Michael McDowell

Keep up with all the Silly Season changes for 2018 with this scorecard

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Aric Almirola became the latest driver to secure a ride for 2018 when Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that he’ll drive the No. 10 car.

Even with that announcement, more questions remain on which drivers will be in what rides next season.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as Cup teams head to Phoenix Raceway for Sunday’s playoff race.

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

— Aric Almirola will join Stewart-Haas Racing and drive the No. 10 car. (announcement made Nov. 8)

Darrell Wallace Jr. will join Richard Petty Motorsports and drive the No. 43 car. (announcement made Oct. 25)

Kasey Kahne will join Leavine Family Racing and drive the No. 95 car. (announcement made Sept. 19)

Ty Dillon signs a multi-year contract to remain at Germain Racing and drive the No. 13 car. Sponsor Geico also extends its deal with the team (announcement made Sept. 5)

Chris Buescher signs a multi-year contract to remain at JTG Daugherty and drive the No. 37 car. (announcement made Aug. 18)

Matt DiBenedetto will remain with Go Fas Racing in the team’s No. 32 car (announcement made Aug. 12)

William Byron will drive the No. 24 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kasey Kahne (announcement made Aug. 9)

Paul Menard moves to Wood Brothers Racing to drive the No. 21 car (announcement made July 26)

Ryan Blaney moves to Team Penske to drive the No. 12 car and signs a multi-year contract extension (announcement made July 26)

Brad Keselowski agrees to contract extension to drive the No. 2 car for Team Penske (announcement made July 25

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. (announcement made July 20)

Erik Jones will drive the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Matt Kenseth (announcement made July 11)

OPEN RIDES

— No. 27: Richard Childress Racing states it will announce plans for a third Cup team at a later date with Paul Menard joining the Wood Brothers for next season. Key will be sponsorship money on what happens with that car.

— No. 34: Front Row Motorsports informed Landon Cassill on Oct. 9 that he would not be returning to the team next season. The team has not announced its driver lineup for next season. 

— No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up the option on Kurt Busch’s contract for next year on Aug. 1. Even so, the team tweeted that it expected Busch back with sponsor Monster Energy for next year. Busch said Nov. 3 that “we are in negotiations’’ to remain in the No. 41. Co-owner Tony Stewart said Nov. 5: “That’s our goal, is to have Kurt back in that car for next year.’’

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth: He said Nov. 4 on the NASCAR on NBC podcast that he has “decided to take some time off” after the 2018 season. Kenseth isn’t using the word retirement but says he has no ride for 2018.

Kurt Busch: With Stewart-Haas Racing declining to pick up his option for next year, Busch is a free agent. Even with Stewart-Haas Racing’s action, there’s still a good chance Busch signs a deal to remain with the organization.

Danica Patrick: She will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing after this season. Patrick has not announced any plans for next season. She’s not looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series. “Cup only,’’ she said.  

Michael McDowellWill not return to Leavine Family Racing with Kasey Kahne joining the team next season.

Landon CassillSearching for a ride after being informed he will not be back at Front Row Motorsports. He said Oct. 10 that he did not have sponsorship to bring with him at the time.

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Chase Elliott’s winning woes continue with Martinsville crash

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Amid the cheers and boos at Martinsville Speedway Sunday night, Denny Hamlin offered a slight olive branch to Chase Elliott after his front bumper helped put an end to yet another race-winning bid by Elliott.

“I hate it for his team,” Hamlin said, sounding eerily similar to Elliott after previous failures to win his first Cup race. “I understand they had a win for a long time coming, but this is a ticket to Homestead.”

For the second time in these playoffs, Elliott was within two laps of claiming a win until a Joe Gibbs Racing driver snatched it. Elliott wound up 27th, one lap down after an overtime finish. It was his worst result since finishing 39th at Indianapolis due to a blown engine.

Before Hamlin took Elliott out in Turn 3 Sunday, it was Kyle Busch passing Elliott on the outside at Dover International Speedway coming to the white flag in the third race of the opening round.

Elliot had led the previous 59 laps until lapped traffic slowed him, allowing Busch to take advantage. Elliott has finished in the top five in all four of his Dover starts.

“I gave it away,” Elliott said afterward. “I appreciate my team and their efforts today. The pit stops were great and they kept us in the ballgame. I didn’t.”

Elliott led 138 laps at Dover and 123 at Martinsville, his top totals for the season.

Between those races, the 21-year-old driver finished second at Charlotte, giving him four runner-up finishes for the season. He was only able to lead 12 laps there, 11 of them coming in the first 51 laps.

Three of Elliott’s second-place finishes have occurred in the playoffs, beginning with his encumbered finish in the opener at Chicagoland Speedway. He led 42 laps and won Stage 2 before Martin Truex Jr. dominated the final stage and won.

The record for runner-up finishes in the playoffs is four by Jeff Gordon in 2014 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006.

Since he made his Cup debut in 2015 at Martinsville, Elliott has earned 20 top-five finishes. Six were in second place.

The first two were last season at Michigan International Speedway, when Elliott spun his tires on late restarts, allowing Joey Logano and Kyle Larson to earn wins. Larson’s was his first in Cup.

Elliott was also near his first trip to victory lane last year at Chicagoland. The No. 24 was out front with five laps to go when debris from Michael McDowell brought out the caution.

Truex wound up with the win as Elliott finished third.

Elliott’s third runner-up result came at … Michigan.

In this season’s June race, Elliott once again finished behind Larson after a late restart, but it wasn’t due to a bad restart on Elliott’s part.

Of the eight remaining playoff drivers, he is the only one who has not earned a Cup win. Of the original 16 playoff drivers, he was the only one without a win. Three of them – Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – earned their first Cup wins this season.

With his six career runner-up finishes, Elliott sits behind C.J. Spencer (seven) on the all-time list for most without a Cup win. The most runner-up finishes prior to a win in Cup is 12 by James Hylton.

MORE: Kyle Larson understands Chase Elliott’s struggles to win

Brad Keselowski wins Stage 1 at Martinsville Speedway

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Brad Keselowski led 47 laps on his way to winning Stage 1 of Sunday’s First Data 500 NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Martinsville Speedway.

Keselowski, the defending winner at the short track, led Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin.

The Team Penske drivers of Keselowski and Joey Logano combined to lead 106 laps in the first 130-lap stage. Logano led 59 laps from the pole.

Johnson, Dillon, and Kahne finished in the top 10 due to pitting out of sequence during one of the stage’s three cautions. Keselowski passed Johnson for the lead on Lap 113. Johnson, who had to start from the rear along with Dillon for unapproved changes, led 24 laps.

It is just the second time Johnson has led since the July race at Daytona. He led five laps at Dover.

The first caution came out on Lap 36 for an accident involving Michael McDowell, Ty Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr as they exited Turn 2. The accident replaced the competition caution that was scheduled for Lap 45.

The second caution came on Lap 62 when David Ragan was spun from contact with McDowell in Turn 4.

The yellow flag waved for the third time on Lap 87 when AJ Allmendinger spun from contact with Danica Patrick in Turn 2. The No. 47 Chevrolet was ruled out of the race for not fixing the car in under five minutes.

Travis Mack named crew chief for Kasey Kahne in 2018

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Kasey Kahne will be paired with crew chief Travis Mack in 2018 in his first season in the No. 95 Chevrolet owned by Leavine Family Racing.

It will be Mack’s first full season as a Cup Series crew chief. He currently serves as the car chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports.

Kahne will replace Michael McDowell in the No. 95 after six seasons driving the No. 5 for Hendrick.

Mack experienced his first race as a crew chief this season in the regular-season finale at Richmond when Greg Ives was suspended.

A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Mack joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2004. He moved to JR Motorsports in 2013, where he served as car chief for Regan Smith and Chase Elliott during Elliott’s 2014 championship season in the Xfinity Series. He became car chief on the No. 88 Cup car in 2015.

“As crew chief, Travis brings leadership and a solid experience to Leavine Family Racing,” said Jeremy Lange, VP and general manager of LFR in a press release. “His passion for racing and desire to win will fit well in our organization and, collectively, we all are looking forward to 2018 and beyond.”

Mack will remain with the No. 88 team through the end of the season.

MORE: Travis Mack delivers own baby daughter

Leavine Family Racing makes crew chief change

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Leavine Family Racing announced Monday that Todd Parrott is no longer crew chief. Jon Leonard will be the interim crew chief for Michael McDowell.

Parrott took on crew chief duties with the team in Oct. 2016.

In its statement, Leavine Family Racing said that Parrott had been “relieved of crew chief duties for the remainder of the 2017 season effective immediately. After careful consideration and numerous discussions regarding the position of crew chief, we have decided to go in a different direction.”

Kasey Kahne will drive for the team next season. No crew chief for Kahne has been named.