Among those gambling in Las Vegas last Sunday, Richard Childress Racing (RCR) decided to make a bet themselves. They announced during final practice that Ryan “The Rocket” Newman would not be returning to the #31 Chevrolet for next season. Joining the team in 2014, Newman was able to collect only one win in his four-year tenure after taking over for Jeff Burton. Newman and the RCR team found success by making the playoffs in three of four years. His highest points position being second in 2014 despite not earning a win all season.
RCR confirmed themselves that they had released Newman from the multi-year contract that he signed in 2016. With no specification as to how long that deal was for, we can only speculate on how many years were left before RCR pulled the plug. It does make us curious to the answer as to who will replace Newman in the #31?
I believe the first name that comes to mind for many is Ty Dillon, the younger grandson to Richard Childress. He has signed a multi-year extension to Germain Racing in 2017 and expressed his effort in building them into a winning team and committing to the long term. But with a seat being vacant at the family team, and Ty’s ability to be marketable for several of RCR sponsors, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to see him in that #3. Or would they switch it to the #33? With his brother Austin winning the Daytona 500 and earning a place in the playoffs, it would be a better alternative than running in the back of the pack.
A driver they have had in the wings is Danial Hemric. He has started one race this year and will participate in the Roval race at Charlotte in the #8. A veteran of the truck and Xfinity series, the 27-year-old could see himself in a full-time cup ride in 2019. Hemric may need some more experience before making the permanent leap, but with a small driver pool, RCR might be forced to graduate Hemric if Ty is to stay at Germain Racing.
Matt Tifft needs to be mentioned, but I would find this move highly unlikely. At 22 years old, he would join the ranks as a NASCAR young gun. He is finishing his second full season in the Xfinity series, and it could take some time before Tifft is ready for the bright lights and competition of the top-tier of NASCAR.
Kurt Busch is the only main free agent that is still available. Although, it’s believed that his future has already been signed with Chip Ganassi driving the #1. McMurray may be a good stop-gap as RCR might try to stretch their drivers for another year of experience. He has been allowed to work internally for Chip Ganassi, but his future has not been decided at this time.
Still reeling from the loss of Kevin Harvick, the team needs another strong driver line up. The Dillon brothers could bring some team chemistry, but their equipment needs to step into the likes of Hendrick and Ganassi before becoming real contenders. There isn’t any time table, and there isn’t a need to rush into naming a driver. But this next hire will be critical toward developing a winning car and team.