The 2018 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series just ended, and we already know that 2019 will be a season of change. Next season, we’ll see new faces in new places, and some familiar faces will be absent from the NASCAR scene.
The retirement of Kasey Kahne ended up being much more sudden than anticipated. Some scary health issues took a season that was supposed to end Sunday, and ended it much sooner. 14 years after he first burst on the scene, and Kahne still looks like a rookie. Lucky fool.
Whatever was left in the tank for Matt Kenseth is now gone. He took the wheel for a partial schedule in the six car, and you get the feeling that his cameo appearance there reminded him that there is another side to racing besides success, and it can be a grind. Suddenly, raking leaves and driving the kids to school doesn’t look so bad.
Jamie McMurray appears to be finished in a fulltime racing role. He has intentionally kept quiet about his future plans, attempting to avoid all the retirement tour talk that often follows a driver, even of modest success. While seven career victories in Cup won’t make you a legend, Jamie Mac has had the good fortune to take the checkered flag in some marquee races that will earn him a place in racing history.
The seismic shock comes in the season of change for Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time champion and future Hall of Famer parts company with the crew chief he’s had his entire career. Chad Knaus will be making the calls for William Byron next season to help the youngster along. Kevin Meendering will go to work for Johnson. The science of racing success is an inexact one at best, but all involved are willing to try something new. It’s still weird to think Johnson went winless in 2018.
Lowe’s is also going away as sponsor for the 48. Not seeing that dark blue and yellow on Johnson’s car will be weird for a while. Ally Financial eagerly takes over that role.
Then there’s the little team that could. Denver-based Furniture Row Racing did what seemed like the impossible by earning a championship in 2017 with Martin Truex Jr. behind the wheel. It was a magical tale, but now Barney Visser steps away from racing, and Truex slides over to the 19 car at Joe Gibbs Racing, along with crew chief Cole Pearn.
We still don’t know what will become of Kurt Busch. He seems to be in no hurry. You can’t help but think he’ll be back with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019.
This season of change has much in the way of high profile moves in it. Time marches on.