The inns are becoming full in NASCAR’s top level. All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers are 28 years of age or younger. Team Penske has 31 year old Joey Logano and 27 year old Ryan Blaney already in their stable of drivers with 22 year old Austin Cindric coming soon, maybe as soon as next year in fact.
Joe Gibbs Racing has Kyle Busch who’s still in his prime at 36. Christopher Bell is just 26. 23XI Racing has Bubba Wallace (27).
Stewart-Haas Racing has Cole Custer (23) and Chase Briscoe (26).
These are the top teams in NASCAR. In the past, you came up through developmental programs for each or through a manufacturer. But, with most of these top rides taken and several talented drivers still working their ways through the ranks, where do they go and how do they make it happen?
HMS and Penske are set. JGR is set for at least 1-2 more years. SHR may have room for 1 soon and 1 more in a few years. That’s it.
So, for the likes of a Noah Gragson, Ty Dillon, Kaz Grala, Brett Moffitt, Daniel Hemric, Ross Chastain, Ryan Preece, Brandon Jones, Harrison Burton, Ty Gibbs, John Hunter Nemechek, Myatt Snider, Zane Smith, Sheldon Creed or someone else, where do they go?
I feel like Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. who each are 40, may only have another couple of years left at JGR. One of those seats will go to Gibbs. Maybe 23XI Racing expand to a two car team for soon and Harrison Burton keeps that seat warm until John Hunter Nemechek is ready to come back up. Maybe they sign Kurt Busch for next season, Burton takes over in 2023, JHN is up in Xfinity for 2023 and for 2024, Burton slides over to JGR while JHN moves back up to Cup.
That would keep JGR full then with a potential of Bell, Burton, Gibbs and Busch there with Wallace and JHN at 23XI Racing. Then, when Busch hangs it up, maybe Nemechek slides over and the next young driver moves over to his departed seat.
Notice I didn’t mention Hemric. What’s his path with JGR or Toyota now? Same for Ty Dillon. Hemric is full time in the No. 18 Toyota while Dillon has split time in the No. 54 Toyota. Is Brandon Jones back in the 19? Is Hemric back in the 18? We know Gibbs needs to move up. Does Burton find a place or does he come back in the 20 for a third year? Do they expand to four full time cars? You have Hemric, Jones, Burton and Gibbs are the leaders in that clubhouse.
For Penske, I don’t see any reason as to why they would keep the Xfinity Series program going past this season unless they sign a bigger name driver like a Hemric or Dillon or even one of the Cup free agents to move over to drive the No. 22 Ford in NXS next year. Their future is solidified and they can just fully focus on the Cup program moving forward if they wanted.
What about JR Motorsports? Michael Annett brings sponsorship. Sam Mayer is their future. I don’t see Justin Allgaier going anywhere so what does Noah Gragson do? He really needs to move up as he risks a lot by coming back next year. See, he had two wins, 17 top five finishes and 25 top 10’s last year in his second year in the series. In his third year, he’s had no wins, five top fives and just eight top 10’s. Granted, he’s had bad luck a lot, but wouldn’t it be a detriment if he comes back in 2022 and his numbers aren’t dominating? But, if he gets out just to get out, what ride is out there to go in for him to realistically get a shot to drive that’s going to be a weekly contender in Cup?
See his dilemma?
JRM has Josh Berry waiting to pounce so if Gragson leaves, they can have three veterans aged drivers who aren’t likely going Cup racing for their future with a young potential star in Mayer.
SHR has Riley Herbst but that isn’t working. With their Cup team having two future spots open, do they keep this ride or pluck a Hemric, Gragson or someone like that way and shut those doors down?
Does Richard Childress Racing keep Myatt Snider for a second full time season in 2022? Kaulig isn’t likely to run three full time cars anymore since they’re going Cup race with two full time cars. We know AJ Allmendinger will be a full time NXS driver. Do they have a second full time team?
See, the new path now is going to be positioning yourself to hope the younger talent in Cup now doesn’t pan out and you can have an inside track to that ride. Bell got to JGR because Erik Jones didn’t win enough. Maybe one of these Toyota drivers doesn’t pan out and someone else can move up quicker.
The other path is to get in with these new owners coming through. There’s plenty of interest and as they come in and even expand, you have to work that potential because the big teams are going to be filled for years to come.
That’s going to shape the NXS fields for the next few years as the transition is occurring to where we’ve had a lot of drivers come though these ranks the last several years with now no where for those behind to really move solidly into.
Lately, the NXS field have been stacked full of proven talent. The path has been a couple of years in Trucks followed by a couple in Xfinity before moving up to Cup. Now, as the younger crop comes up, they’re maybe more unproven as Reddick, Bell, Custer, Briscoe, Haley and Cindric are guys who’ve been dominating the series the last four years are gone.
Is it worth a third year for Burton and Gragson? If they leave, who’s left up?
Allmendinger, Allgaier, Jones, Hemric and Jeb Burton are more veterans. Is NXS going to go a little over while the next wave gains more experience against them?