It’s enough to keep your head spinning for the duration of the 2018 playoffs. Never in recent memory has a Silly Season been this, well, silly. There are the mainstays, like the Team Penske squad, that are remaining intact, but then there are teams that haven’t technically announced their 2019 plans even toward the end of September — and that’s not to mention someone like JTG Daugherty Racing, which parted ways with Allmendinger despite him having two years left on the initial five-year contract he signed.
All of which is to say that just because your favorite is supposedly locked in to their 2019 ride does not mean they’ll actually be there come the Daytona 500.
The following, then, are some of the changes rumored for 2019. We’re not talking stuff that’s already confirmed, like Ryan Newman to the No. 6 for Roush Fenway Racing. This is more about Newman’s replacement at Richard Childress Racing, the new driver of the No. 47, whatever’s to come of Furniture Row Racing’s old charter.
Some are more fully formed than others, which are still shrouded in mystery as the 2018 season reaches its conclusion. And even more could not even be listed here — because again, just because a multi-year contract is in place doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t an out.
No. 1, Chip Ganassi Racing: We already know McMurray’s not returning to the No. 1 seat in 2019, at least in a full-time role. The question of what happens to this car — or at least the number — is foggier. For starters, McMurray reportedly has an open offer from owner Chip Ganassi to run the Daytona 500 in an extra car, and if the No. 1 takes on a new number entirely for its next driver, there’s nothing saying McMurray might not take Ganassi up on that offer and run the No. 1 one last time. But the more realistic scenario is that someone else will take over the number in 2019, and Kurt Busch has been the lead prospect, even though he technically hasn’t announced his departure from Stewart-Haas Racing.
No. 15, Premium Motorsports: Premium Motorsports isn’t — or at least hasn’t been in the past — the type of team to hold on to drivers for multi-year contracts, so the No. 15 certainly gets a mention. Ross Chastain has been its primary driver in 2018, but with Chastain on the ups following his XFINITY Series win earlier this month at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, one has to figure he’d only return to this car as a last resort if no one else makes an offer. There’s no doubt the team will exist next year, but the question of who’s driving probably won’t be concrete until early next year.
No. 19, Joe Gibbs Racing: All right, technically Suarez hasn’t announced his departure from the team yet. But with no reported contract keeping him in the car past 2018, the rumors are there — and boy, are they bold, with Martin Truex Jr. apparently the main possibility for 2019 following the closure of FRR. Of course, Suarez could just end up in the ride after all next year — it’s not like anyone’s saying he’s unequivocally gone for good. But if he is, Truex seems like the likeliest replacement.
No. 23, Front Row Motorsports: There are a lot of assumptions to be made here, including: 1) That this team flips over to the FRM name next year instead of retaining the BK Racing designation like it has through the end of 2018. 2) That FRM will even keep the number the same, since it has a history with its own numbers that are very much not the No. 23. 3) That the team will even continue at all, in case FRM sells the charter to a completely new organization. Really, your guess here is as good as anyone’s, though the rumors that GMS Racing is looking to break into Cup persist each and every year, and GMS’ primary number for Spencer Gallagher has been the No. 23.
No. 31, Richard Childress Racing: Here’s a fun one: who takes over for Newman after his flight to RFR? There are two lead candidates here; originally Suarez led the list, given of course that he’s departing JGR at all, but in recent weeks, it’s been a different Daniel — Daniel Hemric — who’s slipped into the conversation. It’d certainly be a cleaner move, as Hemric would be promoted from RCR’s XFINITY Series organization, and reports are that sponsor Caterpillar is sticking with RCR rather than departing with Newman.
No. 32, Go FAS Racing: All indications here are that Joey Gase will step up to finally run a full-time Cup schedule for the team, after initially making his series debut with Go FAS in 2014. He’s the organization’s XFINITY driver, so it’s quite the no-brainer move should he have the necessary sponsorship — and judging by his full-season XFINITY exploits in addition to his part-time Cup status over the years, chances are he does.
No. 34, Front Row Motorsports: Michael McDowell has done an admirable job in the No. 34 this year for his first full-time season with the team. There have, however, been no announcements about the team’s status in 2019. That could mean absolutely nothing and McDowell could be back come Daytona, or the team could see a new driver in its seat next year. Hard to say right now.
No. 37, JTG Daugherty Racing: In 2017, Chris Buescher signed a multi-year deal to drive the No. 37. Well, after 2018, it’s officially been multiple years. Does that mean Buescher’s out? Not necessarily, and there is already sponsorship on the car for 2019, so this could be mere speculation. For what it’s worth, the No. 47 has historically been JTG’s flagship team — could Buescher be in the mix to move there, too?
No. 38, Front Row Motorsports: Much like FRM’s No. 34, there’s no indication if David Ragan will be back or if changes will come to this team next year. One has to figure, though, that Ragan’s had a fairly lengthy partnership with the team and would likely be welcome to stay as long as he’s still wanting to drive, unless someone comes into FRM with major outside sponsorship.
No. 41, Stewart-Haas Racing: Ah, remember when we went through this last year and Busch still ended up in the car? No one’s saying that won’t just happen again. But if Busch does end up at CGR as rumored (he does reportedly have at least two contract offers for next year, regardless), Suarez has been linked here, too. And with Hemric’s recent surge into the conversation over at RCR’s No. 31, it’s looking more and more like this is where Suarez will end up. Cole Custer has been rumored, too, but recent reports have him back in XFINITY yet again next year.
No. 47, JTG Daughery Racing: Unlike the team’s No. 37, we know for sure something’s happening here — in fact, by the time you read this, it may already have been announced, as the organization has a press conference scheduled for Friday, Sept. 28, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The most prevalent rumor has slotted Ryan Preece into the car for 2019, and there’s been little out there to dispute it.
No. 51, Rick Ware Racing: Rick Ware Racing has run a small fleet of drivers in its No. 51 in 2018, and 2019 will probably be similar, especially if Custer and SHR still need an outlet for him to run a few races before an eventual full-time Cup run. Not to say this car will never be piloted by the same driver for an entire season, it just doesn’t seem too likely.
No. 66: MBM Motorsports: Same as above, only on a part-time level, unless Carl Long and co. decide they want to try their hand at a full schedule.
No. 72, TriStar Motorsports: In 2018, Corey LaJoie and Cole Whitt have split TriStar’s efforts, and neither driver has indicated whether or not that’ll continue next year, though LaJoie confirmed on the Frontstretch Podcast last week he’d like to build something in the No. 72. They both have similar average finishes in the car, so either would be a decent pick, but Whitt has already backed away from a full schedule, so if anyone drove it full-time, it’d probably be LaJoie. But anything seems possible here.
No. 78, Furniture Row Racing: Gone! So the question that persists is more about its charter, which will go to the highest bidder for 2019, whoever that is. GMS Racing? Maybe. JR Motorsports? Probably more wishful thinking at this point, but sure. New team entirely? There is a rumor out there about a new team with a rookie driver, though it wasn’t specified if it was a brand-new team or just new to the Cup Series (which could then include GMS or JRM). This is really the development to watch this year, as no one really seems to have a clue what’s going to happen to the charter.
No. 95, Leavine Family Racing: Suarez? Yep, he’s mentioned here, too. Hemric had been as well, though that’s died down more recently as the RCR rumors have cropped up.
No. 96, Gaunt Brothers Racing: The team has ramped up its Cup involvement toward the end of 2018, with Jeffrey Earnhardt having been in the car for most of the time. Earnhardt’s had designs on a full-time Cup season multiple times — remember, he was supposed to run StarCom Racing’s No. 00 for the entire season this year — so perhaps this could be his home for the foreseeable future. The team has offered nothing on its 2019 plans as of yet, though.
No. 00, StarCom Racing: After a late-season debut last year, StarCom Racing has stuck around all year with its charter, which was leased from RCR. What happens to the team in 2019? Nothing announced just yet, but it does seem to have a decent thing going with Landon Cassill, all things considered.