The Monday announcement of Kasey Kahne’s approaching departure from Hendrick Motorsports became the latest move in a flurry of forthcoming personnel changes announced this season.
The NASCAR garage likely will look far different in 2018, and you might need a program to tell who goes where. Our Kenny Bruce and Zack Albert debate the finer points of an especially zany Silly Season.
1. What are some scenarios for Kasey Kahne in 2018?
Bruce: “Without sponsorship” will be a term that gets tossed around a lot in the coming months when talking about driver movement, and for good reason. Without funding, some drivers, such as Kahne, may have a difficult time finding a suitable ride for 2018. With funding, he could wind up at Richard Childress Racing in the No. 27, or Furniture Row Racing in the No. 77. Or perhaps the No. 41 if something keeps Stewart-Haas and Kurt Busch from ironing out any differences.
Albert: Where to go from here? There isn’t much greener a pasture to be found than the lush grounds of Hendrick Motorsports, so any transition would be a lateral move at best. Furniture Row may be an enticing option, but a potential vacancy at Richard Childress Racing would keep him in the Chevrolet fold. Can’t rule out Kahne successfully re-inventing himself in the XFINITY Series (see: Sadler, Elliott), but that scenario seems unlikely unless most other avenues run dry.
2. Is this the busiest Silly Season in recent memory?
Kenny Bruce: In terms of sheer numbers? Probably. But it wasn’t that long ago (2012) that Kurt Busch was headed to the No. 78, Joey Logano was moving to the No. 22 at Team Penske, Matt Kenseth was departing Roush Fenway for Joe Gibbs Racing and a handful of other moves were taking place. The spate of “planned” retirements have taken some of the juice out of the Silly Season story line in recent years.
Zack Albert: It does seem that way. Turnover on the NASCAR roster seems to go in cycles, sometimes in generations. Retirement age for drivers isn’t getting any older, and the rise in new talent isn’t sitting idly by. On the “silly” scale, the moves thus far may parallel a pie in the face. But it’s still August, and more dominoes are set to fall.
3. Will Kurt Busch return to Stewart-Haas Racing?
Bruce: Speaking of Busch … the 2004 champion has five wins in four years at SHR, including this year’s Daytona 500. He also has made the postseason every year since joining the organization. It’s unlikely he could go somewhere else and be more competitive. He stays.
Albert: Can’t say with the same certainty that Busch returns to the SHR No. 41, but where else would he go? With talent comes turbulence. Even if there were openings at Roush Fenway or Team Penske, acrimonious long-ago departures likely eliminate those from consideration. One possible landing spot: The No. 77 at Furniture Row Racing, where Busch gave the organization its first playoff spot in 2013.
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4. How about Matt Kenseth; do you see him landing a full-time ride?
Bruce: It’s unlikely Kenseth will find an open seat that is anywhere close to his No. 20 at JGR. He says he wants to keep racing. Maybe the No. 77 at Furniture Row is an option — the Toyota folks love him — but there don’t appear to be many others of that caliber available.
Albert: Retirement? But then who else could we count on for droll humor and plainspoken Midwestern sensibility if Kenseth heads home to Wisconsin? Last month’s hot-and-heavy rumor that Kenseth would succeed Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 soon fizzled with Alex Bowman’s ascension. Kasey Kahne’s impending departure from HMS might give Kenseth an alternative, should William Byron need another year or two of seasoning before getting his shot in the No. 5.
5. Which Silly Season move thus far was the most surprising?
Bruce: Can we go all the way back to January? Because Carl Edwards’ decision to step away from NASCAR after making it all the way to the championship round in 2016 remains the most surprising move of the year, in my opinion.
Albert: But wait, does Edwards’ abrupt adios count as last season’s Silly Season? If not, it’s hard to argue with the seismic jolt surrounding his departure. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s decision to make this season his last may not rank quite as highly on the surprise scale, but it’s every bit as impactful.