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Off-the-wall NASCAR silly season predictions

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season 2017-18 hasn’t exactly gotten underway, yet, as all official contract announcements, so far, have been of the extension kind — Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott both signing extensions with Hendrick Motorsports, Joey Logano signing an extension with Team Penske, etc. But the silly season rumor mill is, most definitely, running at full speed.

Maybe because Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the sports’ Most Popular Driver 14 years running, most speculation seems to begin with the identity of the driver who’ll replace Earnhardt in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet upon Earnhardt’s retirement. I’m still a proponent of Alex Bowman filling that seat. Call it a gut feeling, but Bowman is turning down offers to remain with Hendrick Motorsports without a ride for some reason. I think I’ve said this before, but I really don’t think Bowman’s career aspirations climax at operating a simulator or being a test driver. There must be something in the works for Bowman at HMS to keep him there.

Meanwhile, popular speculation has Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth as popular options to fill the No. 88 seat. Call me crazy, but I don’t see Keselowski going anywhere. As for Kenseth, I don’t know, but I’m still seeing Bowman in the No. 88.

Then, there’s the talk of Team Penske expanding to a third team next year and putting Ryan Blaney in the car. That would leave an opening at Wood Brothers Racing. How about putting Darrell Wallace Jr. there? Just a thought. He’ll be out of a ride when Aric Almirola returns, recovered from his back injury.

There’s also talk of a possible Erik Jones-Matt Kenneth swap between Furniture Row Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones is at Furniture Row but under contract to Joe Gibbs Racing. And when that deal was made, talk had Jones at Furniture Row for only a year. Meanwhile, Kenseth claims he’s not thinking retirement, at least not yet, so where would Jones go if he returns to JGR next year? That question is the seed to speculation that has Kenseth and Jones swapping rides. I’m not sure about this one. Surely, Jones would have a say in the matter, and why leave Furniture Row, now? Quite frankly, FRR had been out-performing Gibbs these days. Besides, Furniture Row Racing has a tight alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, so he’s still reaping JGR benefits, isn’t he? With these two teams so tightly bonded, why bother just swapping drivers?

Now, what about Danica Patrick and Kasey Kahne? I’ll get back to Kenseth in a minute. It’s no secret that both Kahne and Patrick have struggled for several years, now. They’re also losing sponsors. Kahne has lost a couple of sponsors and Nature’s Bakery resorted to a lawsuit to get out of sponsoring Patrick. The snack food company will be on her car a few more times this year, but then, that’s it.

Will Hendrick Motorsports (Kahne) and Stewart-Haas Racing (Patrick) scale back to three teams apiece or will they find more sponsorship to keep those respective fourth teams going? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Patrick hang up her racing helmet after this year. She’s been publicly frustrated about her racing luck and vocal about not having fun. This season may be it for her.

What about Kahne? We may be jumping the gun on Kahne being out at Hendrick, but then again, when will that organization throw in the towel on what has become a failure of a partnership? If the latter happens, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kahne replace Patrick at SHR. Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart wants Kyle Larson, but Larson seems happy with Chip Ganassi Racing, and considering the season he’s having, why wouldn’t he be? Stewart my lobby fellow co-owner Gene Haas to put dirt-racing buddy Kahne in their fourth car.

I wouldn’t be surprised if SHR scales back ro three cars. After all, Kurt Busch’s No. 41 ride there is partially sponsored by co-owner Haas. And speaking of Busch, I don’t see him leaving the SHR fold for some reason, unless Hendrick offers him the No. 5 ride, but I’m not going to make that prefiction.

I don’t see Rick Hendrick shuttering the No. 5 team, even if Kahne’s out, but who would be his second new driver (remember me putting Bowman in the No. 88)? Re-enter Kenseth. Maybe Kenseth could go there if he’s replaced by Jones at JGR. I see Hendrick picking Kenseth over Busch, give. that choice. Many teams only want younger drivers these days, but Hendrick did sign Mark Martin in the twilight of his career several years ago.

A Kenseth move to HMS would, logically, result in Jones’ move to JGR, but then, there would be an empty seat at Furniture Row. If Jones goes to JGR, he may take sponsorship with him. After all, word has it, Gibbs helped Furniture Row secure the sponsorship for the second team for which Jones is pilot. We may just see FRR return to being a single-car operation.

That brings me to Paul Menard and Richard Childress Racing and Aric Almirola and Richard Petty Motorsports. If Menard leaves RCR, he’ll, most certainly, take family sponsor Menards with him. Any replacement would probably need to arrive, complete with sponsorship. That is, unless they have an in like, say, being a grandson like, say, Ty Dillon. But here’s the rub — Dillon’s contract with Germain Racing has him there at least a couple more years, I think.

Almirola’s sponsor at RPM, Smithfield, is expected to stay with that race team, so that would, I think, count Almirola out of any possible opening at RCR. Besides, is RPM looking to can Almirola?

I guess Menard could take his money, i.e. sponsorship, to Stewart-Haas Racing to replace Patrick. SHR had no problem using Patrick’s sponsorship draw, despite under-performance, until that well, seemingly, ran dry. Why not go that route, again, with Menard? That would bring me back to trying to fill the RCR No. 27 seat. If I had an issue with migraines, I would probably be getting one right about now.

I guess Pop-Pop (Dillon’s name for Grandpa Richard) could buy out Dillon’s contract at Germain. It could happen. But then, who would replace Dillon at Germain Racing? I guess if Richard Petty Motorsports lets Almirola go, Almirola could go to Germain.

I guess Wallace as a fill-in could be a test for RPM, and they could possibly consider him as a permanent replacement for a fired Almirola, but then that would blow my Wallace to Wood Brothers idea out of the water. Besides, would Menard consider a move to RPM a better option that where he’s at, at Childress? I kinda doubt it. Unless Richard Childress is willing to give up a sponsor to fire Menard, I’m guessing Menard will still be there next year. While I’m at it, I’ll just have Almirola staying at RPM, too.

Meanwhile, some fans seem determined to work Carl Edwards into the silly season mix for a big return in 2018. He said as recently as a few days ago that he hasn’t even considered a return. The longer Edwards is out of the car, I think more and more that fans need to accept the fact that we’ll probably never see “Cousin Carl” in a Cup car full-time ever again. At the risk of sounding harsh, it’s time to move on.

And as for that much-talked-about Dodge return, I don’t see it happening in 2018. We’re getting late enough in the year that I think we would’ve heard about some concrete plans by now if the manufacturer is planning a return as soon as next season.

I could be way off the mark with my aforementioned predictions. I’m not going on any kind of top secret info. So, take these predictions for what they’re worth — not much. Still, they were fun to make, to a point. Then, each move opened another can of worms. But I started this, and I was determined to finish, so here they are.

Follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (Facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook (Facebook.com/nascarexaminer)

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Posted by on June 27, 2017. Filed under Blog by Amanda Vincent,Featured,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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