Every year NASCAR's Silly Season gets more unpredictable than the previous and the latest version was no exception.
Who for example would have guessed Kurt Busch would join Stewart-Haas Racing where his teammates will include Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, two longtime antagonists? Or because of the sudden departure of mainstay sponsor NAPA, Michael Waltrip Racing would be forced to jettison Martin Truex Jr.? These notions once farfetched are now actualities.
It would appear, however, last week's confirmation by Richard Childress Racing that Austin Dillon is moving to Sprint Cup full-time concludes the wackiness that has been this year's Silly Season. Although there will be some minor changes involving the sport's smaller teams between now and Daytona, for the most part the driver roster for 2014 appears set.
And for those who haven't been keeping track — or may have forgotten, considering some of these moves were announced eons ago — here's a look at who went where along with how they might fare with their respective new teams.
Team: No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing
Replaces: Bobby Labonte
Reasons for optimism: A season removed from violating NASCAR's substance abuse policy, Allmendinger is back full-time. That he landed a seat with a team that has the resources to be more competitive than it has shown and shares a technical alliance with RCR only enriches this opportunity for Allmendinger. This team has sleeping giant potential.
Reasons for skepticism: While Allmendinger has shown flashes, he still has yet to win a Cup race and has just five career top-five finishes in 191 starts. This doesn't inspire a lot of confidence that he's on the cusp of a breakthrough season. And although Furniture Row Racing proved a single-car team can have a high-level of success, not running two cars still puts JTG Daugherty at a disadvantage.
Team: No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing
Replaces: Dave Blaney
Reasons for optimism: Although it's easy to write him off as a driver who only landed this ride because he has a sponsor willing to cut a sizable check, Annett has shown a knack for surprising folks. Case in point, on the strength of 17 top-10s he ended the 2012 Nationwide season fifth in points. His joining TBR comes at a time when the team could use an injection of youthfulness and capital, both of which the 27-year-old brings.
Reasons for skepticism: With the exception of 2012, which seems more like an aberration than anything else, there's nothing about Annett that screams future superstar. As for TBR, outside of Daytona and Talladega, the team hasn't flashed much potential and is still looking for its first top-10 finish in a non-plate race.
Team: No. 66 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Replaces: Martin Truex Jr.
Reasons for optimism: What Burton brings to MWR can't necessarily be measured in numbers. What the sage veteran does bring is leadership and fresh approach to a team that is looking to overcome a controversy-plagued 2013 campaign. It's the role Martin filled for MWR previously to great success, and Burton himself played well at RCR.
Reasons for skepticism: At age 46, Burton's best years are behind him, and you can't ignore the fact he hasn't won a Cup race since 2008. Then there is the question of just exactly how many races he'll run for MWR. The plan is for him to make a handful of starts, but as of now the only announced race is Las Vegas, and there has been no mention of sponsorship.
Team: No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing
Replaces: New team
Reasons for optimism: After two years of being saddled with equipment that didn't match his immense ability, Busch has aligned himself with an upper-echelon team where the resources are vast and the expectations are high. If all goes as planned, it's an environment where he should thrive immediately and challenge for his second series title. Greatly helping matters is that SHR co-owner Gene Haas is self-sponsoring the No. 41, which will help alleviate the external pressures Busch has had a hard time dealing with previously.
Reasons for skepticism: Can Busch set aside his past differences with Harvick and Stewart? All involved say it's a nonissue, but until proven otherwise there is doubt. Busch also will be working with a first-year crew chief in Daniel Knost. And most importantly, has SHR figured out how to expand without affecting its performance? A year ago the addition of a third car for Danica Patrick was problematic with results lagging through the first part of 2013.
Team: No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
Replaces: Kevin Harvick
Reasons for optimism: A budding talent with championships in the Nationwide and Truck Series, Dillon has proven he's deserving of the opportunity to ascend to Cup with a premiere organization. He wrecks infrequently and doesn't push his equipment beyond its breaking point. It also doesn't hurt that Dillon joins a team that has won 12 races and has three third-place point finishes in the last three years. Yes, because he's running the No. 3 he'll be under the microscope, but accustomed to the pressure he should be fine.
Reasons for skepticism: While there is no denying that Dillon is talented, you also can't ignore that he's always had topnotch equipment underneath him. And though he may have won the Nationwide title last season, he did so without winning a single race. The entirety of RCR is behind him, which means there will be no excuses if he doesn't eventually find success in Cup.
Team: No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing
Replaces: Ryan Newman
Reasons for optimism: No longer tasked with having to carry an organization on his shoulders as he did at RCR, Harvick can now focus solely on driving. He is capable of winning on any kind of track and will be paired with an underrated crew chief in Rodney Childers. There is every reason to think Harvick can replicate Matt Kenseth's first season at Joe Gibbs Racing and be a legitimate championship contender.
Reasons for skepticism: Harvick is accustomed to having an organization centered around him, but with Stewart, Busch and Patrick all in the fold this simply won't be the case at SHR. Can he adjust? Like himself, Harvick's three teammates are prone to outbursts. Whether SHR can maintain harmony with four fiery personalities is one of the biggest questions marks of 2014.
Team: No. 42 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Replaces: Juan Pablo Montoya
Reasons for optimism: A phenom who has drawn comparisons to Stewart and Jeff Gordon, Larson seems destined for superstardom. In his first season in Nationwide, the 21-year-old posted five runner-up finishes, though he did have a tendency to overdrive. He may not win right away, but if EGR can provide him with reliable equipment Larson has the ability to finally give Chip Ganassi the NASCAR stability and success he's long sought. The key will be patience, not expecting too much too soon and effectively filling in the pieces around him.
Reasons for skepticism: Having competed just one full season in a national series, it's not unreasonable to wonder if Larson is prepared for the rigors of Cup. That doesn't mean he doesn't have the talent to be successful, but EGR did seem in a rush to move Larson up when another year in Nationwide might have been a better alternative.
Team: No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
Replaces: Jeff Burton
Reasons for optimism: With victories in five of the previous six years, and a trio of Chase berths in that span, Newman is one of the steadiest drivers in the garage. This is noteworthy as RCR views him as a noticeable upgrade over Burton, who has gone five full seasons without a win. And unlike his last couple of seasons at SHR, Newman won't have to worry about job security having inked a three-year contract.
Reasons for skepticism: While he can be counted on to find Victory Lane at least once, to expect more out of Newman might be too much. Not since 2004 has he won multiple races in a season and in a 12-year career, he has never finished better than sixth in points. He may be an upgrade, but not to the degree you may think.
Martin Truex Jr.
Team: No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing
Replaces: Kurt Busch
Reasons for optimism: Hungry and motivated after unceremoniously being dumped by MWR, Truex landed in a great situation. He's with a team in Furniture Row that over the course of the last few seasons has proven fully capable of running with and besting the sport's elite. This is a good fit for everyone involved.
Reasons for skepticism: Whoever replaced Busch at Furniture Row was going to have an unenviable task, as the 2004 Cup champion took the single-car team to unprecedented heights. And while Truex may be a fine driver, he does haves just two wins in eight years and has yet to finish in the top-10 in the standings.