Commentary

TRACKING THE CHANGES: NASCAR Cup Series Part 2

By: Ashley McCubbin

Every NASCAR Silly Season results in several drivers finding new rides for the upcoming campaign, with a couple others either retiring or left on the outside looking in. The 2021 version was no different, as a pair of drivers walked away from the sport – and many other changes occurred, forcing this to be a two-part piece.

READ MORE: Tracking the Changes – NASCAR Cup Series Part 1

With just three top-10’s in the past two years, Archie St. Hilaire has made the decision to scale back operations for Go Fas Racing in 2021, running a partial schedule. The driver, though, has yet to be confirmed but Ryan Ellis has been thrown into conversations.

Corey Lajoie, though, will be partaking in the full schedule as he partners with Spire Motorsports, who expands to a two-car operation after running all 36 races with 10 different drivers through 2020. The organization has been a fixture of conversation in watching a marketing firm purchase a race team, and then score a victory in their debut year (2021) with Justin Haley. Haley got their best finish last season, placing 11th at Talladega, one of just two top-20’s.

Is this an upgrade for Lajoie? That has yet to be seen as the writing on the wall equals things remaining about status quo for him. However, perhaps he was forced to do so based on Go Fas’ approach for 2021. Secondly, possibly a second car and more funding into the team could be beneficial – unless they spread themselves too thin.

Their second entry details have yet to be announced, but Haley has been discussed to return for a couple events to go along with his full NASCAR Xfinity Series campaign.

Whether that happens or not could depend on Kaulig Racing, which Haley drives for. After experiencing their best season of competition, they have announced intentions to run a partial Cup schedule, focusing on the superspeedway and road course events. The ideology is to prove themselves so they can land a charter for 2022.

Kaz Grala has been tabbed thus far, set to run the Daytona 500 and “several others” in their plans for 2021. The Maine native has spent the past couple years proving himself in the Xfinity Series, scoring three top-10’s in five races with Richard Childress Racing in 2020. The biggest question mark surrounding him – sponsorship, as he has indicated more dollars would lead to gaining experience.

While considering Haley into the fold potentially, you cannot forget about his Xfinity teammate A.J. Allmendinger, who won a couple road course events for Kaulig last year and is known for his ability to turn left and right. It’d make sense for him to make the next step with this team, right?

Joe Gibbs Racing will stick with three of the four from last year, while bringing Christopher Bell into replace Erik Jones, as discussed in PART ONE. However, that’s not the only change for the organization as they shuffled their crew chiefs around.

Kyle Busch scoring a single race victory and struggling to even contend most of the year dominated headlines across the sport. It seemed everything was healed with the victory at Texas Motor Speedway, with confidence spoke in Adam Stevens’ ability to lead the team. However, he will not hold the same post in 2021, being replaced by Ben BeshoreThe pair have worked together before, as Beshore was an engineer for Busch from 2015 to 2018, before crew chiefing in the Xfinity Series. Notably, he led Harrison Burton to four victories last year.

Adam Stevens does not leave the organization, as he will work with the aforementioned Bell. Prior to last year’s drought, he had won 28 events with Busch the past five years, including a pair of championships. Stevens’ experience with Bell entering just his second season should be a good combination, while Busch and Beshore may be the shift they need while having a familiar face. Sometimes a shake-up can be a good thing, but a rash decision to one poor year could bite them – something to keep in mind.

Hendrick Motorsports changed up their crew chiefs, as Chad Knaus moves up to an executive role within the competition department, retiring off the road. It allows a reunion of sorts, with William Byron partnering with Rudy Fugle. Fugle and Byron worked together at Kyle Busch Motorsports, scoring seven victories and 16 top-10’s in 2016, ultimately planting the seed that led to Byron getting promoted to Xfinity and Cup.

Could it be the piece that w as missing for Byron to equal the success of his teammates, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott? It’s worth a try based on old success, as long as Fugle can get a handle on the cars like trucks.  The more concerning factor is the hole he leaves at Kyle Busch Motorsports, as he has spear shipped them to five owner championships and the change comes when they aren’t hitting the checkered flags like previous.

KBM will get a boost, courtesy of John Hunter Nemechek, who elected to return to a front running team and winning races rather than fighting mid-pack in the Cup Series – a whole other discussion of what’s best for a driver. He will be replaced at Front Row Motorsports by Anthony Alfredo, who makes the jump up following experience in Xfinity with Richard Childress Racing. There were some bright moments, with two top-five’s and nine top-10’s in 19 races.

FRM is known mostly for finishing in the teens, but have shown their ability to crack into the top-10 on a real strong day and surprise some people. Anybody remember David Ragan’s win at Talladega? Alfredo should be expected to equal or beat the numbers of Nemechek, which was three top-10’s and 27th in points.

The in-experience could be interesting with several new faces, as Cody Ware turns a couple starts each of the past years into the full schedule for 2021 with Rick Ware Racing. Expectations are minimal as he has previously only broke into the top-30 on three occasions, with a best finish of 19th at Talladega last year. Stability may allow him to find growth as a driver, and maybe find the groove necessary to improve his average.

RWR ran a pair of entries in 2021, but has yet to announce details surrounding the second car. Brennan Poole has been linked to it, after running the full schedule for them last year with three top-20 results.

New teams are also the rage, with a some more joining 23XL Racing on the grid – Trackhouse Racing, Live Fast Motorsports, and NY Racing.

Justin Marks is known for his limited success behind the wheel, and now he’s trying his hand at ownership. There is some attraction to the team, too, with International singing superstar Pitbull involved in the ownership. Credible talent is involved, too, as Daniel Suarez making the move as he leaves Gaunt Brothers Racing. The past Xfinity Series Champion may not have scored a top-10 last year, but he was able to pick up four top-five’s and 11 top-10’s in 2019 with Joe Gibbs Racing. If the equipment is there, he could find himself breaking into the teens come summer time.

B.J. McLeod has been a fixture in the Xfinity Series, and now makes his jump up the ladder through a partnership with Matt Tifft. McLeod is set to drive behind the wheel himself, which does not point towards overwhelming success if you glance at the past. In 57 Cup Series starts, he has yet to post a top-10, with just six top-30 finishes.

NY Racing, meanwhile, is still full of question marks without much being announced so far.

Gaunt Brothers Racing also has question marks attached, with the only confirmation being they are planning a partial schedule once again. Ty Dillon‘s name is linked to them, as Germain Racing‘s future remains unanswered after GEICO’s departure. Dillon deserves a chance as he proved he could make something happen with Germain vs the big organizations, with 12 top-20 finishes in 2020 with a best result of third at Talladega.

Austin Cindric was expected to move up to the Cup Series after winning the Xfinity title, but Team Penske has pulled those reigns in. Instead, they want another year of experience in Xfinity and a partial Cup schedule. The big reason why? Perhaps the fact a new car is debuting in 2022 for the Cup Series. Why pick up all your habits in something going out of style?

Noah Gragson will also get his chance to try out the Cup Series, as he will run the Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports, thanks to the recommendation of retiring driver Brendan Gaughan. The veteran has proven you can make something happen with their equipment on the superspeedways, with a pair of top-10’s in 2020. The flip side is Gragson knows how to draft, as evident by winning at Daytona in the Xfinity event last year, as part of his three-win break-out campaign.

1 reply »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s