The 2017 season isn't quite over, but free agent NASCAR drivers have been attempting to find a ride for the 2018 season in one big game of musical chairs.
And now, the chairs are down to three premium spots -- one ride with Richard Childress Racing and a second with Front Row Motorsports.
How did we get here? Via a maze of dizzying moves,
Aric Almirola lost his No. 43 at Richard Petty Motorsports to Bubba Wallace; Almirola took the No. 10 at Stewart-Haas Racing from Danica Patrick, who is still without a ride. (More on where she could end up in a bit)
Technically, Stewart-Haas has an open seat -- the No. 41. But the team and its current driver, Kurt Busch, each want to continue their relationship. Let's assume that's going to happen.
So that leaves two seats available.
Front Row racing decided to move on from Landon Cassill, so the No. 34 is available.
The No. 27 at Richard Childress Racing is also open. Paul Menard has the No. 27, but left for Wood Brothers and the No. 21 vacated by Ryan Blaney, who took the No. 12 at Team Penske.
(We should have built a flow chart. No, wait, that would have been even more confusing).
While there may be some smaller, less accomplished teams seeking drivers (think, StarCom Racing), but the 27 and 34 are, really, the most desirable seats left.
The No. 27
Patrick has been linked to the car. NASCAR really, really, wants Patrick to stay in the sport, and no wonder. While there's a lot of young talent coming through the ranks, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s retirement leaves a (short-term) popularity void, and while Patrick isn't successful on the track, she's a marketing machine. Brennan Poole could make the jump from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and he's also been rumored to replace Menard next season. So that's an interesting possible choice -- the familiar and very popular face vs. another young gun.
The No. 34
Front Row reportedly has its eyes on Michael McDowell, but wants to get its deal with David Ragan done first. McDowell lost his No. 95 at Leavine Family Racing when the team hired Kasey Kahne.
Patrick in the 27? McDowell in the No. 34? We'll see.