Perhaps the only thing more confusing than the new configuration of Home Avenue here in town will be the driver roster and all its changes next Wednesday when the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series rolls onto the track for three straight nights of racing at the Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala (Fl.).
Last week we chronicled Shane Cottle’s move from the famed Paul Hazen No. 57 to the Phillips Motorsports No. 71P. This week will be a brief synopsis of some of the other changes that await open wheel fans in 2018.
For starters, the pairing of Chad Boespflug and the Hoffman Racing Mean Green only lasted the 2017 campaign as the duo parted ways during the offseason. At the time of this writing it appears that Boespflug will once again be piloting his own No. 98 car despite persistent rumors that the California native is the favorite to replace Cottle in the Hazen car.
With that seat empty, 2016 Kokomo Speedway track champion Kevin Thomas, Jr. got the coveted nod and looks to be a preseason favorite to bringing the Hoffman contingent yet another national title and first since Brady Bacon a couple years ago.
Lincoln’s Dave Darland and Gene Goodnight will reunite once again in the Lumber and Things No. 39 ride in a bid for his second USAC National Sprint Car championship. He captured his only series title in 1999 aboard the Hoffman No. 69. Look for Darland to be aboard Mark Hery’s No. 40 in local shows that the Goodnight team elects not to run.
Years back, then-NASCAR standout Tony Stewart, stayed true to his roots in forming Tony Stewart Racing, a dirt track program that featured cars for all three of USAC’s top three divisions as well as for the World of Outlaws. In the last few years, Stewart pulled the plug on the USAC portion of TSR to focus solely on the WoO.
Kyle Larson followed suit upon emerging as one of NASCAR's top talents, forming the Larson/Marks Racing team with WoO driver Shane Stewart. Kasey Kahne formed Kasey Kahne Racing and has been a championship car owner for Daryn Pittman and perennially tough Brad Sweet.
Ryan Newman recently joined the fray, electing to stay in USAC, partnering with the Clauson/Marshall Race team to form Clauson/Marshall/Newman Racing and after announcing the partnership it was also announced that 2017 Sprint Car Smackdown champion Tyler Courtney would be piloting the team’s efforts.
With the team’s success in the USAC National Midget Series, Courtney will be among a handful of drivers like Thomas, who could well be in the hunt in November when the championship is decided.
Justin Grant, who came up just a handful of points short to Chris Windom last year in his bid for the series championship, will jump out of the Sam McGhee Racing No. 11 he has been so dominant in the last season and a half and replace Courtney in the 23 ride.
With Grant gone, it appears that Max McGhee will climb back into the family ride and word is the team plans to race primarily with the Outlaws.
Kyle Cummins, who scored his first career USAC win at Kokomo a couple years ago in a spirited battle with Robert Ballou, will team up with Chuck Eberhardt and Fred Zirzow of EZR Racing as he will throw his name into the ring of potential title contenders. EZR has been a big part of Boespflug’s operation the last two seasons, supplying both cars and motors to Boespflug’s efforts.
To close out some of the changes to look for next week in Florida, the Joe Dooling, Jr. and Brodie Hayward (Dooling/Hayward Racing) No. 63 team that the late Bryan Clauson piloted to numerous big wins and last year with Brady Bacon manning the wheel in selected shows, announced that NASCAR's Richard Childress Racing (RCR) will provide the power plants to the teams efforts in 2018.
Arguably one of the best teams in NASCAR history, RCR supplying motors and resources should make the always formidable team even tougher to deal with this season.
In the weeks to come we will predict (guess) who to keep an eye on during the 2018 season and who to expect to reign supreme at the end of the season as well as preview the upcoming campaign for all of USAC’s top three divisions as well as the Kokomo Speedway and Jerry Gappen’s efforts in his first year at the Gas City I-69 Speedway.