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Did You Notice?: NASCAR Silly Season Update Post-Truex, Front Row

Did You Notice?… Martin Truex Jr. announcing his Joe Gibbs Racing return for 2024 at Michigan International Speedway was the first major domino of the NASCAR Silly Season puzzle?

Truex, the 2017 Cup Series champion, chose to keep going at age 43 after racking up three wins and the series points lead. A potential 15-point bonus for winning the regular season title should position him to earn the number one overall seed for this year’s playoffs.

That took the only ride with one of the sport’s championship-caliber teams off the board for 2024. Since 2015, only three active organizations have won the title: Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske. As you’ll see in the Silly Season update below, 10 of those 11 seats are confirmed for 2024 with Denny Hamlin’s all but certain to follow within the next few weeks.

That leaves some slim pickings for potential Cup free agents or other drivers looking to move up (Shane van Gisbergen, anyone?) And the list got even smaller with Wednesday’s (Aug. 9) news Front Row Motorsports chose to retain Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland for 2024.

See also
FRM Keeping Michael McDowell, Todd Gilliland for 2024

Let’s take a look at just how few of the 36 chartered cars have open seats as the jockeying for who fills them next season ramps up.

2023-24 NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season

Teams 100% Good To Go

Hendrick Motorsports (4): Alex Bowman, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson

HMS has made a commitment for the long haul. Its four-driver lineup has been stable since Larson was signed prior to the 2021 season; all have signed long-term contract extensions within the last 18 months. The earliest potential free agent would be Byron at the end of 2025, creating the lengthiest period of stability within the organization since it first expanded to four full-time cars in 2002.

Team Penske (3): Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Austin Cindric

Ford’s top team, armed with a reported $140.94 million in sponsorship revenue to lead all NASCAR organizations, shows no signs of changing direction anytime soon. Blaney and Logano have both been signed to long-term deals and could easily find themselves inside the Championship 4 this fall. Cindric, while likely to miss the postseason as a sophomore, is still developing and has protection as the son of Team Penske President Tim Cindric.

RFK Racing (2): Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher

Paired with the sport’s hottest team, Buescher finds himself in perfect position to negotiate a long-term extension after back-to-back wins for the first time in his Cup career. He’s already signed through 2024, at least, although his boss Keselowski keeps those details close to the vest.

As for the 2012 Cup champion, Keselowski’s not going anywhere and plans to drive in the sport for several more seasons before transitioning to full-time ownership. And while RFK invested in new alliance partner Rick Ware Racing, Kes reiterated at MIS the team “has no plans to expand to a third car.

Richard Childress Racing (2): Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon

Busch has brought respectability back to RCR, once a championship-level organization who hasn’t earned one since Dale Earnhardt Sr.‘s seventh title way back in 1994. Busch has won three times, clinched an early playoff bid and has a reasonable shot to earn his third championship this year.

Dillon, while struggling, remains under a virtual lifetime contract as the grandson of car owner Richard Childress. This roster’s on lockdown for several more years.

Front Row Motorsports (2): Michael McDowell, Todd Gilliland

FRM answered a major Silly Season question this week by choosing to stay the course. McDowell is currently battling for a playoff spot, no small feat with a first-year crew chief, while Gilliland has upped his average finish by over two positions from last season.

McDowell staying was somewhat expected; he’s been with the team for almost six full-time seasons. But for Gilliland, fighting off Zane Smith for a full-time spot is no small feat, especially after getting kicked out a few races in favor of Smith. The reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion will instead be looking elsewhere, a surprise move considering he’s one of Ford’s hottest prospects.

JTG Daugherty Racing (1): Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

After signing a long-term extension last season, Stenhouse’s seat is rock solid after winning the season-opening Daytona 500. That secured the first playoff bid for JTG Daugherty since AJ Allmendinger in 2014 and the first for Stenhouse since 2017.

99% Sure

Joe Gibbs Racing (4): Christopher Bell, Ty Gibbs, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr.

Three of the four JGR drivers are set now that Truex has decided to continue on. Gibbs is a rookie with the organization, the grandson of owner Joe Gibbs, and Bell just made the Championship 4 last year. Neither one is going anywhere.

Hamlin and Gibbs both continue to maintain it’s a mere formality he’ll re-sign with the organization after 2023.

“We’re working on everything in our place,” Joe Gibbs said after Hamlin’s victory last month at Pocono Raceway. “We know Denny’s going to be here.”

Feels pretty definitive. But until a contract is official, you can’t discount the .1% something wacky happens, either with 23XI Racing (the team Hamlin co-owns) or some sort of last-minute sponsorship crisis.

Expansion?

23XI Racing (2): Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace

Reddick and Wallace are signed to long-term deals with the Hamlin-Michael Jordan team; no changes will occur in 2024. Hamlin has also gone on record that the organization would like to hold off expansion until the first year of the TV deal, minimum, in 2025.

But that was before a talent like SVG potentially came available. 23XI has also trotted out a third car on a handful of occasions this year; Travis Pastrana impressed at Daytona International Speedway and Kamui Kobayashi will run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Would it put the infrastructure in place and buy a charter a year early?

Trackhouse Racing (2): Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez

Trackhouse owner Justin Marks has made clear Chastain and Suarez are the cornerstone drivers of his organization. He also wasn’t looking to expand to a third charter right away, seeking to make his part-time Project 91 third car a safehaven for international drivers.

Problem is, that third car won already with SVG behind the wheel. Trackhouse remains the most logical destination for the New Zealand native willing to give up his Supercars career Down Under and move over to the NASCAR side full time. But where would a charter come from? Feels like the only options right now are Kaulig Racing (they would downsize to one car) or mayyybe the No. 78 of Live Fast Motorsports.

Still Uncertain

Stewart-Haas Racing (4): Aric Almirola?, Chase Briscoe, Josh Berry, Ryan Preece?

All eyes move now to Almirola with Truex announcing his comeback attempt. Multiple sources tell Frontstretch this one is headed in the other direction; Almirola is likely to announce his retirement from full-time competition by the start of the playoffs. It’ll leave the No. 10 ride open within a four-car organization already replacing one driver next year: Josh Berry will step into the retiring Kevin Harvick’s shoes at the flagship No. 4 car.

The contract length and status of Preece feels unconfirmed as well. He’s got just one top-five finish over 23 starts with an average finish 1.1 positions lower than previous driver Cole Custer. But the feeling in the garage is he’ll be back; it’s hard to replace three of your four drivers in any given year.

Who would move into SHR’s orbit? Zane Smith is now free to pursue, and the team also has a development driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series: Riley Herbst. But Herbst remains winless in NXS and still isn’t even guaranteed a playoff spot in that division this year; it feels like Smith would be a much better selection here.

Kaulig Racing (2): AJ Allmendinger?, ???

What Kaulig does is crucial to both charter purchasing and the overall makeup of the Cup Series next year. Allmendinger has openly struggled in his first year moving back to Cup full time since 2018; he collected two more top fives and four more top 10s in a partial schedule the year before.

The ‘Dinger is beloved at Kaulig, and it would be his call whether to jump back down and rebuild confidence at the NXS level. That would open up both slots considering Justin Haley has moved over to Rick Ware Racing in 2024.

Who would hop in the seat? Candidates range from SVG to former Cup driver Daniel Hemric, currently driving for the team full-time in NXS. Noah Gragson’s name has come up as well; he drove part time for the team in Cup back in 2021.

Legacy Motor Club (2): Noah Gragson?, Erik Jones

A pending move to Toyota, combined with Gragson’s poor performances and recent suspension, makes it seem that the No. 42 car is available. It feels doubtful at best Gragson even returns this year, cutting short a dreadful rookie season where he posted an average finish of 28.2 without a top-10 finish.

So, what’s next? Gragson’s seat could be a one-year stopgap for John Hunter Nemechek before Truex retires. But would Legacy owner Jimmie Johnson ever capitulate like that, accepting their status as a “B” team?

At least they don’t have to worry about Jones; he’ll be back next year.

Rick Ware Racing (2): Justin Haley, JJ Yeley?

Haley will move over from Kaulig next year, a huge signing for a RWR organization that’s spent most years in Cup simply trying to keep their head above water. A new alliance with RFK Racing will hopefully up the competitiveness of an organization often confined to 35th-36th place during race weeks.

Haley’s stability with the first car makes the second a complete unknown. Will Yeley be able to drive on his own, as he has with RWR in the past, or will the team utilize the second car for all of its part-time contracts? I will say this much: Cody Ware returning full time in any capacity feels unlikely.

See also
Noah Gragson's Big Opportunity

Spire Motorsports (2): Ty Dillon?, Corey LaJoie

LaJoie recently signed a contract extension to stay at Spire. That just leaves a vastly underperforming No. 77 car and Dillon, whose average finish of 28.3 is the worst among full-time drivers. Barring a miracle, it feels like Ty just isn’t a good fit for this ride over the long-term.

In Dillon’s place, I’m hearing two names: Carson Hocevar and the Camping World SRX Series’ Marco Andretti. The latter pick would come with an investment from the Andretti family as they look to make an entrance into NASCAR ownership.

Wood Brothers Racing (1): Harrison Burton?

Everything I keep hearing is that Burton is safe for 2024. It feels a little strange, as the sophomore’s earned just two top-10 finishes and sits a distant 30th in points, well outside playoff contention. But Ford has had a down year overall, and the internal brass still look at Burton as one of the sport’s top prospects.

The Woods also have a history of sticking by underperforming drivers for extended periods. Trevor Bayne was retained from 2011-14, for example, despite never earning another top-five finish with the team following his surprise Daytona 500 win.

Live Fast Motorsports (1): BJ McLeod?

This No. 78 team feels like a wild card. Live Fast has the fewest owner points of any team in the series this year by a country mile; they trail the next team on the list, Legacy’s No. 42 and Gragson, by 46 points. McLeod feels like a placeholder, only making 15 of 23 starts while the rest have gone to funded drivers looking to make a name for themselves.

Would someone be willing to invest and inject additional capital here for 2024? Without it, feels like this team is treading water at best.

So, there you have it. Really not too much going on now besides the (likely) opening at Legacy, what happens with the No. 10 at SHR and some Kaulig drama.

But maybe Silly Season will find a way to surprise us. After all, it’s only August; plenty of time remains for this sleepy narrative to turn sizzling during late summer.

Follow @NASCARBowles

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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Carl D.

Matt DiBenedetto was more competitive in the #21 car, but his name wasn’t Burton. If Harrison Burton doesn’t show improvement by he end of the season, give me one good reason why he should be in the Wood Brothers car next season.

Bill B

“…give me one good reason why he should be in the Wood Brothers car next season.”

Because his last name is Burton? :-) LOL

Charlie

I’ve always wondered why in all other sports athletes length of contracts are so public but in Nascar it’s always a super close secret.

Kevin in SoCal

Because NASCAR drivers are private contractors while other sports are more public. (shrug) I’m not sure.

TiminPayson

Legacy and JJ a B team? That would be an upgrade. Eric Jones needs to find a new 🏠

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