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Silly season scorecard: Daniel Suarez joins Gaunt Brothers Racing

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The biggest remaining piece to the puzzle that was the 2019-20 NASCAR silly season has been put into place with the confirmation that Daniel Suarez will compete full-time in the Cup Series with Gaunt Brothers Racing.

Suarez moves from Stewart-Haas Racing over to GBR to drive its No. 96 Toyota. This will be the first full-time Cup campaign for the team.

Here’s a recap of all the major headlines from silly season.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 00: Quin Houff will race for Star Com Racing full-time. Announced Nov. 27.

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 15: Brennan Poole will make his Cup debut and will drive for Premium Motorsports full-time. Announced Dec 11.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after the 2019 season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 32: Corey LaJoie will return for a second straight full season with Go Fas Racing and the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year. Ryan Sparks will serve as his crew chief.

No. 37: Ryan Preece moves from the No. 47 to the No. 37. He will have a new crew chief, Trent Owens, who has been crew chief on the No. 37 for the past three seasons.

No. 38: John Hunter Nemechek replaces the now retired David Ragan for Front Row Motorsports. Announced Dec. 12.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 47: JTG Daugherty Racing announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. On Dec. 2, the team announced Stenhouse will drive the No. 47, with Brian Pattie serving as his crew chief.

No. 77: Ross Chastain will drive the car as part of a partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing and Spire Motorsports in the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600 (announcement made Jan. 9).

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

No. 96: Daniel Suarez joins Gaunt Brothers Racing for his fourth full-time Cup season and the team’s first (announcement made Jan. 28).

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley and Joey Gase will drive two of the team’s three full-time rides. The third driver has not been named yet, although David Ragan will compete in the Daytona 500.

Kaulig Racing: The Xfinity Series team will attempt to make its Cup Series debut in the Daytona 500 with Justin Haley (announcement made Jan. 10).

ANNOUNCED PLANS IN OTHER NASCAR SERIES

Xfinity Series 

Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 Ross Chastain would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley, who returns for a second full-time season and will drive the No. 11 Chevy.

More: Kaulig Racing announces full-time crew chiefs for 2020

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Will field the No. 21 full-time with three drivers, Myatt Snider, Anthony Alfredo and Kaz Grala. Andy Street will serve as crew chief. Snider will also compete in selected races for Ryan Sieg Racing.

Stewart-Haas RacingChase Briscoe will remain with the team for his second full-time season (announcement made Jan. 6).

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team, while Colby Howard will compete for the majority of the season.

SS Greenlight Racing – Former Richard Childress Racing driver Joe Graf Jr. will compete full-time in the No. 08 Chevrolet (announcement made Jan. 16)

Martins MotorsportsTommy Joe Martins‘ team returns to the track with Martins set to drive the No. 44 car (announcement made Dec. 24).

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed, Tyler Ankrum and in six races, World of Outlaws driver David Gravel.

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Halmar Friesen Racing — Stewart Friesen will return for a third full-time season in the No. 52 Truck. The team will also switch from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2020.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

Niece Motorsports – Ty Majeski will drive the No. 45 truck full-time, taking the place of Ross Chastain. Announced Dec. 10. Carson Hocevar and Natalie Decker will compete part-time for the team.

DGR-Crosley/Front Row Motorsports – An alliance between the two teams will field an entry for Todd Gilliland in the No. 38 truck (announced Jan. 13), but it will be in a Ford instead of a Toyota (Announced Dec. 11).

McAnally-Hilgemann Racing – 2019 NASCAR ARCA Menards Series West champion Derek Kraus will compete full-time for the new team in the No. 19 (announcement made Jan. 13).

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Silly Season scorecard: RCR makes Tyler Reddick’s promotion official

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And then there was one.

Two of the Xfinity Series’ Big 3 will move to the Cup Series next season with Wednesday’s announcement that Tyler Reddick will take over Richard Childress Racing’s No. 8 Chevrolet in 2020.

Reddick will join Christopher Bell, who will drive Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 Toyota, in Cup next year. No announcement has been made on the 2020 plans for Cole Custer, the other driver among the Big 3 in the Xfinity Series.

Here are where things stand with Silly Season:

OPEN RIDES ANNOUNCED FOR 2020

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

No. 37: JTG Daugherty Racing has an opening with Chris Buescher moving back to Roush Fenway Racing to take over the No. 17 car next year.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Clint Bowyer His contract expires after this season with the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team. Take it whatever way you want but Bowyer stated Sept. 20 that he did a commercial shoot in September with Kevin Harvick for next season.

Kurt Busch His contract expires after this season. Car owner Chip Ganassi has suggested in media reports that a deal will be done. Busch declined to discuss much about his contract status before the Sept. 29 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, stating: “We haven’t really started talks. I felt like it was good to get the playoffs underway and go as far as we could comfortably. Man, there’s a lot going on and we’ll see how things play out. Again, it’s all about all the stars lining up with Chevrolet, Monster Energy, myself, Chip. For me, I feel like things haven’t progressed because of the focus on the playoffs.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finds himself without a ride after this season with Roush Fenway Racing announcing that Chris Buescher will replace Stenhouse in the No. 17 car in 2020.

Daniel Suarez He has said that both he and the team have an option on his contract for next year. He has remained confident that he will return to Stewart-Haas Racing to drive the No. 41 car.

Silly Season scorecard: Shake-up at Roush Fenway Racing

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had a contract with Roush Fenway Racing through 2021. Didn’t matter. The team announced Wednesday that Stenhouse will be out of the No. 17 car after this season and Chris Buescher will take over the ride.

How can Stenhouse be out of a ride?

While team contracts are private, contracts do include team options, meaning the team has the option to pick up the terms of the deal for a particular year or years, and performance clauses that, if not met, can led to termination or restructuring of the deal.

Missing the playoffs each of the last two seasons didn’t help Stenhouse. And with new teammate Ryan Newman grinding his way to a playoff spot – and possibly a spot in the second round – it was obvious that Roush Fenway Racing officials felt they could do better.

Now Roush Fenway Racing is reunited with Buescher. He drove for the team in the Xfinity Series in select races in 2011 and 2013 and ran the full season in 2014-15, winning the 2015 series title.

Roush Fenway Racing farmed Buescher to Front Row Motorsports in 2016 because Roush didn’t have room for him with its Cup lineup and was not in a position to expand. Buescher then went to JTG Daugherty in 2017 and has been there since.

OPEN RIDES FOR 2020

No. 8: With Richard Childress Racing stating that Daniel Hemric won’t return to the team (announcement made Sept. 17) next season, all that is left to be done is for the official word that Tyler Reddick will move up to take that ride. Childress spoke July 30 about wanting to keep Reddick.

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

No. 37: JTG Daugherty Racing has an opening here with Chris Buescher moving back to Roush Fenway Racing to take over the No. 17 car next year.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves up to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Clint Bowyer His contract expires after this season with the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team but Bowyer stated Sept. 20 that he did a commercial shoot with Kevin Harvick for Mobil 1 last week for next season.

Kurt Busch His contract expires after this season but all indications are that he’ll return to the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team with Monster Energy in 2020.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finds himself without a ride after this season with Roush Fenway Racing announcing that Chris Buescher will replace Stenhouse in the No. 17 car in 2020.

Daniel Suarez He has said that both he and the team have an option on his contract for next year. He has remained confident that he will return to Stewart-Haas Racing to drive the No. 41 car.

Silly Season scorecard: Christopher Bell moving to Cup in 2020

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Not that there was any doubt, but Leavine Family Racing made it official that Christopher Bell will join the team in 2020 to drive the No. 95 car in Cup.

What stood out about Tuesday’s announcement were the details:

# Jason Ratcliff, Bell’s crew chief in the Xfinity Series at Joe Gibbs Racing, will join Bell at Leavine Family Racing.

# Mike Wheeler, the No. 95 team’s current crew chief, will remain and become the competition director.

# The technical alliance between Leavine Family Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota Racing Development will be enhanced.

# As part of his statement, Bell said sponsor Rheem would follow him to the No. 95 car and join current sponsor Procore.

ANNOUNCED OPEN RIDES FOR 2020

No. 8: With Richard Childress Racing stating that Daniel Hemric won’t return to the team (announcement made Sept. 17) next season, all that is left to be done is for the official word that Tyler Reddick will move up to take that ride. Childress spoke July 30 about wanting to keep Reddick.

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves up to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

No. 1: Kurt Busch‘s contract expires after this season but all indications are that he’ll return to the Chip Ganassi Racing team with Monster Energy in 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer‘s contract expires after this season but Bowyer stated Sept. 20 that he did a commercial shoot with Kevin Harvick for Mobil 1 last week for next season.

No. 41: Daniel Suarez has said that both he and the team have an option on his contract for next year. He has remained confident that he will return to Stewart-Haas Racing.

Ryan: Paul Menard gives NASCAR a happy (and predictably quiet) ending

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The feel-good stunner of Silly Season naturally would involve the most taciturn and tight-lipped of NASCAR drivers pulling the primary levers.

In what can be described only as a Peak Paul Menard power move, Wood Brothers Racing shocked the NASCAR world Tuesday morning with the unexpected announcement that Menard will exit the No. 21 Ford after the 2019 season and hand the keys to Matt DiBenedetto.

Menard essentially ended his full-time career and hand-picked his successor with hardly anyone being that much the wiser ahead of time.

Not that Menard (who had said a few months ago that he planned to return in 2020) even noticed he had kept the biggest secret in NASCAR since Carl Edwards’ sudden retirement (and even that leaked a half-day ahead).

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“It wasn’t my goal to keep it a huge secret,” Menard said. “It’s just something that I spoke to the people that needed to know.  (Wood Brothers Racing co-owners) Eddie, Len (Wood). The folks at Penske. It is what it is.”

We would expect nothing less from the famously reserved Menard, who was never one to trumpet his personal or professional life during 13 seasons in Cup of mostly remaining private about anything beyond racing.

In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, he demurred when facing questions about several topics — notably the timeline of his decision and the ages of the young daughter and son whom he cited as the primary reason for his retirement from the rigors of full-time Cup racing.

“Watching them grow and missing out on a couple things they’ve been doing, it’s hard as a father, as a parent,” said Menard, who turned 39 last month and began racing at 8. “This sport takes so much dedication to run at the top level. I want what’s best for the 21 team. I want what’s best for my family.”

Though there are signs he could remain at Team Penske in some sort of executive capacity (his family’s company also sponsors this year’s winning Indianapolis 500 car of Simon Pagenaud and his father, John, is a longtime friend of Roger Penske), Menard declined to get into specifics.

“We’re not there yet,” he said. “I guess that’s in the future.”

And though he indicated he will continue to race (“it’s not going just to 38 weeks a year, I can tell you that.”), Menard also provided few hints of whether it’ll be in NASCAR.         

“Ice racing,” the Eau Claire, Wisconsin, native deadpanned. “I haven’t done that in a few years. We might build a bad-ass ice racing car.”

The answer is revelatory because it’s what often is missed about the quiet scion to a multibillion-dollar home improvement warehouse fortune. Racing never has been about fame or money but his passion for motorsports.

Menard’s father has been a fixture at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for 40 years and instilled that love of auto racing in Paul, which is why Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie Wood asked for his input on a replacement.

“Racers know racers,” Wood said. “I value Paul’s opinion. The only answer that came out of his mouth was Matt.  It did come together really, really quickly.  Matt was pretty much ready to go.  Just the way it all unfolded, it was like it was meant to be.”

It would be hard to find someone worthier than DiBenedetto, who is being cut loose by Leavine Family Racing as a team business decision casualty during the best season of his career. After “betting on himself” by walking away from Go Fas Racing with nothing lined up, DiBenedetto’s gamble was punctuated by a runner-up finish last month at Bristol Motor Speedway that is the Cinderella story of 2019.

He has three top five finishes in the past 11 races and is delivering better results under immense pressure than any previous driver at LFR … but it wasn’t enough.

LFR’s No. 95 Camry reportedly will be filled next year by Christopher Bell, whose contract with Joe Gibbs Racing ensures that LFR will be more closely aligned with the Toyota powerhouse than ever before.

Yet DiBenedetto’s move to Wood Brothers Racing, which is just as tightly affiliated with Team Penske, ensures that he will inherit an opportunity that is just as good.

Since forming the alliance with Penske three years ago, Wood Brothers Racing has risen to the fringe of the Cup elite. Ryan Blaney won at Pocono Raceway and took the storied franchise to the third round of the playoffs in 2017. Though Menard missed the playoffs the past two seasons, he has been trending in the direction of speed and performance lately (another reason Tuesday’s news was such a bombshell).

At best, it seemed a lateral or regressive move awaited DiBenedetto if he wanted to stay in Cup.

Instead, he gets the best break of his NASCAR career.

“This is the most incredible opportunity in my whole life,” DiBenedetto said of his one-year deal for 2020. “Not only from a performance standpoint, but from just being able to drive for such a legendary team, a family I’ve had so much respect for (and) has always treated me like gold.”

It’s a neat and unexpected twist that delighted NASCAR Twitter and should please a NASCAR Nation of fans who increasingly have decried drivers who get rides because they bring money instead of merit.

In this case, it’s the guy who broke into NASCAR largely through his sponsor connections choosing the guy who has desperately searched for jobs because of his lack of sponsor connections.

With the support of his family’s successful company, Menard’s racing future rarely has been in doubt, and some detractors have charged that nepotism kept him in Cup for longer than it would have for many drivers.

The criticism isn’t entirely fair to Menard, who won the 2011 Brickyard 400 and consistently has finished between 17th and 23rd in points for eight of the past nine seasons (between Wood Brothers Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports, which followed earlier stints at Yates Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc.).

Yes, his surname undoubtedly has buoyed his career, but his results also have been serviceable and comparable to many journeyman drivers who lasted nearly as long at NASCAR’s premier level.

But while Menard proved worthy of posting workingman’s results in Cup, he also has enjoyed job security and little fear or pressure of losing his ride.

It’s been the opposite for DiBenedetto, who has been forced to openly campaign for employment while “racing for his life” this summer. He still was surprised when the call came from Penske a few days after Bristol.

“I definitely wasn’t expecting it,” DiBenedetto said. “But one thing I’ve always said is a priority of mine has been always gaining respect of other drivers and veterans like Paul because they can be your best allies and huge influence on your entire career.  This is a perfect example.

“Paul is not only making a big decision for his life and career, but he’s impacting my entire life, family, everything I’ve worked for my whole life. A ‘thank you’ for stuff like that can never be enough.”

And it’s even more impactful when it comes just as out of the blue for the rest of the world.

It’s kind of nice this was the Silly Season rumor that no one knew about ahead of time.

As Paul Menard will tell you, silence can be golden.