This season will be different for Richard Petty Motorsports. The team will switch from two cars to one. Aric Almirola will continue to pilot the #43 Smithfield Foods Ford leading the way for RPM. Despite the fact that RPM will only field one car this season, the team should do way better than last season.
Last season was a disaster for RPM. RPM was only good enough to record 1 top five and 2 top tens. What even made it worse is that that 1 top five and 2 top tens came at the same race, Talladega. Brian Scott finished second and Almirola finished eighth. That performance was the only good thing that happened for RPM in 36 races.
Since RPM will only host one team in the Monster Energy Cup series this season, they should find more success. Now all the attention will be focused on the #43 Ford, driven by Aric Almirola. Almirola's crew chief for 2017 will be Drew Blickensderfer. In the cup series, Blickensderfer has recorded 3 wins, 16 top fives, 43 top tens, and 4 poles in 203 races (eight seasons). In the Xfinity series, he has recorded 12 wins, 45 top fives, 62 top tens, and 7 poles in 129 races (five seasons). Blickensderfer has the talent to lead the #43 team to the chase and compete for the championship.
RPM will also be joined by Stewart-Haas Racing in the Ford camp, so that major addition should help them. Not only has SHR moved to Ford, but RPM also has Team Penske and Roush Fenway Racing in the Ford camp. Ford will be the manufacturer to beat this season.
Also, RPM announced that they will be expanding their garage in North Carolina, costing $2.4 million in investments. The expansion will create an extra 17 jobs in the next couple of years and renovations to the shop. The shop is where their chassis are built for custom cars for the 'King', Richard Petty.
I expect to see Almirola have fun in 2017. He will record 1 win, 8 top fives, and 15 top tens. He will not compete in the final four in the chase but will make at least the Round of 12. RPM will show us that they are not going to lay down and let these other teams take advantage of them.
Expect to see Richard Petty Motorsports have a breakout year in 2017. Will Almirola win 27 races this year like Richard Petty did in 1967, NO, but he will have a breakout year.
John Hunter Nemechek has proven that he is a future star in NASCAR. Since his Camping World Truck Series debut in 2013, John has recorded 3 wins, 14 top fives, and 27 top tens with a team that only has 14-20 full time workers! I have seen this incredible driver drive to victory lane twice without a primary sponsor! His one win where he actually had a primary sponsor was at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this past season.
Speaking of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, John made a huge name for himself saving enough fuel to somehow win, knocking Cole Custer out of the way. Many racing fans called the move dirty but I seen good old fashion racing. If that would of been Dale Earnhardt Jr. who did that, then everybody would be on his side. It's racing folks! The move was clean, plus it's not like Custer finished last or anything, he finished second.
John needs to find himself a Xfinity Series ride to show more teams out there what he is capable of. He may have to drive his dad's #87 car if he can't find any other ride. There have been many 'top names' who have shown interest for Nemechek, but the problem is bringing sponsors to the table. Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both said that they would add John to their Xfinity series teams if he could bring the sponsors with him, but he doesn't have the backing he needs for a team like that at the moment. Once he gets his name out there even more, then sponsors will be knocking on the door.
Expect to see John compete in the Xfinity series some in 2017. If he is driving for his dad in the #87 car or another team, John will find a way to race. We will also see John race full-time in the Truck series, if he can't find a full-time ride in the Xfinity series.
I think that John is capable of driving in the Xfinity series because he has showed me what he can do. He led a team that no one really knows much about to a championship contending team. Please sponsors help John to further his NASCAR career, it would be the greatest thing you ever did!
Next year will be for sure an interesting one for Stewart-Haas Racing. Not only is Clint Bowyer replacing three-time cup champion Tony Stewart in the #14, but SHR will now be competing with Ford. SHR has been with Chevy since 2009 (SHR's first year), and with co-owner Gene Haas since 2002 (Haas-CNC). This will also be the first time that Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Ford, will compete in a Ford. Harvick has driven a Chevy since his first NASCAR race in the Featherlite Southwest Tour Series (developmental series) in 1994. All and all though, Harvick is excited for the 2017 season to begin.
No more Tony Stewart : SHR co-owner, Tony Stewart, is no longer driving the #14 car after retiring in 2016. Stewart won 16 cup races and 1 championship for his team in 8 years. Stewart owns the #10 Ford and the #4 Ford respectively, so it's not like he is leaving the sport at all. Plus, Stewart will continue to drive sprint cars, midgets, and other racing vehicles.
Kevin Harvick - #4 Ford : 2014 Monster Energy Cup champion, Kevin Harvick, will pilot the #4 Ford for his fourth year with SHR. He will continue to sponsor Jimmy John's, Busch, Outback, and other sponsors. Harvick did not make the final four in the chase last season which was a first since NASCAR started the elimination round-style chase. Harvick did win 4 races and recorded 17 top fives and 27 top tens in 36 races. Despite those admiring results, Harvick finished the season in 8th place, which was considered disappointing for Harvick. This season will be different for the 40 year old though. He will make the final four with at least 4 wins, 20 top fives, and 30 top tens. Harvick will show the same speed that led him to the cup in 2014.
Danica Patrick - #10 Ford : Danica really didn't show no signs of speed like the previous two years. From 2014 to 2015, Danica recorded 5 top tens where in 2016, she did not finish in the top ten once. She actually had a career best average finish of 22nd in 2016 though. Despite the fact that she has not won a race yet or hasn't even recorded a top five finish, does not mean that she can't win a race in 2017. To be honest, I think Danica is a great race car driver, who actually ranks in the top 10 for all-around drivers, in my opinion. Let's not forget that she did drive an Indy car for 7 seasons where she actually collected 1 win and 7 podium finishes in 115 starts. Indy cars are a lot harder to drive than a stock car, so that makes Danica even better. I believe Danica will have her best season so far in 2017, where she will win a race and record 10-15 top ten finishes. She won't win the championship but she will make the chase this year.
Clint Bowyer - #14 Ford : Bowyer's move to SHR replacing the legendary Tony Stewart will probably be the most watched story of the 2017 season. Bowyer only recorded 3 top ten finishes and finished 27th in points last season, which is by far his worst showing of his average cup career. In 397 races, Bowyer has 8 wins, 58 top fives, and 167 top tens with a best points finish of second (2012). Many racing fans have criticized Tony Stewart for choosing Clint Bowyer as his replacement but I believe that Bowyer was a 'okay' choice. He brings a lot of energy to SHR and a lot of character. Bowyer may not be the greatest race car driver ever, but he will have a solid season for SHR. I don't see him winning a race this season, but he will collect around 15 top ten finishes and will compete in the chase. If Bowyer does not have that good of a season, then expect to see Bowyer driving somewhere else in 2018.
Kurt Busch - #41 Ford : Kurt Busch has a huge challenge ahead for him and SHR in 2017. With Monster Energy replacing Sprint as the cup series sponsor, Kurt has to drive really hard because he sponsors Monster Energy. You don't want to be the driver that sponsors the cup series and fails, you want to be the driver who sponsors the cup series and wins. Kurt had another stellar season with SHR in 2016 and has a lot more to prove in 2017. Kurt only won one race last season but recorded 9 top fives and 21 top tens which earned him 7th place in points. Kurt will have a great 2017, where he will record at least 2 wins, 10 top fives, and 20 top tens. I expect to see Kurt make the final four in the chase and possibly win it all.
Cole Custer - #00 Ford - Finally SHR has a Xfinity program. Cole Custer will pilot the #00 Haas Automation Ford in the Xfinity Series in 2017. Custer brings a lot of talent to SHR, where he is an instant championship contender. In the five races Custer has raced in the Xfinity series (all in 2016), he has recorded 1 top five and 2 top tens. His average finish in 18.8 but will record much better stats in 2017. He will record 2 wins, 10 top fives, and 15 top tens making the final four in the chase. If Clint Bowyer does not do very well in the #14 Ford (Cup series) this season, then Custer could be his replacement in 2018. That is the point of the Xfinity series, to prepare a driver for racing in the Cup series and Custer could do just that.
SHR will need to compete better in 2017, because they left Chevy to move on to Ford. SHR can not afford to do terrible because that would show people that they made a huge mistake, plus Tony Stewart and Gene Haas are not the type of people that will let you know if they are wrong or not. Most of the time Stewart-Haas Racing makes the best decisions and I think that SHR will be the team to beat in 2017.