The 2018 edition of NASCAR Silly Season is not disappointing with the number of far fetching rumors that have actually found out to be true. There are still a lot of open seats and plenty of drivers trying to get their plans in line for 2019 and beyond. Here’s a quick look at some of the openings out there and what is rumored to be happening.
Chip Ganassi Racing – After many years of dedicated support, it appears Chip Ganassi Racing will be getting rid of Jamie McMurray. Motorsports.com reported that McMurray has an offer to drive in the Daytona 500 for the team and then retire as an advisor to the organization. Most sites are linking Kurt Busch, including his current owner Gene Haas, to the opening. Busch has desires of running sports cars, which Ganassi fields, and to keep his ties to Ford. That said, in the Cup Series Ganassi fields Chevrolets, but the sports cars are Fords. With sponsorship from Monster Energy, I could see Busch landing here and retiring from NASCAR after 2019.
Richard Childress Racing – With Ryan Newman’s announcement that he requested and got his release from the #31 car, this opens up a whole bunch of rumors. Daniel Hemric seems to be the constant, but recent rumbles have him tie to a Leavine Family Racing ride (more on that in a moment). Should Hemric jump ship, he currently drives in the Xfinity Series for RCR, then maybe it will be Ty Dillon returning home. What complicates this is the fact Dillon has said (take it for what it’s worth) that he’s enjoyed working with Germain Racing in the #13 Chevrolet.
Leavine Family Racing – With Furniture Row Racing closing down, LFR might win on two fronts. They could jump up and become the replacement satellite Toyota team with Joe Gibbs Racing. In doing so, they could get up and coming driver Daniel Suarez in their organization. The problem I have with this scenario is LFR has struggled for sponsorship and I don’t think will be able to pay what FRR previously was paying JGR. With that said, the fees JGR presented FRR forced their hand in shutting down after not being able to bring in another $10 million in sponsorship. Unless Toyota is willing to bankroll a good portion, I can’t see LFR surviving with the same kind of partnership, and even that I can’t see happening (more in a minute). There is also talk of the team jumping to two cars with Hemric, who is their first choice, but again unless both drivers bring sponsorship I can’t see that happening.
Joe Gibbs Racing – I can’t tell if JGR is being a good team player with Toyota in kicking Suarez out for defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr or they have actually been disappointed with Suarez. Suarez was the odd man out after Erik Jones was already farmed out last year and has won a race. From there you’re not moving Denny Hamlin (yet) or Kyle Busch. To me, it still doesn’t make total sense as Suarez still has tremendous upside, but to bring in Truex and crew chief Cole Pern, it might be a no-brainer when they rattle off 5 or so wins next year and Suarez continues to develop. It’s a win now play and I think this is going to be just the beginning of JGR’s headaches on developing talent and having no place to put them.
Roush Fenway Racing – Talk is that there was consideration for Matt Kenseth to return in a partial schedule role with the team in 2019 again, but they are leaning towards wanting a full-time driver. Enter Ryan Newman, who wouldn’t be up for a second tenure with Stewart-Haas Racing, instead might be going to another Ford team in RFR. I personally would like to see Kenseth run part-time in a #16 entry, possibly splitting time with Ryan Reed.
Hendrick Motorsports – America’s favorite racing cone floated the idea that there might be major changes coming to HMS. The only driver that has an uncertain contract status is rookie William Byron. A few years ago he signed one of those ominous “multi-year” deals, which could be expiring after this season. I wouldn’t think HMS would let Byron walk, but maybe one of the new free agents, such as Suarez, would be more interesting to the team. There is the issue of sponsorship with Jimmie Johnson who needs a replacement for Lowe’s. Newest rumor is HMS working on bringing Lowe’s back at a scaled back level, thus only needing a half year partner which might be more doable in today’s sponsorship climate. Despite the struggles this year, I don’t see Johnson retiring until 2020 at the earliest.
Stewart-Haas Racing – With Kurt Busch most likely moving on, there will be an opening on the team that has mostly been linked to Suarez. Part of me thinks they might be ok going back down to three teams, as two entries (Busch and Clint Bowyer) have been partially bank rolled by the team. Should a driver be able to bring sponsorship, like Suarez might be able with ARRIS, then I could see the team continuing.