We already know of one Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride that will be open for the 2018 season, and it’s a good one. Dale Earnhardt Jr. already announced that he will retire upon the completion of this year. That means his No. 88 Chevrolet with Hendrick Motorsports is open. But, it appears that another ride with Hendrick may be opening up soon too.
Kasey Kahne has already lost his long time Great Clips funding, as they announced a few weeks ago that this will be their last year with him. Mix that with other races that they need help funding, and it appears Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet may be open too. There’s a ton of recent chatter about that, and if you look at even what Kahne has been saying, it appears that there’s a chance he could be on his way out with HMS after the 2017 season.
Kahne, joined HMS in 2012, and finished fourth in the final standings that year. But, he’s been struggling ever since. He’s been 12th, 15th, 18th and 17th respectively in the final standings. He hasn’t won in over two seasons, and has just 11 top fives in the last 121 races. He only has five wins in 193 starts with arguably NASCAR’s top team. By comparison, he had six wins in the 2006 season alone.
So, it’s pretty clear that despite having one-year left on his contract, Kahne may be out at seasons end.
But, these aren’t the only two big rides that are rumored to be opening up either. It’s starting to look like Danica Patrick may be out at the end of the season with Stewart-Haas Racing too. Patrick, has really underperformed in her tenure at NASCAR’s top level, with zero victories, zero top fives and just seven top 10’s in 167 career starts. 157 of those 167 starts were with SHR.
Rumors started circulating before the season even started that this could be her final year at SHR, as funding has dwindled down for her. Without the money it takes to fund a full-time car, and now stats that don’t back up what her teammates are doing, it usually spells losing a seat.
She’s under contract for 2018, but her stats aren’t giving SHR reason to honor it.
Kevin Harvick joined SHR in 2014, and he’s won a championship, 12 races and has had 58 top fives and 83 top 10’s in 121 starts with SHR. Kurt Busch also joined in 2014, and has five wins, including this year’s Daytona 500, 26 top fives and 59 top 10’s in 118 SHR starts himself.
Even Clint Bowyer is thriving there, with two top fives and five top 10’s in 13 races, his first season with SHR.
Compare those three drivers’ stats while racing for SHR and Danica’s.
So, if all the other rides are contending, why isn’t Patrick’s? Mix that with troubles with finding/keeping sponsorship, and like Kahne’s deal with HMS, it’s a big factor to why those two seats could be opening up this offseason.
With that being said, the domino effect could occur. Alex Bowman to me is the leading candidate to replace Earnhardt Jr., but does Rick Hendrick see it that way? You have Bowman and recently retired Carl Edwards on the sidelines that could hop in one of these rides. Edwards, is an attractive driver sitting there, because HMS or even SHR could hire him for a year or two to keep a seat warm until William Byron (HMS) and Cole Custer (SHR) are ready to move up. Both are in their first year in the XFINITY Series with those respective teams.
What about Kyle Larson? HMS makes sense for him as does SHR. Tony Stewart and Larson have the exact same background and paths to NASCAR. Like Stewart, Larson loves to run dirt and USAC events. He also wants to be more free to run even more races throughout the year, including the Indy 500. Stewart, gets that and won’t hold Larson back. It makes sense for Larson to join SHR, but would he really leave a good thing at Ganassi?
Kahne also makes sense at SHR too for the same reasons at Larson.
Larson’s teammate Jamie McMurray is rumored to be a free agent at the end of the season, but again, would he really leave a good thing? He’s currently fifth in the points. Why leave that? Plus, I would suspect that SHR and HMS would want to go younger with their driver search.
But, if Larson and/or McMurray leaves Ganassi, that leaves a valued ride with a top team right now open there. Both cars are in the top five of the overall driver standings right now, and both would be coveted.
So, this offseason could be the definition of “silly” season.