This past NASCAR offseason has been one of the busiest in recent memory. If you blinked, you might’ve missed some significant moves that’ll leave you confused when the green flag drops this season. After a dominating season by the Toyotas, specifically Martin Truex Jr., see what changes teams have made to keep up with the Furniture Row Racing driver.
(Photo from ryanblaney.com)
Team Penske is coming off an interesting season, depending which of their drivers you look at. Brad Keselowski reached the Championship 4 at Homestead with a total of three wins, and finished fourth in the final standings.
Teammate Joey Logano is coming off a bit of a down year. He missed the playoffs even though he reached victory lane once. His only win was encumbered (doesn’t count as a playoff berth) due to a rear suspension violation found post-race.
Team Penske added a third car to their team this offseason by signing Ryan Blaney to drive the number 12. In his second full season, he got his first win with Wood Brothers Racing and finished ninth in the final standings.
Wood Brothers Racing
Following the departure of Ryan Blaney to Team Penske, Wood Brothers Racing had a seat to fill. They brought in Paul Menard to takeover the spot in the 21 car. Menard previously raced for Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and totaled one win and 19 top 5s over his 10 full seasons.
Joe Gibbs Racing
Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) is returning three of their four drivers from 2017, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Daniel Suarez. Busch is coming off a season where he amassed eight total wins and finished 2nd in the standings and came within seconds of taking home the championship. Denny Hamlin totaled two wins and finished 6th in the final standings. Suarez will be returning following his rookie season where he finished the second half of the season very strong and was one of the drivers on the cusp of making the postseason.
JGR scored big by signing Erik Jones to replace the veteran Matt Kenseth in the 20 car. The 45 year old was not offered a contract extension and struggled to find sponsorship for the upcoming 2018 season, so he announced he would be stepping away from the sport. Jones left Furniture Row Racing, who has a technical alliance with JGR. At Furniture Row, Jones won rookie of the year with five top 5s and 14 top 10s. He was also teammates with the series champion, Martin Truex Jr.
JGR features a stable of two veteran drivers and two second-year drivers. The vets have combined for 74 wins in the NASCAR Monster Energy Series while the two second-year drivers are hungry for their first win.
Stewart-Haas Racing, named partially after the NASCAR great Tony Stewart, also returns three of their four drivers from last season. Kevin Harvick returns after finishing third in the final standings and totaling two wins. Kurt Busch, winner of the 2017 Daytona 500 re-signed with SHR for at least the 2018 season. After reaching victory lane in the season opener, he wouldn’t find it again and finished 14th in the final standings. Clint Bowyer also returns for SHR after just missing the playoffs. He collected six top fivess and 13 top 10s to complete his best season in recent years.
Danica Patrick departed SHR and will no longer race full-time in the sport. She’ll be racing the number 7 GoDaddy Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports in the Daytona 500 but isn’t expected to race any other events this season at this time. Coming in to take over Patrick’s number 10 machine is Aric Almirola. He comes over from Richard Petty Racing, a one-car team that he had raced for over the past six seasons and grabbed one career win.
Richard Petty Racing
(Photo by LAT Photographic)
With Aric Almirola packing his bags and heading over to SHR, Richard Petty Racing will give Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. his first full-time shot in the series. He filled in admirably for the injured Almirola for four races and averaged a 17.4 finishing position with no DNFs. Wallace will become the first black driver to race full-time in NASCAR’s top series since 1971.
(Photo from NASCAR.com)
Hendrick Motorsports is undergoing a large youth movement approaching the 2018 season. While they will return 42 year old 7-time champion Jimmie Johnson, they’ll have three drivers under the age of 24. Chase Elliott, 24 years old, is returning for his third full season, all with Hendrick. He’s been unbelievably close to capturing his first win but just hasn’t been able to seal the deal. He amassed 12 top 5s and 21 top 10s this past season. Many believe that he’s almost a lock to get his first couple wins in 2018. He will be changing numbers from 24 to 9, the famed number that his dad drove to 38 wins.
William Byron, the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and rookie of the year, will take over Kasey Kahne’s ride. Hendrick announced they would not retain Kahne following a string of lackluster seasons. With Elliott dropping the number 24 for the number 9, Byron will take the 24. After winning the Xfinity Series title at only 19 years old, the now 20 year old will step into NASCAR’s top series full-time and look to be competitive right out of the gate.
Rounding out the youth movement for Hendrick Motorsports is Alex Bowman. Following the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr, NASCAR’s most popular driver 15 years straight, Alex Bowman will drive the 88 car full-time in 2018. Bowman, 24 years old, substituted for Earnhardt Jr. in 2016 when he was injured for 10 races and totaled one pole and three top 10 finishes.
Leavine Family Racing
After parting ways with Michael McDowell, Leavine Family Racing (LVR) signed Kasey Kahne to a one-year deal. Kahne is coming off a season with Hendrick Motorsports where he got his first win since 2014. In 14 full seasons, Kahne has 18 wins and 92 top 5s. LVR will be hoping they can find the Kahne of old, who in 2006 won six races in one season.
Featured image courtesy of NASCAR.com
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