There’s a good reason NASCAR’s offseason is called the “Silly Season.” If you sit down and really think about all the goes on from the end of November until the green flag drops at the Daytona 500, it really is silly.
From young drivers making the jump from the NASCAR XFINITY and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to free agent drivers heading to new teams and crew chiefs switching teams, there are usually a lot of things going on during November, December, January and February.
Silly season actually usually begins even before the season ends as teams try get the jump on others by announcing their upcoming changes for the following season, including new sponsors.
The silly season that began toward the end of the 2015 season is no different than previous seasons. There was plenty of movement as teams jockeyed their driver rosters around.
Here is a look at nine drivers that will be driving for new teams or with new car numbers in 2016.
Clint Bowyer: With news that Michael Waltrip Racing was closing its doors at the end of the 2015 season, Bowyer was set to become a free agent. His plans were quickly firmed up when he signed to drive for HScott Motorsports in 2015. Fortunately for his fans, they won’t have any trouble recognizing him on track as he’ll still be piloting the No. 15 Chevrolet SS. His tenure with the team won’t be too long since he’ll replace Tony Stewart in the No. 14 of Stewart-Haas Racing starting in 2017.
Chris Buescher: After winning the 2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series championship with Roush Fenway Racing, Buescher jumps to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to drive the No. 34 Ford Fusion for Front Row Motorsports. The Texas native has six career starts in the premier series all coming last season with Front Row Motorsports when he filled in for Brett Moffitt on spot duty. In 2016, Buescher takes over the ride full time in 2016 and will compete for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. Front Row Motorsports will receive support in several areas from Roush Fenway Racing this season.
Landon Cassill: After spending the last two-and-a-half seasons at Hillman Racing in the No. 40 Chevrolet SS, Cassill joined Front Row Motorsports in January 2016. The Iowa native will drive the No. 38 Ford Fusion during the upcoming season. He replaces David Gilliland, who drove the car the four previous seasons. Cassill’s best finish in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was a fourth-place finish at Talladega in the fall of 2014 Talladega. Among the different sponsors that will join Cassill and the No. 38 during 2016 is Florida Lottery, which will be on the car for the Daytona 500.
Jeffrey Earnhardt: With a last name like “Earnhardt,” it’s easy to understand why some people might place lofty expectations on Jeffrey Earnhardt – the grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt and son of Kerry Earnhardt. In 2016, the 26-year-old Earnhardt will have a chance to make his mark in NASCAR when he takes over the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford Fusion. He will pilot the car for most of the races on the 2016 schedule. The only exceptions are the four restrictor-plate races in which Bobby Labonte will drive the No. 32. Regardless of how many races he starts, Earnhardt should be a contender for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award.
Chase Elliott: When Jeff Gordon announced that the 2015 season would be his last in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Hendrick Motorsports already had the next budding superstar waiting in the wings. Chase Elliott slips behind the steering wheel of the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet SS full time in 2016. He drove the No. 25 Chevrolet SS for the organization in a select number of races during 2015. He will be one of several young guns in the series running for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
David Ragan: After driving for three different teams during the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season – Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing – David Ragan found a full-time home for 2016 with BK Racing and the No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota Camry. Ragan takes the reins from J.J. Yeley and Jeb Burton who split time last season in the No. 23. In nine full seasons in NASCAR’s top series, the Georgia driver has two wins, coming at Daytona and Talladega.
Brian Scott: Richard Petty Motorsports switched from the No. 9 Ford Fusion to the No. 44 Ford Fusion for the upcoming season. In addition, they brought in Scott to replace Sam Hornish Jr. behind the steering wheel. Scott, who is from Idaho, brings along with him some sponsors from his home state, including Shore Lodge and Albertsons. Scott has made only 17 starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series over parts of three seasons; therefore, he will be in contention for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award.
Regan Smith: The last full season Smith ran in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series came in 2011 when he drove the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet. In 2016, the New York native returns to full-time racing in the premier series, but this time with the Tommy Baldwin Racing and their No. 7 Chevrolet SS. He replaces Alex Bowman, who drove for the team in 2015. Over the past three years, Smith spent his time driving for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, where he compiled six victories since the last race of the 2012 season.
Brian Vickers: After Tony Stewart fractured his back in California while riding ATVs at the end of January, Vickers was tabbed to take over in the Stewart-Haas Racing-owned No. 14 Chevrolet SS. He’ll fill in at least during Daytona Speedweeks, including a spot in the season-opening Daytona 500. Vickers last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race came in Phoenix last March. Soon thereafter he was pulled from the car due to health complications caused be recurring blood clots. His future in the No. 14 after the Daytona 500 is uncertain as there are rumors that Ty Dillon may fill in for the rest of the races until Stewart returns from his injury.
Cole Whitt: Premium Motorsports is a brand-new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team in 2016, and is owned by Jay Robinson. Therefore, a lot of its personnel are new, including its drivers. Whitt, who most recently helmed the No. 35 Ford Fusion for Front Row Motorsports last season, will take over in the cockpit of the No. 98 race car. Whitt competed in a few races in the premier series each season between 2011 and 2014 before getting his first full-time ride in the series in 2014 with BK Racing.