still some serious business this Silly Season


The racing in NASCAR has ended for 2017, and plenty of drivers took photos with their crews Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, knowing that would be the last time many of them would be together.

Some still don’t know where they’re going.

Here’s what will change for 2018 (and some of what is still up in the air), in order by where drivers finished in the top 30 in the standings:

* Matt Kenseth (seventh) is out of a ride at Joe Gibbs Racing and has said he is not expecting to return to full-time NASCAR Cup competition. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff is moving to JGR’s Xfinity Series team to crew chief Christopher Bell.

* Ryan Blaney (ninth) is moving from Wood Brothers Racing to a third Team Penske car. His crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, is going with him.

* Kurt Busch (14th) still doesn’t have a ride for next season but Stewart-Haas Racing team co-owner Tony Stewart said earlier this month the team was close to re-signing Busch for 2018. Even if Busch does return, he could have a new crew chief as Tony Gibson has indicated he is willing to get off the road but also would do whatever the team decides for him next year.

* Kasey Kahne (15th) was released from Hendrick Motorsports and will replace Michael McDowell at Leavine Family Racing. Dale Earnhardt Jr. car chief Travis Mack will go with him to be his crew chief. Darian Grubb, who replaced Keith Rodden as crew chief for Kahne in September, will remain as crew chief of the team and new driver William Byron. That team will carry the No. 24, as Chase Elliott will switch from No. 24 to No. 9.

* Erik Jones (19th) will leave Furniture Row Racing to replace Matt Kenseth in the JGR No. 20 car. Crew chief Chris Gayle will go with him. The Furniture Row No. 77 team will shut down.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. (21st) is retiring from full-time NASCAR Cup racing. He will be replaced by Alex Bowman in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 car.

* Paul Menard (23rd) is leaving Richard Childress Racing and will replace Blaney at Wood Brothers Racing. His crew chief will be Greg Erwin, who was crew chief for Team Penske in the Xfinity Series, where the No. 22 car won the owners title.

* Ty Dillon (24th) will have a new crew chief next year with Robert “Bootie” Barker having parted ways with Germain Racing. The team has not announced a new crew chief. Its alliance with RCR means a new crew chief likely will come from the RCR stable.

* McDowell (26th) is being replaced by Kahne at Leavine Family Racing. McDowell is a candidate to drive for Front Row Motorsports, but the team has not made any final decisions on its NASCAR lineup for next year. Todd Parrott, his crew chief for much of the 2017 season, parted ways with the organization late this season.

* Danica Patrick (28th) won’t return to Stewart-Haas Racing and plans to drive in the 2018 Daytona 500 as her last NASCAR race. She also will drive in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 before calling it a career as far as racing. She has not said which team(s) she will race for, although Chip Ganassi Racing is a possibility for both. Billy Scott will remain at SHR as crew chief for the No. 10 for driver.

* Aric Almirola (29th) will take over for Patrick in the SHR No. 10 car. He will be replaced at Richard Petty Motorsports by Darrell Wallace Jr.

* David Ragan (30th) could return to Front Row Motorsports, which has yet to announce its 2018 driver lineup. He definitely will have a new teammate as Landon Cassill (31st) will not return to FRM.

In summary, the biggest rides currently open are the SHR No. 41 car (Busch likely) and the RCR No. 27 car. With no sponsorship announced, the RCR car appears in limbo but the organization might need to field the car if it wants all the manufacturer support from Chevy for next season. It is possible that RCR aligns with another team to field the car throughout the year. Who drives that car depends on sponsorship.

In addition to driver and crew chief changes, there could be one major manufacturer change: Richard Petty Motorsports has yet to decide whether it will field a Ford or a Chevrolet next season. Toyota executives said their lineup is set.

Another key piece to 2018 that still needs to be announced is which teams will have the 36 guaranteed positions for each race. Those go to teams with NASCAR-issued charters.

The Furniture Row No. 77 team charter has been sold to JTG Daugherty Racing for its No. 37 car.

Among those teams that need a charter for 2018: Team Penske (Blaney), Wood Brothers Racing (Menard) and TriStar Motorsports (Cole Whitt).

Teams that currently have extra charters for next year include Roush Fenway Racing (it gets back the one leased to JTG), Richard Petty Motorsports (it gets back the one leased to Go Fas Racing, which gets back the charter it leased to the Wood Brothers) and Front Row Motorsports (it gets back the one leased to TriStar). If RCR doesn’t field the No. 27 car, RCR also would have a charter available for lease or sale.

Teams are allowed to lease out a charter for one year but then must use it or sell it over a five-year period. There is no limit as far as how many years a team can lease a charter from various organizations to keep the guaranteed spot in the field, it just can’t be the same charter year-to-year.

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