Cup Rides Filled Again, Where Does Silly Season Stand Now?

INDIANAPOLIS — What a busy week this was. Ryan Newman saying he plans to return to his No. 6 Ford whenever NASCAR is ready to resume their season. That was last Sunday. A day later, NASCAR confirmed that Newman was medically cleared and he’d in fact return when they had a set date of resumption.

On Tuesday, Chip Ganassi Racing named Matt Kenseth as the 2020 replacement driver for Kyle Larson. That came out of left field which created a ton of storylines on that situation and what they’d now do with Ross Chastain.

Later that day, NASCAR unveiled that Newman and Kenseth would receive playoff waivers allowing them to be playoff eligible should they get or remain in the top 30 of the points standings and win a race as well.

Wednesday was a silent day before Thursday seeing NASCAR officially release their plans on resuming. Now that we know when and where we’re racing this month and who’s going to be in those seats, what about the future of those seats?

We may be four races into the season, but this six week break due to the coronavirus has produced from wild moments. In turn, it’s forced a wild Silly Season that will ensue here soon.

NDM_AALVAREZ_NCS_PHO_NCS-21-780x520
Is 2020 the final season Brad Keselowski will be with Team Penske?

Kyle Larson was supposed to be the hottest free agent in NASCAR now that Ryan Blaney reached an extension to remain at Team Penske in March. Then, he used a racial slur on Easter night during a video game race which cost him his seat and allowed Kenseth to make his first return since Nov. 2018.

So, who drives that car in 2021 then? That ride is among some top rides available next season. As of now, the list of open cars is staggering.

Team Penske (No. 2 Ford), Wood Brothers (No. 21 Ford), Hendrick Motorsports (No. 48 Chevrolet and No. 88 Chevrolet), Stewart-Haas Racing (No. 10 Ford, No. 14 Ford and No. 41 Ford), Joe Gibbs Racing (No. 20 Toyota), Go Fas Racing (No. 32 Ford) and Richard Petty Motorsports (No. 43 Chevrolet) all join Ganassi (No. 42 Chevrolet) with open seats.

Penske, HMS, JGR, SHR and Ganassi are the top teams in the sport and there’s eight rides open for them. Plus, you have the Wood Brothers and Go Fas as Penske and SHR’s alliance teams with openings.

That in turn leaves drivers like Brad Keselowski, Matt DiBenedetto, Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Cole Custer, Erik Jones, Corey LaJoie and Bubba Wallace as free agents. Do they return to any of those rides or move elsewhere? What about the youth in the Xfinity Series like a Chastain or Noah Gragson or Austin Cindric or Chase Briscoe? What roles do they play in this?

Larson was the top of this free agent list but now moves to the bottom in being far removed from these teams for a future ride. Chastain makes the absolute most sense to replace him and Kenseth in the 42 at Ganassi. Bowman, with a win at Fontana already under his belt in 2020, makes a ton of sense to return to the 88 at HMS too. That eliminates two good rides.

The next domino would be that Penske and Keselowski appear to be heading towards a split. Does DiBenedetto slide over to the 2 and Cindric replace him in the 21 or does Cindric take over the 2 and DiBenedetto stay put?

Keselowski, would be the top free agent on the market and could end up replacing Jimmie Johnson in the 48 or maybe even moving over to SHR to remain with Ford. Those are really his only two options.

SHR then has options, plenty of them in fact. I don’t see Cole Custer getting the boot after just one season. He likely is back with Kevin Harvick, leaving two top rides available for the taking. The team could then bring back both Almirola and Bowyer, a combo of either, or none of the above. You have to think Keselowski gets a look, so would DiBenedetto. Another sleeper to watch there is Jones.

NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 - Qualifying
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 09: Christopher Bell, driver of the #95 Procore Toyota, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 09, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

JGR could extend Jones another year, but you have to think they’d like to bring Christopher Bell over to their umbrella sooner rather than later. They’re not going to let Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin or Martin Truex Jr. walk in order to do that. So, Jones and his expiring contract makes the most sense to get the boot and him then being given a hard look by SHR in wake of that.

I doubt Jones would go to Leavine Family Racing as a result, so SHR or HMS make sense for Jones. So does Penske and Wood Brothers too if a combination of Keselowski and/or DiBenedetto leave. Penske, gave Logano a resurgence opportunity after flaming out with JGR. Would they strike gold a second time in a very similar scenario?

SHR could also look at LaJoie since he’s a part of their alliance team too or go to their NXS driver in Briscoe.

I can envision a scenario of where Penske has Cindric, Blaney and Logano for 2021 while Briscoe gets the 21 seat. SHR would have Harvick, Custer, Keselowski and Jones. Or, Jones, Blaney and Logano with Penske, Cindric to the Wood Brothers and Harvick, Custer, DiBenedetto and Keselowski with SHR.

HMS could make a big splash with Keselowski too. They could also go after a younger driver like Chastain or Gragson. They could even go after DiBenedetto as well. The skies are endless for them.

So, the most obvious fits are – JGR having Busch, Truex, Hamlin and bringing in Bell. Ganassi would go with Kurt Busch and Chastain. HMS would bring Bowman back with Byron and Elliott. That leaves Penske, HMS and SHR fighting over veterans like Keselowski, Bowyer and Almirola or going with youth like Jones, Cindric, DiBenedetto, LaJoie, Briscoe, Gragson and Wallace. That’s 10 drivers going for four seats.

Let the games begin.

 

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