NASCAR’s 2020 silly season has begun.
On Friday morning, Team Penske took Ryan Blaney off the free agent board by announcing a contract extension for the 26-year-old. Blaney is the current NASCAR Cup Series points leader, and has been in contention to win each of the season’s first three races. Since entering the NASCAR national series picture in 2012, Blaney has been tied to Roger Penske, even when spending a stint with Wood Brothers Racing as he got his feet wet in the Cup Series.
But Blaney will not be the only Penske driver to make a decision this year. Former champion Brad Keselowski’s current deal at Penske is set to expire after this season.
Keselowski has been a perennial championship contender since taking over the No. 2 Ford, and his 30 career wins have him sixth on the all-time wins list for active drivers. When it comes to experience and success, Keselowski will be at the top of the ‘available’ list.
However, there are plenty of other talented drivers who could become available at the end of the year, as well as an impending vacancy in a ride that would be enticing for anyone: the No. 48 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports, which is to be vacated by Jimmie Johnson at season’s end.
Rick Hendrick and other HMS officials have made it known they are in no hurry to name a replacement for Johnson. The focus on the Hendrick campus is to make sure Johnson gets the farewell he deserves. When it comes time to decide on Johnson’s successor, Hendrick should have no problem filling the seat.
Other drivers with deals set to expire this year include Darrell Wallace Jr. at Richard Petty Motorsports, Ty Dillon at Germain Racing, Matt DiBenedetto at Wood Brothers Racing, and Corey LaJoie of Go Fas Racing. LaJoie took his shot and gave Hendrick a handwritten letter about driving the No. 48 next year, but admits he’s near the bottom of the list.
Two drivers are in one-year deals at Stewart-Haas Racing: both Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer announced extensions last year, but those only go through 2020.
Other drivers in the final year of their contracts:
Alex Bowman: The most recent winner in the Cup Series, Bowman continues to come into his own in the No. 88 Chevrolet. With success has come confidence, and he and crew chief Greg Ives have developed a nice bond. Even better, Bowman’s numbers continue to improve year-over-year.
Kyle Larson: Larson is another driver who will be at the top of the free agent list. While he’s only ever driven for Chip Ganassi, the 27-year-old is a highly-touted talent that many owners would love to have in their organization. Ganassi plays things close to his chest when it comes to his driver contracts, so there is no telling when Larson’s future could be decided. And Larson is going to carefully consider who else would let him continue to race dirt on the side.
Erik Jones: Another driver who signed a one-year extension last season. Unfortunately for Jones, he will continue to be among those in the rumor mill considering Joe Gibbs Racing, and Toyota routinely have more drivers in the pipeline than seats. Jones, 23, has expressed the belief he’s earned his ride and has no desire to race elsewhere.