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Fire on Fridays: NASCAR Silly Season Predictions

The NASCAR Cup Series will reach its one-third mark of the season following this weekend at Kansas Speedway, but it’s never too early to start talking silly season.

A couple of major dominoes have already fallen, including one this week that Legacy Motor Club will switch to Toyota next year. There’s also a pretty big rumor gaining traction as to where Josh Berry will go next year after Clint Bowyer hinted on the FOX broadcast last Monday (May 1) that Berry has an announcement during the Coca-Cola 600 week.

So here’s a breakdown of what I think will happen with each team going into the 2024 Cup season.

Trackhouse Racing

I don’t see any changes happening here except that Anheuser-Busch is heavily rumored to come over to Ross Chastain‘s No. 1 car from Stewart-Haas Racing. According to Jayski, both drivers are supposedly signed through 2025.

Team Penske/Wood Brothers Racing

No changes to the true Team Penske cars. Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney are both locked in for multiple years. It’s unknown what Austin Cindric‘s contract is, but given he is team president Tim Cindric’s son, I can’t see the team making a change after just two years and a Daytona 500 win.

But the Wood Brothers Racing entry is where it gets interesting. Harrison Burton‘s contract is up at the end of the year. He underperformed last year, and his average finish is even lower this year as he has yet to score a top 10 in 2023.

Maybe his DEX Imaging sponsorship is enough to keep Burton in the car another year, but perhaps Ford wants to put Zane Smith, Todd Gilliland or another young driver in this car. Riley Herbst brings money too that could replace DEX. And wanna hear a crazy longshot that comes from outside the Ford camp? Corey LaJoie.

See also
Jon Wood Looking for Wood Brothers Improvement, Talks State of the Sport

Richard Childress Racing

No changes to Richard Childress Racing’s current two Cup teams, but the wild card here is Austin Hill. Currently leading the NASCAR Xfinity Series points on the strength of three wins this year, Hill is definitely ready for Cup.

Could RCR expand back to a three-car team? Could Hill get in one of the Spire Motorsports seats since that team has a tight affiliation with RCR? Less likely, could Hill take Beard Motorsports full-time with RCR support? Or Hill could just stay in Xfinity one more season and bring this whole issue back around at this time next year?

Stewart-Haas Racing

We already know Kevin Harvick is retiring, so the No. 4 Ford is probably the Berry biggest opening in all of silly season. But seriously, Bowyer’s clues combined with Couch Racer’s and other rumblings make it seem like the No. 4 ride is Berry’s for 2024. Couch Racer is comprised of spotters and Door, Bumper, Clear podcast hosts Brett Griffin and Freddie Kraft, so they are very much (sorry, Berry much) in the know on silly season talks.

As for the other three SHR cars, Aric Almirola is the only one in question as he was originally supposed to retire at the end of last season. He and Smithfield signed a multi-year extension with SHR, but maybe Almirola decides he’s had enough, as he’s only scored on top 10 through the opening 11 races this season. In that case, perhaps Herbst or Cole Custer get in the No. 10, but I think Almirola comes back.

Hendrick Motorsports

No changes. Hendrick Motorsports’ lineup is set for a long time.

RFK Racing

Team co-owner Brad Keselowski isn’t going anywhere, but Chris Buescher‘s status for next year is unknown. He’s doing a great job with a team on the rebuild, winning the Bristol Motor Speedway night race last year, but it’s possible Ford wants Smith in this car. Maybe another team tries to swipe Buescher since RFK won’t commit to him long term a la Tyler Reddick last year.

Spire Motorsports

A lot for this team comes down to whether a bigger team picks up LaJoie or not. If not, then he stays in the No. 7. If he leaves, this could be the landing spot for Hill. I could also see Hill replacing Ty Dillon in the No. 77, as that move wouldn’t upset the relationship between Spire and RCR.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are the two question marks at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Truex was on the fence about coming back for this year, so it’s just a matter of how many more years he wants to race. He could even step back to a part-time capacity so that he and brother Ryan Truex could share the ride a la Benny and Phil Parsons in the 1980s, but that feels like a longshot. I think the elder Truex comes back for another year, but if he does retire, John Hunter Nemechek is ready to pounce on this ride.

As for Hamlin, his contract expires at the end of this year and it’s unknown what FedEx will do beyond 2023. It’s already seriously scaled back its races as a primary sponsor, only adorning the No. 11 hood in six of the opening 12 races (including Kansas Speedway this weekend).

Hamlin has maintained he will stay at JGR as long as FedEx is there, but should the company leave, what if he goes to the team he co-owns, 23XI Racing, and tries to get a third charter? He already hasn’t seemed as happy at JGR since JD Gibbs’ passing.

Should Hamlin leave, Nemechek is there. Should both Hamlin and Truex be gone, the sky is the limit for who could fill one of the seats along with Nemechek.

Rick Ware Racing

Oh boy. There are a lot of question marks with Rick Ware Racing.

First off, what happens with Cody Ware? We’ll hopefully know more after his next court date on July 10. I’m not commenting on that trial at all, but if Ware were found guilty and not able to race in NASCAR anymore, would that diminish father Rick Ware‘s desires to keep fielding a Cup team? That would put two charters on the market. Could 23XI, Trackhouse, RCR, Kaulig Racing or JR Motorsports grab them?

RWR might not even have a choice on one of the charters. Should the No. 51 car finish in the bottom three in charter owner points for a third consecutive year, NASCAR could take that charter away from the team. The No. 51 is currently 34th in points, but RWR’s No. 15 is two spots ahead, so fill in the blanks to how that could work out.

If Cody Ware is found innocent and the No. 51 charter is not taken away, I imagine the team keeps fielding cars for Ware, JJ Yeley and a rotation of other drivers.

Kaulig Racing

I don’t think anything changes at Kaulig, but maybe the team gets a third charter for Chandler Smith. Perhaps Justin Haley is replaced by Smith, but the team seems loyal to him.

23XI Racing

The only change that could happen at 23XI is the team starting a third car for Hamlin or another free agent. That’s probably only if it can acquire a charter, though, and the team likely won’t expand until the new TV deal is done and the charter system is set in stone.

Front Row Motorsports

With the way Front Row Motorsports is treating Gilliland, it seems the No. 38 is Zane Smith’s unless Ford puts him in another car.

A recent interview Michael McDowell did with NASCAR.com made it seem like he considered retirement at the end of last year, but that was because he had to deal with a whole new crew around him this year. So if he keeps the same people around him for next year, I imagine McDowell returns.

Legacy Motor Club

With the team struggling so much this year, Erik Jones seemed like a candidate to jump ship for SHR … but not any more. Jones has another year on his contract, and I imagine he’s curious to see how the team does after the switch to Toyota. There aren’t really any better rides out there for him for the moment.

As for Noah Gragson, I’m curious about his relationship with Chevrolet and if this manufacturer change will cause any issues. If so, maybe he jumps over to Kaulig or Spire. If not, then he better stay put and learn how to finish a Cup race. He’s had two lead-lap finishes so far this year.

If either were to leave for some reason, LaJoie could be an option.

JTG Daugherty Racing

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and JTG Daugherty Racing just won the Daytona 500 together. Ain’t a thing changing here.

Live Fast Motorsports

I imagine BJ McLeod will again run a majority of the schedule while some Xfinity regulars get a few Cup starts.

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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Dawg

The two seats I’m looking at are Burton in the 21, & Gregson in the 42, a lot of season left but I think he needs to show some signs of adapting to Cup. remember they kicked Dillon to the curb, & he was in all probability, fully funded.

You didn’t mention John Hunter, he has to be in the mix for Toyota with Gibbs. Baby Face is coming along nicely, & with a year of Cup under his belt. I expect JH to be a quick starter as well.

With the dry streak finally broken, I expect Truex to stick around for at least another year. He has some final 4, unfinished business.

John

Sammy Smith is more Cup ready than most…I’d put him in the 4 or the 19 tomorrow. I’m not as high on Nemechek as others are. Ford obviously thinks a lot of Zane Smith to do what they did to Todd G this year. I would put any of the 3 in a ride before LaJoie who has shown himself to be good, not great already. I would expect to see Berry in the Wood 21 which offers the potential to either be a single car satallite to Penske or possibly rebranaded as a Chevy and become a JR Motorsports entry farther down the road (although JRM joining RCR seems way more likely. To get a winning car, Hill will have to change manufacturers. There is no Chevy opening.
Zane to the 17 would have to come with Ford support. Jack Roush is a loyal guy so until the R comes off sign, Buescher will be in the 17.

Aiden22Fan

I doubt Wood Brothers will become a Chevy or a Toyota team. Wood Brothers will stay a Ford Team until Wood Brothers shuts down.

What was Richard Petty, after the Petty name was off the name, it went to Toyota. I wonder what teams will switch manufacturers this off season.

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