The dominos are starting to fall in the newest version of NASCAR’s Silly Season. Most of the rumors we’ve heard all along are coming true with a few sprinkled out of left field movements also taking place. But, as I wrote over a month ago, Silly Season would be had in two parts – Charters first, driver movement second.
That’s exactly how it’s shaping up.
GMS Racing announced that they’ll move up to Cup but didn’t yet have a charter, manufacturer or driver lined up yet. Kaulig Racing will move up via two charters with Justin Haley in 1 car and AJ Allmendinger splitting time with a driver yet to be announced in the second. Both charters came from Spire as they’ll keep one charter now instead of three and have Corey LaJoie back in the No. 7 Chevrolet for 2022.
Trackhouse Racing lost a charter that they were leasing from Spire in that transaction so they went above and beyond in purchasing the assets to the entire Chip Ganassi Racing operation. That not only got them a charter of their own, but they now have two as well with Daniel Suarez driving one car and the second one open.
The only other team seeking expansion at the moment in 23XI Racing but the question is, where do they get their charter? Their best option is NASCAR taking one away from Rick Ware Racing for their charter being in the bottom in each of the last few years, which by rule they can do, and 23XI Racing taking it over.
With movement on that front done, the driver moves have now begun. The long rumored Brad Keselowski to Roush Fenway Racing as a driver/part owner is all but assured now in wake of Thursday morning’s announcements. Team Penske announced that they’ll move Austin Cindric over to the No. 2 Ford for 2022 instead of having him go to the Wood Brothers in the No. 21 Ford.
See, Cindric has been a Penske development driver and drives for them in the Xfinity Series. Penske has already retained Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano for the future and hoped to have Keselowski back. That’s why they initially signed Cindric to the Wood Brothers as Keselowski would just keep the 2 seat warm until Cindric was ready.
With Keselowski’s imminent departure, they figured why delay the inevitable? With the move, the 21 seat was now open. Harrison Burton will take over that ride moving from Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series to a Ford driver. Penske and the Wood Brothers will keep their alliance going as two more rides are off the table.
That sets up the announcement coming for Keselowski and RFR to team up as by all accounts, Chris Buescher will remain in the No. 17 Ford and Ryan Newman would be out. Newman, would join Kurt Busch, Ross Chastain, Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece, Aric Almirola and Erik Jones as the top free agents left.
The rides open though are now drying up with there being one ride at Trackhouse and the potential one at 23XI Racing if they form a second team as the top rides open. SHR has a ride should they not extend Almirola but that deal should be all about Smithfield. JTG then has two open seats as they own one charter and would be in the market for a second one should they afford it. There’s a wild rumor floating about their future but I’ve not heard anything concrete on that front to officially report it.
Kevin Harvick’s agency represents both current JTG drivers so if the rumor doesn’t come to fruition and if Almirola isn’t retained by SHR, one of them make the most sense to be moving to SHR. If neither JTG driver ends up with SHR and Almirola isn’t either, DiBenedetto would be the top player for that 10 seat.
If 23XI expands, Busch is the top target. That’s a big IF. Nothing has been assured yet for them. Busch also hinted that he’d be interested in replacing Jeff Gordon in the TV booth if Fox Sports wants him. I don’t see him going to JTG or even back to SHR, so his only options seem to be down to coming back to his ride now albeit rebranded to Trackhouse, going to 23XI or the TV booth.