Here’s your Silly Season scorecard for 2018

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Tuesday’s announcement of Erik Jones as the replacement for Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Toyota by Joe Gibbs Racing could be the first in a multitude of driver moves for the 2018 Cup season.

There are many drivers, sponsors and teams whose plans for next year have yet to be revealed, as was discussed on Tuesday’s NASCAR America with Carolyn Manno, Steve Letarte and Slugger Labbe.

Here is a rundown of who could be headed where and with whom:

ANNOUNCED RIDES

Erik Jones will be in the No. 20 Toyota (pushing out Matt Kenseth).

OPEN/POSSIBLY OPEN RIDES

No. 88: Team owner Rick Hendrick hasn’t tipped his hand on a direction for the ride, telling reporters at Daytona there was no timetable for naming Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s replacement.

–No. 5: This car virtually has no sponsorship announced for next season, and Kasey Kahne’s status is uncertain. Hendrick Motorsports seems committed to remaining a four-car team next year.

No. 77: Jones is returning to Joe Gibbs Racing after one season in Furniture Row Racing’s new car. Team owner Barney Visser said after Kentucky that “we have nothing concrete. … Our hope is to have two cars.” 5-hour Energy has an option to return in 2018 and can’t leave for another team. There is speculation Furniture Row Racing might move 5-hour Energy to the 78 with Martin Truex Jr., which would seem to leave the ride’s future in doubt.

No. 10: Sponsorship has yet to be announced for next season, and Danica Patrick’s contract is in its last year with the team.

No. 41: Monster is mulling whether to return as a team sponsor in addition to its series title sponsorship. Monster must inform NASCAR within the next few months if it’s picking up the option on its series title sponsorship (which is a two-year deal with a two-year option). Co-owner Gene Haas has indicated Stewart-Haas Racing wants to stay at four cars. But if sponsorship isn’t there, contraction could become an option for the team.

No. 2: Still awaiting Brad Keselowski to be re-signed … if he were to leave, Miller Lite is expected to stay and is said to like Ryan Blaney (whose social media persona and youth would seem a good fit for a beer company).

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Brad Keselowski: Still hasn’t re-signed with Team Penske. There are conflicting reports on whether the deal is virtually done or negotiations are at an impasse. The sticking point is believed to be more support from Ford for his Brad Keselowski Racing truck team, similar to the way in which Toyota Racing Development helps subsidize Kyle Busch Motorsports’ trucks. (Keselowski sparked an interesting discussion last week by saying that NASCAR needs more manufacturers.)

Matt Kenseth: Is out at Joe Gibbs Racing but wants to remain in a championship-caliber ride. Hendrick’s Nos. 88 or 5 seems the most likely landing spots, and he has a good friend in Dale Earnhardt Jr. to lobby on his behalf. Stewart-Haas Racing seems as if could be a possibility.

William Byron: Hendrick Motorsports has gauged the 19-year-old’s comfort level about a promotion to Cup. Rick Hendrick and Axalta (which has sponsored Byron in Xfinity races and likes his personality and potential) would like to move him up.

Kurt Busch: The 2017 Daytona 500 winner said at Daytona he is waiting for Stewart-Haas Racing to pick up his contract option and was optimistic that it would because “I deliver for the team.” Also mentioned there were many “moving parts” involving Monster and NASCAR.

Kasey Kahne: Has a deal through next season, but the team controls the option to keep him, and it’s widely thought it could be his last year at Hendrick.

Ryan Blaney: Roger Penske said recently he wants to bring Blaney into the fold as early as next season, possibly in a third full-time car (or perhaps in the No. 2 if Keselowski were to leave).

Danica Patrick: In her final year with Stewart-Haas Racing. She said last month she intends to drive next season, but the sponsorship uncertainty leaves her status murky for next year.

Alex Bowman: If Hendrick goes young, he possibly could be in play for the No. 5 if the team puts Byron in the No. 88. Also in play for the No. 9 at JR Motorsports if Byron goes to Cup

Paul Menard: Hasn’t been announced as returning to Richard Childress Racing, and the Menards sponsorship could be on the move (it already sponsors Team Penske in the IndyCar Series).

Aric Almirola: Hasn’t been announced yet as returning to RPM next season. Has been tied closely to sponsor Smithfield, which also had been mulling a move in its contract year but which just had a key decision-maker leave.

GMS Racing/Spencer Gallagher: The team is mulling a move next season to Cup from the Xfinity Series. At Kentucky, Gallagher told SiriusXM that racing in Cup “definitely is a subject that has been broached, and we’ve put a lot of thought into it. We’ve always known that is our long-term goal to be racing in Cup. We’re looking at different ways we might do it and different times in which it would be best. It’s still in the formative stages.”

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.