, team owner Barney Visser has said he’ll only run two cars next season if he can find enough sponsorship.

Hendrick Motorsports

Alex Bowman will succeed Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88, and William Byron will replace Kasey Kahne in the No. 5. Axalta and Liberty University will sponsor Byron.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Matt Kenseth is out at the No. 20 an Erik Jones is in.

Richard Childress Racing

With Paul Menard moving to the Wood Brothers next season, there’s an open seat at RCR, assuming they don’t decide to scale back to two cars.

Richard Petty Motorsports

There have been rumblings that RPM will try to find enough sponsorship to bring back the No. 44 with Bubba Wallace, but so far nothing definite.

Stewart-Haas Racing

As always, it seems, the situation at SHR is interesting. The team declined to pick up Kurt Busch’s option for 2018, but says it expects him back, while Danica Patrick said she doesn’t yet have a sponsor for next year and could be released if they don’t find one.

Team Penske

Earlier this season, Team Penske re-signed drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and their respective crew chiefs to long-term deals. Next year, they’ll add a third full-time car for the first time since 2010, with Ryan Blaney driving the No. 12 Ford.

Wood Brothers Racing

Ryan Blaney will be out and Paul Menard will be in the cockpit of the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 

E-MAIL TOM AT tom.@jensen@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @tomjensen100

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

Grading the 2018 Silly Season Moves So Far

It’s that time of the year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — Silly Season time. Already, a number of top teams have made moves for the 2018 season, with many more changes still to come.

Here’s how we break down the grades for the deals announced so far.

Richard Childress Racing,  C

Paul Menard is leaving to join the Wood Brothers next year, which means a pretty big financial hit for RCR. On one hand, the team could be forced to downsize to two cars; on the other hand, if sponsorship is found, it could open the door for Ty Dillon to move to his grandfather’s team.

Furniture Row Racing, C

It will be one-and-done for rookie Erik Jones in the No. 77 Furniture Row Toyota, as next year he’ll move to Joe Gibbs Racing. Furniture Row owner Barney Visser has said he doesn’t know if the team will be able to find sponsorship for the No. 77 next year. If the team has to return to running a single car, it will be a step backwards.

Wood Brothers Racing, B-

Next year, Paul Menard will replace Ryan Blaney in the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford. Certainly, Blaney has more upside as a driver than Menard does. On the other hand, Menard brings solid sponsorship with him and the Wood Brothers will still have a technical alliance with Team Penske, so they should be OK. 

Joe Gibbs Racing, B

Next year, Erik Jones will take over the No. 20 JGR Toyota for Matt Kenseth, while the 2003 champion becomes a free agent. Short term, this could be a slight step back for the team as even at age 45, Kenseth is still fully capable of winning races. Long-term, though, this ought to prove a solid move.

Hendrick Motorsports, B+

Replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Alex Bowman for 2018 and beyond was a wise decision. Bowman showed well in the No. 88 last year when Earnhardt was out recovering from a concussion. He can step into the seat and be up to speed from Day 1, which is a plus. This grade could change depending on what Hendrick decides to do with Kasey Kahne.

Team Penske, A+

Joey Logano and his crew chief Todd Gordon re-signed? Check. Brad Keselowski and his crew chief Paul Wolfe re-signed? Check. Rising star Ryan Blaney and crew chief Jeremy Bullins signed for a third Team Penske Ford? Check. Add the moves up and it’s clear no one has helped themselves more for 2018 than Team Penske has.