The 2016 NASCAR Chase is approaching the midway-point which means that the off-season is right around the corner. Here is a look at how the 2016 NASCAR Silly Season might shape up once the season comes to an end.
NOTE: Not all NASCAR contract terms are confirmed public knowledge. The info in this piece is based on driver quotes about when their contracts end and information that was compiled on Jayski.com in their driver section.
When the 2016 season comes to an end one of the things that everyone is sure to be talking about is the improved racing product in NASCAR as well as whoever wins the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. Another topic that will heat up when the season ends is free agency and where certain drivers might fall if they do not return to their 2016 teams.
This piece will take a look at the drivers who are set to become free agents following the 2016 season. It will also offer a prediction as to whether they remain with their current team or will have a new home in 2017.
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In 2014 Ryan Newman made the Chase and an improbable run to the final-four. In Miami in 2014 Newman was one spot on the track short of winning his first-ever NASCAR championship. Newman followed up his 2014 performance with a return to the Chase in 2015 but it was not as successful as his 2014 campaign.
Newman is a solid driver with RCR and there is something to be said about that. However, solid is in relation to finishing somewhere between 16th and 8th on a regular basis as opposed to contending for wins. Newman hasn’t won a race since 2013 when he was still with Stewart-Haas Racing. While consistency is great, RCR needs more out of the No. 31 team. At this point in his career it would seem that Newman is producing the most that he is capable of producing.
With all of that in mind it seemed as though Newman was surely on his way out at RCR but this past week the team announced that they re-signed Newman and that he would be returning in 2017. What does this mean for Ty Dillon? In all honesty, Ryan Newman fans most likely don’t care.
Result: Newman back with RCR after re-signing this week.
Jamie McMurray’s entire NASCAR career has been filled with “if’s.”
If things fell his way he would be more successful, if he could find a little more consistency he would do better on the track, if his team could focus on the details he would contend to win a race or two a year. In 2015 McMurray made the NASCAR Chase for the first time in his career and proved that crossing off some of those “if’s” does indeed result in a positive outcome.
In 2016 McMurray made the Chase along with his teammate Kyle Larson. This marked the first time that both Ganassi cars have been in the Chase. Unfortunately, both of them departed from the Chase after the first round.
The good news for McMurray is that the young gun in Larson is already on the team, which means there isn’t a driver waiting in the wings to take his seat. The bad news for McMurray is that 2016 didn’t do wonders to turn heads as an early departure from the Chase is not where the No. 1 team wants to be. Since there isn’t someone waiting in the wings and McMurray would easily be the best driver on the market should he not re-sign, he will be back in 2017.
Prediction: McMurray stays with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2017.
Regan Smith took over the No. 7 machine for Alex Bowman in 2016. The move came as a surprise as it happened early in 2016 after the team had already committed to Bowman for the 2016 season. Smith was looking for a ride after departing from JR Motorsports full-time in the Xfinity Series and the folks at Tommy Baldwin Racing clearly thought that it was a good fit.
While 2016 has not been great for Smith, he does have a few solid finishes and that’s a good thing for him and his race team. Smith should be in the mix to get some more solid finishes (top-25) before 2016 is over and that should be enough to get him an extension with his current team. Then again who knows, this team does have a history now of changing drivers late in the ball game.
Prediction: Smith stays with Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2017.
Alex Bowman was supposed to be in the No. 7 machine this season but all of that fell apart a few weeks prior to the Daytona 500. It was a surprising move that Bowman didn’t even hear about directly from the team as he read about it online. While the initial decision had to be devastating for Bowman, it has opened the door for him to potentially landing a full-time ride in 2017.
Bowman has been filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 machine this season, splitting time in the seat with Jeff Gordon. Bowman has held his own in the No. 88 machine and with four races left in the car this season, he still has more time to leave an impression.
Next season there will not be a spot at HMS for the young driver but his time in the No. 88 machine could open a door with another team. One spot to look at is the No. 15 machine over at HScott Motorsports. While that is not the quality of the No. 88 machine, it is a team looking for a driver as Clint Bowyer will be leaving the team for SHR.
Prediction: Bowman goes to HScott Motorsports in 2017.
The 2016 free agent class will not have the movement or big names that NASCAR has had in previous seasons. Jamie McMurray is the biggest potential name out there and it doesn’t seem like he is going anywhere. The biggest opening in the off-season should be with HScott Motorsports unless something unexpected happens once the season ends.
Below is a list of other drivers who don’t have contracts for 2017 at the time of this writing.
Sam Hornish Jr.
The free agent possibilities looked a lot more interesting heading into the season as names like Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman were floating around. As the season wore on those drivers either signed new deals or it was announced that they still had time left on their current deals.