Fast Forward ~ The 2016 Season Preview Part 2
Matt Puchia is out and Brian Pattie is in as the crew chief. There are no other major changes on this team from the 2015 season. They always say those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. We shall see if anything was learned from the previous season and during the time off.
#17 – This team comes from Roush-Fenway Racing – Owners Jack Roush and John Henry. Driver of the #17 is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Turning wrenches for Ricky is crew chief Nick Sandler. The Ford team runs with Roush/Yates engines, and sponsorship comes from Fastenal, Zest and Fifth Third Bank.
Roush teams saw their stock plummet in 2015, with the best season turned in by Greg Biffle in 20th place. The #17 team finished a disappointing 25th, 4 places ahead of teammate Trevor Bayne in 29th.
Both Stenhouse Jr. and Biffle see their contracts run out at the end of 2016. One or both had best be making a marked improvement, as last year’s Xfinity Rookie of the Year is waiting in the wings and marking time with Front Row Motorsports to claim a Roush seat for himself. Biffle has tenure. The #17 team made no changes of note from last year’s rather sad effort. Look for more of the same in 2016.
After winning his first Cup title in 2015, defending champion Kyle Busch looks to repeat in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Adam Stevens will once again oversee the action from the pit box. After an extension was announced last November, M&M's returns as his sponsor along with Skittles, Pedigree, Snickers and Interstate Batteries.
Fully healed after last season's horrific crash at Daytona, expect Busch to compete once again for multiple wins and be in the mix at Homestead where he'll hope to repeat as champion.
Carl Edwards enters the 2016 season paired up with new crew chief Dave Rogers. Rogers has previously worked with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. With a sponsorship lineup that is much the same from 2015, Edwards will look to build on his successful first season with Joe Gibbs Racing that featured two victories and an appearance in the Chase. Perhaps the chemistry between Rogers and Edwards will be enough to finally give Edwards that elusive Sprint Cup Championship.
Matt Kenseth returns for another season in Joe Gibbs No. 20 Toyota. Kenseth has been pretty successful in his first three campaigns, and this year, with no major changes on the team, should be no different.
Look for Kenseth to be in the mix for wins early and often, grabbing between four and six wins, and to enjoy a deep Chase run.
This team is the venerable Wood Brothers team, with second generation owners, Glen Wood and Eddie Wood. They have announced their intention to run a full 36-race schedule in 2016 with 22-year old driver Ryan Blaney eligible for ROTY honors. Ryan ran 16 races with this team in 2015, but his points came from the Xfinity Series. On the box on Sundays for Ryan will be crew chief Jeremy Bullins. The team fields Fords and engines come from Roush/Yates. The Wood Brothers team maintains an alliance with Team Penske, which one day hopes to field a third car for Ryan.
Ryan has no official finish in the Sprint Cup Series from 2015, but finished 22nd in Xfinity points having run only 13 races for Team Penske. Of those 13, he scored 2 wins, 9 top-5s and 10 top- 10s. This young’n is the real deal and barring a rash of rookie mistakes, which I don’t see as likely, has a real shot at making the Chase in his rookie year. He is also my choice for Rookie of the Year, despite the formidable competition of Chase Elliott.
2015 was the best season Joey Logano has enjoyed in his eight years on the circuit. With career highs in wins (6), top 5's (22), top 10's (28) and poles (6) Logano shredded the potential label he'd worn and became a championship caliber driver. Whether he can maintain that level of performance and be one of the final four at Homestead, will be one of the major stories of 2016.
Shell-Penzzoil will again be the primary sponsor with additional support coming from AAA/California Auto Club and Autotrader.com. Todd Gordon will again call the shots for this Penske Ford team as they race for a title with Roush-Yates engines. It appears the only questions they have in 2016 are how many races they will win and whether Logano can get along with his competitors.
After a 2015 season that saw him pilot entries for Joe Gibbs Racing, Front Row Motorsporsts, and the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing, David Ragan has signed on to drive the number 23 Toyota Camry for BK Racing. After a rough few years in the Sprint Cup Series following his departure from Roush Fenway Racing, Ragan is hoping to finally find stability with Ron Devine’s team. The late signing will put this team behind the eight ball, but Ragan has always shown prowess on restrictor plate tracks (his two Cup wins have come at Daytona and Talladega), so look for him to put his team in position to steal a win and possibly a Chase berth and possibly sustain some momentum at the intermediate tracks.
A giant page has turned in the history books of NASCAR, and for the first time since November of 1992, a Sprint Cup Series Race will be run without the recently retired four time Champion Jeff Gordon. In his place is young rookie Chase Elliott, son of Bill and Cindy.
Also gone will be the familiar colors of DuPont/Axalta, replaced with the return of NAPA to the Cup Series. Kelley Blue Book, Mountain Dew, Sun Energy and 3M will color the car during the season as well.
Everything else on the team remains static, so if you take a young hungry driver and put him into a winning car, odds are you're going to see some success. I see Elliott grabbing a win, making the Chase but falling out before the final showdown at Homestead.
This team comes from Richard Childress Racing and owner Richard Childress. Driver is Paul Menard, and crew chief is Justin Alexander. The team fields Chevys and engines come from Earnhardt-Childress Racing. Not surprisingly, the team is sponsored by Menard’s.
This team squeaked into the Chase last year and finished 14th on the season with only 2 top-5s and 5 top-10s. I don’t think that’s going to cut it this year, and I see the #27 team on the outside looking in after Richmond, circa 17th or 18th place.
For the second straight season, Ryan Newman has made The Chase for Richard Childress Racing. For the second straight season, he has also failed to win a race. After falling short of a title by one position in 2014, the driver of the Caterpillar Chevrolet wound up finishing 11th in points and was never a real title factor. He's been consistent since he joined RCR, earning 5 top fives in both seasons, with 16 and 15 top tens respectively in those seasons. 2016 is the time though for the winner of 17 Sprint Cup races to up that level of consistency.
Although Quicken Loans left for Kasey Kahne, it's assumed that Wix Filters will return, along with Grainger. Luke Lambert also returns as crew chief, with the goal of returning Childress to Victory Lane for the first time since 2013.
During the 2016 season, the number 32 Ford of Go Fas Racing will be shared by veteran and Cup champion Bobby Labonte and young Jeffrey Earnhardt. This team will be looking for a few good finishes to propel it to the next level of competition. Also, this should serve to gain Earnhardt some valuable seat time as he hopes to advance his career to the next level. Don’t look for this team to challenge for wins, but toward the latter part of the season Jeffrey Earnhardt may be able to put this small team in contention for a top 25 if he can keep the car in one piece and stay out of trouble as he gets his second look at some of the tracks
J. L. Steele