Fuel & Tires: 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver preview
The upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season will see some drivers in new places while at least two well-known drivers won't be seen in a car at all. Here's a preview of this season's teams and drivers, in advance of the season-opening Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26.
Two drivers who will not be seen on the track this season are Tony Stewart, who retired from Cup competition following last season, and Carl Edwards, who shocked the racing world with his announcement last month that he will “pursue other interests outside of driving.” The 37-year-old Edwards stopped short of calling it a retirement, though that seems to be exactly what it is.
There are no new tracks on this year's schedule, which wraps up Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In addition to the 36-race schedule, there will also be a few non-points races, including the Advance Auto Parts Clash, held the weekend prior to the Daytona 500, as well as the Showdown and All-Star Race, held the weekend prior to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.
Since I've already detailed the new rules and format changes coming this season, let's take a look at the 37 drivers among 19 chartered teams that are guaranteed a starting spot in the field of 40 cars throughout the 36 races this season.
—Reigning champion (and the only multiple champion in the series) Jimmie Johnson is back in the No. 48 Chevrolet, looking for his record eighth Cup title. Will the changes NASCAR made to the races this season thwart his chances?
—Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed half of last season with a concussion, but he returns to the No. 88. Alex Bowman will drive in the non-points Clash at Daytona on Feb. 18 while Earnhardt will be looking for his third Daytona 500 win.
—Kasey Kahne put together a decent run of finishes at the end of last season and is in the No. 5. Kahne hasn't won a race since 2015 when he took the victory at the fall race in Atlanta.
—Chase Elliott, last season's Rookie of the Year, will be looking to avoid a sophomore slump in the No. 24. Elliott had five podiums last season and sat on the pole for the Daytona 500.
—Last season's championship runner-up Joey Logano is back in the No. 22 Ford, looking for his first title. Logano won three races last season and has 15 wins in his previous four years with the team.
—2012 champ Brad Keselowski returns to the No. 2 after a disappointing run in last year's Chase. Keselowski won four races, but was knocked out of title contention in the second Chase round.
Joe Gibbs Racing
—Kyle Busch, the 2015 champ, returns to the No. 18 Toyota for his ninth year with the team. With 38 wins in his 12 years in Cup, Busch has never won the Daytona 500, but finished a career-best third last year.
—Matt Kenseth, the 2003 champ, is back in the No. 20 and is in the final year of his contract. After coming so close to winning his third Daytona 500 last year, you can bet he'll be eyeing his first win there since 2012.
—Last year's Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin is still looking for his first championship in the No. 11. Hamlin is also signed through 2017, but the word is he'll be back with the team beyond that.
—With Edwards' departure, the No. 19 will be taken over by Daniel Suarez, last year's XFINITY Series champion. It will be interesting to see how Suarez adapts to the Cup Series and if he's successful right away.
—Kurt Busch is in the No. 41 with Ford as the team's new engine supplier. The sometimes-volatile Busch claimed only one win last season, but he's back with the engine supplier of his 2004 championship season.
—Kevin Harvick, the 2014 champ, had another consistent season last year with 27 top-ten finishes in 36 races, including four wins. In his 17th season, and fourth in the No. 4, Harvick could grab his second title.
—Danica Patrick underwhelmed once again last season, but is back in the No. 10 as her team fights with sponsor Nature's Bakery over non-payment of millions of dollars. That's not a good way to start the season.
—The recently retired Stewart's No. 14 will be taken over by Clint Bowyer, who spent a wilderness season last year with only three top-ten finishes and finishing 27th in points with HScott Motorsports.
Furniture Row Racing
—Martin Truex Jr. has been the feel good story of the last few seasons as his one-car team battled the behemoth teams. Truex will pilot the No. 78 Toyota, looking to improve on his four wins last season.
—Erik Jones will be in the No. 77 as Furniture Row expands to two cars. Jones, who has only three career starts in the Cup Series, won the 2015 Camping World Truck Series championship.
Chip Ganassi Racing
—Kyle Larson finally broke through with a win last season and is back for his fourth season in the No. 42 Chevy. I just want to see Larson run in the Indianapolis 500, a race in which his team owner has had much success.
—Jamie McMurray, one of only three drivers to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year (2010), is back in the No. 1. McMurray hasn't won a race since 2013 and is in the last year of his contract.
Richard Childress Racing
—Austin Dillon, grandson of team owner Childress, is in the No. 3 Chevy for the fourth season. Dillon, who has five career top-five finishes, has not yet won in the Cup Series.
—Ryan Newman returns for his 16th full-time season and fourth in the No. 31. The 2014 championship runner-up hasn't won since Indianapolis in 2013.
—Paul Menard brings his dad's Menard's sponsorship back to the No. 27 for the seventh year. Menard's sole Cup win was at Indianapolis in 2011.
THE MID-PACK RUNNERS
JTG Daugherty Racing
—Second-year driver Chris Buescher moves to the No. 37 Chevy from Front Row Motorsports. Buescher had only two top-five finishes last season, but one was the “right place, right time” surprise win at Pocono last August when the race was called due to fog.
—A.J. Allmendinger returns to the No. 47 for his fourth year with the team. Allmendinger's sole Cup win was at Watkins Glen in 2014.
Wood Brothers Racing
—Ryan Blaney is in the No. 21 Ford for a second season after nine top-ten finishes last season. Blaney finished second in the Camping World Truck Series championship in 2014.
Roush Fenway Racing
—Ricky Stenhouse Jr., aka Mr. Danica Patrick, is back in the No. 17 Ford as the once-powerhouse team scales back to two cars after the departure of Greg Biffle. Stenhouse, a two-time XFINITY Series champion, had four top-five finishes last season.
—Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, returns to the No. 6 Ford. Bayne, who announced in 2013 that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, had two top-five finishes last season.
Richard Petty Motorsports
—Aric Almirola is back in the No. 43 Ford as the team scales back to one car. Almirola, who's win in the 2014 Daytona summer race is his only Cup victory, won at Daytona last summer in the XFINITY Series.
Front Row Motorsports
—Landon Cassill moves to the No. 34 Ford in his second year with the team. Cassill has one top-ten finish in six previous Cup seasons and finished a season-high eleventh last spring at Talladega.
—David Ragan returns to the team he drove for from 2012-2014 in the No. 38. Ragan won the spring race at Talladega in 2013 and hopes to improve on that after claiming only two top-20 finishes last year.
Leavine Family Racing
—Michael McDowell returns to the No. 95 Chevy for his third year with the team. McDowell won at Road America last year in the XFINITY Series driving for Richard Childress Racing.
GO FAS Racing
—Matt DeBenedetto moves to the No. 32 Ford after two seasons with BK Racing in which he finished a season-best third at Bristol last spring.
—Joey Gase will run the first three races in the No. 23 Toyota, before turning it over to rookie Gray Gaulding.
—Rookie Ty Dillon replaces Casey Mears in the No. 13 Chevy. Dillon, the younger brother of driver Austin, drove full-time in the XFINITY Series last year for Richard Childress Racing.
—Jeffrey Earnhardt, nephew of Dale Jr., is in the No. 33 Chevy. Earnhardt, who last drove full-time in the XFINITY Series in 2014, might be sharing driving duties with Mears.
—Cole Whitt will pilot the No. 72 Ford after driving for Premium Motorsports last season and grabbing two top-20 finishes.
—Michael Waltrip will compete in his final Daytona 500 in the No. 15 Toyota. Waltrip, who won three races at Daytona between 2001-2003, is a color commentator on telecasts of Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series races.
Non-chartered teams not guaranteed starting spots or teams running limited schedules include Rick Ware Racing's No. 51 Chevy with driving duties split between Timmy Hill, Stanton Barrett, Kevin O'Connell and Cody Ware; Bear Motorsports' No. 75 Chevy with Brendan Gaughan; Tommy Baldwin Racing's No. 7 Chevy with Elliott Sadler; and Gaunt Brothers Racing's No. 96 Toyota with D.J. Kennington.
BK Racing plans to run the No. 83 Toyota part-time with Corey LaJoie, Premium Motorsports plans to run the No. 55 Chevy part-time with Reed Sorenson and Front Row Motorsports plans to run the No. 35 Ford part-time with David Gilliland.
Next week, I'll have a preview of the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, which will be run Saturday, Feb. 18.
Material from jayski.com was used in this column
Dave von Falkenstein is a digital content coordinator for The Gazette and an auto racing fan. Follow him on Twitter at @achtungvon or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.