Matt Kenseth

Ryan: The craziest twist in the Carl Edwards story, one year later

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Carl Edwards isn’t coming back.

But if he were, where would he go?

This is what has become the astounding part of Edwards’ saga, possibly more stunning than one year ago today when he walked into a conference room at Joe Gibbs Racing to explain why he was walking away from NASCAR.

Many expected he eventually would choose to return to the Cup Series, and he initially left many openings for climbing behind the wheel again (notably at Atlanta Motor Speedway last March).

But as the Columbia, Missouri, native’s comments in local media telegraphed last week, the siren call of staying on his 425-acre farm apparently outweighed racing stock cars.

And there hardly seems a path back to a top-flight ride in NASCAR’s premier series, which was transformed by a 2017 season that devalued the necessity of having a seasoned winner such as Edwards.

None of the top teams has a ride in imminent need of being filled, and any unexpected opening likely would be tabbed for someone much younger than Edwards, 38.

You could name a dozen instances last year – Ryan Blaney’s win at Pocono Raceway, Erik Jones’ anointment as successor to Matt Kenseth, Hendrick Motorsports’ selection of Alex Bowman and William Byron – in which that narrative seemed to have shifted, and it also could be attributed to many reasons – shrinking sponsor dollars, big-ticket driver salaries, engineering trumping experience.

But what if Edwards’ decision actually was the inflection point at which everything began to change?

What if a highly marketable and accomplished star leaving in the prime of his career marked the moment in which The Great Youth Movement of 2017-18 tacitly began?

What if we thought we were watching an ending … that actually was a beginning?

Subscribing to this notion requires connecting some dots with a healthy dose of nuance and a dash of sociology.

Edwards’ retirement didn’t directly trigger a cascading series of reactions that concluded with Byron and Bowman in Cup next year.

But it did plant some seeds and provide an accelerated test case of how a powerhouse team would handle being thrust into a changing of the guard at least a year ahead of schedule.

Aside from an early season blip in 2017, Joe Gibbs Racing hardly missed a beat without Edwards, and the team financially positioned itself well for the future with the byproduct of a major salary dump. Suarez is making a fraction of what Edwards did, a cost savings stretching well into the eight figures.

Though Jones was contractually obligated to join JGR in 2018, making the call for him to replace Kenseth probably became less fraught given the relative smoothness of the sudden transition to Suarez.

Surely, other teams noticed as well. Groupthink is a weekly pursuit in a Cup garage built around mimicry, but its tentacles also can extend to teams’ front offices, where prospects have soured for accomplished veterans.

Imagine if Edwards wanted to return now and placed an imaginary help wanted notice (the same way he once advertised himself for rides in trade publications). It would read something like this:

Veteran star from the Midwest. A long record of winning results at Roush Fenway Racing and JGR. Consistent championship contender.

Sound familiar?

The reasons that Kenseth couldn’t find a ride for 2018 are the same that would be facing Edwards, who might offer a more camera-friendly persona but actually has less impressive on-track credentials.

This is the current reality of Cup for stars who once could command high salaries: Be ready to accept a steep pay cut with a smile.

It’s why it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Edwards returns, particularly when considering his objective of reconnecting with his roots seemingly has been realized.

“I’m an all-or-nothing person, sometimes to my detriment,” he told the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. “It’s taken about a year to actually wind down. I’m just now becoming the friend and person I should be to a lot of people that I basically didn’t spend a lot of time with for a long time. It’s an amazing opportunity, and I’ve really been enjoying it.”

Good for Edwards, who is an analytical and meticulous personality so well known for his planning, many peers have joked about him being a survivalist “prepper.”

Maybe our shock at his abrupt exit was misguided.

Edwards might have foreseen a bigger surprise was in store.

Milestones Cup drivers, teams could hit in 2018

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From career starts to victories, there are many milestones Cup drivers and teams will be shooting for when the season begins with the Feb. 18 Daytona 500. Here’s a look at some of those milestones within reach this year.

Jimmie Johnson is one win behind Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip (84 each) for fourth on the all-time Cup wins list.

— With one win, Jimmie Johnson would have a Cup victory in 17 consecutive seasons. That would move him to second on the all-time list of consecutive seasons with at least a win, tying him with David Pearson. Richard Petty is the all-time leader with at least one victory in 18 consecutive seasons (1960-77).

Kevin Harvick is seven top-five finishes away from tying Bill Elliott for 20th on the all-time list with 175.

— The Wood Brothers are one victory away from 100 career Cup wins.

— Hendrick Motorsports needs one victory to extend its streak of consecutive seasons with at least one Cup win to 33 and that next points victory also will be the organization’s 250th.

Kyle Busch needs one pole this season to have one in 11 consecutive seasons. That would put him in a tie with Bobby Allison and Ryan Newman for eighth on the all-time list of consecutive seasons with a pole.

— If a driver scores their first Cup win this season, it would mark the third consecutive year there has been at least one first-time winner. That would be the longest such mark in a decade. Among those seeking their first career Cup victory: Chase Elliott, William Byron, Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, Michael McDowell, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Alex Bowman.

— Kyle Busch is 17 wins shy of 200 career victories across NASCAR’s top three national series. He has 43 Cup wins, 91 Xfinity wins and 49 Truck wins. He won 13 races last year (five Cup, five Xfinity and three Truck).

— Kevin Harvick is three wins shy of 100 career victories across NASCAR’s top three national series. He has 37 Cup wins, 46 Xfinity wins and 14 Truck wins. Last season, Harvick scored two Cup victories, zero in Xfinity (in six starts) and did not compete in any Truck races.

— With Matt Kenseth (650 career starts) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (631) not in Cup, Kurt Busch becomes the active driver with most starts at 612. If he starts every Cup points race this year, he’ll be at 648, putting him 23rd on the all-time list for most Cup starts.

— Ryan Newman is 16 starts away from making his 600th career start. Only 28 drivers in NASCAR history have made 600 or more career starts.

— Jimmie Johnson is 21 starts away from making his 600th career start.

— Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman each have made 576 consecutive Cup starts. They are tied for 10th on the all-time list of consecutive starts.

Paul Menard will make his 400th career Cup start in the Daytona 500.

David Ragan is two starts shy of making his 400th career Cup start. The Georgia native will do it at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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Here’s what is new in 2018 for Cup teams

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A new year brings many changes. Such is the case for NASCAR teams. Here’s a look at some of the key changes heading into the 2018 season for Cup teams that have announced drivers for this season.

(Drivers are listed in order of their car number with where they finished in the points last year)

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (12th in points in 2017)

What’s new: Chip Ganassi Racing announced Wednesday that Doug Duchardt has been hired to be the organization’s chief operating officer.

What’s the same: McMurray is back for a ninth season with the team in his second stint there. Matt McCall begins his fourth season with McMurray.

 

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (4th)

What’s new: Discount Tire moves over to be a primary sponsor of Keselowski’s car for 10 races.

What’s the same: Keselowski is back with crew chief Paul Wolfe for an eighth consecutive season.

 

No. 3 Austin Dillon (11th)

What’s new: He has only one teammate, Ryan Newman, at Richard Childress Racing, with the team cutting back to two cars for 2018.

What’s the same: Crew chief Justin Alexander is back after being paired with Dillon in May 2017.

 

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (3rd)

What’s new: Wife DeLana delivered the couple’s second child, a daughter in late December.

What’s the same: Crew chief Rodney Childers is back for a fifth season with Harvick. Since they’ve been together, they’ve won one championship, scored 14 victories and captured 13 poles.

 

No. 6 Trevor Bayne (22nd)

What’s new: AdvoCare is back but with a new paint scheme for this season. 

What’s the same: Matt Puccia is back as Bayne’s crew chief. They’ve been together since the 2016 season.

 

No. 9 Chase Elliott (5th)

What’s new: A new number for the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.

What’s the same: Crew chief Alan Gustafson is back and Elliott, who enters his third Cup season, seeks his first career series win.

 

No. 10 Aric Almirola (29th)

What’s new: A new ride for Almirola, as he moves from Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s just among the many changes. Almirola also will have a new crew chief. John Klausmeier, who has been an engineer with the organization since 2009 and filled in as in interim crew chief previously, moves into that position for Almirola’s team. And a new look. Smithfield joins Almirola in the move, but its car will be black and white.

What’s the same: Even with the move, Almirola is driving a Ford again. 

 

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (6th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Wheeler is back for his third season with Hamlin. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles the previous two seasons.

 

No. 12 Ryan Blaney (9th)

What’s new: A new team. Blaney moves from the Wood Brothers to a third entry for Team Penske. He’ll be teammates to Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Team Penske purchased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing for Blaney’s car.

What’s the same: Crew chief Jeremy Bullins joins Blaney in the move from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske.

 

No. 13 Ty Dillon (24th)

What’s new: Crew chief Matt Borland joins the team from Richard Childress Racing.

What’s the same: Germain Racing remains aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

 

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (18th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz is paired with Bowyer for a second season in a row.

 

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (13th)

What’s new: Stenhouse is no longer dating Danica Patrick

What’s the same: Crew chief Brian Pattie and Stenhouse are set to begin their second season together after winning two races and making the playoffs last season.

 

No. 18 Kyle Busch (2nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: This will be the fourth Cup season for crew chief Adam Stevens and Busch. They’ve won 14 races and 11 poles the past three seasons together.

 

No. 19 Daniel Suarez (20th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Suarez is back with Arris and Stanley as sponsors in 2018.

 

No. 20 Erik Jones (19th)

What’s new: A new driver in this car that Matt Kenseth had run the past five seasons. Also, crew chief Chris Gayle moves with Jones, the 2017 Cup rookie of the year, from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2018 campaign.

What’s the same: The car has the same number as last year.

 

No. 21 Paul Menard (23rd)

What’s new: A new home for Menard, who goes from Richard Childress Racing to the Wood Brothers. Greg Erwin will be the new crew chief, taking over for Jeremy Bullins, who moves from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske with Ryan Blaney.

What’s the same: The Wood Brothers.

 

No. 22 Joey Logano (17th)

What’s new: Logano’s wife is expecting the couple’s first child in January.

What’s the same: Crew chief Todd Gordon is back for his sixth season with Logano. They’ve combined to win 16 races and 14 poles working together.

 

No. 24 William Byron (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: A new driver and new number for what had been the No. 5 team at Hendrick Motorsports. The Xfinity Series champion moves up from JR Motorsports. He’ll have Darian Grubb as his crew chief.

What’s the same: Liberty University, a longtime backer of Byron, is back as a sponsor.

 

No. 31 Ryan Newman (16th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Caterpillar, which has been a partner with Richard Childress Racing since 2009, will sponsor Newman’s car in select races in 2018.

 

No. 32 Matt DiBenedetto (32nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: DiBenedetto is back with the team for a second consecutive year.

 

No. 34 Michael McDowell (26th)

What’s new: New ride for McDowell, who moves from Leavine Family Racing to Front Row Motorsports and joins David Ragan at that organization. Front Row Motorsports also has expanded its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

What’s the same: Team remains in the Ford camp.

 

No. 37 Chris Buescher (25th)

What’s new: The team purchased a charter after leasing one last season.

What’s the same: Buescher is back for his second year with the team.

 

No. 38 David Ragan (30th)

What’s new: He has a new teammate with Michael McDowell joining the team and replacing Landon Cassill.

What’s the same: Ragan is back for his fifth season (in two stints) with Front Row Motorsports.

 

No. 41 Kurt Busch (14th)

What’s new: Is what’s old. Busch is back with Stewart-Haas Racing as is sponsor Monster Energy after his contract option was not picked up last season amid questions about sponsorship. Busch also has a new crew chief. Billy Scott moves from the No. 10 team to be Busch’s crew chief this season. Scott replaces Tony Gibson, who moves into a position at the shop.

What’s the same: The car number for Busch, who will enter his fifth season at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

 

No. 42 Kyle Larson (8th)

What’s new: A new sponsor for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. Credit One will replace Target on the No. 42 Chevrolet in 2018. Also Larson got engaged to girlfriend Katelyn Sweet in December.

What’s the same: Larson will be teamed with crew chief Chad Johnston for a third consecutive year. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles together. 

 

No. 43 Darrell Wallace Jr. (50th)

What’s new: Wallace joins the team after running four races for Richard Petty Motorsports when Aric Almirola was injured last season. RPM also has switched from Ford to Chevrolet and formed an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and will get its engines from ECR Engines this season. Team also is adding sponsorship with Smithfield putting most of its resources with Almirola at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

What’s the same: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer returns to be Wallace’s crew chief.

 

No. 47 AJ Allmendinger (27th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: This will be Allmendinger’s fifth season with JTG Daugherty Racing.

 

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (10th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: He’s back with crew chief Chad Knaus for a 17th consecutive year.

 

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (1st)

What’s new: A new moniker for Truex – reigning Cup champion. Also, the team is back to a one-car operation with the shuttering of the No. 77 team.

What’s the same: Champion crew chief Cole Pearn is back to lead this team.

 

No. 88 Alex Bowman (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: Bowman takes over the former ride of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports.

What’s the same: Greg Ives is back as the team’s crew chief.

 

No. 95 Kasey Kahne (15th)

What’s new: Kahne joins Leavine Family Racing, replacing Michael McDowell. Travis Mack, who had been the car chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team at Hendrick Motorsports, makes the move to be Kahne’s crew chief.

What’s the same: The car number for the team.

 

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Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne lead Cup drivers in Twitter followers

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The landscape of NASCAR has changed dramatically over the last few years, especially with the recent retirements of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth and the pending retirement of Danica Patrick following the Daytona 500.

How do their departures impact the Twitter landscape when it comes announced full-time Cup drivers for 2018 and their number of followers?

A lot, specifically at the top.

Before getting to the list, here’s a few notes:

Here are how many Twitter followers each full-time Cup driver has as of Jan. 2, 2018. We’ll revisit this list in December to see how the drivers rank after the season.

Jimmie Johnson – 2,636,014 (@jimmiejohnson)

Kasey Kahne – 963,189 (@kaseykahne)

Kevin Harvick – 954,433 (@kevinharvick)

Kyle Busch – 899,151 (@kylebusch)

Brad Keselowski – 766,394 (@keselowski)

Denny Hamlin – 763,325 (@dennyhamlin)

Chase Elliott – 733,157 (@chaseelliott)

Clint Bowyer – 626,345 (@ClintBowyer)

Joey Logano – 472,237 (@joeylogano)

Martin Truex Jr. – 423,074 (@MartinTruex_Jr)

Ryan Newman – 367,002 (@RyanJNewman)

Kyle Larson – 349,659 (@kylelarsonracin)

Kurt Busch – 342,699 (@KurtBusch)

Jamie McMurray – 317,209 (@jamiemcmurray)

Trevor Bayne – 272,939 (@TBayne6)

Austin Dillon – 270,967 (@AustinDillon3)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 227,632 (@StenhouseJr)

AJ Allmendinger – 217,197 (@AJDinger)

Ryan Blaney – 161,730 (@Blaney)

Ty Dillon – 156,602 (@TyDillon)

Darrell Wallace Jr. – 126,473 (@BubbaWallace)

David Ragan – 121,643 (@DavidRagan)

Aric Almirola – 112,423 (@aric_almirola)

Michael McDowell – 88,435 (@Mc_Driver)

Alex Bowman – 58,194 (@AlexBRacing)

Erik Jones – 53,041 (@erik_jones)

Matt DiBenedetto – 49,495 (@MattDRacing)

Daniel Suarez – 41,081 (@Daniel_SuarezG)

Chris Buescher – 38,981 (@Chris_Buescher)

William Byron – 36,169 (@WilliamByron)

Before the season stars, be sure to follow all of our NASCAR writers:




2017 Season in Review: Chase Elliott

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Chase Elliott

CREW CHIEF: Alan Gustafson

TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports

POINTS: 5th

WINS: None

LAPS LED:  560 (career-best)

TOP 5s: 12 (career-best)

TOP 10s: 21 (career-best)

POLES: 1 (Daytona 500)

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Elliott raced his way into the playoffs, entering the postseason as one of three winless drivers in the 16-driver field. … Elliott finished second five times, bringing his career total to seven … Elliott earned his second Daytona 500 pole in a row. …

WHAT WENT WRONG: Elliott place second in the playoff-opener at Chicagoland Speedway, but his finish was encumbered for illegal modifications to the car … After leading a career-best 138 laps in the Dover playoff race, Elliott was passed on the outside by Kyle Busch as they exited Turn 4 to take the white flag. He finished second … He was two laps from winning the Martinsville playoff race when he was spun into the wall by Denny Hamlin … Elliott was passed by Matt Kenseth with 10 laps to go in the Phoenix playoff race after leading 34 laps and finished second.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2018: After two years driving the No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports, Elliott will drive the No. 9, which was made famous by his father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, in the 1980s. Elliott will have two new teammates in Alex Bowman and rookie William Byron. The 22-year-old driver will still be seeking hist first Cup win. The 60th Daytona 500 will mark his 78th start in the series.