INDIANAPOLIS — Silly Season for the NASCAR Cup Series is almost signed, sealed and delivered. Most of that was finalized this past week while NASCAR celebrated their 2021 season in Nashville.
Front Row Motorsports confirmed their lineup with Michael McDowell returning to the No. 34 Ford and rookie Todd Gilliland being in the No. 38 Ford.
Then, GMS secured two charters in taking over the majority stake of Richard Petty Motorsports. All signs are pointing to Erik Jones being in the famed 43 entry and Ty Dillon in the 94.
That left very little remaining.
Then, Thursday came the news that 23XI Racing paid over $13-million for StarCom’s charter and will use it on the No. 45 Toyota that will be driven by Kurt Busch.
So, where do we sit now?
Only Stewart-Haas Racing confirming Aric Almirola which is likely going to happen is one thing and what Rick Ware Racing does with their cars and charters is the last.
RWR is really it. They now have three charters but do they keep them? Do they scale down to two or keep them?
No one else is on the market for charters at the moment with most being already finalized.
Roush Fenway Racing is now Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. Trackhouse bought out Chip Ganassi Racing in the same sense that GMS did Petty but the difference is Petty’s name should be around GMS still.
Kaulig bought Spire’s two charters, 23XI Racing bought StarCom’s and RWR is down from 4 to 3. That’s the team movement.
For driver movement, Austin Cindric (Team Penske), Harrison Burton (Wood Brothers) and Todd Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports) are fighting for Rookie of the Year honors.
Other driver movement is Brad Keselowski replacing Ryan Newman in the No. 6 Ford while Cindric replaces Keselowski in the No. 2 Ford. Kurt Busch isn’t going to shift from Ganassi to Trackhouse but Ross Chastain will and join Daniel Suarez with them. Busch will join 23XI Racing in a newly made team.
JTG scaled back to one full time car and the one that ran as an open car will dissolve.
The rest remains status quo.
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
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
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 is back in the 34, Todd Gilliland is in the 38
23XI Racing (2 charters, No. 23, No. 45) *Bubba Wallace will be back in 2022, Kurt Busch is in the 2nd car.
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.
GMS Racing (2 charters) – It’s likely that the two drivers will be Erik Jones and Ty Dillon. Jones, just signed a contract extension with RPM back in August and will likely stay in the famed 43 car. Dillon joined GMS Racing in October in their 94 car. These two charters come from Richard Petty Motorsports.
Wood Brothers (No. 21) *Harrison Burton replaces Matt DiBenedetto for 2022
JTG Daugherty Racing (No. 47) *Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is back.
Spire Sports (No. 7) *Corey LaJoie back in the No. 7, they sold other 2 charters for Kaulig. Still after a 2nd charter to be back as a 2 car team again.
Live Fast Motorsports (No. 78) *Team not selling a charter, looking for drivers for 2022.
Rick Ware Racing (No. 52, No. 53, No. 15) *How many of these charters are back?
Stewart-Haas Racing (1) – No. 10 Ford
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)
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 and Chandler Smith are both back with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Zane Smith replaces Todd Gilliland in the No. 38 Ford. Spire has started a Truck team but has their seat open for the taking.
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 and Zane Smith are both out of the other two rides with new plans. Does GMS fill both seats?
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.
ThorSport will at least have Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes back with two more seats for the taking.
Hattori Racing Enterprises becomes a two Truck team and named Tyler Ankrum (16 Toyota) Chase Purdy (61 Toyota) as their drivers.
On Point Motorsports signed Tate Fogleman to drive the No. 30 Toyota too.