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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

NASCAR 101: Keeping Up With 2019 NASCAR Driver Changes

Look. Hey. Look. Check this out. Click the link.

“Whew. What an off-season, right?” the naive-as-all-hell NASCAR 101 columnist wrote in February 2018, blissfully unaware of what was to come.

Hahahahaha. Haha. Ha.

2019 is a whole other animal. You thought last year’s list of pre-Daytona International Speedway changes were long and hard to keep track of? Cool. That’s cool, no, really. I just, y’know, hate to be the bearer of bad news and all, but the past few months’ Silly Season has been zanier than usual — and that’s just for the stuff we actually know, not to say much about the multiple unknowns that still dot some of NASCAR’s national series before the season officially kicks off this weekend.

Still, last year it was this space’s duty to make sense of what we knew.

So, uh, here.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

No. 1, Kurt BuschCheck it out: the 2004 Cup champion got himself a new ride. Busch joins Kyle Larson at Chip Ganassi Racing in 2019, replacing Jamie McMurray. Fear not if you enjoyed Busch’s Monster Energy paint scheme at Stewart-Haas Racing, because that made the jump, too. No current word on how long he’s here for.

No. 6, Ryan NewmanRoush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 snags itself a driver who’s won more than a single Daytona 500 in what’s almost been a decade ago at this point. Jury’s out on whether not he’ll top-10 or top-15 himself into the playoffs like he often has in the past.

No. 8, Daniel HemricSpeaking of Newman: here’s his old ride. Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 becomes the No. 8 for 2019, and Hemric’s the driver following a pair of races with the team in 2018 to get his feet wet. He’s still looking for his first NASCAR national series win, but don’t count him out; his results in the Xfinity Series for RCR were stellar.

No. 19, Martin Truex Jr.Furniture Row Racing is dead, long live Furniture Row Racing. Truex abandons ship to Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19, giving the number a veteran presence it’s missed since Carl Edwards ollied outta NASCAR.

No. 27, Casey MearsYeah, that Casey Mears, the one who hadn’t been in a Cup car since 2016 and in Xfinity since 2017. He’s back for the Daytona 500 in what’s currently a one-off ride jointly fielded between Germain Racing and Premium Motorsports (this is essentially the latter’s second car that’ll probably show up here and there, perhaps full time, in 2019).

No. 31, Tyler ReddickAnother one-off. Reddick, the defending Xfinity champion, is now with RCR’s Xfinity program (more on that below) and has a quick stint in the Daytona 500 for his Cup debut. No word on if his schedule will expand, but he’s proved himself a strong plate racer, so don’t be surprised if he’s on the entry list at Daytona or Talladega Superspeedway later this year, too.

No. 32, Corey LaJoie: LaJoie moves on to slightly greener pastures from TriStar Motorsports to Go FAS Racing in 2019, this time as a full-time gig.

No. 36, Matt Tifft: Front Row Motorsports is back at three full-time teams with the addition of Tifft, who will make his Cup debut at Daytona in the No. 36 and run for Rookie of the Year honors.

No. 40, Jamie McMurray: McMurray’s Daytona 500 ride in the No. 40 for CGR, recalling his first ride in the series, could be his last in the Cup Series. The car is fielded in a partnership with Spire Motorsports, who will use the associated charter as the No. 77 for the remainder of the year.

No. 41, Daniel SuarezOne of the worst-kept secrets in NASCAR was finally made official last month with Suarez’s move to SHR after Truex took his spot at JGR.

No. 47, Ryan PreeceAnother rookie contender for 2019, Preece takes over at JTG-Daugherty Racing from AJ Allmendinger after a strong two years in a part-time capacity with JGR in the Xfinity Series.

No. 52, Mike WallaceHe isn’t at Daytona with the team, but Wallace is reportedly driving Rick Ware Racing’s newly chartered second team for multiple races in 2019 after last setting foot in a national series ride in 2015.

No. 66, Joey GaseHis move from Go Green Racing to MBM Motorsports in the Xfinity Series this year means we could be seeing quite a bit of Gase in MBM’s Cup effort in 2019.

No. 71, Ryan TruexTommy Baldwin Racing is back in the Cup Series with a part-time schedule, and the younger Truex gets the nod for Daytona.

No. 77, Quin Houff: The schedule for Spire’s maiden Cup season is far from finalized publicly, but one thing’s for certain: Houff will make his series debut with the team starting at ISM Raceway.

No. 81, Jeffrey EarnhardtIn addition to his newfound JGR schedule this year, Earnhardt will drive a No. 81 in two races for a partnership between JGR and his sponsor, Xtreme Concepts.

No. 95, Matt DiBenedettoDiBenedetto leaps a bit in prestige for 2019, moving from a full-time ride at Go FAS to one at Leavine Family Racing, which now has a fancy new JGR alliance for the season.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

No. 1, Michael AnnettNo major changes here, just a number change, as Annett moves from JR Motorsports’ No. 5 to its No. 1.

No. 2, Tyler Reddick: Reddick won the 2018 Xfinity title with JRM, and in 2019, he’s looking to repeat with a completely different team: RCR.

No. 4, Scott Lagasse Jr.Well, for Daytona, at least. Ross Chastain will return to the car for all but three races this season.

No. 5, Matt MillsThis is virtually BJ McLeod Motorsports’ No. 8 from last year, just with a new number and a full-time driver in Mills.

No. 8, Chase Elliott, Spencer Gallagher, Ryan Truex, Jeb Burton, Zane Smith, Ryan Preece & Dale Earnhardt Jr.Deep breath after that roster, and it may not even be fully complete yet. This is JRM’s full-time operation for a variety of drivers, from rookies (Smith) to the boss himself (Earnhardt).

No. 9, Noah GragsonAfter two solid seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Gragson leaps to Xfinity with JRM, taking over the number vacated by defending champion Reddick.

No. 10, Ross Chastain: A second Kaulig Racing entry will drive select events, with Chastain announced for three, including Daytona.

No. 11, Justin HaleyHaley’s another graduate from the Truck Series, leaping from GMS Racing to Kaulig’s full-time ride, replacing Ryan Truex.

No. 12, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard & Ryan BlaneyRather than use its full-time No. 22 Xfinity entry for multiple drivers, Team Penske shifts the multi-driver focus to the part-time No. 12, which featured Austin Cindric and Keselowski last year.

No. 13, Max TullmanOriginally a one-off MBM Daytona entry for Chad Finchum (who’ll move to the No. 42 for the rest of the year), the No. 13 instead is being driven by Tullman, who generally drives for his own Tullman-Walker Racing. At the moment it’s unknown how many other races the No. 13 will run in 2019.

No. 17, Chris CockrumLittle is known about this team’s plans for 2019, just that it’s essentially the same Jeff Spraker-owned operation that’s occasionally fielded Cockrum in the No. 25 at races, mostly Daytona and Talladega, in past years.

No. 18, Jeffrey Earnhardt: Earnhardt is the only newcomer at a team that will also feature Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Riley Herbst, potentially more.

No. 21, Kaz Grala: A part-time RCR effort will at least field Grala in 2019, starting at Texas Motor Speedway. No word on Grala’s situation with Fury Race Cars and the No. 61.

No. 23, John Hunter NemechekFor the first time, Nemechek gets a full-time Xfinity nod, with GMS as his team.

No. 35, Joey Gase: No number change here, but a team change; instead of Go Green, Gase is driving for MBM.

No. 36, Josh WilliamsWilliams moves from DGM Racing’s No. 90 to its No. 36 for 2019.

No. 38, Josh BilickiAfter a full season with JP Motorsports and its No. 45, Bilicki moves to Ryan Sieg Racing’s No. 38 for 2019.

No. 42, John Jackson & Chad Finchum: After Jackson drives at Daytona, Finchum is expected to drive this MBM entry for the remainder of the season.

No. 81, Jeffrey Earnhardt: Earnhardt’s not just driving the No. 81 in Cup. He’ll also run for the same team in a handful of Xfinity races in addition to his JGR schedule.

No. 99, DJ Kennington, BJ McLeod, Tommy Joe Martins & Jairo AvilaMcLeod’s third Xfinity team will be a rotating cast of these drivers and perhaps more, starting with Kennington at Daytona.

No. 01, Stephen LeichtAfter announcing a full-time ride with JP Motorsports in 2018 that ended fairly early in the season, Leicht tries his luck this time around with JD Motorsports, one letter removed.

No. 07, Ray Black Jr.Following some time away, Black’s back in his old digs: the No. 07 for SS-Green Light Racing.

No. 08, Gray GauldingBlack’s got a teammate at SS-Green Light: Gaulding, who seems set up for his first full-time national series season after multiple past tries.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series:

No. 8, Angela RuchLike many Truck Series teams, little is currently known about NEMCO Motorsports’ plans for 2019. But Ruch, niece of Derrike Cope, is in the seat at Daytona.

No. 12, Gus DeanARCA Menards Series fans should be familiar with Dean, a mainstay there the last few years. He moves on to the Truck Series this year as a rookie for Young’s Motorsports.

No. 13, Johnny SauterOne of the series’ better-performing pairings in its history is back together, as Sauter returns with ThorSport Racing after being booted from GMS.

No. 16, Austin HillWhat did Hattori Racing Enterprises, which won a 2018 series championship, do for 2019? Got a new driver with a little more sponsor backing: Hill, who previously drove for Young’s.

No. 17, Tyler AnkrumAnkrum will begin appearing in the truck on a full-time basis once he turns 18 on March 26. Until then, David Gilliland is running it at Daytona.

No. 18, Harrison BurtonHe’s been around for a few years now, but the son of Jeff Burton is finally old enough to race a full season. He’ll do so in KBM’s No. 18, replacing Gragson.

No. 20, Spencer BoydAfter a full Xfinity season at SS-Green Light, Boyd hops down to the Truck Series and Young’s Motorsports.

No. 21, Sam MayerA part-time GMS ride will field Mayer starting at Bristol Motor Speedway this summer.

No. 22, Austin Wayne SelfSame number, slightly different team, as Self’s AM Racing moves its partnership from Niece Motorsports to WinTron Racing.

No. 24, Brett MoffittThe 2018 series champion landed on his feet; Moffitt takes over for Justin Haley at GMS.

No. 27, Myatt Snider: After a full-time season in ThorSport’s No. 13, Snider remains with the team on a part-time basis in its No. 27, starting at Daytona.

No. 30, Brennan PoolePlease welcome back Poole, who has a full-time ride in NASCAR again: On Point Motorsports, which debuted last season at Bristol.

No. 34, Jason WhiteNo word on a schedule past Daytona for this team, which ran part time in 2018, or White, who made his series debut in 2018 (he’s the Canadian Jason White, not the one who ran the GunBroker scheme a few years back).

No. 35, Bayley CurreyCurrey’s only announced ride for 2019 at this moment is a part-time schedule with Vizion Motorsports, which fielded the No. 35 a few times at the end of 2018.

No. 42, Robby Lyons & Chad FinleyFinley, who drove his own No. 42 for a few races in 2018, welcomes Lyons, who drove with the team twice in 2018 through a partnership with Reaume Brothers Racing.

No. 44, Timothy PetersLittle is known about this Niece entry except that Peters will run the first three races in it.

No. 45, Ross Chastain & Reid WilsonFollowing Justin Fontaine’s departure, Niece’s flagship ride will be shared between Chastain and Wilson.

No. 49, Ray Ciccarelli: Ciccarelli strikes out on his own at Daytona with his own CMI Motorsports team after previously adopting the No. 0 in a partnership with Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing. No word on the team’s plans post-Daytona.

No. 51, Christian Eckes, Kyle Busch & Brandon JonesMore to be announced, certainly, but Eckes joins Busch and Jones (who drove for the team last year) in the No. 51 after driving four races for KBM’s No. 46 last year.

No. 54, Natalie Decker & Anthony AlfredoNot every race in the No. 54 is filled just yet, but what’s been announced has Decker and Alfredo competing in rookie campaigns with DGR-Crosley. A look at the announced schedule for the duo indicates another truck could be brought out on occasions where both are scheduled to run, too.

No. 80, BJ McLeod: A fixture at Eldora Speedway these last few years, Jacob Wallace Racing is at least expanding to Atlanta Motor Speedway, where it announced McLeod will drive its No. 80.

No. 82, Spencer DavisRette Jones Racing returns to Truck Series competition with a new number after On Point took the No. 30. Davis, who drove multiple races for KBM in 2018, is in at Daytona.

No. 92, Austin TheriaultRicky Benton Racing is still alive and kicking, fielding the No. 92 for Theriault at Daytona. No other races have been announced, nor has a return to Cup been revealed for the team.

No. 99, Ben RhodesRhodes’ third number change in three years at ThorSport finds him in the No. 99 this time around. Why the change again? Lord, who knows? My head hurts, and this story’s almost done.

No. 02, Tyler DippelYoung’s Motorsports’ third team also includes a driver racing in the series full time for the first time: Dippel, who drove a few races later last year for GMS and DGR-Crosley.

No. ?, Tony MrakovichMrakovich’s racing in 2019 for his own team. Number to be announced.

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About Kevin Rutherford

Kevin Rutherford
Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.

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