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2020 Silly Season Updates and Expectations

With the NASCAR Cup Series off-season in full effect and the 2019 Awards Banquet in Nashville wrapping up a week ago, we’re already under 60 days away from the Daytona 500. As the 2020 season draws closer, the sport has now seen many of it’s stars swap rides as well as inherit well-established teams to begin their new careers.

Here’s everything you need to know about the most up to date team changes to this point and the newest faces entering NASCAR’s premier series:

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Matt DiBenedetto

Quite possibly the best storyline to come out of 2019 was the breakout of Matt DiBenedetto. The former driver of the No. 95 for Levine Family Racing made headlines in the first race of the season  when he had a legitimate shot to win the Daytona 500. As the year progressed, fans soon came to realize that the 27-year old was no fluke.

The California-native would go on to complete the season with 152 laps led, seven top-10s and three top-fives – which included a second-place finish  to Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While DiBenedetto did not notch the first win of his career in 2019, he certainly turned heads and cemented himself as a fan favorite. In fact, he finished third overall in the Most Popular Driver ballot.

Fast forward to 2020, Paul Menard revealed he would be stepping away from full-time racing, leaving his seat in the famed Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 wide open. When Menard announced he would be giving up his ride, he fully endorsed DiBenedetto as his replacement and sure enough – the California-native will now be driving the No. 21 Ford Mustang for the Penske-affiliated team.

Not only was DiBenedetto the feel good story of 2019, but the signing and how it came about for the 27-year old was also a feel good story.

Team Penske amassed six wins last season and it would not be a surprise to see DiBenedetto capture his first career win in better equipment. One thing is certain, we should see the fan favorite contending for top-10 finishes and maybe even top-fives. However, he is making the jump from Toyota to Ford. Even while fielding a significantly less cars than Ford and Chevrolet in 2019, Toyotas were the class of the field. It will be interesting to see if DiBenedetto can make the transition with ease.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

After seven years of full-time racing for Roush-Fenway Racing, Jack Roush decided to part ways with two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The now former driver of the No. 17 Ford Mustang posted yet another lackluster season driving for ‘The Cat in the Hat.’ When teammate Ryan Newman is 10 years older, racing in the same equipment and making the Playoffs, it’s not a good look.

The Mississippi-native now finds himself racing for JTG Daugherty Racing in the No. 37 car, which was driven by Chris Buescher in 2019. The two drivers posted similar stats last season and in all honestly, this is a true-blue car swap. The only major difference is that the two-time Xfinity Series Champion is making the jump from Ford to Chevrolet, which could put him at a disadvantage.

In 2019, Stenhouse totaled one top-five, three top-10s and led 109 laps, which placed him 23rd in the overall standings. Expect more or less the same from the Mississippi-native in 2020.

Gavin Baker | NKP

Chris Buescher

As documented above, Stenhouse would be taking over driving duties for the No. 37 Chevy Camaro which Buescher piloted in 2019. The 2015 Xfinity Series Champion will now join Newman at Roush-Fenway Racing as he will now take over for the No. 17 Ford Mustang.

The 26-year old driver didn’t have an awful season given his equipment and manufacturer disadvantage last year. While he only led 13 laps en route to four top-10s, this was good enough to place him 20th in the overall Cup Series standings – three spots ahead of his counterpart, Stenhouse.

The Texas-native is inheriting a quality ride and he’ll have a well-established veteran in Newman to lean on for advice. He even showed glimmers of hope in the 2019 season, contending for top-10 finishes regularly towards the end of the year. It would not be out of the question to see Buescher add some more top-fives to his resume and even have a shot at making the Playoffs in 2020.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

Tyler Reddick

Historically, Xfinity Series drivers making the jump to the Cup Series doesn’t pan out until a few years down the road. However, Tyler Reddick is indeed Cup ready.

The 23-year old driver just recorded his second-consecutive title in the Xfinity Series and he already has experience at the sport’s premier level. While the California-native has only run two race at the Cup level, in one of those starts he finished ninth and at Kansas Speedway nonetheless. Not to mention, in the same equipment that he will be racing with in 2020.

In one of the more shocking headlines from 2019, it was announced that Richard Childress Racing would be parting ways with the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet, rookie Daniel Hemric. By no means at all did Hemric have a disappointing debut season, but with such highly touted talent on the rise in NASCAR’s lower divisions there is a strong emphasis on performing now.

Reddick will now take over driving for the No. 8 Camaro at Richard Childress Racing, but rest assured for him, he should have much more lee-way than the driver who came before.

Given the 23-year old’s experience and showcased talent in two of NASCAR’s series, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see Reddick compete for top-10s and maybe even top-fives with a shot at making the Playoffs in 2020. I personally could see him delivering Richard Childress Racing their first win in two years.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Cole Custer

Fans have been treated to many unlikely and divisive moves in the offseason, but this could be the most shocking. It was well documented that Daniel Suarez was seeking a contract extension during the 2019 season. Team-owner Tony Stewart even reiterated that they were “close” to a deal in mid-October.

Just days before the events at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing released a statement citing that Cole Custer would be promoted to the Cup Series and they would be parting ways with Suarez. This now leaves the Mexico-native with no ride currently for 2020 and places Custer in the No. 41 Ford Mustang.

While he was one of the Xfinity Series ‘Big Three’ last year, don’t expect the 21-year old to make immediate waves like Reddick possibly can. The California-native does have limited experience running three race at NASCAR’s premier level, but in 2018 and for Rick Ware Racing.

Custer does have many advantages over Reddick and Christopher Bell as he prepares for his debut season in the Cup Series. Not only will he have teammates Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola to turn to for help, but he’ll also have Stewart to assist as well. Not to mention, Stewart-Haas Racing has been one of the most dominant forces in the sport since it was established in 2011.

It typically takes rookie drivers around two years to settle into NASCAR’s highest division, but it would not be shocking to see Custer start his career off strong. He should be in contention for top-10 finishes and may even snag a top-five here and there. Playoffs could be a possibility, but right now consider it a stretch.

Russell LaBounty | NKP

Christopher Bell

The final piece to the Xfinity Series ‘Big Three’ will be inheriting the former ride of DiBenedetto. As revealed, the 27-year old will be taking over driving duties for the No. 21 at Wood Brothers Racing, which now places Bell in the No. 95 at Levine Family Racing.

Bell will without a doubt be faced with the biggest disadvantage of his two counterparts from last season, but this doesn’t mean he can’t have a successful season. Levine Family Racing went from Kasey Kahne (who had a less than stellar season due to health issues) to DiBenedetto who seriously turned heads and made waves in 2019.

The talent is definitely there for the 24-year old, who had a series leading eight wins, 20 top-fives and 21 top-10s in the Xfinity Series last year, but this is the Cup Series. Unlike Custer and Reddick, Bell has no experience at NASCAR’s highest level and it would be incorrect to say that he’ll tear it up like he did in NASCAR’s lower division, especially in the No. 95 car.

It’s again not out of the question to see him have a successful year – look at what DiBenedetto did last season. And should the Oklahoma-native remain at Levine Family Racing through 2021, maybe we could see this small team follow the trend that Furniture Row Racing did with Martin Truex Jr. at the helm.

But for 2020, we should expect to see Bell mostly in contention for top-15 finishes with an occasional top-10 mixed in as the season progresses.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.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 to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway

As the field rode around the top lane in single-file formation, the begging began for something, anything to happen to make the Advance Auto Parts Clash exciting. Let’s just say that we got more than we bargained for.

Being an exhibition event with no points on the line, the feeling is that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stars will do whatever it takes to win. It’s also a good time to try things to learn what is possible for Thursday night’s Gander RV Duels and the Daytona 500.

Instead, as we have grown used to on the restrictor plate tracks, the drivers chose to ride in line and conserve their equipment, ready to make a run at the end of the race. The ARCA Menards Series Lucas Oil 150 was the same way on Saturday night, with the top-seven just riding until the late-race caution. Is it time that we just cut the event from 75 laps to 25 and be done with it?

The difficulty to pass was attributed to the cooler temperatures by many of the drivers, as the heat produces a slick track, bringing handling back into the equation, causing drivers to lift and create more runs. After a pair of days with cool wet weather, let’s hope that things warm up by Sunday or else the Daytona 500 may turn into a yawn fest. 

Ultimately, the move that changed the game came at the front of the field, with Jimmie Johnson pulling out of line in second to make a run underneath Paul Menard for the lead. With weather closing in, and having got a run, he knew it was now or never to do something. Unfortunately, that did not go as planned for him, or the rest of the field, with 17 of the 20 cars catching damage in the ensuing wreck.

No matter how you look at the incident, you could place blame on Johnson for the move, and the contact. You could also place blame on Menard as he came down a little, just as his spotter Joey Meier described with, “He zigged when you zagged.” There’s also the product of side-draft pulling them together unexpectedly – just like we saw in the practice crash on Saturday with Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott.

Either way, wrecks of this nature are a product of restrictor plate racing in having everyone packed together. They happen every year, and you just hope you’re not in it.

Ultimately with NASCAR calling the event shortly there after for the weather, it makes it look uglier. However, there was nothing they could do as the rain continued through the rest of the night. 

Let’s just hope things go smoother on Thursday as we’re already up to 21 wrecked cars in two days of competition.

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.

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News

Paul Menard Wins Pole at Chicagoland, His First in a Decade

JOLIET, Ill. – Paul Menard had the hottest shoe on the hottest day of the NASCAR season.

Torching Chicagoland Speedway with a lap at 180.102 mph (29.998 seconds) in the final round of Saturday’s knockout qualifying session at the 1.5-mile track, Menard won the pole for Sunday’s Overton’s 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Nearly 10 years had passed since Menard last claimed a Busch Pole Award. His only previous top qualifying effort came at Daytona in July 2008, when he was driving a Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

But on Saturday, Menard’s Wood Brothers Ford was .022 seconds faster than the No. 12 Team Penske Ford of Ryan Blaney (179.880 mph).

Earlier in the day, Menard finished eighth in the Overton’s 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland, under brutally hot conditions that saw the temperatures in the cockpits of the race cars reach 150 degrees.

Between the race and Cup qualifying, Menard used the brief break to recover.

“After the race I went back to the hauler-I’m on my fourth or fifth different pair of underwear,” Menard quipped. “Just been keeping it fresh, I guess. Drank some pickle juice, lot of ice packs and I feel pretty good.

“Pickle juice gives you all your salt back. It’s an old wives’ tale, I guess, but we did it in football all the time, and it seemed to work. I hadn’t drunk pickle juice in a while, but I thought today was a good day to do it.”

Menard had the fastest lap in the first round at 180.120 mph but slipped to seventh in the second. But in the round that counted, he had just enough to edge Blaney for the pole. Menard’s only victory in NASCAR’s premier series came in the 2011 Brickyard 400.

“It sucks to have a ‘1’ there-now we have a ‘2’ in the pole column,” Menard said. “Now we have to get rid of that ‘1’ in the win column and make another ‘2’.”

After receiving IV fluids after the Xfinity race, Chase Elliott qualified third at 179.748 mph, followed by Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer.

“I felt like I got all I could,” Elliott said. “I don’t really know what I could’ve done different in that last round. It was good, much better than we have been qualifying, so it was nice and hopefully turns out that way tomorrow.”

Five-time Cup winner Kevin Harvick will start 13th, having been bumped out of the final round at the last second when Martin Truex Jr. cracked the top 12 on his second attempt in the second round. Truex, winner of the most recent race at Sonoma, locked up the 12th position on the grid, but failed post qualifying inspection and will start 36th.

Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez will start from positions sixth through 10th, respectively.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Menard Heading to All-Star Weekend with a Boost of Momentum

Going into the Monster Energy All-Star Race weekend, the Fords seemed to have figured it out winning seven races in 2018, which puts them ahead of Toyota and Chevrolet.

Paul Menard, driver of the No. 21 Wood Brother Racing Ford, has been under the radar this season. Although he has not shown the best results, he has radically improved his performance from years prior.

Menard has been running better overall with three top-10 finishes this year and is heading to the All-Star weekend with his second sixth-place result coming in this past weekend’s KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Speedway.

On Saturday night, Menard will be competing in the Monster Energy Open along with some young rising stars that have caught a lot of attention in 2018.

But the 37-year-old has to do the opposite of last weekend and try to capture a Stage win early on to fill his spot in the starting lineup of the All-Star race.

Most will be keeping an eye on the drivers that have been closer to reaching victory lane or more popular, but a strong run by Menard can make a statement.

The Wood Brothers Racing team has improved over the last several years, and they sure have demonstrated it to their competition. Last season they reached victory lane with Ryan Blaney resulting in a chance to race for a championship.

This year the All-Star weekend is going to be a test to many with the new rules package. The aero package is similar to last years XFINITY race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which presented electrifying action at the Brickyard.

With Menards momentum after Kansas, he may be one to beat at the All-Star Open and can ultimately give them a boost toward the rest of the season to capture the Wood Brothers 200th victory.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Penske Off To Strong Start

It may be early in the 2018 campaign, however, what Team Penske, along with the aligned Wood Brothers Racing, has done has been impressive to start the season.

You see the transition to becoming a four-car team can be a difficult one.

While it may seem like a great idea to field an additional car for a talented driver, the risk has tended to outweigh the rewards. In some scenarios, one team will not perform to same standards as it’s teammates. In others, the entire organization takes a competitive step back from the success it once had.

Championship winning teams such as Richard Childress Racing, Stewart-Haas, and Hendrick Motorsports, have all faced issues with fielding four full-time efforts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Three races into the new campaign, the four cars prepared in Team Penske shop haven’t skipped a beat. Given the significant changes they went through during the offseason, which included bringing Paul Menard to drive the No. 21 and creating an entirely new team for Ryan Blaney, it says a lot about them to be doing well.

The success has surprised some as they weren’t a dominant team in 2017 (winning only five races) and had a driver miss the playoffs (Joey Logano); many wondered if they would continue to fall behind their competition. Even Penske’s own, Brad Keselowski expressed concerns with Ford’s ability to compete with the other manufacturers. The 2012 champion went as far to say they could be in for a “drubbing.”

So, where do they stand after three races?

Two of the four drivers are in the top-five in the points standings (Logano, second, Blaney, third) and, Keselowski and Menard, are not far behind currently ranked seventh and ninth. Notably, they are the only team/alliance to have all drivers affiliated with them in the top-10 and while they haven’t won any races, yet, each week they have made their presence know.

Keselowski started off the year with a win in The Clash and has been the only driver not named Kevin Harvick to capture a stage in the last two weeks. Blaney, like his former owner, scored a victory early in the Can-Am Duels, and earning playoff points during the Daytona 500.

Meanwhile, Logano doesn’t own any wins or playoff points, but he may the most consistent of all, as he is the only driver throughout all of NASCAR’s top-tier series to score three-straight top-10 finishes in the opening three races.

Then there’s Menard, who many had written off after lackluster years at RCR, who has quickly adjusted to his new role at Wood Brothers Racing, with two top-10s (one less than he had all season) and has seemed to pick up right where Blaney left off.

The team’s early success should be taken note of because if they are doing this good now, they may get better as the organization continues to adjust to the changes. You look at how expansion turned the Joe Gibbs/Furniture Row Racing alliance to a dominant force in 2017; it’s not far-fetched to think Team Penske can do the same.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@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.

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News

Hendrick, Penske Pick Up Sponsorship

In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the competition for sponsor dollars is every bit as intense as the competition on the track. And two of the sport’s top teams — Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske — made significant sponsor moves this week.

Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian university, will be the primary sponsor of William Byron and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for 12 Cup races in 2018 and ’19. Byron will run for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors next year.

“Liberty is a new partner for us, and we see a tremendous opportunity to help promote their academic programs,” said team owner and chairman of Hendrick Automotive Group Rick Hendrick in a statement. “On the retail side, we’ve worked with their automotive dealership management program, which is already one of the best in the country. I’ve visited campus and we’ve brought in their students for internships. It’s very impressive to see the level of talent and integrity in these young people. William will continue to be a terrific representative for the school, and we look forward to building a great relationship.”

Team Penske, meanwhile, is adding a third car for Ryan Blaney next year to team with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

Menards, a privately held, Wisconsin-based chain of more than 300 retail home improvement stores, will be Blaney’s primary sponsor for 14 races next year. Menards will also sponsor the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21, where it will be Paul Menard’s primary sponsor for 22 races in 2018.

And Menards remains a sponsor of Team Penske’s Verizon IndyCar Series open-wheel teams.

“Having a company like Menards, and a businessman like John Menard, be a part of the growth with the No. 12 team is terrific for our organization,” said Roger Penske in a statement. “Menards has a winning tradition in motorsports and Team Penske looks forward to adding to that legacy. We have enjoyed a productive relationship with Menards through our IndyCar program, and they were a key part of our championship effort last season. We are excited about the opportunity to grow with them in NASCAR beginning next season.”

Expect additional sponsorship details about both cars at a later date.

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News

Good News for Wood Brothers is More Than Skin Deep

The Wood Brothers Racing team was at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Tuesday to introduce the 1987-themed throwback paint scheme that Ryan Blaney will drive in Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway.

Blaney’s No. 21 will carry the same blue and white colors that Kyle Petty’s 1987 Wood Brothers Ford Thunderbird raced three decades ago. Like most of the Darlington throwback schemes, this one is a winner.

But the good news for the historic Wood Brothers team goes even deeper than that.

Team co-owners Eddie and Len Wood said Tuesday that the team is fully sponsored for next year and beyond, when Paul Menard will take over for Ryan Blaney, who is moving to Team Penske.

Menards, a Wisconsin-based chain of about 300 home improvement stores, will be the primary sponsor of the No. 21 for 22 races next year, while Motorcraft and Quick Lane Tire and Auto Centers will be the primary sponsor for the remaining 14 races.

At a time when sponsorship dollars are hard to come by, that’s significant news.

“That’s really a big deal for us,” said Eddie Wood, co-owner of the team. “Putting that together with the Menard deal that we announced a few weeks ago makes us full-time for a period on into the future. You’re not out wondering if you can get enough funding to do this and that. You concentrate on racing. I can’t thank all the people at Ford enough.”

And that’s exactly what they will do at Darlington this weekend, for the throwback race. And the Petty paint scheme brings back a lot of happy memories.

“It’s a special time for me,” said Wood. “Probably the most fun that Len and I had in our entire careers was this time frame with Kyle.”

Petty concurred.

“For me, throwback cars are throwback cars,” said Petty, now a commentator on NBC. “But when the Wood Brothers said, ‘We’re going to do a throwback car and use yours’, that was a big deal for me. These are the first guys I drove for when I left home. So there’s a huge connection for me to Eddie and Len and all the family.”

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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

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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.

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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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Penske’s Next Move: Adding Ryan Blaney, third Cup car

Roger Penske didn’t build a business that has annual revenues of $26 billion and employs more than 50,000 people in 3,300 locations by thinking short term. Everything Penske does, he does methodically and with an eye toward the future.

And that includes his NASCAR operation.

During Daytona Speedweeks, Penske – a/k/a “The Captain” – announced he had locked up driver Joey Logano, crew chief Todd Gordon and sponsor Shell to long-term deals that extended to “2022 and beyond.”

On Tuesday, Team Penske, 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski and his crew chief Paul Wolfe formally inked new deals to remain together going forward.

Wednesday morning, Penske made the worst-kept secret in the garage official: Ryan Blaney will move from the Wood Brothers Racing squad and drive a third Team Penske Ford in 2018, specifically the No. 12 Ford Fusion, with sponsorship details still to come.

Replacing Blaney at the Wood Brothers will be Paul Menard, who has been with Richard Childress Racing since 2011.

Although the move is not unexpected, it nevertheless greatly strengthens the Penske Cup effort, giving the team three frontline drivers.

Blaney, just 23 years old and in his second Cup season, won at Pocono earlier this year and is locked into the NASCAR playoffs by virtue of that win.  

Keselowski, Logano and Blaney give Team Penske a formidable lineup of talent in the highly competitive Cup Series.

“For some time now, we have wanted to bring Ryan in to run a third car for us, but things just needed to make sense from a timing and business perspective,” said team owner Penske, who will field three full-time Cup cars for the first tine since 2010.

“We have been working on making this a reality and 2018 is the right opportunity to make this move and return our organization to a three-car team,” said Penske. “The benefits of having three full-time teams under our roof, along with the continued technical partnership with the Wood Bothers, will help us remain competitive in the ever-changing NASCAR landscape.”

Blaney has been a part of Team Penske since 2012 and has earned five NASCAR XFINITY Series wins for the team and was part of the No. 22 team’s three-straight NXS Owners’ Championships from 2013-2015.

“This is a huge opportunity for me and my career,” said Blaney, a third-generation driver from High Point, NC. “I’ve always enjoyed racing whatever car I was in and trying to win each and every race. I’ve had some great moments with both Team Penske and the Wood Brothers over the last few years.

“I know for a fact I wouldn’t be where I am today without Roger (Penske), Eddie and Len (Wood) and the opportunities their organizations have given me,” Blaney said. “I’m thrilled knowing that Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano) are long-term teammates for me at Team Penske and Paul (Menard) will have input with our team now that he’s with the Wood Brothers organization. Hopefully we can go out there and win races and compete for championships year after year.”

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