NASCAR: What to expect for Edwards, Bayne, Hornish with 2015 changes

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The transition from 2013 into 2014 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series saw a bevy of drivers heading to new teams. The number is much smaller heading into 2015, but no less notable. Here’s an outlook on who’s going where in driver or team changes: 

Carl Edwards to Joe Gibbs Racing

How it happened: The summer’s worst kept secret was that Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing were headed for a separation after more than a decade together. Much the same as some other veterans of late, 2014 champion Kevin Harvick, runner-up Ryan Newman and 2013 runner-up Matt Kenseth among them, Edwards is at the point of his career where a change of scenery will likely serve him well.

What to look for in 2015: On the whole, Toyotas seemed to struggle for power this year a year after they had the power, but not the reliability. Edwards should get on well with JGR eventually, but I’d see this shaping up as more a Kurt Busch to Stewart-Haas-type situation at least initially. The team’s expanding from three to four cars, and it takes time for all the new pieces to gel. Edwards will work with crew chief Darian Grubb, who has most recently worked with Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart. You could foresee at least a win or two, but more than that with a serious championship challenge would seem a surprise.

source: Getty Images
Bayne in the 6. Photo: Getty Images

Trevor Bayne to Roush Fenway Racing

How it happened: Bayne signed with RFR full-time on the Saturday before the Coca-Cola 600 in May, which also served as the unofficial confirmation of Edwards’ departure at year’s end. The iconic RFR No. 6 returns and will take on the No. 99 owner points from this year. Bayne has been part-time in Sprint Cup for the better part of five seasons and was always going to move up to full-time; it was just a matter of when.

What to look for in 2015: At present, Bayne’s the only full-time rookie-of-the-year candidate, so while ROY is a realistic and expected goal it’s not going to be the only thing he’s after. There’s a lot for Bayne to prove at the Sprint Cup level. He’s rarely run that well in the non-restrictor plate races, and the RFR performance across the board this year left much to be desired. Without the steady hand of crew chief Jimmy Fennig to guide him – Fennig heads into deserved semi-retirement – Bayne will have a new voice atop the pit box guiding him throughout his first full year. He also has the problem of expectations. Kyle Larson raised the bar for rookies in 2014 and although Larson didn’t make the Chase, he did lay down the gauntlet in terms of top-10s and near-wins. Realistically, you’d like to see Bayne end the season top-20 in points, bank a handful of top-fives and anywhere from about seven to 10 top-10s.

source: Getty Images
Hornish back full-time. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Hornish Jr. to Richard Petty Motorsports

How it happened: Marcos Ambrose’s return to Australia created the vacancy, and Hornish was the perfect fit for the Sammy Johns-led team at Richard Petty Motorsports. Hornish has starred in the Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series the last three years with wins in each season, and was desperately unlucky to miss out on the 2013 title. While Ambrose was a road course star who had occasional oval highlights, notably on short tracks, Hornish should be an overall upgrade in a well-deserved second full-time Cup chance.

What to look for in 2015: Richard Petty Motorsports almost usurped Roush Fenway Racing as second-best team in the Ford stable behind Team Penske this season, and the addition of Hornish alongside Aric Almirola for 2015 should further the team’s growth. He’s been able to spend time in the shop to learn and begin to mesh with the organization. He’s found his rhythm and comfort zone in stock cars after an extended learning process, but he’s also developed and honed the skills that he showcased in his IndyCar heydays. He should work well with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer. Considering Almirola won a race and made the Chase this year, it wouldn’t surprise to see Hornish achieve the same feat, and became the latest first-time Cup winner. That’s a realistic expectation, with anything beyond that a bonus.

Rossi remains “The Story” in INDYCAR in 2019

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly-timed move to race side-by-side with Herta going into Turn 1. By Turn 2 of the first lap of the race, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing missing from deeming Rossi’s race complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pits stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by one-full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished third three of the four times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the frontstraight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle, but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash just as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution. Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816-of-a-second behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he was never challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBC Sports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties like with Honda. Both him and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBC Sports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there, I think we’re getting there,” Andretti said. “We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that. After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500? In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races 10 years from now and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, that is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist. Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”