AVONDALE, AZ — The aroma of beer and champagne still fills the Arizona desert air in the west valley as it basks in the aftermath of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series season finale at the Phoenix Raceway. Kyle Larson won the 2021 Cup Series championship. The celebration then ensued. Sunday was like New Years Eve in a sense for the final day of the 2021 season and today is the start of the look towards 2022. Now what?
Well, I expect this offseason to be a little bit tamer compared to the daily news breaks of last. See, that’s because the schedules are in place, COVID protocols seem to be loosening instead of tightening and silly season is pretty far down the line in all of NASCAR’s three national divisions.
The main thing is the Next Gen testing with three offseason appearances. They’ll do so back in Charlotte on the oval on Nov. 17-18. Then, they’re back at the Phoenix Raceway on Dec. 14-15. Daytona will hold the final test on Jan. 11-12.
That’s three tests spanning three different months. Other than that, just a few silly season rides in Cup and any sponsorship dealings will be the main storylines this offseason.
Cup Series Silly Season
The Silly Season front had been quiet again for a few weeks in terms of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series rides but that’s by design though. The music is dimming and the folding chairs available in the high speed game of Musical Chairs are folded up and stacked neatly against the wall. We’re nearing the point to where we put them back in storage again for another year.
That’s all due to this new car coming out next season. With needing to assemble cars for Fall testing, you kind of want your 2022 driver in it. In turn, you really can’t wait on funding to come through or future plans. You need to know now.
That’s also why most of the deals are already solidified.
The only rides really left now are Stewart-Haas Racing (No. 10 Ford), maybe one at Front Row Motorsports (No. 38 Ford), Kaulig Racing’s part time ride and some with Rick Ware Racing.
It seems like SHR, will bring Aric Almirola back meaning the top rides are filled.
That just leaves Silly Season down FRR, StarCom, Rick Ware Racing and 23XI Racing with the onus on charters. See, 23XI Racing is after a charter for Kurt Busch’s No. 45 Toyota. Rumors are they were down the road in purchasing one from FRR but that fell through. Where do they get one from now?
StarCom’s is available, but it seems like it will be bought by Spire. The only other path is Rick Ware Racing. He has three charters and one he is partnered on with Richard Petty Motorsports. It sounds like he doesn’t want to run four cars in 2022, so either of these teams are 23XI’s possability.
GMS is after a charter so this may play out for them to acquire one as well. Other than that, the rest is pretty much done.
If they run as an open team, they’ll join Team Hezeberg, a NASCAR Whalen Euro Series team who will compete part-time in 2022 and then eye moving up on a full-time basis in 2023.
It’s all made possible by a joint effort between Toine Hezemans and Dutch businessman Ernst Berg. That plus an alliance with Reaune Brothers Racing who will offer technical support, add up to a new entry in Cup.
The car will be a No. 27 Ford and driven by 2019 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion Loris Hezemans. He will race on all the road courses. Both he and Jacques Villeneuve will test the new car next week on the ROVAL here in Charlotte.
Some may wonder, who is this team. They’ve started their career in 2018 and was a champion a year later. They then won another championship in 2020 too.
Hezemans, won 11 times in it and leads the standings again. He’s also made three Xfinity Series starts including two of which coming this year.
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) *Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is back.
23XI Racing (No. 23) *Bubba Wallace will be back in 2022, team seeking an additional charter for Kurt Busch
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 will be back.
Live Fast Motorsports (No. 78) *Team not selling a charter, looking for drivers for 2022.
StarCom Racing (No. 00) *This is for sale
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, 33 of the 36 charters are known with StarCom and RWR now holding the keys to the rest of Silly Season for 23XI and GMS’ chances of securing a charter.
Stewart-Haas Racing (1) – No. 10 Ford
Front Row Motorsports (2) – No. 34 and No. 38 Fords
Kaulig Racing (1) – Part time seat in 1 of their Chevrolet’s
Rick Ware Racing – all their seats are open
Aric Almirola (linked to stay at SHR)
Michael McDowell (linked to stay at FRR)
Xfinity Series Silly Season
This picture is getting clearer here too. JR Motorsports will have Josh Berry, Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier and Sam Mayer in their four car team next season.
Richard Childress Racing will have Sheldon Creed in the No. 2 Chevrolet and Austin Hill in the other car while also keeping Myatt Snider as a developmental driver for them. Snider, will drive for Jordan Anderson Racing with TaxSlayer as the sponsorship on the No. 31 Chevrolet. That’s one of their alliance teams. So is BrandonBuilt who will stay with Brandon Brown and Big Machine who will keep Jade Buford. The other is Kaulig who will have Daniel Hemric in the No. 11 Chevrolet and AJ Allmendinger in the No. 16 Chevrolet. The No. 10 Chevrolet that was being driven by Jeb Burton is open with Burton likely not returning due to a lack of funding. He says he has as deal in place already and it’s not with Kaulig.
JGR will now have Brandon Jones back in the No. 19 Toyota while the signs are clear that Ty Gibbs should move up to the No. 18 Toyota. Do they keep the No. 20 Toyota and do so with a full time driver or use that car for the part-time role where Cup drivers share this seat and a younger developmental driver later in the year?
Team Penske will keep the No. 22 Ford but do they sign another young driver or use it for the Cup guys to race in?
Stewart-Haas Racing is the only other big team left. Does Riley Herbst and Monster stay?
Ryan Preece and Matt DiBenedetto would make strong candidates to run the Penske or SHR cars in NXS, but do they?
Brett Moffitt could figure into plans depending on OUR Motorsports and Hattori Racing Enterprises’ plans.
That’s pretty much it in terms of championship contenders for 2022.
Nevertheless, the slogan “Names are Made Here” has been so true for the NASCAR Xfinity Series lately anyways. 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 looks like the favorite to repeat. In fact though, 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 Hemric (2018) and 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 will be 40 in December. What about Jeb Burton? He’s 29. Daniel Hemric and Josh Berry will be 31 by time we get to Daytona next February.
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?
Gibbs is likely the next one up for the younger front as he’s won three times 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 23.
Snider could be a big benefit next as he’s just 23 and will be 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. Jones is only 24.
Other than that, it’s really it.
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 whenever he moves back out. Then do you see Gragson, Snider, Creed, Herbst and Jones capitalize?
We know Allgaier, Allmendinger 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.
The other equation to figure into these plans are the paths to Cup rides. That’s the ultimate end goal for these drivers in this series.
Is the door also closing for someone like Hemric to get back up to a top Cup seat since now most of them are being taken with the youth movement. That’s part of why Hemric moved again. Kaulig has 2 Cup cars, so this move gets him back to Cup better than JGR’s would.
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. While signs point to Aric Almirola now being back, they’ll eventually have to get younger still. Unless Hemric, Dillon or even a Matt DiBenedetto find themselves vying for a seat here, where else do they have?
RCR obviously would go with Ty Dillon if they expand but right now there’s no plans for that, hence the GMS alliance. 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 expanding 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. Busch will hold the fort in the second car for a year or two.
That means a lot of NASCAR’s future is known really now. So, positioning yourself in the Xfinity Series is going to take some strategic planning.
Truck Series Silly Season
John Hunter Nemechek is back with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the No. 4 Toyota. With that said, the No. 18 Toyota doesn’t have a driver yet but all indications are of Chandler Smith returning.
The other rides we know of are GMS Racing having Grant Enfinger in the No. 23 Chevrolet and Jack Wood in the No. 24 Chevrolet. Sheldon Creed is moving up to the Xfinity Series ranks with RCR while Zane Smith could potentially be back but no plans are in place for that yet.
McAnally-Hilgemann Racing has aligned with GMS and will likely have Derek Kraus in the now No. 19 Chevrolet. They were with Toyota this past season. Colby Howard will drive the second truck.
Carson Hocevar will be back in the No. 42 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports while rookies Lawless Alan (No. 45 Chevrolet) and Dean Thompson (No. 40 or No. 44 Chevrolet) will pair with him.
Front Row Motorsports is eyeing a move up to the Xfinity Series and if they do, Todd Gilliland will be their driver. If they don’t, both will be back together for 2022 in Trucks.
Hattori Racing Enterprises has an opening in the No. 16 Toyota with Austin Hill not returning while ThorSport hasn’t announced their plans yet.