This is the second of a series of 2017 season NASCAR manufacturer previews. This week: Chevrolet.
Hendrick Motorsports will enter the season the owner of Jimmie Johnson’s record-tying seventh championship. The team is also without Stewart-Haas Racing, one of the sport’s top organizations, which left during the offseason for the apparently greener pastures at Ford.
If you listen closely, you can almost hear the questions already beginning for Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and team owner Rick Hendrick: Will you guys win a record-setting eighth title in 2017? Johnson, who fully embraced his pursuit of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt in winning No. 7, will certainly be all in to go for No. 8.
If Johnson’s attempt to win another title is storyline No. 1 for NASCAR, the return of Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 1A. He missed the second half of the 2016 season with a concussion and said he is as healthy as ever. How long will it take Earnhardt, 42, to shake the rust off?
Chase Elliott, who made the Chase during his rookie season, didn’t win a race in 2016. He seems poised to take that next step. The big question mark at Hendrick is Kasey Kahne, who rallied toward the end of the season with impressive finishes at Charlotte, Kansas and Texas. However, Kahne, 36, hasn’t won since 2014.
Richard Childress Racing
Like, Hendrick’s Elliott, Austin Dillon comes from a well-known racing family (his grandfather is team owner Richard Childress) and he’s got top-notch equipment to work with. Like Elliott, Dillon is waiting for that first victory. This will be his third full-time season in the Cup series.
Dillon made the Chase, keeping RCR in the postseason for a third consecutive season. Ryan Newman, who was in the postseason in 2014 and ’15, fizzled last season with just two top-five finishes. The team’s third driver, Paul Menard, continues to be a nonfactor.
Chip Ganassi Racing
Pencil in Ganassi’s Kyle Larson as a legitimate contender to win the championship. Larson won for the first time last season (Michigan) and augmented that with nine other top-five finishes. His No. 42 Chevy was consistently one of the fastest cars on the circuit.
Jamie McMurray made it two-for-two for Ganassi in the Chase last season. It was his second consecutive postseason appearance.
Another Dillon – Ty – will race full-time in the Cup series for Germain Racing. Figure he’s waiting for a seat to come open at RCR. … Chris Buescher, who made the Chase last season as a rookie for Toyota’s Front Row Racing, moves over to Chevy and JTG Daugherty Racing. … Chevy’s HScott Motorsports won’t field a team in 2017 ... Tommy Baldwin Racing sold its charter to Leavine Family Racing and expects to make an announcement on its future soon.