Fast Forward ~ The 2016 Season Preview, Part 1
There’s not much new under the sun or anywhere else for that matter when it comes to Jamie McMurray’s 2016 Sprint Cup Series campaign. Rob Kauffman comes over from the defunct Michael Waltrip Racing and is now listed as part owner of the No. 1 Chevrolet. When CESSNA is the sponsor the car should have a new blue and white paint scheme highlighting the Beechcraft brand but other than that, most things should remain the same.
Unless Kauffman invests substantially in equipment to improve performance or has a magic horseshoe, look for more of the same results for McMurray as in 2015. He should be in contention in a few races, may pull off a win or two, most likely on a plate track. Assuming he doesn’t win combined with how others score wins, he may be able to slip back into the Chase again this season.
This is Team Penske; Owner – Roger Penske; Driver – Brad Keselowski; Crew chief – Paul Wolfe; Primary sponsorship (24 races) comes from Miller Brewing Company, this year featuring “Miller Lite.” Additional primary sponsors include Alliance Truck Parts (8 races) Wurth, and Autotrader.com. (New for 2 races in 2016)
Team #2 races Fords, with engines from Roush-Yates. No major changes of any kind on Team #2, and all principles are signed through 2017. This was your Championship team in 2012, and you could fully expect them to be in the hunt this year and every year.
Austin Dillon begins his third full season in the Richard Childress #3 Chevrolet. Thanks to a three year extension, Slugger Labbe returns as the crew chief. Dillon's sponsorship situation appears stable with Dow Chemical, Cheerios, American Ethanol and Bass Pro Shops remaining on board. With the same driver, crew chief and sponsors, the only thing this team needs to improve are its finishes.
Despite 5 top tens in 2015, Dillon's average finish of 21st was worse than the previous year. He also finished one spot lower in the points last season than he did in 2014. This team has all the tools necessary to compete. 2016 is the year Dillon needs to step up his performance and show he's ready to make a mark in the series.
With no major offseason changes, Kevin Harvick looks to keep his momentum from 2014 and 2015 going into a strong 2016 campaign. The crew that won Harvick the 2014 Sprint Cup Championship was led by veteran crew chief Rodney Childers is still in tact with Childers still calling the shots atop the pit box. On the sponsorship front, 2016 will show the return of Busch Beer to NASCAR as it will sponsor Harvick for 12 races.
Kasey Kahne finds himself in a familiar situation as he returns to the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy. Keith Rodden returns as the Crew Chief and the sponsors you’re familiar with will be back, but with a few new additions. Quicken Loans comes aboard for three races while Panasonic’s Toughbook will be there for two. Hendrick Automotive Group and Mountain Dew will each have a race as well.
It’s been a rare situation when Rick Hendrick can get all of his cars and teams running at full potential, and right now it looks as if it is and could continue to be Kasey Kahne on the outside looking in. However, you can’t be that talented and keep missing every time. Look for at least one win and as a result a Chase bid for Kahne in 2016.
This entry comes from Roush-Fenway Racing; Jack Roush and John Henry are the owners. Driver is Trevor Bayne and the team welcomes a new crew chief in Matt Puccia, who moves over from the #16 team and driver, Greg Biffle to replace Bob Osborne. Bob will now be found guiding Chris Buescher in the #34 car from Front Row Motorsports. (Roush Fenway Racing has formed a technical alliance with Front Row Motorsports, providing engineering, equipment and driver support to Front Row in 2016) AdvoCare remains a full-year sponsor for the #6 team. The car, of course, is a Ford and the engines are from Roush/Yates.
All of the Roush-Fenway teams struggled last year. Rumors aside, the entire bunch needs to shape up as of yesterday. I see the #6 well outside of Chase competition, turning in a finish in the mid-to high 20s in 2016.
Since announcing his departure from JR Motorsports Xfinity team toward the end of 2015, who Regan Smith would drive for this season was a hot off-season topic. Tommy Baldwin didn't announce Smith as his driver until late January, when he decided not to bring back Alex Bowman. Toy State will be the primary sponsor for roughly 15 races with additional sponsors to be announced. Tommy Baldwin, Jr. will serve as crew chief.
There have been a lot of personnel changes with this team, with new names heading up the fabrication, engineering and car chief duties. The team also has an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and will use ECR engines. This team will have some growing pains and it's likely at this point they're just searching for stability with both sponsors and on-track performance.
A new season brings a new crew chief and a new sponsor for Danica Patrick. Veteran crew chief Billy Scott will move over from Michael Waltrip Racing to call the shots for Danica in her fourth season in the Sprint Cup Series. On the sponsorship front, Danica and Stewart-Haas Racing welcome Nature’s Bakery as a primary sponsor for 28 races. Not only is Nature’s Bakery new to Danica, it is new to NASCAR as well. Coming off last season’s 24th place finish in the point standings, Danica is hoping that her and Billy Scott can produce the driver/crew chief chemistry that will finally put the #10 chevy in Victory Lane.
The biggest change Denny Hamlin will have to endure this season is adjusting to a new Crew Chief. Dave Rodgers has moved over to the No. 19 team to Captain the Carl Edwards effort in place of the exiting Darian Grubb. Hamlin will be working with Mike Wheeler this season. Wheeler come up a rank from the Xfinity Series, but he and Hamlin did work together for six races in 2014 when Grubb was serving a NASCAR imposed suspension.
This is the final year of Hamlin’s contract with Joe Gibbs Racing, and at this point nothing is known about plans for Hamlin or the team beyond the final race of 2016. If Hamlin struggles this season, it may not surprise too many people to see him move along to another team if the right opportunity became available. Look for a few trips to Victory Lane throughout the season, a Chase spot, and the answers to a few pending questions in Hamlin’s 2016 trials.
This is a single-car team from Germain Racing – Owner, Bob Germain. (2 CWTS Championships with Todd Bodine). Driving the #13 is Casey Mears; crew chief has long been Bootie Barker, and I’ve heard no differently, so the assumption is that he will still be there guiding Casey. The car is a Chevrolet and the engines come from Earnhardt-Childress Racing. Geico Insurance remains the primary sponsor for the year.
For a small team, this group looked quite good last year and I look and hope for yet more improvement in 2016. A finish just in or out of the Chase is likely, and would be an improvement on last year’s 23rd place. As the saying goes, they raced better than they placed.
Three time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart received a lot of attention in 2015. Unfortunately it was for all the wrong reasons as he suffered through the worst season of his NASCAR career. For the first time in his 17 years, he failed to record a single top five finish. He also led a career low 24 laps. He'll receive a lot of attention again in 2016 since it will be his last year racing at this level.
Mike Bugarewicz replaces Chad Johnston as the crew chief. Primary sponsors Bass Pro Shops, Mobile 1, Rush Truck Centers and Code 3 Associates return. The biggest change fans want to see with this team is for Stewart to return to his winning ways. If he can compete like Jeff Gordon did in his final season, Tony Stewart will once again be a big story, this time for all the right reasons.
The car number and the 5-Hour Energy sponsorship are pretty much the only things that remain the same for Clint Bowyer in 2016. After the closure of Michael Waltrip Racing, Bowyer will be spending the 2016 season at HScott Motorsports before heading over to Stewart-Haas Racing to replace Tony Stewart after Smoke’s retirement at the end of 2016. On the crew chief front, Bowyer will be paired with veteran crew chief Steve Addington. It will be interesting to see if the Bowyer’s star power can propel HScott Motorsports to its first victory since 2009.
J. L. Steele