A look at the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team and drivers

tony stewart

Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

There are 19 teams that have a NASCAR Charter, meaning 36 cars of the available 40 slots will make every race throughout the 2017 season.

As fans get ready to strap in for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, there’s more than just a new title sponsor and rules changes to keep in mind. There’s been some changes among the race teams as well, so here’s your primer on who’s racing where in 2017.

Stewart-Haas Racing

No. 4 – Kevin Harvick
No. 10 – Danica Patrick
No. 14 – Clint Bowyer
No. 41 – Kurt Busch

SHR made a bold move entering its first season without its co-owner Tony Stewart behind the wheel of one of its four cars by making the switch from Chevrolet to Ford. While hopes are high that the team will be able to keep up its high standards, there could be an early learning curve as drivers and crews make the adjustment.

Clint Bowyer will step into the No. 14 vacated by the retirement of Stewart. The change has been in the works for the last year, and after Michael Waltrip Racing folded, he spent a rather lackluster season with HScott Motorsports in 2016 waiting for this opportunity. He will be looking for his first win since 2012, when he visited the winner’s circle three times.

One of the big stories that will hang over SHR is the sponsorship issues plaguing Danica Patrick. The team filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery. The team said they are committed to racing the No. 10 full time. However, there is a chance she could race without a primary sponsor at times during the schedule.

Jan 11, 2017; Huntersville, NC, USA; Team owner Joe Gibbs (left) and Daniel Suarez (right), driver of the #19 Arris Toyota driven on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, address the media after the announcement of the retirement of driver Carl Edwards during a press conference at Joe Gibbs Racing headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Gibbs Racing

No. 11 – Denny Hamlin
No. 18 – Kyle Busch
No. 19 – Daniel Suarez
No. 20 – Matt Kenseth

With the sudden retirement of Carl Edwards, last year’s Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez will step into the No. 19 Toyota and will be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award. He has big shoes to fill because Edwards had gone winless in just three of his dozen full-time seasons, including at least two victories in the last four.

The Monterrey, Mexico native blasted his way on the scene a year ago with three wins, but the stat that was impressive was finishing in the top-10 in 27 of 33 races. He had only two DNFs (one from a crash, the other with engine issues) and he did all that while competing against Cup drivers in many races.

Suarez should benefit from having three solid teammates in Hamlin, Busch and Kenseth, making someone from Joe Gibbs Racing a favorite to dethrone Jimmie Johnson as champion in NASCAR’s Premier Series.

Feb 23, 2014; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr (88) celebrates winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Hendrick Motorsports

No. 5 – Kasey Kahne
No. 24 – Chase Elliott
No. 48 – Jimmie Johnson
No. 88 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.

After missing the last half of the 2016 season with concussion-like symptoms, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will return to his No. 88 Chevy SS. It will be the third straight year HMS will start the season with the same four drivers. Earnhardt was cleared to resume his career in December, and while he will not compete in the Advance Auto Parts Clash to open the season, he has been laser focused on the Daytona 500.

Meanwhile, HMS will enter the 2017 season with Jimmie Johnson as the defending Cup champion. It was his seventh title, the first since 2013 after running off five in a row from 2006-10.

Defending Rookie of the Year Chase Elliott is still in search of his first win, but he was very competitive a year ago with ten top-5s, 17 top-10s and a pair of poles. Meanwhile, Kasey Kahne weathered the replacement storm by getting a long-term sponsorship commitment and having a solid late season surge.

Nov 19, 2016; Homestead, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Richard Childress during practice for the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Childress Racing

No. 3 – Austin Dillon
No. 27 – Paul Menard
No. 31 – Ryan Newman

RCR enters its 44th year of operation with the same three drivers who started every race in 2016. Unfortunately, this team has been in a rut. Ther last time one of its drivers visited the winner’s circle was in 2013, when the now departed Kevin Harvick turned the trick four times. Of the trio that will enter the season, you have to go back to 2011, when Paul Menard won at Indianapolis.

To add to the drought, RCR had only two poles a year ago, both by Austin Dillon — and he finished 24th and 37th in those two races. Despite the lack of a win, Dillon (four top-5 and 13 top-10 finishes) and Ryan Newman (two top-5s and ten top-10s) had a respectable season. Paul Menard did not have a top-5 and only three top-10s.

Menard, who reportedly works on year-to-year deals, has had relative success in the Xfinity Series. However, his spot with RCR doesn’t seem threatened because he brings a heavy-hitter sponsor in Menards, a company founded by his father, John Robert Menard Jr.

Aug 28, 2016; Brooklyn, MI, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver AJ Allmendinger (47) during the Pure Michigan 400 at the Michigan International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

JTG Daugherty Racing

No. 37 – Chris Buescher
No. 47 – AJ Allmendinger

JTGD is not only expanding, but both of their cars also have Charters, meaning they will have a spot in every race of the season. The team had one of its own with the No. 47 and AJ Allmendinger, but they have added the No. 37 driven by Chris Buescher after they were able to lease a Charter from the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing entry.

Allmendinger is entering his fourth season for JTGD and made the Chase in 2014 with a win at Watkins Glen. A solid road racing driver, the Dinger has four top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes along with two poles, and will have a teammate for the first time.

Buescher was a surprise entrant into the Chase in 2016 after his weather-shortened win at Pocono driving for Bob Jenkins. He would ultimately finish 12th in his first full-time Cup season. The year before, the Prosper, Texas native captured the Xfinity Series championship.

Jul 27, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner Jack Roush during practice for the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Roush Fenway Racing

No. 6 – Trevor Bayne
No. 17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

RFR has trimmed back to just two cars for 2017. When Greg Biffle stepped away at the end of the season, the decision was made to lease the Charter for his No. 16 to JTG Daugherty Racing and focus on getting back to their winning ways. They have not recorded a win since Carl Edwards did it twice in 2014, although a Roush-affiliated organization, Front Row Motorsports, scored one with Chris Buescher last season.

Trevor Bayne is back for his third full-time season, and while he did improve on his previous numbers, there is still plenty of room for improvement. He had just two top-5 and five top-10 finishes, his best at Daytona in July where he finished third.

Meanwhile, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did not register a victory although he posted four top-5s and six top-10s. He came close to his first Cup win finishing second behind Kevin Harvick at Bristol in the night race.

Oct 1, 2016; Dover, DE, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver David Ragan (23) during practice for the Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Front Row Motorsports

No. 34 – Landon Cassill
No. 38 – David Ragan

FRM will field two cars in 2017 that will have Charters, so they will be eligible to compete in every race this season. They acquired the second Charter in a lease from BK Racing, who will field just one full-time car.

Front Row scored its first ever victory in 2013 with David Ragan in the spring race at Talladega. Last year, the team added an improbable win at Pocono when fog halted the race with Chris Buescher leading when NASCAR called it, launching the team into the Chase. Buescher is now with JTG Daugherty Racing, and Ragan returns to replace him. He has two wins in his career, the other in the 2011 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway for Jack Roush.

Cassill is seeking his first win in any of NASCAR’s top-three series and has just one top-5 in his Cup career. The 27-year old Cedar Rapids, Iowa native’s best finish a year ago was an 11th at Talladega.

Nov 4, 2016; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. (78) during practice for the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Furniture Row Motorsports

No. 77 – Erik Jones
No. 78 – Martin Truex Jr.

FRM is the little engine that could, and now it is expanding to two cars by bringing in hot shoe Erik Jones to pilot the new No. 77 Toyota. Before Martin Truex Jr. came aboard, the Denver, Colorado-based team had one win, and that came in 2011 by David Ragan.

The team finally broke through as one to be reckoned with in 2013 when Kurt Busch racked up 11 top-5 and 16 top-10 finishes, and that set the stage for its growth. Truex had a so-so first season but has made the Chase in each of the last two, including four wins in 2016, half of that total coming in Chase races.

A change to Toyota and an affiliation with Joe Gibbs Racing paid off big time a year ago, leading to the expansion. However, to give Jones the best possible shot at winning and a possible Rookie of the Year shot, FRM was able to purchase a Charter from Premium Motorsports, and the youngster will be part of every race in 2017.

Jul 31, 2016; Lexington, OH, USA; Roger Penske looks on during the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Team Penske

No. 2 – Brad Keselowski
No. 22 – Joey Logano

Team Penske has been one of the most successful teams in NASCAR over the years despite running just two cars. The combination of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano continue to rack up more wins than most teams twice their size, recording seven wins in each of the last two years. The breakout season came in 2014 when Logano won six times and Keselowski tacked on five more.

It is not just winning that defines Penske, it is consistency. Since 2014, the team has 96 top-5s and 142 top-10s and 19 poles. It might have something to do with the bond Logano and Keselowski developed and a deep desire to win. Despite the boos they might hear at race introductions, they do not let that affect them on the track. Logano has said that he secretly likes it.

Penske will have a bit more competition this year, at least as manufacturers go, with Stewart-Haas Racing switching over to Ford. There could be some collaboration between teams, although no one is quite sure what that means.

Nov 20, 2016; Homestead, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Chip Ganassi during the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Chip Ganassi Racing

No. 1 – Jamie McMurray
No. 42 – Kyle Larson

CGR is the last multi-car team with a Charter for each car. The team finally broke a string of winless seasons when Kyle Larson scored his first Cup victory at Michigan International Speedway in his third full-time campaign. He went on to make the Chase and finished ninth in arguably his best season. He tacked on 10-top-5 and 15 top-10 finishes.

Jamie McMurray is the elder statesman of the team, joining CGR in 2010 when it was known as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. The 41-year old Missouri native had three wins that year but has just once since, although he remains one of the most consistent drivers on the circuit. In 2016 he made the Chase on points only to finish 13th overall.

Last year was the first under the combined ownership of Chip Ganassi, Felix Sabates and Rob Kauffman. Sabates made a promise in 2015 that both cars would make the Chase. However, he had to wait a year before it actually happened.

Aug 27, 2016; Brooklyn, MI, USA; NASCAR team owner Richard Petty walks through the garage during practice for the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

There are nine one-car teams who enter the season with a Charter, some acquiring them when NASCAR first awarded them, the others through acquisition or lease. Here is a list of those teams

Richard Petty Motorsports **
No. 43 – Aric Almirola
** RPM did not replace the retired Brian Scott in the No. 44 but instead leased its Charter to Go Fas Racing.

Wood Brothers Racing **
No. 21 – Ryan Blaney
** WBR is leasing its Charter for 2017 from Go Fas Racing.

Go Fas Racing **
No. 32 – Matt DiBenedetto
** GFR is leasing its Charter for 2017 from Richard Petty Motorsports.

Germain Racing
No. 13 – Ty Dillon

Leavine Family Racing
No. 95 – Michael McDowell

TriStar Motorsports **
No. 72 – Cole Whitt
** TSM is leasingits Charter for 2017 from Front Row Motorsports, who purchased it from BK Racing.

BK Racing
No. 23 – Joey Gase/Gray Gaulding/Others TBD 23

Circle Sport w/The Motorsports Group **
No. 33 – Jeffrey Earnhardt / Others TBD
** In a complicated transaction, Circle Sport merged with the Motorsports Group to field the No. 33 with the Charter Circle Sport had. Circle Sport had previously partnered with Leavine Family Racing in 2016 for the No. 95.

Premium Motorsports **
No. 15 – Driver TBD
** Premium purchased the HScott Motorsports Charter.

Nov 19, 2016; Homestead, FL, USA; NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Elliott Sadler during the Ford Ecoboost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With 36 race spots taken by those with a Charter, the final four openings could be filled by teams below or by more established teams with less than four cars giving seat time to Xfinity or Truck Series drivers.

NON-CHARTER FULL/PART TIME TEAMS

Rick Ware Racing
No. 51 – Various Drivers

Beard Motorsports
No. 75 – Brandan Gaughan

Tommy Baldwin Racing
No. 7 – Elliott Sadler

BK Racing
No. 93 – Driver TBD
(NOTE: BK Racing will field two cars, only one has a Charter)

Gaunt Brothers Racing
No. 96 – D. J. Kennington / Others TBA

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