2018 NASCAR Driver and Team Changes Preview

Jan 21, 2018 by Nascar Wagers

2018 NASCAR Driver and Team Changes Preview

2018 NASCAR Driver and Team Changes Preview
by Jay Horne of NASCARWagers.com, NASCAR Handicapping Service

We are now less than one month away from Daytona Speedweeks and the beginning of the 2018 season. Last year we watched many monumental moments come to fruition in NASCAR. A pair of future Hall of Fame drivers retired between Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Danica Patrick announced her tenure in the sport would not extend into 2018. Meanwhile, there were several other big announcements that highlighted changes for the upcoming season. Before we start any previews and expectations for 2018, I wanted to take this time to provide an overview that includes all notable driver and team changes that will be in effect for NASCAR in 2018 via the Monster Energy Cup Series.

Chase Elliott – #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevy

This is not technically a driver or team change. In fact, the term “rebranding” probably aligns more closely to Chase Elliott and the #9 team this year. The team has not changed in terms of sponsor, crew chief, or anything of major notoriety. The only thing changing is the number on the side of the car. Elliott will vacate the #24 in favor of rookie William Byron. Meanwhile, Elliott will drive the #9 car that was made famous by his father and Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott.

Aric Almirola – #10 Smithfield Ford

One of the biggest surprises towards the end of 2017 surrounded the announcement that Dancia Patrick would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing behind the #10 machine. Sources stated that insufficient sponsorships played a major role in that decision and perhaps Patrick’s mystique had finally run its course. This year Aric Almirola will leave the #43 team behind to take over Patrick’s previous ride with Stewart-Haas Racing. Smithfield will be the primary sponsor but Aspen Dental, TaxAct, and Mobil1 will be included in the 2018 season as well. Almirola will enter his 8th full-time season in NASCAR in what appears to be the best ride of his career. Previous race engineer John Klausmeier has been promoted to crew chief and will join Almirola on the #10 team.

Ryan Blaney – #12 Menards Ford

Ryan Blaney emerged as a potential breakout star last year with the Wood Brothers and earned his first victory at Pocono. The Wood Brothers continue to sustain an alliance with Team Penske and Blaney continued to participate for Team Penske’s Xfinity program in 2017 on a limited schedule. When Team Penske announced they would expand their program to add a 3rd car in 2018, Blaney was the obvious choice as one of the sport’s upcoming stars. Blaney will move into the #12 car joining crew chief Jeremy Bullins with Menards as the primary sponsor.

Erik Jones – #20 DeWalt Toyota

The reason Matt Kenseth’s career may have prematurely come to an end is because of rising superstar Erik Jones. Jones was signed to a 1-year deal with the #77 team at Furniture Row Racing last year who maintains an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. Since the majority of JGR driver’s contracts were secured, the organization had to make a choice to stay with Kenseth or secure the future with Jones. The latter prevailed and Jones will move into the #20 car this year with DeWalt staying on board as the primary sponsor. Crew chief Chris Gayle will also leave the #77 team to follow Jones with the #20 team.

Paul Menard – #21 Menards Ford

With Ryan Blaney’s departure from the Wood Brothers, Paul Menard is the driver that has been chosen to fill the seat behind the #21 car. Menard left Richard Childress Racing behind and will bring his family sponsorship with Menard’s onboard for the majority of the season. Team Penske will move Greg Erwin over to be the crew chief with Menard for the #21 team.

William Byron – #24 Liberty University Chevy

Rookie William Byron will step into the #24 car this year even though this is actually the #5 team previously led by Kasey Kahne. Byron has made a splash in each of the last two years as a rookie in the Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series. Byron broke the record for a rookie with 7 wins in his first year in the Truck Series and won the Xfinity Series title as a rookie last year with JR Motorsports who is affiliated with Hendrick Motorsports. Byron will join veteran crew chief Darian Grubb at Hendrick Motorsports behind the #24 Liberty University Chevy.

Michael McDowell – #32 Love’s Travel Shops Ford

In probably my least favorite silly season move, Michael McDowell will join Front Row Motorsports and teammate David Ragan behind the wheel of the #32 Love’s Travel Shops Ford. I previously enjoyed the success that McDowell had built with the #95 team and the rapport within that organization. Instead of sticking with McDowell, the team signed a prestigious name with Kasey Kahne and sent McDowell packing. Now McDowell will try to regroup once again with a lower tier team that has struggled to be competitive at Front Row Motorsports.

Darrell Wallace Jr – #43 Click N Close Chevy

No driver experienced the highs and lows of sponsorships and organizational announcements more than Darrell Wallace Jr in 2017. After beginning 2017 as the driver of the #6 car for Roush Fenway Racing’s Xfinity Series program, Wallace’s year come to a dramatic end when the team shutdown their program midway through the year. However, Wallace capitalized on the opportunity to drive for the #43 team when Aric Almirola was injured at Kansas Speedway. Wallace improved in each of his 4 starts with the #43 team closing out his final start with an 11 place finish at Kentucky. The efforts were strong enough to earn Wallace a permanent ride in 2018. While Wallace looks to re-energize the #43 program, Richard Petty is also shaking things up by leaving Ford and creating an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. As a result, the #43 returns to Chevrolet for the first time since 1980 when Petty was behind the wheel.

Alex Bowman – #88 Nationwide Insurance Chevy

When Dale Earnhardt Jr announced his upcoming retirement last year, one of the biggest questions that followed is “who would take over behind the wheel of the #88 car?” The question was finally answered when Rick Hendrick announced Alex Bowman would take over as the driver of the #88 car in 2018. Bowman filled in as Earnhardt’s replacement in 2016 for 10 races when Junior was sidelined with a concussion. The decision to put Bowman behind the wheel may not be surprising considering it as an extension to his work as Earnhardt’s fill-in during the 2016 season. However if you consider the fact that Rick Hendrick could have worked with drivers like Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick, among other potential options; the decision becomes pretty bold to stick with Bowman. Now Bowman team up with crew chief Greg Ives to prove Hendrick made the right decision as Nationwide Insurance stays on board.

Kasey Kahne – #95 Procore Chevy

After a 6 year stint with Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey Kahne will move onto a less prominent role with Leavine Family Racing. However, the #95 team made tremendous strides in 2017 with Michael McDowell behind the wheel and their partnership with Richard Childress Racing. Therefore, there is a strong possibility that Kahne could stay somewhat competitive in 2018 despite his declining performance in recent years. Kahne will join the #95 team under the guidance of Travis Mack atop the pit box.

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