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.