A lot of NASCAR’s Silly Season has began to fall. See, that’s mostly by design too. With the new car coming out for 2022 and teams being able to test it this Fall, you really need to get your driver lineups shored up before then.
We now know that Brad Keselowski will drive the No. 6 Ford with Roush Fenway Racing and become a part owner. Austin Cindric will replace him in the No. 2 Ford with Team Penske. Harrison Burton moves up to replace where Cindric was going to drive for 2022 with the Wood Brothers in the No. 21 Ford.
That news comes after Kaulig Racing announced that they’ll run two full time teams next season with Justin Haley full time in one car and the other one being split between multiple drivers. AJ Allmendinger will be in that ride for select races as one of the drivers.
GMS Racing will move up to Cup but they don’t have any details yet on a manufacturer or a driver. They currently down own a charter either.
Speaking of charters, Trackhouse lost their charter for the No. 99 Chevrolet when Spire sold their two charters to Kaulig. Spire will have a one car team next season with Corey LaJoie back in the No. 7 Chevrolet. With Trackhouse wanting to not only stay in Cup but expand to a two-car outfit, they went out of left field and purchased Chip Ganassi Racing. That landed them two charters in the process.
We knew Daniel Suarez would be back in the 99 but now we know that Ross Chastain will stay inside the organization moving from Ganassi to Trackhouse and will drive the No. 1 Chevrolet for them.
So, what’s left?
The only other teams seeking expansion at the moment is JTG Daugherty Racing and 23XI Racing but the question is, where do they get their charters from? 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.
Also, with the new car coming out, teams have to pay to put all the pieces together. These teams like RWR can’t just buy old chassis anymore. Can they afford to buy enough parts and put together cars for four full time teams? If not, do they sell a charter or two?
If so, there’s three teams (JTG, 23XI, GMS) that are in the market.
In terms of free agents, Ryan Newman joins Kurt Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece, Aric Almirola and Erik Jones as the top ones left at the moment with not a lot of cars left for the taking.
SHR has a ride should they not extend Almirola but that deal should be all about Smithfield. Now that he’s won, the team may just stay in tact for another year.
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. Kevin Harvick’s agency represents both current JTG drivers 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 I think it stays with Almirola.
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 23XI or the TV booth.
Front Row Motorsports would likely retain Michael McDowell and a potential suitor for the second car could be DiBenedetto or Newman.
The rest is pretty well secured. Penske is set. JGR is set. HMS is set. RCR is set and not really looking to expand.
The 2021 charter list.
Hendrick Motorsports (No. 5, No. 9, No. 24, No. 48)
Stewart-Haas Racing (No. 4, No. 10, No. 14, No. 41)
Joe Gibbs Racing (No. 11, No. 18, No. 19, No. 20)
Rick Ware Racing (No. 52, No. 53, No. 15)
Team Penske (No. 2, No. 12, No. 22)
Richard Childress Racing (No. 3, No. 8)
Roush Fenway Racing (No. 6, No. 17)
Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 1, No. 42)
Front Row Motorsports (No. 34, No. 38)
JTG Daugherty Racing (No. 47)
23XI Racing (No. 23)
Wood Brothers (No. 21)
Spire Sports (No. 7, No. 77)
Spire Sports (No. 99) *leased to Trackhouse Racing
Richard Petty Motorsports (No. 43)
Live Fast Motorsports (No. 78)
StarCom Racing (No. 00)
Petty Ware Racing (No. 51)
For 2022, the list remains somewhat similar.
Hendrick Motorsports (No. 5, No. 9, No. 24, No. 48) *no changes
Joe Gibbs Racing (No. 11, No. 18, No. 19, No. 20) *no changes
Stewart-Haas Racing (No. 4, No. 10, No. 14, No. 41) *no changes unless the 10 car has a new driver
Team Penske (No. 2, No. 12, No. 22) *Cindric replaces Keselowski in the No. 2
Roush Fenway Racing (No. 6, No. 17) *Keselowski replaces Ryan Newman in the No. 6
Richard Childress Racing (No. 3, No. 8) *no changes expected
Trackhouse Racing (No. 1, No. 99) *team bought out Chip Ganassi Racing, Chastain takes over the No. 1
Front Row Motorsports (No. 34, No. 38) *McDowell likely back in the 34, the 38 ride is open
Kaulig Racing (2 charters, numbers TBA) – Justin Haley in 1 car, AJ Allmendinger to share the 2nd car with other driver. Charters purchased from Spire.
Wood Brothers (No. 21) *Harrison Burton replaces Matt DiBenedetto for 2022
JTG Daugherty Racing (No. 47) *car is open for the taking, team seeking an additional charter
23XI Racing (No. 23) *Bubba Wallace will be back in 2022, team seeking an additional charter
Spire Sports (No. 7) *Corey LaJoie back in the No. 7, they sold other 2 charters for Kaulig.
Richard Petty Motorsports (No. 43) *Erik Jones may not be back
Live Fast Motorsports (No. 78) *Team not selling a charter, looking for drivers for 2022.
StarCom Racing (No. 00) *Are they back?
Rick Ware Racing (No. 52, No. 53, No. 15) *How many of these charters are back?
Petty Ware Racing (No. 51) *Does RWR and Petty sell this one?
As you can see, 31 of the 36 charters are known with StarCom and RWR now holding the keys to the rest of Silly Season for 23XI, JTG and GMS’ chances of securing a charter.
Stewart-Haas Racing (1) – No. 10 Ford
JTG Daugherty Racing (2) – No. 37 and No. 47 Chevrolet’s
Front Row Motorsports (2) – No. 34 and No. 38 Fords
Richard Petty Motorsports (1) – No. 43 Chevrolet
Kaulig Racing (1) – Part time seat in 1 of their Chevrolet’s
Rick Ware Racing – all their seats are open
GMS Racing – has an opening
23XI Racing – Possible landing spot for Kurt Busch?
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The slogan “Names are Made Here” has been so true for the NASCAR Xfinity Series lately. Several drivers have made a name for themselves in NASCAR’s version of what AAA is to baseball and another young class is set to move up to the big leagues of the NASCAR Cup Series in 2022.
We already knew that Justin Haley was going to drive a full time car for Kaulig Racing. We also already knew that Austin Cindric would be in Cup but plans changed as he will now move from the initial plan of taking over the No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers and shift sooner over to the No. 2 Ford at Team Penske instead.
With that move, the Wood Brothers had an opening and in comes 20 year old Harrison Burton. That’s three drivers moving up the ranks which follows Chase Briscoe doing so last year. He followed Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Christopher Bell.
I mean, just look at those names. You also have to look at what’s being left being for the series itself too.
Reddick won eight times in two straight championship seasons between 2018 and 2019. Custer was second in points in both years and also won eight times those two seasons. Bell, won 15 times between 2018 and 2019 himself as all three made the Championship 4 in 2018 and again in 2019.
Briscoe and Cindric joined them in victory lane in 2019 as the five of them combined to win 25 of the 33 races that year. Kyle Busch won four of the other eight that they didn’t win.
In 2020, the door was open with all three moving up to Cup but Cindric and Briscoe took over. They’d win 15 times between themselves. Haley, won two more as they’d comprise three of the four Championship 4 spots last November in Phoenix. Burton, won four times himself with Cindric, Haley, Briscoe and Burton combining to win 21 of the 33 races.
This season, Cindric has already won four times. In fact, if you look at the top seven in overall points, three of them have full time rides in Cup next year. A fourth, AJ Allmendinger, will be part time.
That leads the question being, who’s next?
Since 2018, only Daniel Hemric (2018) and Justin Allgaier (2019, 2020) have made the championship four other than these drivers mentioned above. Between them, they’ve won 50% of the races since the start of the 2018 season. They won 76% of the races in 2019 and 64% in 2020.
Who’s left to hold the candle as most of the top rides in Cup are taken by these younger drivers?
Allgaier is the most logical choice but he’s 35. Allmendinger is too but he’s 39. What about Jeb Burton? He’s 28. Daniel Hemric is 30 without a formed path anymore. Josh Berry is 30.
The next guys to fill the gap of the younger ones leaving may be more seasoned veterans without a defined path for them to make it up the ranks to a top Cup ride.
With that said, who’s the next younger class ready to capitalize the same way Reddick, Custer, Bell, Cindric, Briscoe, Haley and Burton did?
Ty Gibbs is likely the next one up for the younger front as he’s won twice already this season in a part time role. He’s only 18. Same for Sam Mayer who’s with JR Motorsports who is just now 18 too. Noah Gragson could also benefit. He’s just 22. But, does it serve him well to come back for another season in Xfinity? He may not have a choice.
JRM could roll out a lineup of Michael Annett, Allgaier, Gragson and Mayer.
Kaulig could leave Burton and Allgaier in full time roles.
Those are the top three to hand the torch off to.
Myatt Snider could be a big benefit next as he’s just 26 and in that same RCR car that Reddick won back-to-back championships in. The jury is still out though on 22 year old Riley Herbst. Brandon Jones is only 24 but his path up the ranks with Toyota or JGR doesn’t appear to have much promise. He either stays with JGR with being an Xfinity Series veteran or tries to move to another team with a better path to Cup.
Other than that, it’s really it. That’s why maybe a thing to watch is what Truck Series drivers get a chance to move up. Will John Hunter Nemechek stay in Trucks another year with KBM or does JGR move him up and cut ties with either Hemric or Jones? Or, do they bring out the No. 54 car for Nemechek and go with four full time NXS cars?
Right now, the future is open again for the Xfinity Series with Gibbs and Mayer taking the next chances up. Nemechek isn’t far behind. Then do you see Gragson, Snider, Herbst and Jones capitalize?
We know Allgaier, Allmendinger, Jeb Burton and Berry have a chance to do something special as veterans in the series. It’s what kids will they be battling with that’s the question.
What’s Someone Like Daniel Hemric’s Future?
Is the door also closing for someone like Hemric or Ty Dillon to get back up to a top Cup seat since now most of them are being taken with the youth movement.
Hendrick Motorsports has all four drivers 28 years of age or younger. Penske’s future in now having 31 year old Joey Logano, 27 year old Ryan Blaney, 22 year old Cindric and 20 year old Burton locked up.
No one new will be with these two teams any time soon.
Stewart-Haas Racing has also gone younger with having Cole Custer (23) as a rookie last year and current rookie Chase Briscoe (26) in a car now. Kevin Harvick will be there through 2023 but with the 10 car potentially open at seasons end, they have a potential to get another younger driver as well. Unless Hemric, Dillon or even at DiBenedetto find themselves vying for a seat here, where else do they have?
Trackhouse feels like they’re not set. RCR obviously would go with Ty Dillon if they expand but right now there’s no plans for that. Name me another team in the Chevrolet or Ford camp at this moment that can be a destination spot for a free agent to go to and be a legitimate playoff contender for a team that I didn’t already mention.
HMS, Trackhouse, RCR and Spire are set with Chevrolet while Penske, Wood Brothers, SHR and even Roush Fenway Racing are set with Ford.
Which then bodes the question, what can Toyota do to their landscape? They lost out on a younger driver to Cup again. They already lost out on Larson and Byron, had Erik Jones but didn’t have room for him to stay, lost Noah Gragson to JR Motorsports and others. Burton is just the latest casualty.
See, Toyota runs a different business model than the other manufacturers. They get scrutinized a lot but they’re also showing that it works.
Toyota won nine times in 2020 and put Denny Hamlin in the Championship 4. In 2019, they won 19 times and had three drivers in the final round including a championship by Kyle Busch. In 2018, they won 13 times. In fact, from 2012 through 2019, they had won at least 10 races seven times in the eight year span.
The thing with them is, they really only had four Cup rides to put their drivers in. They tried to expand with Furniture Row Racing but while that worked for a while, it faded with FRR closing their doors. Leavine Family Racing tried it in 2019 but they folded after the 2020 season. Now, it’s 23XI Racing’s turn. They’re wanting to expand to a second full time car for 2022 which would give Toyota six cars in Cup.
The problem is, Ford and Chevrolet has so much more and a lot more real estate to place younger drivers in. Toyota’s business model doesn’t but Toyota also spends a lot on younger drivers from the dirt ranks to Trucks to Xfinity where Ford and Chevrolet don’t.
Toyota gives them the resources to compete at a high level quick and if you don’t win right off the bat, someone else will. Their only issue is, they’ve not really given the younger drivers that can succeed much room to grow in Cup.
JGR is full. Kyle Busch (36) isn’t going anywhere. 40 year old Denny Hamlin and 41 year old Martin Truex Jr. aren’t either. Why would they? Why would JGR or Toyota want to push them out? All three have contracts in place for the team past this season and I’d expect them to be back not only in 2022 but 2023 as well. So would Christopher Bell. He’s shown to be their future and is only 26.
So, for drivers like Burton or anyone else, what’s their path? When you get a job opportunity in Cup, you take it.
Bubba Wallace will be back with 23XI and he’s only 27. If the team expands, it’s likely that they’ll put Kurt Busch in the second car.
It’s clear Ty Gibbs is the future for the 20 car in Xfinity and with Kyle Busch not racing in the series next season, they can keep Brandon Jones in the 19 and if Daniel Hemric wants to return, let him stay in the 18. The only issue is, the path for Jones and Hemric to move up to Cup seems to be low.
Gibbs is likely next in line to move up to Cup in the Toyota camp. I’d say John Hunter Nemechek is behind him.
That means a lot of NASCAR’s future is known really now.