Wild Silly Season week in NASCAR, where we stand now

Brad Keselowski has a new deal. That was announced on Monday. Leavine Family Racing announced a day later that they’ll close up shop at seasons end. Two days later, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Erik Jones wouldn’t be returning in 2021 and that Christopher Bell will replace him.

So, what’s left.

Hendrick Motorsports has a ride open for Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson, will retire at seasons end and that ride is arguably one of the top ones available. Johnson, has won seven series championships and 83 races in it, so it’s highly coveted.

While there’s a rumor that HMS could just shut down a team and move Alex Bowman over to the 48, which entirely makes sense too, I just don’t see it happening in this Charter era. Unless HMS wants to operate as a three car team for a while, they need that fourth charter. Yes, sponsorship is needed on the 88 car and the 48 car is fully funded. If not for the charter system, scaling back for HMS makes the most sense in fact. But, that likely won’t happen, so who takes over the 48?

Maybe Bowman slides to the 48 and someone bringing money takes over the 88? 

Any free agent would love to land here. Now that the Toyota dilemma is over, Jones would be a perfect fit.

Jones, is only 24. He’s won at Daytona and Darlington. He had nine Xfinity Series wins in just 78 starts and seven wins in 42 Truck starts. 

He’s young and given the right situation, can grow into something special. I mean, look no further than Joey Logano. 

He spent his first four years at JGR and only amassed two wins, 16 top five finishes, 41 top 10s and led 337 laps. He was let go. 

He joined Team Penske in 2013 and has been a steal. He’s scored 23 wins, 105 top fives, 168 top 10s and has led 6,246 laps in eight years there.

If not Jones, they can wait to see how the Ford situation plays.

There’s the case for Stewart-Haas Racing. They have three free agent Cup drivers but there’s no way they let Cole Custer go. His dad is high up with the company, so he and Kevin Harvick are shoo-ins for SHR in 2021.

Does Aric Almirola go? He’s driving the best of his career right now with nine straight top 10 finishes. Is Clint Bowyer on the chopping block?

The team doesn’t want to lose Xfinity Series driver Chase Briscoe either. But, Briscoe also notes that he nor SHR have had much conversations about next year. Neither has Bowyer.

“No, I haven’t really talked to them much about it,” Bowyer said of his contract talks a few weeks ago. “I’ve been talking to partners and things like that and just trying to do everything that I can do to make sure that all the things are lined up for next year for them. I mean, that’s what I can do … we’ve got to, I’ve got to do a better job inside the race car, we got to do a better job of getting this 14 car back up front where it belongs. Doesn’t matter what you do outside the car if you’re not taken care of what is in the car, you shouldn’t be in any of them. Stewart-Haas is a wonderful organization. I want to be there. I want to retire there and and I love the opportunity and the people behind it. I believe all the pieces of the puzzle are there. The manufacturer in Ford, I mean, we’re sitting here representing Ford today and you couldn’t ask for a better manufacturer that’s invested in the sport the way they are. I just again, it’s a perfect fit for me. We started off really, really well.”

Briscoe, said he felt like this was a make or break year for him. This is year No. 2 with SHR in the Xfinity Series and he felt like eight wins would do the trick. He’s almost there as he’s already won five times.

Greg Zippadelli, has a big role with SHR and says that he’d advocate for Briscoe to return to the team for the future.

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“Oh, without a doubt,” he said if he’d be an advocate for Briscoe to remain with the team past this season. “I think he is still young and has a lot to learn but I am very, very impressed with how quick he is learning how to race these stock cars. I hope he is a part of Stewart-Haas for a long period of time. He is a good kid and we would love to see him on the other side with us.

“I think the potential is obviously there. You know how it is in this sport. When things are good you have to jump on it and take advantage of it. A couple weeks from now you could lose a little bit and someone else picks up and wins a couple races. You can’t get too confident and certainly can’t get cocky or you will get run over. The people we have been beating every week are working just as hard or harder to catch what Chase is doing and this team is doing. I am very proud of him. He is a good little driver, man. A lot of fun to be around.”

Briscoe though, said that his focus is still on a championship this season and the rest hopefully will take care of itself.

“No, not yet truthfully,” Briscoe said on his 2021 plans. “I’m just trying to still focus on everything this year and how we’ve run these last couple weeks.  We need to be running better and that’s been our main focus.  Typically, we have our debriefs on Tuesdays and they last 45 minutes.  Our debrief today lasted two hours just trying to figure out how to get better.  So, that’s our main focus right now.  

“I’m not even worried about next year. I’m trying to focus on winning this regular season championship first and then also winning the actual championship. So, we’re putting all of our eggs in those baskets and just trying to do the best that we can. Obviously, if we’re winning races week in and week out, then those Cup talks are gonna take care of themselves and you’re gonna be more valuable to more teams, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Briscoe, said he is under contract with Ford for one more year in the final season of a five year contract.

“Yeah, we’re definitely in the middle of that right now,” Mark Rushbrook of Ford said on what to do with Briscoe for next year. “Chase has been outstanding from the day that we signed him through to today and we expect it to continue. He’s performed at all levels and he’s grown and developed both as a driver inside the truck, inside the car in the different series and outside of the car as well.

“So he’s done everything we’ve asked and more and done it really, really well and look forward to his future and getting him into the right Cup car and the right situation. We even had him this last weekend back in an IMSA car, a Mustang GT4 at Road America. Hopefully, that gave him a little bit of seat time to help him in the XFINITY race going back there this weekend, so we’re really high on Chase and support his continued advancement.”

There’s not many top Ford rides left for Briscoe other than SHR.

SHR could even look at Jones too. They need to get younger, there’s no doubt. Do they cut ties with Almirola and Bowyer or one of the two? Briscoe, Larson and Jones could get looks.

That leaves Chip Ganassi Racing. Kurt Busch will be back for what sounds like will be his final year of his contract in 2021. What about the 42 ride? Team Manager Tony Lunders spoke prior to Indy that all options are on the table, including a possibility of Matt Kenseth returning too.

“We wanted to get some races with Matt (Kenseth) under us, kind of build that effort there and see where it took us,” Lunders said. “If Matt decided at some point that he’s enjoying what’s going on and we’re having some success, maybe there’s something more there. But I think the team is more focused on now, being mid-season, and what we need to do to get that car into the playoffs.

“We’re back in the points a little bit and we need to win a race. So, I think our focus is how do we build that group now to try to get towards the playoffs, win a race, and we’ll let the next year stuff take care of itself as the year goes on. Hopefully, the success is there. Certainly, there are others that know that seat is open and would contact us. And that’s all good, but I think our main focus now is just to get the performance and let the rest take care of itself.”

Ross Chastain makes the most sense to finally take over that car, but rumors are Bubba Wallace could land there too. We know Wallace has an offer to stay at Richard Petty Motorsports with a driver/part ownership role. Does he take it? He says he has several offers as RPM, Ganassi and even SHR or HMS make sense for him.

You know Jones gets a look there as well.

Matt DiBenedetto, Corey LaJoie and Austin Dillon are notable free agents too but there’s no way Dillon leaves RCR.

Austin Cindric was in the running for the Keselowski seat but now that the ride is taken, does he end up with the Wood Brothers or does Penske expand to four cars? If he goes to the Wood Brothers, where does DiBenedetto land?

“It’s great to see Austin and Chase racing against each other,” Rushbrook said of Cindric. “We’ve brought them up together. They raced the IMSA GT4 cars together, trucks, and now XFINITY. In many ways they’re like teammates or brothers in how they’ve developed their relationship not just on the track but off the track as well. They’ve both been performing really well. We think the world of Austin Cindric, so it’s great to see them use the different series in NASCAR for that advancement.”

There’s still plenty of time left for silly season to just get wilder. The Xfinity Series produced Bell, Custer and Tyler Reddick this year. Next year, we could have Briscoe, Cindric, Chastain and Justin Haley.

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