As 2017 winds down, a few surprising names are out of a ride in NASCAR. With only a few seats still up in the air, which driver is most likely to be out in the cold without a ride next year?
Michael Massie: In NASCAR, drivers rarely have the option to go out on their own terms. There is only a handful of drivers that have done retirement tours, while the majority were more or less forced out of the sport. Matt Kenseth will go out in the manner of the latter. Kenseth still has loads of talent left in the tank, but no one wants a 45-year-old driver in today’s NASCAR.
Christian Koelle: Unless Kenseth takes sponsorship with him from Joe Gibbs Racing, he will be the odd man out when the music stops. There are a lot of rumors floating around many different drivers, but these are never truly something to believe. Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch will stay at Stewart-Haas Racing and Kasey Kahne will have a ride, whether it be in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series or the XFINITY Series with a Hendrick Motorsports-backed team.
Samarth Kanal: Aric Almirola‘s contract reportedly ends at the end of 2017, and it looks like Darrell Wallace Jr. could be in the No. 43 next year if he manages to wrangle a sponsorship deal. Patrick also looks unlikely to be in a seat next year as she steps up her nutritional business ventures in anticipation of a career away from NASCAR.
John Haverlin: The driver that should be out of a ride is Patrick, but since she brings the sponsorship dollars, she’ll maintain her place at SHR for one more year. Kenseth is most likely to be out of a ride because he’s losing sponsors. There’s been talk of him driving the No. 77 next year, but I can’t really see 5-Hour Energy getting behind a driver who is near the twilight of his career.
Vito Pugliese: More than likely Patrick, and I believe that is by design. A number of hard hits this year coupled with a career of devastating head-on collisions at the big tracks have probably helped her pursue her other passions such as cooking, her clothing line and her significant other. She gave it a solid five years, which is plenty of time to have accomplished a goal of competing in a series whose season is twice as long as the one she came from, and while she hasn’t won a race, she’s really not fared that much worse than other open wheelers who tried to come south. Nobody bemoans Steve Kinser, Paul Tracy or Dario Franchitti for not winning a race, so I’m not sure why Patrick gets held to such a different standard.
Chevrolet announced it will campaign the Camaro in the Cup Series in 2018, and now Ford has said it’d consider racing the Mustang in NASCAR’s top series. Are muscle cars a way to connect fans to the series?
Phil Allaway: To a certain subset of fans, absolutely. To me, no. I was fully expecting something along the lines of a Malibu. The Cup Series really hasn’t been about that since the early 1970s. Since then, the cars have typically been grocery-getters and personal luxury coupes, a type of car that isn’t built anymore. To a certain extent, Cup has been home to cars you wouldn’t expect to see racing. Completely fine with that. It isn’t like the cars are putting around with 132 horsepower on track. Problem is, a Camaro ZL1 or Mustang might not appeal to a younger fan. They might want to see something else.
Mark Howell: Muscle cars are a good way to connect with fans because they tend to be more recognizable than your typical grocery-getter. Muscle means performance, so having a Mustang in the MECS would carry more street cred than the Fusion we currently see.
Matt McLaughlin: People who like performance cars like racing and people who like racing like performance cars. Hell yeah, it’s time to add the Mustang to the mix, but let’s go one better. With most racing Mustangs, the ones with the stellar reputations were Shelbys. Let’s have the GT500 face off against the Camaro ZL1. (By the way, a moronic marketing attempt by Chevy in that original 1969 ZL1 Camaro had an all-aluminum 427 courtesy of the pranksters at the central office. They were never intended for anything but drag racing, and only 69 were built. Besides, the Sox and Martin Cudas beat the ZL1 like a drum.) I didn’t see any mention of it, but last Sunday there were actually a couple Dodge Challengers in the field for the XFINITY race. You know how I knew? Because they looked like Dodge Challengers as opposed to the Ford Fusions or even Chevy Camaros. As per Toyota, it won’t even provide a V6 engine in the Camry anymore. If a Camry had a dating profile, it would note that it likes knitting, gardening and cats, and add that it was coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs. But we do have some lovely parting gifts for Toyota.
Massie: I love that the Camaro is coming to Cup, and I want the Mustang to follow suit. I am really curious to see what Toyota would do in response to these changes. It is definitely a way to reconnect with fans. I see way more Camaros and Mustangs on the road than SSs or Fusions. Maybe there are more of the latter on the road, but they do not catch my eye when I see them like the muscle cars do. If NASCAR really wants to connect fans to these muscle cars, it will change the rules to make them resemble the ones you do see on the road.
On his radio show, Kevin Harvick said he thinks NASCAR should run a wild-card race after Richmond Raceway for all drivers without a win, possibly mid-week at a track not currently on the schedule, for a last-chance to make the playoffs. Should NASCAR consider this in the future?
Massie: Yes, yes, yes. Kevin Harvick has the best ideas sometimes. Anything that changes how stale the current schedule is would have my vote. It would be ultra exciting to do a mid-week last chance race if it were at a short track. This would be considered blasphemy at NASCAR headquarters, but let’s have this happen at a track not owned by International Speedway Corporation or Speedway Motorsports, Inc. How awesome would it be to see the Cup drivers duke it out for the last playoff spot at Bowman Gray Stadium or South Boston Speedway?
Koelle: I see this idea and it just screams Iowa Speedway. A short track Saturday night for the Cup Series in Newton, Iowa, would be perfect for this. I would propose an off-weekend between Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway to host this race. It would let NASCAR test the waters in Iowa for the Cup Series and see if the interest is there. Make it like a testing weekend for new NASCAR tracks that are proposed to move to Cup.
Haverlin: Not at all. If a driver can’t win in the first 26 races, they don’t deserve to compete in the playoffs. Simple as that.
Pugliese: No. It’s hard to swallow 16 guys being eligible for a championship to begin with. Such an event would legitimately be a charity race and has no place at the highest levels of motorsport.
Amy Henderson: Maybe. I don’t like the idea of watering down the title contenders any more than they are, but the ide itself has merit. So how about this: a Tuesday race at a short track not too terribly far from home (and if SMI can get Nashville Fairgrounds up and running, it’d be perfect), with only the non-winners eligible, for zero points and a million-dollar purse? It would be fun and exciting and give those drivers’ fans something to cheer for. Win all around.
The Cup and XFINITY series return to Darlington this week for what’s now become a traditional throwback weekend. Whose retro paint scheme is the best this year?
McLaughlin: The robin egg’s blue No. 24 Chevy, which commemorates the first Cup car Chase Elliott‘s dad raced. As is stands written in the Book of Bruce, “from small things, mama, big things one day come.”
Massie: As a proud Richmond, Va., native, my heart leapt for joy when I saw that Denny Hamlin will adorn a Ray Hendrick tribute paint scheme. Hendrick is a legend in my neck of the woods, and he was even included in NASCAR’s list of the 50 greatest drivers of all time that came out in 1998. A lot of NASCAR fans are probably unfamiliar with Mr. Modified and his accomplishments. I applaud Hamlin for paying his respects to one of the icons of grassroots racing and using his platform to educate this generation about Hendrick.
Koelle: This is a very tough decision, but it comes down to either Clint Bowyer’s throwback to Mark Martin or Matt DiBenedetto’s throwback to Bobby Allison. Martin was my first favorite driver as a kid, and DiBenedetto’s scheme just looks amazing; someone over at Go Fas Racing really paid attention to detail. Going to the two lower series, I really like the look of Michael Annett’s No. 5 this weekend and its throwback, and then John Hunter Nemechek’s throwback to his father’s paint scheme is the best-looking truck.
Kanal: Brad Keselowski‘s Rusty Wallace replica is as close as it could be to the original. Not only that, the gold and black scheme remains striking and will always be a classic on any stock car. However, it’s Dylan Lupton‘s tribute to Jeff Gordon on the No. 24 XFINITY Camry that is the boldest choice for Darlington. The rainbow scheme will always be one of NASCAR’s most iconic.
Haverlin: Lupton’s XFINITY scheme is the winner of best throwback. How could the iconic Rainbow Warrior scheme not be the best? If I were a fan thinking about going to Darlington this weekend, I’d definitely love to see that colorful No. 24 on the track. It’s uber famous and might give Lupton a little more exposure to himself and JGL Racing as it looks to become a successful XFINITY program.
Pugliese: Have to hand it to the Wood Brothers this year. While its normal paint scheme is a bit retro as well, the Kyle Petty/Neil Bonnett look like weekend looks beautiful. Kyle Larson‘s Mello Yello Kyle Petty scheme from 2015 was the best one to date and will remain so until Roush Fenway Racing runs the 1992-1995 No. 6 Valvoline scheme that Mark Martin ran and scored 14 wins with.
Allaway: Bowyer’s No. 14 Carolina Ford Dealers Ford. It is an actual sponsorship for the race, not just an old scheme with current sponsors. The scheme looks pretty clean, and we’re talking about Bowyer here; There’s no doubt that he’s all-in on this. For the XFINITY Series, the Cale Yarborough Hardee’s throwback that Dakoda Armstrong will be driving, as opposed to the car Elliott Sadler will drive (similar in design, not in colors).
Howell: I’m really taken with Patrick’s Yates-inspired Ford, and I Elliott’s nod to his father’s first Cup car is very cool. As a historian and a race fan, I’m getting to where Darlington is perhaps my most anticipated weekend. Maybe it’s just because I’m old and can remember seeing many of these paint schemes when they were original.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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