Yet another familiar driver is leaving their team at the end of 2017 further altering the landscape of NASCAR. Many times Silly Season involves just one or two big names with the rest of the insanity associated with racing teams that perform in the bottom half of the roster. However, this year it is turning into something of a party game with the weekly announcements shaking up the media center.
Kasey Kahne is the latest driver to join the Jobless in 2018 crew, now featuring Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Aric Almirola. If these and up to 9 other drivers vacate their rides, where exactly are they supposed to go? Will it simply be a giant shell game with nobody leaving the series and simply sitting down in the next available seat when the music stops, or does this herald the incursion of more young talent in the big time?
Yep, for the first time in about five years Silly Season is actually a major storyline for NASCAR Nation.
Both Kenseth and Kurt Busch come to the table with Championships under their belts, making them very attractive commodities for teams looking to beef up their sponsorships, but they are also not spring chickens. Since the sponsors are actually the ones cutting the checks in this business, the bean counters may not be as dazzled by a winner who is approaching the far end of their career, but would rather place their logo on a fresh-faced kid ready to win over the YouTube generation.
The confusion of Silly Season is driven not by stats on the track as much as the number of Friends that like you on Facebook. Bubba Wallace has been making noise on the social media sector for about four years with his good buddy Ryan Blaney, with their snapchats and viral videos gathering attention from the generation glued to their cell phones. Meanwhile, Kurt Busch sips a Monster Energy drink whenever he pauses in front of the camera but hardly is an internet sensation. Which driver would you want to back when seeking to increase the number of imprints for your product?
That’s the great conundrum. It isn’t winning on the track that seems to be important, but rather the ability to bring corporate contacts to the negotiation table that are eager to get involved in a sport struggling to put fans in the seats. It may be that bringing in more young drivers like William Byron would help to reach a new audience, but at the same time this is still a major sport and those big sponsors won’t stick around if wins aren’t forthcoming. Seems like a Catch 22, doesn’t it?
We are left wondering. Will Hendrick grab Kenseth or Busch in an effort to maintain some kind of veteran recognition in the rapidly changing HMS stable, or are they more likely to forfeit a couple of seasons while they bring a rookie like William Byron up to speed? At the other end of the transaction, is Kasey Kahne able to bring enough attention to the empty seats at Stewart-Haas or Gibbs such that sponsor dollars will follow his migration?
In the end, it won’t just be new faces we will need to pair with car numbers, but entire new paint jobs as well. I bet even the ads that run during the broadcast will take a major turn as countless contracts expire and are reworked. The only thing we know for sure in 2018 is that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series won’t look anything like it does this year.
Perhaps this is what the sport needs. If we toss out all our loyalties and start anew, who will we be cheering for? Now there is a question.
Sunday’s I Love New York 355 is now the shortest full distance race run in the modern era of NASCAR, meaning that it only took a little over 2 hours and 7 minutes to go from the green flag to the black and white checkers. I’m not convinced that is entirely awesome, but it is certainly of note.
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