This NASCAR Cup Series silly season has already been a wild one.
From Brad Keselowski buying into Roush Fenway Racing to Trackhouse Racing Team purchasing Chip Ganassi Racing’s Cup program, there hasn’t been a silly season that’s shaken up the garage this much in quite a while.
And it’s not over yet. There’s still a handful of drivers and teams left to either announce or figure out their plans.
But with Trackhouse announcing Aug. 5 that it’s putting Ross Chastain in its No. 1 Chevrolet next year, essentially retaining him and not other current CGR driver Kurt Busch, the picture for how next year’s starting grid will look has become much clearer.
Here are the dominoes left to fall this silly season and some guesses as to how they may play out. I’m only hitting on Cup, because who ever really knows what drivers will be where in the other two NASCAR national touring series until like January of the next year?
23XI Racing’s Second Car/Kurt Busch
Denny Hamlin has repeatedly indicated he wants to field a second car in 2022, even if the team is unable to secure a second charter. Busch has said he wants to drive in Cup next year and not retire. Now we know Busch won’t be keeping his current job at Ganassi or transitioning with the team to Trackhouse.
So what better option does 23XI have than Busch, and what better option does Busch have than 23XI?
Busch has even mentioned the team as being a possibility on a few occasions, and he would also likely bring money to the deal via Monster Energy sponsorship. At this point, it’s harder to imagine this deal not happening than happening.
As for what number the second 23XI car would be, that remains unclear. But I saw someone say on social media (I really wish I could remember who so I could give them credit) the team should use the No. 33 because Michael Jordan never won until he had Scottie Pippen. With Team Penske likely not using No. 33 next year as Austin Cindric will move over to the No. 2, I hope that’s what happens.
With Keselowski replacing Ryan Newman in the No. 6 at Roush, Newman will obviously be doing something different next year. RFR President Steve Newmark said that he’s discussed having Newman stay with the team in a part-time third entry, but Newman is still deciding what he wants to do.
It’s possible Newman could retire after this season. His situation reminds me of when Ganassi replaced Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 but said the team would provide McMurray with a ride for the following Speedweeks and he could have an advisory role after that. McMurray initially tried to find a competitive full-time ride elsewhere before finally taking Ganassi’s offer.
Newman could stay in the Ford camp with Front Row Motorsports or join new Chevy Cup teams Kaulig Racing or GMS Racing. It’s unknown what exactly Newman will decide at this point.
What was originally announced as a lame-duck season indeed turned out to be a lame-duck season for Matt DiBenedetto and Wood Brothers Racing, with Harrison Burton stepping into the famed No. 21 next year instead of Cindric.
There’s no word on if DiBenedetto will find another Cup ride. Before the Olympics break, my Fire on Fridays cowriter Kevin Rutherford hit on what will likely happen next with DiBenedetto. Nothing has changed since then except the Chastain-Trackhouse deal, so I recommend you check out his full breakdown of the situation.
Front Row Motorsports/Anthony Alfredo
I fully expect FRM and Michael McDowell to stick together after winning the Daytona 500 together and having the best results either has ever had. But Anthony Alfredo isn’t doing nearly as well in the team’s No. 38.
Alfredo is a rookie, so his numbers shouldn’t be compared to a veteran like McDowell. But as a rookie in that same car last year, John Hunter Nemechek posted three top 10s and a 22.4 average finish. Alfredo so far has no top 10s and a 27.1 average finish.
Nemechek had much more experience in the lower NASCAR levels than Alfredo when he took the ride, and I’m sure he would get better with time. But it’s hard to justify retaining Alfredo when it seems there’s going to be a plethora of drivers with more experience and more success looking for a ride.
With FRM now having some clout thanks to McDowell’s season, they should be able to land drivers such as Newman, DiBenedetto or someone from the lower tiers like a Noah Gragson. Heck, the team’s Camping World Truck Series driver Todd Gilliland is having a career year. Why not just swap him and Alfredo so that Alfredo can get more experience and confidence before trying to come back up to Cup?
Kaulig Racing Second Car
Kaulig purchased two charters for next year. The team’s current NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Justin Haley will drive one of them, but it didn’t announce who would be in the second car.
Kaulig did say that another of its current NXS drivers, AJ Allmendinger, will drive for them part time at the Cup level next year. But it would make more sense for the team to enter Allmendinger in a part-time third car than use him in their second charter and lose out on points fund money.
With Trackhouse’s recent announcement denying Kaulig of a reunion with Chastain, one has to think the team tries to get a veteran to go along with rookie Haley. Or the team could go all out with youngsters by using one of its current drivers, Kaz Grala or Jeb Burton, to fill the ride.
While I’m throwing out drivers, I might as well mention Truck regular and Chevrolet driver Zane Smith, who filled in for Haley when he was out due to COVID-19 protocols earlier this year at Dover International Speedway. Smith was rumored to be close to signing a deal to get CGR’s No. 1 car before Ganassi sold the team. So he’s reportedly been looking at Cup rides.
GMS Racing/Sheldon Creed
Truck team GMS announced back in June that it was going Cup racing next year. Since then, not a single detail has been revealed.
Will the team purchase a charter? Will it compete part time? Nobody seems to know at this time.
But unless the team wants to bring in a veteran, its current driver and reigning Truck champion Sheldon Creed seems like the logical choice. Creed said when he was on the Frontstretch Podcast last month that he wanted to move up next year and didn’t want to become a Truck lifer.
So Creed and GMS moving up together would make a ton of sense.
JTG Daugherty Racing/Richard Petty Motorsports
But what really complicates everything with this team is the No. 37 still doesn’t have a charter. Initially, JTG didn’t even know if it’d have enough sponsorship for that car to run the whole 2021 season, but since Preece has confirmed that it will.
Maybe the team finally finds a charter for the No. 37 this silly season. Or maybe the team decides after this year that it doesn’t want to run an unchartered car full time again in 2022, as the financial hit was just too much. Well, then the team would downsize to one full-time car and either Stenhouse or Preece would be out of luck.
Maybe JTG finds a funded driver to take over the No. 37. Or maybe the crazy Kevin Harvick rumor is true and he ends up buying into the team and getting back into ownership. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Harvick got back into ownership someday now that his son Keelan is racing. But I have doubts that it’s this team, this year. Although Harvick’s marketing agency, KHI Management, does represent both current drivers.
One thing that hasn’t been rumored at all but would actually make a lot of sense would be for the team to merge with Richard Petty Motorsports. Think about it, RPM majority owner Andrew Murstein said just last year he’d be open to selling the team (scroll to the fourth question in that link). With charters now worth more than ever before due to high demand, he’s got to be even more tempted to sell.
JTG co-owner Brad Daugherty has always been a Richard Petty fan. It’s the reason he wore No. 43 when he played in the NBA. Don’t you think he’d want the No. 43 in his stable and The King himself as a co-owner in the team?
Then JTG would get a charter to field two teams. The only catch is then either Preece, Stenhouse or Jones would lose their ride.
But again, there’s been no evidence to support this actually happening, and the most likely scenario is both teams keep the status quo.
Rick Ware Racing
Rick Ware currently has three charters and uses a fourth. But he could make a lot of money by selling or leasing one.
The No. 51 that the team uses is owned by Petty but operated by RWR through a partnership (listed as Petty Ware Racing in the owner standings), so that one would make the most sense to lease or sell. Although I’m not sure if Ware would see any money from that or if Petty would get it all.
Ware said back in May he’d be much more open to leasing a charter than selling one. So that’s where teams like 23XI, JTG or GMS could come into play.
If the team does back down from four full-time cars, it’d be interesting to see which driver is let go. Ware’s son Cody has dabbled with the NTT IndyCar Series and could go full time over there instead of NASCAR. Josh Bilicki is the only driver to have competed in every race this year for the team, while Garrett Smithley and James Davison have driven the majority of the schedule. Davison has the best average finish of the four drivers.
The Money Team Racing
Will boxer Floyd Mayweather’s team ever actually enter a Cup race?
This team was first rumored back in 2019, but nothing has ever come of it. But part of that has been because it hasn’t been able to acquire a charter.
With celebrities Michael Jordan and Pitbull now having teams, it could further fuel Mayweather’s desire to be in NASCAR. But I’ll believe it when I see it.
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