They were part of the silly season conversation until their deals were announced. While they are done, the silly season likely will continue for at least another few months.
The announcement for Bowman shows just how fragile contracts can be in this sport. He had a contract to drive for Hendrick Motorsports through 2019, but the team had sponsorship for his car only through 2018. So even though he could have gotten paid in 2019, he didn’t have the confidence he would be in a car until Nationwide picked up the majority of the races for the next two years.
The stability allows him to know each week he is building a relationship with crew chief Greg Ives.
“Greg knows he’s going to be continuing to work with me and the guys know that I’m going to be their driver,” Bowman said. “Just having that security and knowing that we are all kind of in it for the next couple of years and hopefully a long time after that — it means a lot to have them show a lot of faith in me like that.
“I’m just really enjoying it, trying to make the most of it.”
So who has yet to sign for 2019? There are several drivers still with uncertain futures. And even who will own teams is uncertain. If GMS Racing president Mike Beam is successful in buying BK Racing, does that put Spencer Gallagher in Cup next year or does the organization look for a veteran for a year or two to help with the transition?
Here’s a look at some of the notable drivers who do not have deals in place for next year, in order by where they sit in the standings. This doesn’t mean the others have nothing to worry about — firings or contract buyouts can occur, as well as failing to meet any potential performance clauses — but these are the drivers who we know still don’t have 2019 plans.
Martin Truex Jr.: Third in the Cup standings, Truex plans to return to Furniture Row Racing. But the team lost partial-season sponsor 5-hour Energy, and team owner Barney Visser appeared relieved last year when he downsized from two cars to one car knowing he wasn’t pouring any more of his own money into the team. Visser vowed Wednesday he would continue to field a team in 2019, and that should mean Truex will return. But it would be prudent of Truex to make sure the team has its Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing alliance deals signed before he inks his deal.
Kurt Busch: He’s fourth in the Cup standings and, like last year, he could wait until the offseason to make a decision. While he hasn’t won, the fact he’s fourth in the standings shows he’s been consistently good, just not great. Busch’s talent at least gets him in the discussion if another team wants to make a change, but his best fit still might be Stewart-Haas Racing.
Ryan Newman: At 19th in the standings, it hasn’t been a fun year for Newman. He could stay at RCR, as the options for him or the team might not be a ton better. This, like most decisions, could depend on sponsorship.
Jamie McMurray: At 22nd in the standings, McMurray is certainly having a down year. His contracts with Chip Ganassi Racing are year-to-year, and Ganassi and McMurray loathe commenting on when they’ll renew. So far, there is no indication they have renewed for next year, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all if they do. The team likes John Hunter Nemechek, but he’s probably at least a year away from being ready.
Michael McDowell/David Ragan: The Front Row Motorsports drivers are 26th and 27th in the standings. The team typically doesn’t solidify its driver lineup much before November or even December. The team, though, appears happy with its current group.
Kasey Kahne: While he’s 28th in points and likely getting a look from those with open rides, both Kahne and Bob Leavine are talking about continuing to work together. One thing that is for sure: The team has told RCR that it would end its alliance after the season. Whether the team switches to Toyota is still to be determined. Leavine on Kahne: “He’s expressed a desire to come back. He’s doing a great job for us. … He fits what we like to see in a driver.”
Matt DiBenedetto: He’s 30th in the standings and has not heard yet whether he will be back next year at Go Fas Racing. The team has a mix of sponsors DiBenedetto brought to the team and team-secured ones.
Trevor Bayne/Matt Kenseth: They are 31st and 32nd in the standings (Bayne is averaging 13.2 points per race; Kenseth is averaging 14.6). Bayne is looking for a ride for next year, and Kenseth likely has a choice to make on whether he wants to continue with the team.