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Fire on Fridays: Silly Season Spots Left to Resolve Include SHR, Kaulig

The pieces are slowly but surely coming together for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series lineup, but there are still a few major pieces left on the board.

Silly Season for Cup is usually all wrapped up by the time the engines have fired at Phoenix Raceway for the final race of the season. So expect a lot to happen in the next 10 weeks.

First, let’s recap what has already been settled. Martin Truex Jr. has already committed to driving the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 for at least one more year. Justin Haley will be leaving Kaulig Racing for Rick Ware Racing.

Corey LaJoie re-signed with Spire Motorsports for a multiyear deal. Front Row Motorsports announced it’s going ahead with its current lineup of Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland. Austin Hill was taken out of the playing field when he signed a multiyear deal to stay at Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Josh Berry will replace Kevin Harvick in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4, while Ryan Preece told Frontstretch he is “pretty close” to an extension with the team.

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Ryan Preece 'Pretty Close' to Contract Extension With SHR

“I would say there is a really good chance I will be back with SHR in the No. 41 next year,” Preece told Frontstretch.

Other sources further confirmed Preece’s contract negotiations with SHR.

Assuming that gets done, what does that leave open?

Almirola’s Last Retirement?

Probably the best seat available is SHR’s No. 10. It sounds more and more like Aric Almirola will not be back and sponsor Smithfield is leaving with him. Of course, Almirola could still decide to come back like he did late last year, but if he truly does retire, the list of candidates to replace him are pretty short.

Zane Smith seems like the most obvious choice after FRM gave him permission to seek other rides for next year. I’d imagine he’d stay in the Ford camp, but the rumblings are it might not be him. Cole Custer or Riley Herbst, the two Xfinity drivers for SHR, could get the ride, but neither of them would be a flashy name to help get the team out of its current rut.

A longshot, and I mean a long longshot, would be Denny Hamlin, as his deal with JGR is not finalized yet and 23XI Racing hasn’t renewed with Toyota yet either. But Hamlin makes it sounds like everything will stay status quo, and why would he and 23XI change anything when they’ve got a pretty good thing going?

A rumor that popped up recently that SHR could sell a charter or two to make back some of the money it will lose with three of its biggest sponsors going away (Anheuser-Busch is gone, Smithfield and Mahindra could be out). But no one should put too much stock into those rumors.

SHR will find a driver for the No. 10, but I’m just not sure who it would be if not Smith.

The Curious Case of Kaulig Racing

When Kaulig Racing entered Cup, it loped in as one of the promising new teams along with 23XI and Trackhouse Racing. Now, it’s parted ways with Haley — and the No. 16 might be in question too.

On Aug. 31, PRN speculated that AJ Allmendinger might not return as Kaulig’s full-time Cup driver and that Ty Dillon or Daniel Hemric could replace him. Allmendinger could certainly return, but it would also make a lot of sense if he didn’t. He doesn’t seem like he’s having half as much fun as he had in Xfinity when he was competing for wins on a weekly basis. Add in that he just had his first child, and you could see why he may want to give up the grueling Cup schedule.

While neither Dillon nor Hemric would be a horrible selection, they aren’t as flashy as Kyle Busch or Hill, who both Kaulig President Chris Rice said on Door, Bumper, Clear the team was close to signing (Busch for this year and Hill for next). Hill surprised the team by extending his deal with RCR, so Kaulig had to go back to the drawing board.

Kaulig has Chandler Smith in house in Xfinity, but I’m not quite sure he is Cup ready yet.

The other driver that many placed to the front as a candidate was NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Matt DiBenedetto after he announced this week he and Rackley WAR are splitting up at the end of the year. DiBenedetto wouldn’t be a terrible choice. Although he never won in Team Penske equipment via Wood Brothers Racing, he always managed to get the best results for small and mid-tier teams.

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Truckin' Thursdays: The Matt DiBenedetto-Rackley Split is Odd

Another driver you seriously have to consider for Kaulig is Noah Gragson. I imagine his suspension will be lifted once he completes sensitivity training, and he has a prior relationship with Kaulig, driving part time for the team in 2022. Kaulig would be the best Cup ride Gragson could probably land, and he may even bring sponsorship with him in the form of Black Rifle Coffee.

Rice also said on DBC that Kaulig already have someone signed for next year and will announce it in the coming weeks. But we don’t know if that’s just for one of the cars or for both.

Following His Father’s Legacy

Legacy Motor Club’s No. 42 car is open after the team parted ways with Gragson. Carson Hocevar is driving the car this week at Darlington Raceway, but don’t expect him to take over the ride, as he is a Chevrolet driver and the team is headed to Toyota.

It’s hard to imagine anyone but John Hunter Nemechek becoming the No. 42 driver. He was rumored by The Athletic to do just that even before Gragson’s release. It would also be fitting considering his father Joe Nemechek drove the No. 42 in Cup, although that was for SABCO Racing, not Legacy.

If Hamlin were to for some reason leave JGR, I think you slot Nemechek into the No. 11 instead and maybe someone like Grant Enfinger gets the No. 42. Enfinger currently drives the team’s Truck effort (GMS Racing), but that operation will shut down at the year’s end.

But few really expect Hamlin to leave JGR, which leaves Nemechek as the best candidate for Legacy.

Hocevar’s An In-Spire’d Driver

All the rumblings point to Hocevar replacing Dillon in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77. With Gainbridge coming on board as a sponsor (and maybe some Andrettis), this team could find itself with a lot more cashflow and improve its speed. It’s a great landing spot for a great up-and-comer.

A Ware-House of Potential

Rick Ware Racing made a splash when it signed Haley to a multiyear deal. It’s not yet known whether Haley will drive the team’s No. 15 or No. 51, but Jayski says it would likely be the latter. So assuming that’s correct, what happens with the team’s No. 15?

It could continue using a multitude of drivers, headlined by JJ Yeley. It could sell the charter to a team like Trackhouse, 23XI or JR Motorsports.

Or it could make further the team’s commitment to improving performance by making another big signing like the Haley one. Zane Smith comes to mind as a top candidate should RWR go that route, as he has already driven for the team this year and it would keep him in the Ford camp.

RWR will be operating out of the RFK Racing shop, and we’ve seen how good RFK has gotten this season, so it would make complete sense if Ware did want to take on 2024 with two young drivers to take the series by storm.

Running It Back With Burton

There were rumors early on that Harrison Burton could be out of the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21, but now it seems all but certain the team will go ahead with the 22-year-old for another year.

Tracking the Kiwi

I’m sure if Trackhouse was able to land a third charter tomorrow, the team would go full time with Shane van Gisbergen in 2024. But charters are hard to come by, so van Gisbergen will likely race part time in each of the NASCAR national touring series.

He’d probably continue to run the Trackhouse No. 91 for Cup in select starts while maybe racing for Kaulig in Xfinity and Niece Motorsports in Trucks on a limited basis. Then in 2025, the New Zealand driver would potentially go full time in a third Trackhouse car.

The puzzle that is Silly Season is finally starting to come together, but there are still many pieces not quite set. It will be fun to watch how it all comes together in the next couple weeks.

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

Here’s a thought, Brad has stated that he’d like to expand beyond the two-car team. But first they needed to become a successful 2 car team.
By most measures they’ve achieved that.

Rick Ware has an alliance with RFK, & now has a quality driver as well as a 2 car team. Meaning 2 charters. That would make a pretty good buy in. RFK could become RFKW.
Then all they need is an up & coming new driver (Hocivar?) & they’re ready to take their place among the big boys.

Ted

After all the crap people have talked about how Rick Ware is a hindering to the sport,… that would just be insane validation for him. Haters will hate though. 🤷🏼‍♂️

Carl D.

IMHO, RFK expanding next year is premature. I may change my mind after the season is over, but why shake things up when all that hard work rebuilding RFK is finally starting to pay off?

Ronald Thornton

Might be a stretch. Remember. Nascar Rules. Only certain groups are allowed to be successful. And RFK is still a Ford

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