Where the Cup Series driver lineup now sits for the Daytona 500 as well as full season

One of the last dominoes for the full time entries in the NASCAR Cup Series for the 2021 season fell on Tuesday. While there’s a few other smaller teams yet to announce their plans, the biggest team left fulfilled their lineup this week.

Front Row Motorsports announced that Michael McDowell would return to his seat in the No. 34 Ford for the fourth straight year. That was expected. His teammate though will be rookie Anthony Alfredo. The 21 year old Connecticut native will pilot the No. 38 Ford and replacing the departing John Hunter Nemechek who will go back to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and race the No. 4 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

With that said, most of the lineup is now filled. Before we look at what’s left, lets rewind and look at what’s been done.

Plenty of rides swapped hands. The top domino in free agency last year was what Hendrick Motorsports was going to do with the No. 48 Chevrolet. Jimmie Johnson’s replacement is essentially Alex Bowman as he will shift from the 88 to the 48 and Bowman’s replacement now is Kyle Larson as they will change the 88 back to the 5.

Larson’s replacement at Chip Ganassi Racing is Ross Chastain. Chastain, joins Kurt Busch with that team. Christopher Bell leaves the closing Leavine Family Racing to unseat Erik Jones in the No. 20 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones, moves to the seat left vacant by Bubba Wallace with Richard Petty Motorsports and will drive the famed No. 43 Chevrolet. Wallace, moves to the new team started up by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan and will drive a No. 23 entry for them – likely a Toyota.

Clint Bowyer joins Johnson on the sidelines as he’s retiring too while Chase Briscoe moves up as his replacement.

Daniel Suarez leaves the Gaunt Brothers to join Trackhouse Entertainment Group with an alliance from Richard Childress Racing.

Go Fas Racing’s charter was purchased and turned into Live Fast Racing. BJ McLeod will drive the newly branded No. 78 Ford. Then you have Corey LaJoie to Spire in the No. 7 Chevrolet entry.

Matt DiBenedetto knows he’s back with the Wood Brothers but only for a year because Austin Cindric will drive the No. 21 Ford in 2022. Brad Keselowski is back with Team Penske but also only for 2021 so far. It’s likely either he or DiBenedetto for the No. 2 Ford in 2022.

That pretty well takes care of the big teams. So, what’s left?

JTG Daugherty Racing looks to be sticking with Ryan Preece for the No. 37 Chevrolet but hasn’t yet secured a charter for that ride as they lost it to Spire’s second entry. The only way they can get another one is if they get one from Rick Ware.

Ty Dillon is still looking for work but everything else appears to be drying up.

The only thing left other than that is the one seat at Spire, what Rick Ware does with his four seats and the Gaunt Brothers’ plans.

For now, the 36 charters cars have five seats left to be filled and four are with one team.

We did see three teams close up shop in Germain Racing, Leavine Family Racing and Go Fas Racing but new teams added in Trackhouse Racing team taking over for Germain essentially with taking their RCR alliance, 23XI taking over LFR’s Toyota alliance and now Live Fast Racing taking Go Fas’ SHR alliance. There’s also rumors of a couple of new teams, one with Floyd Mayweather and another from NY Racing. Neither of those would have a charter though. More on this below.

Rides Open (All Have Charters minus Gaunt Brothers)

Spire – No. 77 Chevrolet

Petty Ware Racing – No. 51 Ford

Rick Ware Racing – No. 15, No. 52, No. 53 Fords

Gaunt Brothers Racing – No. 96 Toyota

Free Agents

Ty Dillon

Chevrolet (15)

Hendrick Motorsports (4) – Chase Elliott is back through the 2022 season. William Byron and Alex Bowman each reached new deals with Byron through 2022 and Bowman through next season. Kyle Larson becomes the fourth driver.

Chip Ganassi Racing (2) – Kurt Busch is back in part of his multi-year deal with a new teammate in Ross Chastain.

JTG Daugherty Racing (2) – Both drivers (Ricky Stenhouse Jr./Ryan Preece) are back in 2021.

Richard Childress Racing (2) – Tyler Reddick has already indicated that he’ll be back in 2021 with Austin Dillon as the teammate. There’s no reason to expand to a third car with their alliance with Trackhouse Entertainment Group and RPM still.

Spire (2) – The 77 will be back but they also purchased the assets to Leavine Family Racing too. LaJoie is in the newly branded the No. 7 Chevrolet entry with the 77 car to be announced soon.

Richard Petty Motorsports (1) – Erik Jones will drive this car in a new multi year deal.

Trackhouse Entertainment Group (1) – Daniel Suarez is the driver of the No. 99 Chevrolet.

StarCom Racing (1) – Quin Houff signed a two-year deal and will be back in 2021.

Ford (13)

Stewart-Haas Racing (4) – Three of their four drivers are back. Kevin Harvick has a deal through 2023, Aric Almirola has a one year extension while Cole Custer is back and I don’t see him leaving soon with who his dad is and his role with that team. Briscoe was announced as their driver in the 14.

Team Penske (3) – All three drivers are back in 2021. Logano and Blaney have multi year deals with Keselowski reportedly working on a one year extension.

Roush Fenway Racing (2) – Both Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher are expected back.

Front Row Motorsports (2) – Michael McDowell and Anthony Alfredo will race full time for them in 2021.

Wood Brothers (1) – Matt DiBenedetto is back for 2021 before moving way to Austin Cindric for 2022.

Live Fast Motorsports (1) – BJ McLeod will drive the car for this new team. They’ll keep the alliance with SHR that Go Fas Racing did.

Toyota (5)

Joe Gibbs Racing (4) – Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are all back for 2021. Christopher Bell slides in to replace Erik Jones in the No. 20 Toyota.

23XI (1) – Bubba Wallace

Rides Closing

Germain

Leavine Family Racing

Daytona 500

With all this said, what is the Daytona 500 looking like? We know we have 36 charter cars that will be guaranteed to make the field for the Feb. 14 race. But, what about the open cars?

David Ragan will be in the No. 36 Ford for FRM for a second straight year. Preece in the 37 is another open car barring them finding a Charter for it. Chad Finchum and Timmy Hill appear to be back in the MBM entries. Beard Motorsports appears to be coming back but with Brendan Gaughan retiring, the rumor is Noah Gragson may get a seat in the ‘500 in this No. 62 Chevrolet. Ryan Ellis could be in play for the No. 32 Ford for Go Fas should they intend to race in the ‘500, which I’d assume they will. Kaulig Racing announced a part time entry for 2021 with one of those races being the ‘500.

That gets us to seven open cars to take us to 43 entries again. I don’t think it stops there though. Penske could bring out a fourth car for Austin Cindric for the ‘500. We know they’re going to do so for select races already and the Daytona 500 would be a great start. You also have the NY Racing team that is rumored to have an interest in a Daytona 500 and possibly a full season program.  Then you have the Gaunt Brothers’ No. 96 Toyota. I haven’t heard of them closing down.

That’s four more open cars to get us up to 10 to carry us to 46 cars for the Daytona 500. There’s then rumors about a few more teams that could show up too which could propel us to even more.

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