It is now that wonderful time of year in the NASCAR realm where team and driver moves for next year are heavily speculated on. This year, a few moves have already been set in motion, including a few that have been announced within the last couple of days. As of Thursday this week here is where most things stand and what could lie ahead.
Penske Racing/Wood Brothers
It has been known for a little bit that Brad Keselowski is set to depart Team Penske and likely head to Roush. Now his replacement has been confirmed, being reigning Xfinity Series Champion Austin Cindric. To this point in his title defense, he has four wins in 18 races. On top of being on track to win the regular-season championship, which would earn him 15 extra points in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Cindric is currently on a multi-year deal with Penske that he signed last October.
Another big move on the Penske front is the retirement of crew chief Todd Gordon. Gordon currently serves on top of the box for the number 12 car of Ryan Blaney. But is likely more notable for his run with Joey Logano, with the exclamation point being a Cup Series Championship run in 2018. That duo broke up in 2020 when all of the Penske driver/crew chief combinations were shaken up.
Now to Penske Affiliate Team/NASCAR Blueblood operation Wood Brothers Racing. After a two-year run, Matt DiBenedetto is now out of the 21 car. Despite him showing some renewed optimism for down the stretch of this season, most of his stats are down from 2020. Most notably an average finish drop of nearly five spots. While not entirely on DiBenedetto, it has felt like we never saw his absolute best in the 21. However, his replacement is a genuine surprise, one Harrison Burton of the Joe Gibbs Xfinity team. While he has no wins this year, the soon-to-be 21-year-old racked up four last year in his first full-time season. A rapid ascension for the son of former Cup Series mainstay Jeff Burton.
The big news, albeit expected, on Wednesday, was that Rick Hendrick inked Kyle Larson to an extension through 2023. With his dealership brand website, HendrickCars.com, sponsoring Larson for almost every race over that contract. In addition to some of Larson’s dirt racing ventures in a secondary role as well. Larson is off to a tremendous maiden season with Hendrick, notching four wins to this point, and sits second in points.
This has also helped out Hendrick’s dealerships and website. As they have reported a major jump in business online and at dealerships, and Larson’s results can be thanked for that. Also helps that the car may be the best looking one in the Cup garage to boot.
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) July 14, 2021
Mr. H also expressed interest in “keeping the band together”. That would mean getting extensions lined up for Cup Champion Chase Elliott and William Byron, both of whom’s current deals expire at the end of next season. With Alex Bowman’s current deal expiring a year later. When asked about the former two and lineup in general, Hendrick said that “I want [Elliott] and [Byron] to retire with us, so that’s an ongoing situation with me. I love this lineup right now, and I want to keep the band together.”
Kevin Harvick stake in JTG Daugherty Racing?
This one can be placed into the “rumor and innuendo section”, however, there are some things here that are very much worth noting. Firstly, Harvick is no stranger to the ownership side of NASCAR. Kevin Harvick Incorporated ran for close to a decade in the Xfinity and Trucks Series’ before merging with Richard Childress Racing. Trucks Series Legend Ron Hornaday won the team two Trucks championships in three years between 2007-2009 in what were the team’s only titles.
The second thing to consider here is this. Both JTG Daugherty drivers, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Preece, both have agents who work for KHI. For context, the former racing team has been a management firm for quite some time now. While this could simply be a happy coincidence, it is something that should be taken note of. However, they are a Chevy team, while Harvick’s team, Stewart-Haas Racing is a Ford Squad.
While this has mainly been a Twitter rumor, there may be more than meets the eye here. Ryan Pistana, who has done a ton of design work for teams had this to say on the bird app the other day.
The JTG rumor is valid. Heard about it more than a year ago in the garage. https://t.co/hh9GVDnUO3
— Ryan Pistana (@ryanpistana) July 14, 2021
The elder Busch brother is the biggest fish in the pond in this year’s class as of now. Last weekend’s winner in Atlanta likely has two options when it comes to rides in 2022. Ironically enough he mentioned both of those on his appearance on Corey LaJoie’s Stacking Pennies Podcast. Team Trackhouse and 23XI Racing.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 14, 2021
Rumors of Busch to 23XI have been persistent for quite some time, as well as the team’s expansion to a two-car operation. Busch would be a great get from a team development standpoint. In a sense, He crawled with Furniture Row Racing so that Martin Truex Jr. could run. It feels like for most of Busch’s most recent teams, what he brought to the table made everyone there better. this could also be great for Bubba Wallace’s progression. Having a former Cup Champion whos top 25 in all-time wins as a teammate would help out for him. Perhaps even Wallace could get back to his Truck’s Series form where he was an absolute force.
If Busch does end up at 23XI, Chastain to Trackhouse in a second car feels like the logical conclusion. With Ganassi team members likely making their way over there for next year, having a level of continuity would make things much easier for all parties. Chastain has been with Ganassi on and off since 2018 and sits 19th in points currently. Chastain also is only 28 years old as of this moment, so we may not even have seen his best work yet. However, if Trackhouse does not close down a deal, keep an eye out for new full-time Cup teams Kaulig Racing and GMS. And we will end with this clip here of the Ganassi boys.
Slingshot engaged! pic.twitter.com/FzxPQIRtjw
— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) July 12, 2021
Follow Jack Gaffney on Twitter @JackGaffneyPTST
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images