Lots of news happening in NASCAR offseason

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s return to racing is one of the most eagerly anticipated things on the 2017 calendar. Sarah Crabill/NASCAR/Getty Images

The events of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season came to a close Friday night in Las Vegas.

Plenty of questions remain until the 2017 green flag.

The biggest question surrounds the biggest driver name in the sport, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who missed the final 18 races of 2016 because of a concussion suffered in a June accident at Michigan. The symptoms eventually forced him out of the car about a month later.

Earnhardt remains confident that he will return behind the wheel for the 2017 Daytona 500. He said Friday he has a test set for some time in the next three weeks. If all goes well, he should be cleared to run again Jan. 31-Feb. 1 in the NASCAR test at Phoenix International Raceway.

He said the key to his recovery was the decision in August to not try to return this year. That is when his vision, balance and nausea issues started to improve.

"You worry about your health," Earnhardt said Friday. "You worry about the issues you've got are permanent or when they are going to get better and how.

"Anxiety is a huge factor with concussions and can be a major problem with people trying to recover. ... Every day, I was in some sort of discussion about my future, and my doctor told me I couldn't get well until I dropped all that and didn't think about it. I thought, 'How am I supposed to not think about that? That's the most important thing in my life.' "

Earnhardt said he doesn't expect to have a recurrence of symptoms because he has been in the Chevrolet simulator recently without problems -- he admitted he would get sick in the simulator before -- a sign that the exercises he has done have helped him recover what he and his doctors have termed an "illness" as much as an "injury."

"There was a period of time where my doctors told me to completely remove all the stress and anxiety from my life to be able to allow my brain to heal quicker," Earnhardt said. "I was worrying about getting back in the car and getting healthy and all that stuff, and it was slowing down the whole process.

"When I did that, I became a much better version of myself. I was a much nicer, pleasant person, and caring and thoughtful, and less agitated by stress and everyday life."

But Earnhardt isn't the only question for the offseason. The next major question is what the series will be named, as NASCAR is busy finalizing a name and a logo as part of a deal where Monster Energy will sponsor the Cup Series.

The word "Cup" might not be in the name, although it will be difficult for fans to not use "Cup" as a generic term, at least for a period of time.

The name of the series should be known by the holidays.

"We are working on the exact composite logo and otherwise, and we'll be back shortly on that," NASCAR Chairman Brian France said Thursday. "It won't be long, but we've got some real good options on that."

The other parts of silly season could linger as teams and drivers continue to look for sponsors for next year.

Greg Biffle, Casey Mears, Alex Bowman, Regan Smith, David Ragan, Matt DiBenedetto, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise and Jeffrey Earnhardt are among the 2016 Cup drivers who haven't announced 2017 plans.

Bowman, who substituted for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in several races in 2016, actually has a berth in the preseason Clash (formerly Sprint Unlimited) but doesn't have a team. Yet. He could drive for Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 5 car since Kasey Kahne is not eligible for the race.

"Bowman will be there in something," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "I'm not sure yet [what car]."

Hendrick indicated that Bowman will have a role with the team. He has been a test and simulator driver for the organization.

"We haven't got any definitive things to announce right now, but I can just tell you that Alex is going to be around with us," Hendrick said. "Other than that, I don't have any concrete things to tell you."

There are several teams that have not announced their lineups. Richard Petty Motorsports needs a sponsor/driver combination for its No. 44 car, left open by Brian Scott's retirement. Anything is possible there depending on sponsorship.

Front Row Motorsports needs to fill its No. 34 car as Chris Buescher left for JTG Daugherty Racing in an arrangement where he will be on loan for a year from Roush Fenway Racing. Buescher's crew chief hasn't been named, and it likely won't be out of the Roush Fenway camp since JTG Daugherty is a Chevrolet team.

"There [are] some little bits and pieces of it that are going to be a little strange," Buescher said about being a Ford guy in a Chevy shop. "It's going to be JTG [staff] on everything. We'll go out there and get the most out of the car every single weekend."

Biffle, who turns 47 later this month after a solid 14-year career with 19 Cup wins, likely won't race unless he gets a competitive ride. It appears his best option might be to wait to be a substitute driver.

Mears and others could be candidates at Front Row, a team that can still be considered underfunded despite making the Chase with Buescher, thanks to the Pocono win.

HScott Motorsports shut down Monday, with the charter of the No. 15 sold to Premium Motorsports. The charter HScott leased (the No. 46) from Premium was sold by Premium to Furniture Row Racing for the Erik Jones car next year.

Reed Sorenson and Cole Whitt drove for Premium, which fielded two cars most weeks, but Whitt left the team late in the year. Team owner Jay Robinson said in November that he would buy or sell a charter, depending on the market, and he still could lease or sell the charter he bought from HScott.

There certainly is a market. Three teams -- Wood Brothers Racing, the Motorsports Group and two Premium cars -- ran without charters for the full (or nearly full) 2016 season. Premium now has one charter, and others could obtain charters if the price is right.

Circle Sport owner Joe Falk is looking for a place for his No. 33 charter. His charter was considered as having been leased to Leavine Family Racing in 2016, so Falk must operate a team or sell the charter.

The Motorsports Group had Josh Wise as its primary driver in 2016 but cut a deal with Gray Gaulding in late 2016 that could lead to more races in 2017.

It appears the Go FAS Racing No. 32 team is in transition with no full-time Cup driver nor sponsor announced, and that team would need to find a home for its charter.

The Go FAS charter, the Premium charter (leased to HScott in 2016) and the BK Racing No. 83 charter come with a catch -- they ranked last among the charter teams. Any charter that is among the bottom three for three consecutive years can have its charter pulled by NASCAR.

BK Racing, with the Ragan and DiBenedetto teams finishing 34th and 35th in the standings in 2016 compared to a three-car operation that finished 37th, 40th and 43rd in 2015, typically doesn't solidify its driver lineup until January.

One thing fans shouldn't wig out over -- whether a new manufacturer will debut despite NASCAR Chairman Brian France saying discussions with other manufacturers continue and Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne telling the (Daytona Beach) News-Journal and reporters at a Ferrari event in Florida that he is open to the idea of Dodge returning. Any manufacturer wanting to come into NASCAR for the 2017 season would have had to make a formal request by September 2015.

The current NASCAR rules require race-car renderings for new models to be submitted by more than a year before they ever are raced on the track. The deadline is Oct. 1 (more than 15 months before the actual debut), if the production car is already in production, and Jan. 1 (13 months before the debut), if the production car will start being sold in the year the Cup model debuts. A full-scale race car must be submitted to NASCAR by April 1 prior to the year of debut.

To accomplish those tasks, an incoming manufacturer likely would have to hire some top personnel away from current NASCAR teams, and that has yet to happen.