Commentary

TRACKING THE CHANGES: NASCAR Cup Series

By: Ashley McCubbin

The theme of each NASCAR Silly Season is figuring out what the changes will be, so that way you can find the ride that your favourite driver(s) is(are) behind the wheel of. It’s why News From The Pits is here to help you sort through it all.

Chip Ganassi has had a love affair for motorsports as seen in his teams being involved in a variety of different disciplines. However after 16 years involved in the Cup Series, he elected to close those doors at the end of the 2021 campaign. While securing some big wins, he was only able to place a driver in the final top-10 standings on four occasions, with Sterling Marlin’s third being the only top-five.

Compared to his accomplishments in the NTT IndyCar Series and ISMA SportsCar Championship, there were certainly questions to be asked. Perhaps the final demise came ack to unable to find the success warranted, or the sponsorship issues following DC Solar’s fall-out and Kyle Larson’s racial slur.

Thankfully, though, Kurt Busch and Ross Chastain will remain involved in the sport.

Kurt Busch makes the move over to 23XL Racing as they expand to a two-car team after placing 21st in the year-end standings with Bubba Wallace in their first season together. While it may not have reached expectations many had with Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan being co-owners, you cannot overlook the victory at Talladega Superspeedway, or potential for possible more top-10’s beyond the three obtained.

Wallace is also just in his fifth year of competition – and has not been widely successful, not offering the best skills to be a team leader and attain the observations required for success. In contrast, Busch has been involved in the Cup Series since 2001 and won a championship with Jack Roush. Perhaps he can offer the guidance in discovering the program’s current weaknesses after picking up a win and 14 top-10’s in 2021 with Ganassi.

Ross Chastain makes the move over to Trackhouse Racing, another new team making big moves as they expand to two-cars after placing 25th in the year-end standings with Daniel Suarez in their first foray. It will also see Chastain stay within familiar walls, as Trackhouse purchased the shop from Ganassi when the announcement was made.

After scoring victories in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and showing signs of brilliance in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, watermelons were expected to be smashed in 2021 but that did not happen. Instead, he admitted the transition to the highest level being tougher than imagined, with just three top-five’s and eight top-10’s on the year. Perhaps cooling his jets off a little and relaxing instead of all determined, over-stepping boundaries could see a change in the tune.

Brad Keselowski found himself on as many headlines as Ganassi when he announced he was leaving Team Penske to become a part-team owner with Jack Roush, forming RFK Racing. 

Consistent victories, vying for championships nobody saw that step coming in the future – except those who knew of the future ambitions for team ownership. He tried to go about it on his own like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch, though was unable to sustain it. Now, he hopes to combine the experience gained, along with knowledge of the sport to help grow RFK moving forward.

Being able to make gains in performance could be valuable for Roush, with just three top-five’s, 13 top-10’s and no trips to victory lane in 2021. Remember just a couple years ago when they were fighting for championships? We saw Tony Stewart turn Haas Racing around, so we’ll see if Keselowski can live up to the task.

With the move, though, he takes over the seat occupied by Ryan Newman. The Rocketman has yet to announce any plans for 2022, current questions about the safety of the new car as one of the possible reasons. Can you blame him after his wreck last season? Truth be told, you may very well see him in modified competition as he showed a big smile in being able to return to those roots earlier this year at Martinsville Speedway.

The move also opened up the No. 2 car, which will be occupied by Austin Cindric. Seeing him become a rookie is no surprise to anyone when you look at his Xfinity Series resume. He won the title in 2020, and was one of the Championship 4 last year with five wins and 26 top-10’s. Following a ninth at the Indianapolis Grand Prix, you should expect to see some strong runs from him all year long.

Before the seat opened up, it was believed he would go to Wood Brothers Racing, given their alliance with Team Penske. They could have kept Matt DiBenedetto, but elected to go a different route with Harrison Burton. There’s another Xfinity Series star that nobody is surprised to see move up following 22 top-10 finishes in each of the past two seasons. He will need to find his edge, as a lack of trips to victory lane in 2021 is concerning.

DiBenedetto finds himself without a ride at this point, following just nine top-10’s in 2021 and no trips to victory lane yet in his Cup career. WBR was considering his second-chance, time to shine but yet it did not turn out as warranted. Instead, there were some comments made late in the season that may have left a big enough brad impression with the performance to keep him out of a ride.

Ryan Preece finds himself without a ride as well, perhaps headed to the Truck Series or Modifieds, after JTG Daughtry Racing announced they would scale back to a single car. Recall his season was on the rocks entering last year due to no sponsorship, but they somehow made it survive – but no more. Perhaps the single top-five last year is to blame.

Stay tuned for the next part of Tracking the Changes as we explore Kaulig Racing, Front Row Motorsports, and more.

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