Cup series has old and new faces in different places

NASCAR’s top series has a new look with Speedweeks approaching

Several drivers have changed rides for the upcoming 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and some incoming rookies will look to fill the void left by some retired drivers. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series subtracted some star power with the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick, but a young crop of drivers will look to fill the void starting in 2018. On top of that, several drivers have jumped into new seats for the upcoming season. Here’s a primer as the Cup opener, the Feb. 18 Daytona 500, approaches.

9 — Chase Elliott: Entering his third full season in the Cup series, Elliott is staying with Hendrick Motorsports but moving from the No. 24 into his dad Bill’s old No. 9. Elliott is still looking for his first Cup win, but a fifth-place finish in the standings last season is surely a sign of bigger and better things to come for the 22-year-old.

10 — Aric Almirola: Amirola takes Danica Patrick’s spot in the No. 10 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018 after piloting Richard Petty Motorsports’ famed No. 43 for 212 races. Amirola, 33, has one career win — back in 2014 at the Coca-Cola 400 at Daytona.

12 — Ryan Blaney: Blaney joins Team Penske in the No. 12 after spending his first two years in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21. The 24-year-old High Point native finished ninth in the Cup series last year, getting his first career win on June 11 at Pocono, and is one of the sport’s rising stars.

20 — Erik Jones: Jones moves from the Furniture Row Racing No. 77 to Joe Gibbs’ No. 20 in 2018, replacing the retired Matt Kenseth. The 21-year-old had five top-fives in his first full season in the Cup series, finishing 19th in the standings.

21 — Paul Menard: Menard spent the past seven seasons in the Richard Childress Racing No. 33, winning once — in his first year with RCR at the 2011 Brickyard 400 — and finishing 23rd in the 2017 standings. He makes the move to the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 for the team’s 65th season in NASCAR’s top division.

24 — William Byron: With Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring, North Carolina is looking for a new native to carry the baton. Enter Byron, who along with Blaney figures to head the next wave of stars from the Old North State. The 20-year-old, coming off an Xfinity Series title last year, will jump into the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 in 2018.

34 — Michael McDowell: McDowell earned his first career top five at last season’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona racing for Leavine Family Racing, but was replaced for the 2018 season in the No. 95 by Kasey Kahne. The 33-year-old was then hired to pilot the Front Row Motorsports No. 34.

43 — Darrell Wallace Jr.: Wallace got his first taste of the Cup series last season, racing four times for Richard Petty Motorsports for an injured Almirola and had an 11th-place finish at Kentucky. He’ll take helm of the No. 43 in 2018, becoming the first black driver to have a full-time ride since Wendell Scott in 1971.

88 — Alex Bowman: Bowman has big shoes to fill in taking over Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88. He spent the 2017 season bouncing around NASCAR’s lower series, including driving two races for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series, where he won in Charlotte and finished eighth in Phoenix.

95 — Kasey Kahne: Despite a win at last year’s Brickyard 400, Kahne lost his ride at Hendrick Motorsports to Byron. He landed in the Leavine Family Racing No. 95, taking over for McDowell. Kahne has finished in the top 20 in the Cup standings in 12 of his 14 seasons, collecting 18 wins.