Changes come fast and furious in a sport that’s built on speed. Here’s a look at the top developments as the 2018 NASCAR season fires up Feb. 18 at the Daytona 500 on FOX:
Dale Jr. & Danica NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., retired from racing after the 2017 season and will join NBC’s NASCAR coverage in 2018. Racing pioneer Danica Patrick will drive in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 and then retire to pursue other enterprises. NASCAR can’t replace these icons, and it will take some time for the sport to develop similar household names.
Fresh Faces Young drivers like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez have shown star potential, and a handful of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookies could join them. 2017 Xfinity Series champion William Bryon takes over Jeff Gordon’s old No. 24 car for Hendrick Motorsports. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. (pictured above), the first black full-time Cup driver since the early 1970s, will drive the famed No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Swapping Rides Alex Bowman replaces Earnhardt in the No. 88 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports, and Aric Almirola takes over Patrick’s No. 10 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing. Blaney joins Penske’s expanded team in the No. 12 Ford. Kasey Kahne drives the No. 95 Chevy for Leavine Family Racing. 2003 Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth is taking 2018 off after losing his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Chevy Adds Muscle Chevy replaces the SS it has run in the Cup Series since 2013 with the new Camaro ZL1. Chevy hopes to catch Toyota, which won the Cup manufacturers title for the past two seasons.
Schedule Shifts The Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway now becomes the Cup Series regular-season finale on Sept. 9. Las Vegas’ second Cup Series date opens the playoffs on Sept. 16. There will now be two short-track races in the playoffs with Richmond’s race moving to Sept. 22. Charlotte’s playoff race on Sept. 30 will be run on a combined road course/oval (a “roval”). Dover’s first race moves to May 6, and Chicagoland’s race moves to July 1.
NASCAR on TV Speedweeks at Daytona begin on FS1 with the Advance Auto Parts Clash Feb. 11 and the Can-Am Duels Feb. 15. FOX airs the Daytona 500 Feb. 18, and FOX and FS1 combine to air the first half of the Cup and Xfinity Series seasons. NBC and NBCSN take over coverage of the second half. FS1 airs the Camping World Truck Series, with the Oct. 13 race at Talladega airing on FOX.