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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Instant replay: Get all of NASCAR Talk’s 2017 season-in-review driver capsules right here

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Editor’s note: From December 20th through December 31st, NASCAR Talk has recapped the best of the best in NASCAR’s three premier series with our season-in-review driver capsules.

 In case you missed any in the series, here’s your chance to read all of them in one sitting. Here’s the:

  • Top-10 finishing drivers in NASCAR Cup
  • Top-four finishers in the Xfinity Series
  • Champion of the Camping World Truck Series.

Click on each name to read that respective driver’s 2017 Season in Review capsule:

Top 10 finishing drivers in NASCAR Cup

2017 Season in Review: No. 1 Martin Truex Jr.

2017 Season in Review: No. 2 Kyle Busch

2017 Season in Review: No. 3 Kevin Harvick

2017 Season in Review: No. 4 Brad Keselowski

2017 Season in Review: No. 5 Chase Elliott

2017 Season in Review: No. 6 Denny Hamlin

2017 Season in Review: No. 7 Matt Kenseth

2017 Season in Review: No. 8 Kyle Larson

2017 Season in Review: No. 9 Ryan Blaney

2017 Season in Review: No. 10 Jimmie Johnson

Top 4 finishing drivers in NASCAR Xfinity Series 

2017 Xfinity Season in Review: No. 1 William Byron

2017 Xfinity Season in Review: No. 2 Elliott Sadler

2017 Xfinity Season in Review: No. 3 Justin Allgaier

2017 Xfinity Season in Review: No. 4 Daniel Hemric

 

 

Top finishing driver in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

2017 Truck Series Season in Review: No. 1 Christopher Bell

 

 

A look at the Cup active wins list ahead of 2018

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When the 2018 Cup season opens with the 60th Daytona 500 in February, the field will include 22 drivers who own at least one win in their career.

Six of those drivers are past champions.

Not among them will be Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt ended his Cup career in 2017 with 26 victories, the last coming in the fall 2015 Phoenix race. Kenseth likely capped off his career with his 39th Cup win in this years’ fall Phoenix race.

Here’s how the active wins list will look when the season begins in February in Daytona.

Jimmie Johnson, 83 wins: The seven-time Cup champion won three times in 2017. His win at Dover in June tied him with childhood hero Cale Yarborough. A win by Johnson in 2018 would move him into a three-way tie with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for fourth on the all-time wins list. Johnson is 10 wins behind Jeff Gordon.

Kyle Busch, 43 wins: The Joe Gibbs Racing driver won five times in 2017. He began the year tied with Kenseth with 38 wins. He moved past Hall of Famers Tim Flock and Mark Martin on the all-time wins list.

Kevin Harvick, 37 wins: The 2014 Cup champion won twice in 2017, winning at Sonoma and Texas. The Texas victory advanced him to the Championship 4. Harvick is three wins away from having 100 over all three of NASCAR’s national series.

Denny Hamlin, 31 wins: The Joe Gibbs Racing driver visited Victory Lane twice in 2017 at New Hampshire and the Southern 500. He’s won at least two races in the last three seasons. He’s the winningest Cup driver without a championship. A win in 2018 would tie Hamlin with Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.

Kurt Busch, 29 wins: The Stewart-Haas Racing driver earned the biggest win of his career in 2017, claiming the 59th Daytona 500. Busch has won at least one race in all four of his seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Brad Keselowski, 24 wins: The Team Penske driver began the year tied with Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Hall of Famer Benny Parsons and Jack Smith with 21 wins. His three victories at Atlanta, Martinsville and Talladega now have him above Hall of Famer Terry Labonte (22 wins) and Ricky Rudd (23 wins).

Ryan Newman, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne, 18 wins: Each driver won a single race in 2017.

Martin Truex Jr, 15 wins: The 2017 champion won eight times this season. Three years ago, he had just two wins in his first nine full-time Cup seasons. He is tied with Ernie Irvan on the all-time wins list.

Clint Bowyer, eight wins: The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has not won a race since 2012.

Jamie McMurray, seven wins: The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has not won since 2013.

Kyle Larson, five wins: The Chip Ganassi Racing driver claimed four victories in 2017 after finally breaking through with his first win in 2016.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr, David Ragan, two wins: Both drivers’ two wins have come at restrictor-plate tracks.

Drivers with one win: Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne and Paul Menard.