Blog By RaceChaser Staff Writer Nick Graziano – Photo Courtesy Getty Images/NASCAR –
With 2014 now upon us, Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway is right around the corner. Most NASCAR drivers will suit up in their new fire suits and hop back in the car they stepped out of in November. But like every year, there are several drivers who will have a new sponsor on their suit or climb into a new car for a new team.
Each year there are so many changes among teams that it can even be hard for the drivers to keep up with whom is driving which car. It’s time for one final “cram” session before the motors heat up so let’s do a little “review”.
Many big teams will enter the 2014 season with their 2013 roster and the majority will even have the same sponsor. Richard Childress Racing is not one of those teams.
Aside from Paul Menard continuing to drive his No. 27 Menard’s sponsored car, RCR will look completely different. Their top driver Kevin Harvick has moved over to drive for long-time friend Tony Stewart; taking sponsors Budweiser and Jimmy Johns with him to his new No. 4 Chevrolet.
In replacement of Harvick, Childress has promoted his grandson and 2013 Nationwide Series champion, Austin Dillon, to the seat. Along with the change from Harvick to Dillon, Childress has brought the car’s original number 3 back. Dow Chemical and Cheerios will be Dillon’s primary sponsors.
Childress racing’s team mentor, Jeff Burton will now be driving Michael Waltrip Racing’s No.66 car part-time. Ryan Newman, whose seat at Stewart-Haas Racing was taken by Harvick, takes his talents to Welcome, North Carolina to replace Burton. Caterpillar will continue to serve as primary of Newman’s No. 31 car, along with Quicken Loans and WIX Filters, who followed Newman over from Stewart-Haas.
Speaking of Stewart-Haas, in just five years SHR has grown from a new two car team to a four car powerhouse. After surviving her rookie season, Danica Patrick will return to her No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet. As long as Tony Stewart’s leg continues to heal on schedule he will also return to his No. 14 car at Daytona in February, while Mark Martin is “retiring” and will serve as a mentor for the team.
Harvick was to be the only addition to the team for 2014 but team co-owner Gene Haas, decided to put his money where his mouth is and hired Kurt Busch to driver a fourth car, the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet.
Busch is leaving Furniture Row Racing, where he made history by making the Colorado-based organization the first single car team to make the Chase. Taking his place is Martin Truex Jr., in part due to Truex having to leave Michael Waltrip Racing when NAPA Auto Parts decided to leave at the end of the 2013 season.
Absent from NASCAR this year will be Juan Pablo Montoya. After being released by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in favor of rookie Kyle Larson, Montoya was given one of the best opportunities in his career to drive an IndyCar for Team Penske and he accepted.
Another possible absence may be 2000 Sprint Cup champion, Bobby Labonte, due to A.J. Allmendinger taking over driving duties for the now Chevrolet No. 47 car. Former owner of Phoenix Racing, James Finch, plans to field a second car out of the Phoenix Racing team at the Daytona 500 for Labonte, but no solid plans after that. Phoenix Racing has yet to announce a driver for their primary No. 51 car but Justin Allgaier has been heavily rumored to take the seat.
With Dillon and Larson in the Rookie of the Year fight, Michael Annett, Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt have rides secured to challenge them. Annet brings his sponsor from the Nationwide series, Flying J, over to the No. 7 car for Tommy Baldwin Racing, while Kligerman and Whitt each have a ride with Swan Racing.
With an abundance of rookies making their way into the Cup series there is an equal amount of drivers left looking for a ride. Labonte may be saved with Finch’s second car project, but for Dave Blaney and David Stremme there aren’t any current full-time Cup series rides left and the time to find something for the Daytona 500 is running out.
The only team that has yet to officially announce their driver lineup is BK Racing, who has already released David Reutimann but may decide to keep Travis Kvapil or put both on the free-agent list.
Michael McDowell has signed with Leavine Family Racing. As former driver, Scott Speed, has gone on to focus on Rally racing, the team plans to run the full 2014 season with McDowell as the new driver of their No. 95 Ford.
McDowell is leaving Phil Parsons Racing and being replaced by Josh Wise. The team is switching from Ford to Chevrolet for the 2014 season but their official schedule has yet to be announced. They ran mostly as a start-and-park car last season.
Wise left one of the fastest growing “small teams”, Front Row Racing, where he drove a third car for the team. No driver has been announced to the car and no word has been given if Front Row will even continue to field the car.
It could possibly be the wild card ride for the 2014 season, as it could save a driver like Blaney or Stremme, give another rookie their chance in the Cup series or if they don’t continue to field it, make room for another growing part-time team.
There are a lot changes for the 2014 NASCAR season and even with the beginning of the season less than two months away, there is a high probability that the 2013 silly season won’t be over until the green flag drops at the 2014 Daytona 500.