NASCAR Cup Series Driver Shake Ups for 2018
Like Major League Baseball's so-called "Hot Stove," NASCAR has its own period of major announcements regarding big-name retirements, open rides, new contracts and the lack thereof. Aptly-named, this year's Silly Season has already supplied some huge shakeups within the ranks of the best teams and drivers on the circuit - and it's not over yet. No doubt, there will be more to come as the 2017 season begins to wind down, but if there's one thing we do know at this point, it's that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will look a whole lot different when it returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 for the second race of the season in 2018.
With all the changes that have already been announced, it might be hard to keep track of who's going where and what team they'll be driving for when next season hits the track in Daytona, so here's a quick roundup of what we know so far and what we can expect when NASCAR makes its annual stop in Atlanta Feb. 23-25, 2018.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Retiring; Alex Bowman Replacing Him At Hendrick Motorsports
We've known for a while 2017 was going to be Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s final season driving the No. 88 Chevrolet full-time for Hendrick Motorsports, but until recently, we weren't sure who would replace him. Alex Bowman, who filled for 10 races in the No. 88 while Jr. was out with injury last season, has been named the full-time replacement beginning in 2018. He joins Georgia native Chase Elliott, seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and the next driver on this list at Hendrick.
William Byron Moves Up To The Cup Series To Replace Kasey Kahne At Hendrick Motorsports
Before Kasey Kahne won the Brickyard 400 at Indy last month, he hadn't made an appearance in Victory Lane since winning at Atlanta late in the 2014 season. Despite the victory, it was soon announced that Kahne was out at Hendrick Motorsports at the end of 2017 and that 2016 XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year - and former AMS Thursday Thunder champ - William Byron would take over full-time in the No. 5 Chevrolet at Hendrick in the Cup Series next season.
Matt Kenseth Out At Joe Gibbs Racing; Erik Jones Replacing Him
2003 Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth will be shown the door at the end of the 2017 season after it was announced Joe Gibbs Racing will be releasing him from his contract as driver of the No. 20 Toyota. Stepping in to replace him is current Cup Series rookie and driver of the newly-minted-this-season No. 77 Toyota at Furniture Row Racing, which means...
…There Is An Open Ride At Furniture Row Racing
Will Furniture Row fill the vacant No. 77, now that Erik Jones has signed with Joe Gibbs, or will they contract back to a one-car team for 2018. There have been some rumors as to who might fill the ride, if they decide to go that route. One of them is the aforementioned Kasey Kahne, but another one is the next driver on this list.
Kurt Busch (Might Be) Out At Stewart-Haas Racing
Stewart-Haas Racing has opted not to pick up the one-year option on Kurt Busch's contract for 2018. While that might sound like the end of the road for Busch at Stewart-Haas racing, that doesn't mean they can't agree on a new contract for next year. Be sure to keep an eye out for any updates on this developing situation. In other Ford news…
...Ryan Blaney Will Become The Third Team Penske Driver
Well on his way to another successful season driving for the Team Penske-affiliated Wood Brothers Racing, it has been announced that Team Penske will expand to three teams in 2018, with Blaney joining as a full-fledged Penske driver behind the wheel of the No. 21 Ford. Meanwhile, current Richard Childress Racing driver Paul Menard will fill Blaney's vacancy, which leaves an open ride at Childress. Popular opinion is that it will be filled by Childress' grandson, Ty Dillon, but nothing official has yet been announced.
As far as other drivers' fate like Danica Patrick's and Kyle Larson's, lots will depend on sponsorship deals and contract negotiations. But if there's one thing we've learned so far, it's to expect the unexpected as the 2017 Silly Season rolls on.