2020 free agency

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Alex Bowman announces 1-year extension with Hendrick Motorsports

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Alex Bowman announced via Twitter that he has signed a one-year contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2021 season.

The No. 88 Chevrolet driver, who won March 1 at Auto Club Speedway, was one of several Cup drivers in a contract year this season.

Bowman joins Ryan Blaney, who signed a contract extension with Team Penske in March, as drivers who have removed themselves from the market in NASCAR’s premier series next year.

FREE AGENCY SCORECARD: Who remains in contract years for Cup

Hendrick Motorsports has all of its drivers locked up beyond this year aside from Jimmie Johnson, who has announced 2020 would be his final full-time season in Cup.

After a two-month layoff, NASCAR will return to racing Sunday at Darlington Raceway.

Bowman is four races into his third full season at Hendrick. He made the playoffs the past two seasons and scored his first Cup victory last year at Chicagoland Speedway.

Cup driver free agency scorecard: Ryan Blaney off the market at Penske

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The signing of Ryan Blaney to a multiyear extension with Team Penske removes a big name from the list of potential NASCAR free agents after the 2020 Cup season.

But there still are at least a half-dozen winners in the Cup Series whose deals are set to expire before next year.

With Hendrick Motorsports needing to fill the No. 48 Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson, there still could be significant movement in the driver lineup of NASCAR’s premier series for the 2021 season.

Blaney becomes the second winning driver to sign an extension in the past few months. Kevin Harvick, whose deal had run through 2021, re-signed with Stewart-Haas Racing through 2023.

With Blaney’s name now off the list, here are drivers who are in the last year of their contracts:

Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing

Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske

Erik Jones, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing

Alex Bowman, No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports

Clint Bowyer, No. 14 Ford, Stewart-Haas Racing

Matt DiBenedetto, No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing

Aric Almirola, No. 10 Ford, Stewart-Haas Racing

Ty Dillon, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing

Bubba Wallace, No. 43 Chevrolet, Richard Petty Motorsports

Corey LaJoie, No. 32 Ford, GoFas Racing

Ryan Blaney signs multiyear extension to stay at Team Penske

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Scratch Ryan Blaney‘s name off the long list of potential free agents in the NASCAR Cup Series after this season.

Team Penske announced a multiyear extension with the No. 12 Ford driver Friday morning that “will keep him an integral part of the organization for years to come.”

Blaney is leading the points after three races of his fourth full season in Cup. He was in position to win at Daytona, Las Vegas and Fontana.

Earlier this season, Blaney, 26, said he was “tired of being at the bottom of the totem pole at Penske” while talking about the team’s personnel shake-up this season. Penske swapped crew chiefs for its trio of Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and paired Blaney with Todd Gordon, formerly with Logano.

The list of drivers in contract years still includes Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman, who won Sunday at Fontana.

Blaney said in a press conference Friday at Phoenix Raceway that he and Team Penske began working on the extension in the offseason and that he didn’t talk to any other teams.

“Even though we pretty much had a full year left on our deal before my current one was up, I was really happy with where I was at,” Blaney said. “I love the people I’m around, I love working with all the teams. … I feel like I owe so much to Roger for what he’s done for me. I just didn’t really see myself right now anywhere else. Yeah, there’s a couple doors open, a couple seats open with other teams, but I didn’t talk to any other teams. If I was approached by another team I don’t know if I’d even want to talk to them because I was so happy where I was at. I’m so loyal to Roger. My mindset was if they’ll have me back, I’d love to be back. It was great that both of our minds set on that.”

Here’s the release from Team Penske:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (March 6, 2020) – Team Penske announced today that it has signed Ryan Blaney to a multiyear extension, which will keep him an integral part of the organization for years to come.  The current NASCAR Cup Series points leader and driver of the No. 12 Ford Mustang has been a member of Team Penske since 2012. During that time, he has earned three Cup Series victories and qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs in each of his three full-time seasons in the Cup Series.

“Ryan is a true talent with a long runway ahead of him and we are excited to have him as a part of the future of Team Penske,” said Roger Penske. “Since joining our team, Ryan has developed into a championship caliber driver and his personality and engagement with fans has made him a terrific ambassador for NASCAR.  In addition, Ryan has done a great job of working with our partners to support their activation and investment throughout each year. I am looking forward to even more success together.”

One of NASCAR’s rising stars, Blaney first joined Team Penske as a talented 18-year-old, competing in select NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) races for the team. He earned his first victory for Team Penske with an NXS win at Kentucky in 2013.  He then captured his first Cup Series victory driving for the Wood Brothers in 2017 at Pocono Raceway before joining Team Penske as a full-time Cup Series competitor in 2018.  The now 26-year-old Blaney has generated a combined nine wins and seven poles since joining the organization in 2012.

“I’ve always said, it’s been a lifelong dream to be able to drive a racecar for Roger Penske,” said Blaney. “I am proud of what we have accomplished with the No. 12 Team Penske Ford and our ability to represent great brands like Menards, Advance Auto Parts, DEX Imaging and BODYARMOR. It’s really exciting to know I will continue to drive for this organization in 2021 and beyond. I am fortunate to be surrounded by extremely talented people throughout the organization and have no doubt we will continue to compete for wins and championships well into the future.”

Through the first three races of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, Blaney leads the Cup Series point standings and has found himself in contention to be in a position to win in each event – which included a second-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500.  He also leads the series with a 6.3-average running position.

 

NASCAR America: Which drivers should be concerned by free agency?

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With several drivers (including some big names) possibly entering free agency after the 2020 season, contracts were a hot topic during NASCAR America’s first show of the year Monday.

Kyle Larson heads a list of drivers whose deals expire after the year. Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman also are impending free agents.

“There’s a lot of people who need to be concerned,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty said. “If you look at a Brad Keselowski, a Ryan Blaney, an Erik Jones, there’s a lot of upside on some of these guys.

“Now some of these guys are Kyle Petty. They already run their course. I think in this day and time as we look at a William Byron and some of the young guys coming through, I’d put Harrison Burton in a car before some of the guys on this list, and he’s never been in a Cup car. Because there’s upside. That’s where some of these guys, when that music stops, some of these guys aren’t going to have  a seat.”

Steve Letarte believes that Larson and Blaney are the two most likely to have “a pot of gold” awaiting them if they score multiple victories (especially early in the season). Petty, though, said he has “yet to see them put together a whole season. They’ve put pieces of a season together. Give me 36 solid races where I know your head is in the game. Then you move up on my list.”

Jeff Burton noted that Team Penske has strong ties to Blaney, Keselowski and DiBenedetto. “Roger Penske can’t lose that much talent, and he won’t,” Burton said. “I don’t know how you don’t put Brad on that list. He’s a champion who consistently runs up front. We talk about should (Larson) run sprint cars, and the only thing he’s doing is running his stock up. If he can hop in a sprint car and win races, it puts (pressure) on Ganassi.

“I agree with Larson and Blaney, but if I own a race team, and Brad Keselowksi is available, I’m surely going to sit there and have a conversation with him.”

To watch more on the discussion of 2020 free agents, click on the video above.

Alex Bowman on contract future at Hendrick: ‘Every year is pivotal’

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CHARLOTTE – He made the playoffs during his first full year at Hendrick Motorsports. He scored his first Cup victory in his second full season with the team.

And for Year Three with a NASCAR powerhouse?

“Got to go win a championship,” Alex Bowman said with a laugh Thursday morning during Hendrick Motorsports’ Media Day.

There isn’t quite that much pressure on the No. 88 Chevrolet driver, but 2020 could be pivotal in a series where drivers often work on three-year contract cycles. Bowman will be among at least eight winning drivers (including Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer and Erik Jones, to name just a few) who will be the subject of speculation during a contract year.

“I think every year is a pivotal year,” Bowman said when asked whether his deal emphasizes the need for more improvement and results. “And every year I want to go run well. It doesn’t matter what a piece of paper says. At no time are you really safe in this business. I’ve had pieces of paper tell me I was safe before and get fired, so I don’t think you’re safe at any time.

“I think at every moment, you need to make the most of every opportunity so I think every year is a pivotal year.”

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Bowman, who replaced the retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 after the 2017 season, said he and team owner Rick Hendrick talked briefly last year about his next contract.

“To be honest with you, I’m not really worried about it,” he said. “This is where I want to be, driving a race car for HMS is what I want to do. I want to stay here as long as I can, and I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen. Right now, what I can do to make that happen is go perform on the racetrack.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean a championship, but Bowman would like to go deeper after reaching the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons.

He also would like to improve his results on short tracks and overall consistency. While doubling his top fives (seven in 2019, up from three in 2018), Bowman had 12 top 10s last year, which was only one more than ’18.

Though he had a stretch of three consecutive runner-up finishes (Talladega, Dover and Kansas) in the spring, he had only three top fives in the final 19 races of 2019 after his breakthrough victory June 30 at Chicagoland Speedway.

“We’d have a 25th-place run one week and then go run second the next week and go run bad again,” he said. “A lot of that just comes from trying to improve our race cars. We definitely need to start races better. For whatever reason, we start races poorly and improve throughout the day. We typically end up with a pretty decent finish, but those first two stages we lose out on a lot of stage points, and we really can’t afford that. So I know we’re working really hard to figure out why we tend to start so poorly and how we can improve on that.”

Hendrick will have a redesigned Camaro body this season, and NASCAR will return to lower downforce on the short tracks (where Bowman didn’t finish higher than 14th in six starts last year).

“Hopefully that’ll help,” Bowman said of the changes. “We definitely have to capitalize on our strengths on (1.5-mile tracks). I feel like our weaknesses are ever changing. For a while in 2018, they were the mile and halves. Now those are our strengths, and our weaknesses are the places we used to be strong at, so we just need to be more consistent.

“I think if we make the Round of 8, that would be a good accomplishment, but we need to win more than just one race.”

Bowman, who turns 27 in April, will enter 2020 with the security of a recently announced primary sponsor package to fill the void left by Nationwide.

“I saw people on Twitter say if they don’t get a sponsor they’re not going to run (the No. 88) and blah blah blah,” he said. “As soon as we knew Nationwide wasn’t coming back, Mr. Hendrick sat me down and said, ‘Hey, even if we don’t find a sponsor, you’re fine. It’ll all be fine.’

“Obviously having a sponsor is very important, and I’m really excited that we were able to announce that yesterday, but at the same time it wasn’t ever like a worry or a stress point. It was kind of annoying that everybody kept talking about, but I’m really just focused on going and doing my job and controlling what I can control and do the best I can.”