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ABUNDANCE OF DRIVER MOVEMENT FOR 2018 IN NASCAR CUP SERIES, VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the most prominent name among driver movement heading into 2018, but there are several other notable changes in both NASCAR’s premier series as well as the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Let’s take a look at some of the noteworthy moves heading into next season:
- With Earnhardt Jr. running his final Cup season in 2017, Alex Bowman takes over the driving duties of the No. 88 entry for Hendrick Motorsports. If you recall, it was the 24-year-old Bowman who drove the No. 88 in 10 of the final 18 Cup races in 2016 when Earnhardt Jr. missed the second half of the season due to concussion-like symptoms. He made an impression on the organization during that stretch, in particular Earnhardt Jr., with three top-10 finishes, including a sixth-place effort at Phoenix where he won the pole and led a race-high 194 laps. If the name rings a bell with Texas Motor Speedway fans, it would be for the reason that he swept the pole positions for both NASCAR XFINITY races at TMS in 2013.
- Three-time Indy 500 champion and four-time Texas winner Helio Castroneves will remain with Team Penske, but moves from the Verizon IndyCar Series to a full-time ride for the organization’s IMSA team. He will not be replaced on the INDYCAR side in the No. 3 as the organization will trim its full-time entries from four to three with Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power returning. The 42-year-old Castroneves, however, will return to the Verizon IndyCar Series with Penske in 2018 to compete in the Grand Prix of Indy and Indy 500.
- Danica Patrick announced that 2017 was her final full-time season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. She is planning to make her final farewell in both the Cup Series and Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018 with entries in the Daytona 500 and Indy 500. Details of what teams she will partner with have yet to be announced. With the departure of Patrick at Stewart-Haas Racing, 33-year-old Aric Amirola will take over the No. 10 Cup entry for the NASCAR organization. He comes over from Richard Petty Motorsports, where he spent the past six Cup seasons.
- NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. replaces Amirola in the iconic No. 43 Cup entry at Richard Petty Motorsports. Earlier this season, the 24-year-old Wallace made his Cup Series debut as a substitute driver for the injured Almirola at Pocono. In 2013, Wallace became the first African-American driver in 50 years to win a NASCAR national series race when he won a truck series event at Martinsville. Wallace moved up to the XFINITY Series in 2015 with Roush Fenway Racing and competed for the organization before making his Cup start with RPM in June.
- Matt Kenseth, a former Cup champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner, will not be returning in the No. 20 entry for Joe Gibbs Racing next year. The 45-year-old Kenseth will be replaced by 21-year-old Erik Jones, who won Cup Rookie of the Year honors while driving for Furniture Row this past season. Kenseth has not announced any plans for next season at this point.
- Tony Kanaan, a former series champion and 2013 Indy 500 winner, moves to A.J. Foyt Racing from Chip Ganassi Racing, where he spent the past four Verizon IndyCar Series seasons. The 42-year-old Kanaan will drive the iconic No. 14 entry for A.J. Foyt Racing.
- Ryan Blaney moves from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske, which will add a third Cup entry alongside Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. He will drive the No. 12 for Penske. Blaney, 23, is coming off a breakout campaign this past season with his first career win, a pair of poles and a run in the NASCAR Playoffs.
- With Blaney leaving the Wood Brothers for Team Penske, Paul Menard moves into the No. 21 after seven seasons in the No. 27 at Richard Childress Racing. There has been no announcement yet regarding a possible new driver addition at Richard Childress Racing.
- Reigning XFINITY Series champion William Byron replaces Kasey Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports. Byron, 20, will not take over Kahne’s No. 5, but instead move into the iconic No. 24 that was being run by Chase Elliott. Elliott will shift to the No. 9, the same number his Hall of Fame father Bill ran in the Cup Series. Meanwhile, Kahne, 37, departs for Leavine Family Racing to drive the No. 95 Cup entry, replacing Michael McDowell.
- Kurt Busch, the defending Daytona 500 champion and a former series champion, was a free agent, but earlier this week re-signed with Stewart-Haas Racing to compete in the No. 41 entry.