A Comprehensive Silly Season Guide for 2018
By Matteo Marcheschi
As NASCAR progresses through the heat of the summer, its silly season is also heating up. Top rides are open, and plenty of drivers are in position to take advantage. Let’s go through them one by one. To be clear, these are rumors. Very little is confirmed, and I am just working with rumors and speculation at this point.
Chip Ganassi Racing
#1: Jamie McMurray – All but confirmed
#42: Kyle Larson – All but confirmed
#?: Brennan Poole – Unlikely
Chip Ganassi has said multiple times that he plans to keep both of his drivers for the immediate future, and Kyle Larson has seemingly had loyalty to the team. While Larson’s sponsorship has come into question as Target leaves, rumors of other companies taking their place have swirled, with Amazon’s name being thrown around. McMurray isn’t facing sponsorship questions and looks to be in a stable position at the moment. However, because CGR doesn’t release contract length, it’s hard to know. There have also been rumors of a third car at Ganassi, most likely driven by now-XFINITY Series driver Brennan Poole. Poole has full-season sponsorship from DC Solar in the XFINITY Series, but whether they would move to Cup may be the decider in that scenario.
#2: Brad Keselowski – All but confirmed
#12?: Ryan Blaney – Likely
#22: Joey Logano – Confirmed
Brad Keselowski has been rumored to go to Hendrick Motorsports, but he seems to have no reason to go. He’s having success at Penske, and has stable sponsors. It would take something big to move him from Penske, where he’s been since 2010. Joey Logano is signed with Penske through 2023, so he won’t be moving for a long time. Ryan Blaney, though, has been rumored to be the driver of a third car at Penske. The Wood Brothers have acknowledged that Blaney would be moving to Penske in the coming year. In a press conference following Blaney’s win at Pocono last month, Eddie Wood expressed this, saying, “When Ryan came to drive our car, it was actually kind of understood that he’d be moving on probably the next year, but it didn’t happen. Whenever it happens, that’s fine. Everybody will move on, and he’ll go on to bigger and better and greater things. He’s going to win a lot of races, and I think he’s going to win some championships. Whatever we do from there, it’ll be fine. We’re just excited to be where we are. It’s a great place to be. The relationship we have is great and nobody can ever take this away.” Because this is likely, a third car at Penske would be required, unless Keselowski does end up leaving.
Richard Childress Racing
#3: Austin Dillon – All but confirmed
#27/33: Paul Menard/Ty Dillon – Tossup
#31: Ryan Newman – All But confirmed
Austin Dillon doesn’t look likely to move any time soon. With family ties to the team, Dillon will likely spend his career at RCR, barring anything crazy. Ryan Newman also looks likely to stay, with steady sponsorship. However, Newman hasn’t exactly produced results recently, despite his one win in 2017. He only has six top ten finishes in 18 races so far this year, which makes it hard to justify keeping Newman, who is 39 years old. Despite permanent sponsorship, though, Paul Menard looks to be in position to be booted in favor of Ty Dillon, who looks to be favored because of family ties. RCR doesn’t look to be in position to expand to four cars, so Menard would be the odd man out, if Ty Dillon heads to RCR from his current ride at RCR-affiliated Germain Racing. Menard has been at RCR since 2011 and has only one career win. The most top five finishes Menard has earned in a season was five in 2014 and he has never led more than 82 laps in a season. He has only one playoff appearance, in 2015. He finished 14th in points that season. Needless to say, Menard hasn’t given much to RCR in terms of results.
#4: Kevin Harvick – Confirmed
#10: Danica Patrick/Cole Custer/Aric Almirola/Matt Kenseth – Who knows??
#14: Bowyer – Confirmed
#41: Kurt Busch – All but confirmed
This is where the silly season gets interesting. While Harvick is signed through 2019 and Bowyer is with the team through 2018, the other two seats aren’t so solid. Kurt Busch should return, but his contract with SHR may end after this season, and Monster Energy has been rumored to leave the No. 41 team, leaving Busch with only Haas as a sponsor. The 38-year-old Busch has also been rumored to retire after this year. And then there’s Danica Patrick. Patrick seems worn out, and, although she’s signed through 2018, it’s not looking like she’ll be back after this year. She’s in her fifth full-time season in the Cup Series and still hasn’t recorded a single top five finish. She has only led 64 laps in her entire Cup career. Between poor performance and a knack for hard hits, it certainly wouldn’t be shocking to see Danica call it quits after this season. Who replaces her is a mystery, though. Maybe Cole Custer, who drives for SHR in the XFINITY Series. Maybe this is a landing spot for Matt Kenseth to finish out his career. Maybe Aric Almirola can bring Smithfield along. This is certainly a big question mark for 2018.
#5: Kasey Kahne/William Byron/Alex Bowman/Matt Kenseth/Brad Keselowski – Who knows?
#24: Chase Elliott – Confirmed
#48: Jimmie Johnson – Confirmed
#88: Same as #5, except Kahne
With the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr., rumors have run wild about who will replace him. It seemed as if Alex Bowman was a sure bet, but other names have entered the fray as time went on, from William Byron to Matt Kenseth to Brad Keselowski. These names are also in play when it comes to the seat of Kasey Kahne. Kahne’s contract expires after the 2018 season, but he will lose both Farmer’s Insurance and Great Clips as sponsors after 2017. This year, those two sponsors took 22 races combined. Hendrick may take the option to oust Kahne after this year in favor of getting a driver who can attract sponsors.
Roush Fenway Racing
#6: Trevor Bayne – Confirmed
#17: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – All but confirmed
Trevor Bayne is signed through 2019 and has a stable sponsor in Advocare. Stenhouse has struggled a bit with sponsorship, but seems to be a lock for next season after two wins so far this season.
Joe Gibbs Racing
#11: Denny Hamlin – Confirmed
#18: Kyle Busch – Confirmed
#19: Daniel Suarez – All but confirmed
#20: Erik Jones – Confirmed
Matt Kenseth is out at Joe Gibbs Racing, and Erik Jones will take his place. This is what was announced on Tuesday, July 11. While the move isn’t surprising, it raises some questions in terms of where Kenseth lands, if anywhere, next season. Daniel Suarez is all but a lock for the 19 team next year, but nothing official has been announced, so I cannot confirm him as of yet.
#13: Ty Dillon/Brandon Jones/Daniel Hemric – Tossup
If Ty Dillon moves to RCR proper in 2018, that would leave this seat empty, and the only drivers that would make sense to fill it would be RCR’s young XFINITY Series drivers: Brandon Jones and Daniel Hemric. Hemric has produced better results than Jones, and it seems that he would be more likely to fill that seat in 2018. Of course, that’s only if Ty Dillon leaves.
Wood Brothers Racing
#21: Ryan Blaney/Darrell Wallace Jr. – Tossup
If Ryan Blaney goes to a third Penske car in 2018, Darrell Wallace Jr. seems to be the favorite to fill this legendary seat. In his couple of Cup Series starts this year, he has shown himself to be deserving of a Cup ride.
Richard Petty Motorsports
#43: Aric Almirola/Darrell Wallace Jr. – Tossup
Aric Almirola may not be staying at Richard Petty Motorsports in 2018, and it’s hard to know whether he’ll be able to find a ride for next year. It seems appropriate, though, that Darrell Wallace Jr. fills the seat that he subbed in for the last few races, while Almirola was out with a back injury.
Furniture Row Racing
#77: Matt Kenseth/Christopher Bell/Matt Tifft – Tossup
#78: Martin Truex Jr. – Confirmed
While Truex is signed through 2018, many questions surround the No. 77 ride left vacant by his teammate Erik Jones. It’s possible that that team will not even exist in 2018, but if it does, it could be another landing spot for Matt Kenseth. It would also be logical to bring up JGR’s young guns. Both Tifft and Bell seem to be too inexperienced, though, to justify bringing them up to Cup.
Again, this is all rumors and speculation. This is also not the entire list of teams; I only included the larger teams, as the smaller ones are much harder to predict, and seem to be much more unpredictable with their driver choices.