Fast Forward ~ The 2016 Season Preview Part 3
It's a bit surprising that the folks over at Front Row can keep themselves straight, let alone the rest of us. Rookie and Xfinity Series Champion Chris Buescher will step into the Cup Series ranks this season driving the No. 34, which used to be the No. 38, and then the No. 35 was rebranded to be the No. 38, and now there is no 38 and David Gilliland is not driving...anyway. Buescher get's the Love's Travel Stops package for 18 races, and should have CSX for 8 more. If this was the way Jack Roush wanted to congratulate his latest hot young talent for winning the Xfinity series Championship, it might be a bit lacking other than the faith in him to work out a deal with another car owner to get him some seat time. Look for this team to possibly contend at the plate tracks, but not much else.
This team is Front Row Motorsports, and it was David Gilliland behind the wheel for owners Bob and Brad Jenkins in 2015. Gilliland was not renewed as driver, and on January 20, Landon Cassill was announced as driver. Sponsorship will come from Florida Lottery for the Daytona 500. Beyond that, the FRM website lists it as TBA. FRM fields Fords, with engines from Roush-Yates, and crew chief Donnie Wingo remains in place for 2016. The team holds 2 charters, and a late announcement adds an interesting twist. The team will field a 3rd car, the thought to be defunct #35, with driver David Gilliland.
This team finished an unimpressive 32nd last year with Gilliland. Cassill’s allegiance in 2015 was to the Xfinity Series, so there are no Cup points with which to compare. His average Cup finish last year was 30.6 with nary a lap led all season for Joe Falk’s #40. With sponsorship definitely in question, we see this team struggling to equal the poor point finish of last year.
Coming off his best points finish since 2009, Kurt Busch and his Stewart Haas Racing team have their eyes set on finishing 2016 at Homestead with a chance to win the Sprint Cup title. With two wins, 10 top fives and 21 top tens, Busch was also a factor in several of the races he didn't win. If they can avoid bad luck on the track and find a way to beat the Toyota's of Gibbs, Busch could very well hoist his second championship trophy.
Tony Gibson returns as crew chief and the team will continue to run engines from Hendrick Motorsports. Monster Energy and Haas Automation will split the bulk of the sponsorship with additional support coming from State Water Heaters.
Kyle Larson is hoping to rebound from his sophomore slump in his third year at Chip Ganassi Racing. This year feature’s the first crew chief change of the young driver’s career as Chad Johnston moves over from Stewart-Haas Racing. The new low-downforce package should benefit Larson considering his dirt track background. Look for him to finally Victory Lane and the Chase this season.
Other than Smithfield picking up two more races, there's nothing new from last year for Aric Almirola. The team continues to improve but it remains to be seen if that improvement can transfer into a Chase slot NOT determined by weather.
This is the new look for last year’s #9 team from Richard Petty Motorsports and owners Richard Petty, Andy Murstein and Doug Bergeron. The #44 is a throwback to the days of Petty Enterprises. This was the number run by Kyle Petty until the death of his son Adam in 2000. Then he reluctantly put Adam’s #45 on his car, thereby keeping Adam’s memory alive and well. Ford remains the car of choice, with engines from Roush-Yates. New behind the wheel this year is ROTY candidate Brian Scott, and guiding him from atop the pit box is crew chief Chris Heroy, who moves to RPM from Ganassi Racing to replace Kevin “Bono” Manion. Sponsorship comes from Albertsons, Shore Lodge Whitetail, Twisted Tea, GoBowling.com and Goody’s Powders.
As #9 with Sam Hornish driving, this team managed only a 26th place finish in 2015. Scott may well best that, but not this year. He is one of the least heralded of this year’s rookie crop, competing with Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney. Our guess is that Homestead will see this team somewhere in the low 30s in point standings. A lot more seat time is the ticket to success for young Brian Scott.
HScott Motorsports had as busy an off-season as any team on the circuit. Owner Harry Scott moved the team from Spartanburg, SC to a new shop in Mooresville. He also has two new drivers in Clint Bowyer and Michael Annett. Annett brought his Pilot Flying J sponsorship with him in the move from Tommy Baldwin Racing. It is believed they'll also be flying the colors of PhilMor, Cypress Associates and Allstate Peterbilt at various times throughout the 2016 season.
With horsepower being supplied by Hendrick, along with a Stewart Haas alliance, the biggest question about this team as they prepare for 2016, is the driver. Annett has yet to score a top ten through 71 career Cup starts. He's only finished on the lead lap nine times during that time. With Jay Guy as his crew chief and 11 year veteran Clint Bowyer as his teammate, it appears the 29 year old has upgraded his surroundings. Is he ready and able to upgrade his results?
With Kroger stepping up their sponsorship and a new crew chief in the form of Randall Burnett, JTG Daugherty Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger is hoping 2016 will be the season that he moves beyond his road course prowess into being competitive at the other tracks that dot the NASCAR landscape. Dinger will always be a threat when the Cup Series visits Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but look for him to also put himself in contention at Bristol and Martinsville when he’s been known to sneak into the top ten in the past.
Define Consistency. Off of the track, this is it. There are no major changes in personnel or sponsorship for Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team. What Johnson and the team need is for that consistency to transfer over to the racetrack. Johnson had what had to be viewed as a disappointing Chase and season end in 2015 as he was ousted from the Chase after the first round, which incredibly was at Dover, where Johnson is the all-time leader in wins.
Look for Johnson to be a contender again this year and he makes another attempt at history.
This is Furniture Row Racing, with owner Barney Visser, driver Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn. The Denver CO based team has switched from Chevys to Toyotas for 2016, with engines from TRD and a new technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. Bass Pro Shops added a 9-race primary sponsorship to FRR, with the balance of the season still coming from Furniture Row.
Truex Jr. drove this car to a 4th place finish in 2015. This team will decidedly make the Chase, though making it all the way to the 4th round is impossible to predict. They are obviously good. How much luck rides with the team through the final 10 races remains to be seen.
Look for Jr. to really gel in his second season with crew chief Greg Ives. The pair made three trips to Victory Lane last season, and three to four victories are certainly within the realm of possibility this season. As always, Jr. will be a threat on the high banks of Daytona and Talladega, but he has also shown that he can be a threat at tracks like Pocono as well. With a little bit more luck on his side, this could very well be the season that he satisfies Junior Nation by hoisting the Sprint Cup Series Championship Trophy in Homestead.
This team runs on the points of last year’s #33. Listed owners of the team this year are Bob Leavine and Joe Falk (Circle Sport – Leavine Family Racing) and the team has a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Listed drivers are Michael McDowell and Ty Dillon. Dave Winston will be crew chief for McDowell, with Todd Parrott guiding Dillon in his chosen races. Both are scheduled to run the Daytona 500, with McDowell moving to the unsecured #59, thus giving Dillon the car with the Charter. Cars are Chevys this year, with engines coming from ECR. Sponsors for Dillon are listed as Cheerios and Kroger. Sponsors listed for McDowell in the Daytona 500 are Thrivent Financial and K-Love Radio.
J. L. Steele