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Keep track of Silly Season with this scorecard

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Chris Buescher is the latest driver to make his plans for 2018 known, but many questions remain. Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick are among drivers who have not announced plans for 2018 or have questions about their future.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands with the Cup series at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend.

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

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

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

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

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

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

William Byron will drive the No. 5 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kasey Kahne (announcement made Aug. 9)

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

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

OPEN/POSSIBLY OPEN RIDES

— No. 10: Sponsorship has yet to be announced for next season, and Danica Patrick could be out. Patrick told USA Today on Aug. 5 that there’s “no buyout needed. I don’t have a sponsor. It’s contingent on the sponsor.’’  

— No. 27: Richard Childress Racing states it will announce its plans for a third Cup team at a later date with Paul Menard joining the Wood Brothers 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 told reporters Aug. 5 at Watkins Glen that “there are a couple of offers already, so we’ll see how things work out.’’  

— No. 77: With Erik Jones returning to JGR, team owner Barney Visser is looking to fill that seat. The first concern, though, is sponsorship. Visser told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Aug. 9: “We’ve got no sponsorship right now for the 77,” for next season. “So we’ve got to find something. We don’t want to give up that car, but if we don’t get sponsorship, we’ll have to.” Sponsor 5-Hour Energy has an option to return. The company can’t go to any other Cup team with Monster Energy as series sponsor.

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth: Out of the No. 20 after this season. Doesn’t have anything for next year at this point. At Bristol, Kenseth was asked about his plans for 2018. He said: “I’ll be honest with you … I’m not worried about (2018) even really one percent anymore to be honest with you. I’m just not concerned about it.’’  

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 chance Busch could sign a new deal to remain with the organization.

Kasey Kahne: The 2017 Brickyard 400 winner is available after Hendrick Motorsports announced it had released him from the final year of his contract. Rick Hendrick said Aug. 9 that he’s working to help Kahne land a ride for next season and hinted it could through an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports. 

Danica Patrick: Sponsorship uncertainty leaves her status murky for next year. She’s not looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series. “Cup only,’’ she said.  

Aric Almirola: Hasn’t been announced yet as returning to Richard Petty Motorsports next season. He’s tied closely to sponsor Smithfield, which also is in its final year with the team, but Richard Petty has said he’s confident Smithfield will return.

GMS Racing/Spencer Gallagher: This could be one of the wildcards. This Xfinity team is exploring a move to Cup if it makes financial sense. Some in the garage believe this team will move and could be a two-car team with Spencer Gallagher and a veteran driver. GMS already has an engine deal in the Xfinity Series with Hendrick Motorsports but would need to upgrade that for a Cup effort and possibly add a technical alliance (it has one with JR Motorsports). It also would need to get at least one charter, if not two.

Darrell Wallace Jr.He continues to look for an opportunity after his Xfinity ride with Roush Fenway Racing went away in June because of lack of sponsorship and Aric Almirola returned from injury to the No. 43 in July after Wallace filled in for a few races. Wallace showed well in Almirola’s ride. Key is to find sponsorship. Wallace said Aug. 4 that he’s focused on finding a ride for next year with so few options left for this year.

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NASCAR America: William Byron looking forward to learning from Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jr. (video)

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The promotion of William Byron from current Xfinity Series driver to NASCAR Cup driver in 2018 was not a long, drawn-out process.

In fact, it took just four days from an initial meeting with Rick Hendrick on Sunday to Hendrick Motorsports announcing on Wednesday that Byron would be jumping to NASCAR Cup next season.

“I had no idea,” Byron told NBCSN’s Marty Snider on Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America. “I really met with Mr. H on Sunday and thought we were going to talk about this year so far and what next year would bring as far as the Xfinity Series.”

Then Hendrick asked Byron perhaps the most important question of his life.

“He really just asked if I was ready and I said yes,” Byron said.

The 19-year-old (he’ll be 20 when he starts his Cup career) knows he’ll face some challenges and will draw scrutiny from other teams and drivers, as well as fans, but he feels he’s up for it all.

“Yes, it’s going to be a challenge, it’s going to be more competition, it’s more cut-throat, it’s the Cup Series,” Byron said. “But I think I’m ready for that challenge.

“Yeah, it’s definitely surreal. It’s really incredible what this area has done for me, to kind of grow up here in the Charlotte area, knowing Hendrick Motorsports and looking forward to being part of it some day.”

Click on the above video to see Byron’s full interview with Snider.

William Byron: ‘Crazy that everything started on a video game’

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There’s a helpful rule when it comes to viewing YouTube videos and preserving your sanity: Never read the comments. Nothing good can come from it.

There are exceptions to this rule.

A comment beneath a video posted six years ago is now a window into the story of the newest Cup driver at Hendrick Motorsports: William Byron.

Wednesday morning, minutes after it became official that the 19-year-old Bryon would succeed Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Chevrolet, Landon Cassill posted a revealing screenshot on Twitter.

It’s from a qualifying event Cassill hosted on iRacing, the racing simulator that is popular among many of today’s young drivers.

The top comment is from Byron.

While many drivers found their way into NASCAR via short-track racing or dirt racing, Byron’s first taste of competition came on the simulator. He’s only be racing in real life since the summer of 2012 in Legends cars.

During a teleconference Wednesday morning, Byron said he “didn’t even remember” posting the comment.

“That’s pretty cool to kind of see how far it’s come and see the support there,” Byron said. “I think I was asking how to go faster, so that’s usually what we ask about as race car drivers. It’s really neat. iRacing was the platform for me that I was able to start racing in and understand the cars and understand all the driving aspects. I think it’s kind of crazy that everything started on a video game, but I think it’s something that I really would promote to young kids coming up is to get involved. If you can’t get in a real race car, to get on iRacing and you can do it and you don’t have to, I guess, have all the contacts and everything to get in a real race car.”

Roush Fenway Racing development driver Ty Majeski, who made his Xfinity Series debut earlier this year, is the winningest driver in iRacing history and is sponsored by the company.

Byron, who has three Xfinity wins this season with JR Motorsports and was the Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year last season after winning seven races, has encountered other NASCAR drivers on the simulator often.

“There was one race with Travis Pastrana, that was pretty cool,” Byron said of the action sports star and former Xfinity driver. “He was racing in the Xfinity Series and he was just trying to actually learn, and I was kind of a fly on the wall and just racing against him and everything. Other than that I just raced against the community on there. You’d be surprised, there’s some really good race car drivers on there. Me and Kyle Larson were racing a few months back, so you never know who you’re going to see on there.”

You also never know when you’ll be racing a future face of the sport.

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Bump & Run: Is moving William Byron to Cup next year the right move?

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What do you think of William Byron’s move to Cup for 2018?

Dale Jarrett: I used to think that drivers needed more experience, a few years running in the Xfinity Series before they got into Cup because you kind of needed time to prove yourself there. A number of these young drivers, and William Byron being one of these, got an opportunity in a really good car right from the very beginning of his Xfinity career. He’s proven that he can race and win against the best out there, so why not? I would generally say that you need to stay there until you learn to win, and he already knows how to win against these guys. Go on and move. I’m all for it. Not that many are on that quick of pace to get there, but he’s certainly done it.

Kyle Petty: I think William Byron’s move to the Cup series is spot on! He’s won in every division he’s raced in, and not only won but contended each week. Why stay in a series if your ultimate goal is to race and win in Cup? My dad always said you learn habits racing in other divisions that don’t translate into the Cup series. His progress may take time, but ultimately the move now will pay off in wins and championships I believe.

Nate Ryan: Despite the comparisons to Joey Logano’s rookie season washout, Hendrick Motorsports is doing the right thing. If you think Byron is destined to win in Cup – and his performance in the Truck and Xfinity series the past two seasons certainly supports that belief – there is no point to delaying his promotion.

For every instance such as Logano’s (which really doesn’t apply because he unfairly was thrust into the untenable situation of replacing a champion with a high-profile sponsor and veteran team), there are several more that cast doubt on the importance of extra seasoning in the Xfinity Series.

Did staying an extra year in Xfinity after winning the championship as a rookie do much for Chase Elliott? Has Erik Jones suffered from only one full-time season? Did Xfinity experience mean anything to Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson or Kasey Kahne?

With two teammates in his age range and another who is a willing mentor (and a seven-time series champion), Byron will be nurtured at the correct pace for realizing his abundant talent.

Dustin Long: Byron’s overall experience can make one nervous, but he’s excelled in his limited time driving Trucks and in the Xfinity Series. He’s good enough that he made it worthwhile for Hendrick Motorsports to take Kasey Kahne out of the No. 5 car. It also doesn’t hurt that his salary likely will be a fraction what it is for a veteran driver such as Kahne. It’s understandable why Hendrick is making the move.

Considering how dominant Toyota has been lately, which would you take this weekend at Michigan – The field or Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott (who have two wins and three runner-up finishes in the last three Michigan races)?

Dale Jarrett: The field. I think things have changed. Both of those young guys have been outstanding there and proven to be the ones to beat. I just believe that the Toyotas have come too far. This might not be the type of track to where their engine combination shows up at its very best. I think it’s better whenever the RPMs get down a little bit lower, but I still think that they’ve just made such a huge gain with everything they’ve done. I think it’s the rest of the field, the Chevrolets and the Fords, trying to catch the Toyotas this weekend.

Kyle Petty: The field. I know Kyle can win. Chase has been close, and we all believe he can win. But Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have shown in the last four weeks at different tracks that they can dominate! If they’re in the field, I’ll take them every time! 

Nate Ryan: The field. Even though Toyota has only one win in the past 11 races at Michigan, it feels as if Larson and Elliott are underdogs to the speed of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing. Unless it comes down to fuel mileage or off-sequence strategies, it’s tough to envision a Chevy winning at Michigan.

Dustin Long: I’ll take Larson and Elliott. Yes, Toyotas have dominated lately but Michigan hasn’t been a track that has been great to them. Plus, Toyota’s run hasn’t to end sometime. Doesn’t it?

Where do you place the Kyle Busch-Brad Keselowski rivalry in the sport’s history?

Dale Jarrett: It’s turned into a nice little rivalry. It’s got a ways to go to get back to things that happened in the older days and a few others in the modern times. It’s certainly in there in the top 10. It’s entertaining to watch and listen to. I think if it happened on a little more regular basis, and that’s hard to come. Rivalries generally come when the two drivers are really competing for wins on a regular basis. The other day they weren’t even competing for the win at that time. I think it’s only going to continue to get better for us. At this point in time, it will be just inside the top 10 with the possibility with the two of them continuing that we could see this be full fledge and a lot of fun to cover.

Kyle Petty: The BK/KB rivalry in still in its early stages. I’ll have to wait and see how it grows. Right now for me it’s just a footnote on a few seasons.

Nate Ryan: It’s among the more fascinating in recent memory because of their endless parallels (ages, fatherhood and truck team ownership), but it remains a few notches below Petty-Pearson or Allison-Waltrip. All the elements seem to be there, though, for future conflicts (though it would help if Keselowski’s cars were faster).

Dustin Long: It’s got a ways to go to match Petty-Pearson but for this era — where competition is more balance, making it difficult for the same two drivers to race for the win week after week — this is one of the better ones. I’d say it’s probably the best rivalry since 2000.

Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty join Krista Voda from the NASCAR Hall of Fame for today’s NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET. Joey Logano is today’s guest.

 

Long: Sign of the times – Young drivers are in, veterans are on their way out

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Whether 19-year-old William Byron is ready for Cup doesn’t matter. He’ll be there next year for Hendrick Motorsports because he fills a need.

He’s young, talented and less expensive than a veteran driver.

So Kasey Kahne is out and Byron is in. That’s not the only such move for next season. Rookie Erik Jones will replace former Cup champion Matt Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing. Alex Bowman takes over Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ride at Hendrick Motorsports.

Those mirror other moves made in the last few years, creating a seismic shift in the driver lineup — one that hadn’t been seen in nearly half a century.

With Byron’s move to Cup, there will be at least eight drivers 25 and under who are expected take the green flag in next year’s Daytona 500.

They are (with age they’ll be for next year’s 500):

William Byron (age 20)

Erik Jones (21)

Chase Elliott (22)

Ryan Blaney (24)

Alex Bowman (24)

Chris Buescher (25)

Ty Dillon (25)

Kyle Larson (25)

Only this year’s race with 11 drivers age 25 and under and last year’s race at nine have had more young drivers in the field than next year’s race looks to have. The record could be equaled or topped next year with 24-year-old Darrell Wallace Jr., looking for a ride and the possibility that smaller teams may go with young drivers. Nearly half the field for next year’s 500 could feature drivers in their 20s.

This shift toward youth has built since 2014 when there were eight drivers age 25 and under in the Daytona 500 starting lineup. The last time there had been so many young drivers in the “Great American Race” was 1962. That race saw 24-year-old Richard Petty finish second and 22-year-old Cale Yarborough place last in the 48-car field.

The latest changes come as young drivers replace veterans partly because of economics. It’s a shift for car owners, who responded during the recession a decade ago by cutting driver development programs and hiring veterans for lower salaries. The chance to run in Cup ended for many drivers. Those that did run, had little luck. Only one Cup Rookie of the Year from 2008-12 remains in the series (Joey Logano).

Now, as the sport goes through what some refer to as a correction, sponsors are cutting back more. Less money to teams means less money for drivers. Young racers are significantly cheaper.

“You’ve got a lot of young guys coming in being offered and accepting contracts that are a fifth to a tenth of what veterans are getting paid,’’ Earnhardt said last weekend at Watkins Glen International. “That’s money that can go into the team, you know? These sponsors aren’t giving teams the money that they used to. So, the owners and everybody’s got to take a little cut. Everybody’s got to dial it back.’’

Furniture Row Racing car owner Barney Visser puts it more succinctly: “I would think that there are going to be a lot of jets sold (by drivers). The money just won’t support what some of these guys have been making. The sponsorship just won’t carry it right now.”

Even for as talented as the new generation is, it’s taken them time to succeed for various reasons. Ty Dillon, Bowman, Elliott and Jones have yet to win a Cup race. Buescher won in his 27th career start. Blaney scored his first victory in his 68th series start. Larson didn’t win until his 100th series start. Austin Dillon’s first win came in his 133rd series start.

“It’s just such a big step altogether that there’s nothing in the Truck or Xfinity Series I think that fully prepares you for what it takes to really be successful at the Cup level,’’ said Jones, whose best finish is third in 25 career Cup starts. “I think it’s been just really a whole year of relearning for me, not really relearning but just learning more about the Cup Series and what it takes and how to race these guys.’’

It’s not as much what happens on the track and what happens off it that has been an adjustment for Jones to Cup.

You get to the Cup Series, your week is slammed, and you don’t really ever experience that when you’re in the Xfinity or the Truck Series,’’ Jones said. “I wish I would have learned to study and prepare more for the weekend because I never really did when I was in Xfinity and Truck. I just kind of learned more about that and still am trying to learn more about that as the year goes on.’’

That’s led to questions about Byron because of his lack of experience — even with the success he’s had. He ran 24 Truck races (winning seven) and he’s run 20 Xfinity races (three wins) so far.

“William, he has surprised us every time he gets in a car,’’ Hendrick said. “My goal is to not to let too much pressure be on him, to let him go out and have fun and learn and we’ll try to get better as an organization. We’ve got Jimmie Johnson … he will be a mentor to all three of them (Byron, Elliott and Bowman). We still have Jeff Gordon involved and Dale Earnhardt is going to be involved.

“They’ve got a lot of coaches. The main thing is just not putting too much pressure on them and let them go out and learn. If William continues to do what he’s done in every series he’s been in, he’ll adapt fine and he’ll learn. You might as well let him learn in what he’s going to be driving for years to come.’’

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