It sure looks like it’s here! It’s pretty darn wacky and ridiculous too.
Affectionately known as “Silly Season,” we are now embarking on the annual period when a smattering of drivers will announce their new homes for the following season.
Ironically, a left-field announcement last week delivered by one of the NASCAR Cup Series’ smallest teams has put silly season into high gear. Probably no one saw Rick Ware Racing’s announcement coming as they shockingly told the world that they had snagged up Justin Haley. Many were left surprised as Haley seemingly had very strong ties with his current home at Kaulig Racing. Even more surprising is that the Hoosier is likely taking a step back in his career going to a car with historically less performance as well as a brand new manufacturer, as the stalwart Chevy driver will now slide into a Ford. Matt Kaulig has been an integral part of Haley’s ascent into Cup after nursing him along since he joined his team in 2018.
Haley’s move is not the first big change to be announced this year. We all knew that someone would replace the retiring Kevin Harvick, but his replacement very quickly became the worst kept secret in the sport. It was very likely that Josh Berry was already destined for a full-time Cup ride thanks to impressive performances as a substitute driver. So when Berry was announced as Harvick’s replacement, it was no surprise.
What’s different now is that there are really no frontrunners for Haley’s seat. With Kaulig needing to fill it and rumors circulating that Haley’s current teammate AJ Allmendinger could be heading back to the NASCAR Xfinity Series, there is reason to believe that both seats might need a complete overhaul.
It really is a complete mystery as to who will end up at Kaulig. More than likely, the chosen candidate will come from another left field source.
Speculation lands at the feet of a highly funded driver as a lack of funding seemingly perpetuated Haley’s departure. With five teams spread across Cup and Xfinity Series, and with owner Matt Kaulig footing a large portion of the race bill, it is fair to say that the team may be looking for a reprieve.
It could come from a driver like Austin Hill, a current frontrunner to win the Xfinity Series championship. Hill carries significant backing from several partners that have already got him to several Cup starts this year for part-time Beard Motorsports.
It’s plausible that Sheldon Creed could fit into the equation thanks to his relationship with full-season backer Whelen Engineering, as well as Kaulig’s partnership with Creed’s current Richard Childress Racing team.
Kaulig’s current Xfinity driver Chandler Smith may be an option as well, as the Georgia campaigner has already made a few Cup starts this year.
Then there is Shane van Gisbergen. After his shocking win in his first start, there are more and more indicators that the Australian is headed to America for some full-time stock car racing. Ironically, this driver, who many American fans had never even heard of two months ago, is arguably the most outlandish yet hottest driver on the silly season market. “Wacky,” you say?
Reportedly, van Gisbergen has already received multiple offers. If not Kaulig, there is speculation that he could land at Joe Gibbs Racing pending the potential retirement of Martin Truex Jr.
However, if John Hunter Nemechek is called up from Xfinity by JGR, van Gisbergen may have an option over at Stewart Haas Racing if Aric Almirola calls it quits. However, Michael McDowell or Truck Series ace Zane Smith have been rumored as candidates for the No. 10. If Almirola does not retire, McDowell, Smith and Todd Gilliland would likely be vying for two spots at Front Row Motorsports — that is, if another left field player does not emerge.
On that same note, there is also potential that van Gisbergen could end up in an open car for Trackhouse Racing, that team that originally gave him a shot at the Chicago street course.
And, if you take van Gisbergen out of the equation, you might also get some really outlandish candidates for the JGR and SHR rides. Are you listening Ryan Truex, Brodie Kostecki, Riley Herbst, and, dare I say, Carl Edwards?
If Almirola and Truex don’t retire, then it is really no harm, no foul, as there really aren’t any true frontrunners for those rides either, except for maybe Nemechek, who would likely still be content in Xfinity for another year.
But as we sit less than four months from the end of the 2023 season, it’s likely that the major offseason moves will be launched by just three sources: Kaulig, New Zealand and retirement.
About the author
Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.
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