After an unexpected and wild night, it’s time to break down exactly what we all just witnessed for the 1st Monster Cup Draft. Based on the agreement between the Race Team Alliance and the Stock Car Drivers Association, chartered teams, picked in reverse order of the 2018 owner standings. All drivers are in the process of negotiating their three-year contract which will terminate after the last race of 2021, prior to the next draft. Although the night is young, there are already trade rumors circulating. Remember, all trades, be it drivers, points, charters or equipment must be completed by 12:00p the Saturday of Daytona 500 qualifying weekend. The trade market will not open again until first race of the playoffs.
There have been a lot of questions regarding sponsorship and how it effects the draft and salary cap. Any money brought in by a driver-sponsor combo counts against the salary cap (announced this year at $17 million per team) on a sliding scale so that a driver bringing in $3 million effectively lowers the cap to $14 million for the team. Drivers have to disclose any sponsorship details when declaring for the draft. The mere uncertainty of not knowing where their driver may end up has led many big name sponsors to jump over to a team.
The draft officially opened as of 8:00p at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, each chartered team nestled into their respective war room across the greater Charlotte area.
Pick #1 – Rick Ware Racing #51: Kevin Harvick
Rick Ware Racing is entering 2019 with quite a bit of cap space, so it was expected early on that they would spend big. After announcing the purchase of a second charter, however, there was a question as to whether the small team wouldn’t trade down in lieu of technical support from a larger team looking to move up. Rumors of a proposed multi-year technical alliance and engine deal from a large multi-car team surfaced weeks before the draft. As the clock ran down on the first pick in the draft it came as a surprise to everyone when Jim France walked out to announce Kevin Harvick had been drafted to drive the 51. Harvick was not available for comment.
Pick #2 – Front Row Motorsports #38: Christopher Bell
In a deft move slightly before the draft, Front Row announced that the 38 team would assume the charter of the recently re-acquired BK/NY Racing #23 car. Doing so bumped them up to the second position of the draft. The clear choice on most pundits’ draft board was Kyle Busch, it was the safe, obvious choice. You could hear a pin drop when it was announced that Christopher Bell had been selected for the #38 ride. Bell, who had declared himself eligible for the Cup draft late in the 2018 season, was projected to go closer to the middle of the draft.
Pick #3 – StarCom Racing #00: Kyle Busch
After the Front Row surprise, Derrick Cope took little time to declare the obvious; that he would select Kyle Busch. The 33-year-old practically fell into his lap and will go to work over the next three years trying to build this promising team up further.
Pick #4 – Rick Ware Racing trades down to the 12th pick with Roush-Fenway #6 team
Pick #4 – Roush-Fenway Racing #6: Martin Truex Jr
After sticking with the #1 draft pick, Rick Ware Racing trades down to the 12th pick after accepting a one-year Roush-Yates engine deal which in turn allowed the #6 team to move up the 4th pick. RFR picks up Martin Truex Jr. There is a clear optimism that a new Martin behind the wheel will help get the #6 car back into championship contention.
Pick #5 – Premium Motorsports trades down to 14th pick with Hendrick Motorsports #24 team
Pick #5 – Hendrick Motorsports #24: Kyle Larson
Fairly certain that the driver they wanted would still be available later in draft, Premium Motorsports swapped places with the iconic Hendrick #24 team. HMS wasted no time declaring the 5th pick to be Kyle Larson. It came at a cost for Hendrick, they’ve agreed to transfer a charter to Jay Robinson for the 2021 season with the possibility of additional support if the #24 were to win a championship in 2019 or 2020.
Pick #6 – Go Fas Racing #32: Brad Keselowski
After winning 3 races then bowing out of the playoffs early in 2018, Brad Keselowski will now work to get Go Fas into playoff contention.
Pick #7 – Richard Petty Motorsports #43: Joey Logano
Richard Petty made it clear early in the off-season that, if defending champion Joey Logano was still on the board when it came time to fill the seat of the iconic #43, it would be an automatic choice. True to his word, Logano will be the one to try and improve on their 3 top-10’s from 2018.
Pick #8 – Germain Racing #13: Ryan Blaney
There was a lot of speculation prior to the draft on how much influence long-term sponsor Geico would have for the 8th pick of the draft. Word was that the ownership and the sponsor disagreed on which direction to go; one side leaning toward a veteran such as Kurt Busch the other toward a youthful presence such as the eventual 8th pick, Ryan Blaney.
Pick #9 – Front Row Motorsports #34: Kurt Busch
A reliable veteran to pair with the rookie Christopher Bell.
Pick #10 – Leavine Family Racing #95: Chase Elliott
Will pick up where Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith left off with the hopes that a new alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing will further boost performance.
Pick #11 – Front Row Motorsports #36: Aric Almirola
Scooped up by Front Row after finishing 5th in points in 2018, Almirola will also serve as the second veteran teammate for the rookie Bell to lean on in 2019. Front Row jokingly being call Stewart-Haas Lite.
Pick #12 – Rick Ware Racing #52: Denny Hamlin
After trading down, Rick Ware Racing was able to pick up a surprised Denny Hamlin to pair with Kevin Harvick. Still, questions remain as to whether RWR will commit to run both drivers or will shop one or both around before Daytona.
Pick #13 – JTG Daugherty Racing #37: Jimmie Johnson
After forging a technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports heading into 2018, JTG-Daugherty welcomes a Hendrick lifer into the fold with Jimmie Johnson.
Pick #14 – Premium Motorsports #15 trades down to 21st pick with Hendrick Motorsports #88 team
Pick #14 – Hendrick Motorsports #88: Erik Jones
Premium Motorsports apparently struck a deal late with Hendrick Motorsports #88 team. Reportedly, a 3-year deal to provide Premium an HMS development pit crew. Jay Robinson is slowly parlaying his original high draft pick into a decent Hendrick goodie bag. Despite two of their former drivers being available, the HMS #88 opts for Erik Jones, fresh off his second season in Cup and first win of his career.
Pick #15 – JTG Daugherty Racing #47: Clint Bowyer
Adding Clint Bowyer to the fold could make JTG Daugherty a surprise sleeper pick for putting both cars into the playoffs. Even if they fall short, talks of a major Natural Light activation and ad campaign with Bowyer have execs drooling over the possibilities.
Pick #16 – Joe Gibbs Racing #19: William Byron
After opting not to pick up Daniel Suárez, JGR is betting that the payoff will be bigger with William Byron in the long run.
Pick #17 – Ganassi Racing #1: Alex Bowman
Bowman probably didn’t get the respect he deserved after placing the HMS #88 into the playoffs in 2018, however landing in a Ganassi ride hardly qualifies as a disappointment. The #1 car averaged a 18.9 finish in 2018, the #88 averaged a 17.0.
Pick #18 – Wood Brothers Racing #21: Daniel Suárez
Suárez finds a home with a fast team, will look to bounce the legendary #21 back into the playoffs in his third year in Cup.
Pick #19 – Roush Fenway Racing #17: Ricky Stenhouse Jr
Apparently for the #17 team, if your former driver is available, you go with what you know. They should hit the ground running at Daytona being one of the only teams to have retained their driver.
Pick #20 – Richard Childress Racing #31: Austin Dillon
No surprise here, although there are rumors they may opt for a number change heading into 2019.
Pick #21 – Premium Motorsports #15 trades down to 25th pick with Hendrick Motorsports #48 team
Pick #21 – Hendrick Motorsports #48: Chris Buescher
Premium does it again; this time reportedly for two guaranteed sets of sticker tires each weekend and first dibs on all used sets of tires from practice and race. In return, HMS completes the Buescher-Johnson ride swap. Buescher will be the first driver not named Johnson to pilot the #48 since the year 1993.
Pick #22 – Joe Gibbs Racing #20: Ryan Preece
The gamble on himself in Xfinity paid off in Cup for Ryan Preece. After establishing a winning relationship with JGR, they’re betting that he can maintain the playoff-caliber level of performance the #20 is accustomed to.
Pick #23 – Premium Motorsports #15 trades down to 31st pick with Hendrick Motorsports #9 team
Pick #23 – Hendrick Motorsports #9: Matt DiBenedetto
A roar of laughter from the crowd in attendance as Premium once again gives up their pick to a Hendrick team. Reportedly for an undisclosed amount of data-sharing and support, Premium drops to the 31st pick and Hendrick picks up what they consider to be as close to a “can’t miss” pick as possible this late in the draft with Matt DiBenedetto
Pick #24 – Richard Childress Racing #3: Darrell Wallace Jr
If nothing else, RCR assures die-cast sales dominance over the next three years.
Pick #25 – Stewart Haas Racing #14: Paul Menard
After just missing out on the playoffs in 2018, Menard finds himself in some of the best equipment he’s ever driven.
Pick #26 – Joe Gibbs Racing #11: Ross Chastain
No one is surprised to see Chastain go this early, but it will be a disappointment for Chip Ganassi as he had his eye on picking him up for the #42 ride.
Pick #27 – Penske Racing #12: David Ragan
Ragan will immediately be a threat to win the Daytona 500.
Pick #28 – Ganassi Racing #42: Daniel Hemric
Despite not winning a race in 2018, Ganassi dips into the Xfinity well to nab Hemric in the hopes that his deep run into the playoffs in 2018 can be duplicated in Cup.
Pick #29 – Penske Racing #2: Corey LaJoie
LaJoie will not be stacking pennies for the foreseeable future as he gets his shot in championship-caliber equipment.
Pick #30 – Stewart-Haas Racing 41: Ryan Newman
Newman finds himself in an enviable position despite dropping from a projected earlier draft position.
Pick #31 – Premium Motorsports #15: Brett Moffitt
It will either be business as usual or a major championship run for Premium after they bolstered their operation by trading down. One of the few teams to earn a unanimous draft grade of A.
Pick #32 – Stewart-Haas Racing #10: Landon Cassill
Back-to-back Iowa picks in the draft as Stewart-Haas banks on Cassill being a suitable replacement for Almirola, minus the bacon.
Pick #33 – Joe Gibbs Racing #18: Michael McDowell
McDowell back with Joe Gibbs Racing for first time since 2014 when he finished 2nd at Iowa in Xfinity.
Pick #34 – Stewart-Haas Racing #4: Cole Custer
Little surprise here as Stewart-Haas opts to keep it in the family and bet on Custer’s abilities to maintain the momentum going with Rodney Childers.
Pick #35 – Spire Motorsports #77: Regan Smith
Smith gets a shot at building up another start-up team out of the chartered ashes of his former team.
Pick #36 – Penske Racing #22: Justin Allgaier
Early projections had Penske taking AJ Allmendinger to once again drive the #22, but his decision not to declare for the draft left the door open for another blast from the past. Penske chose to bring Allgaier back into the fold to fill the seat of the defending championship team. In 2018, Allgaier won 5 times and, in Xfinity competition, has never finished worse than 7th in points in 8 full seasons.
A quick reminder that the Supplemental Draft for all unchartered and part-time teams will be shown tonight at 8p on the NBC Sports App.