Commentary

TRACKING THE CHANGES: NASCAR Cup Series Part 2

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.

It is worth noting since the first part of the series was published, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Preece have lined up their plans for the future. DiBenedetto will find himself full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, while Preece is busy across all three series in a unique deal with Stewart-Haas Racing

The modified star will run a pair of Cup Series races, a trio of Xfinity Series events, and seven rounds in the Truck Series with David Gilliand Racing. This could be the perfect opportunity for him to reaffirm his status with everyone with a past recent win in trucks, a victory in Xfinity with Joe Gibbs Racing being what parlayed him to the main screen, and a Cup equipment.

He’s also been given the title reserve driver, which is new for stock car fans. Formula 1 teams always have one, utilizing that individual for testing and simulation time, with ability to substitute if someone misses an event. It may be smarter for other teams to think about this because as Greg Zippideli says, “We’re still dealing with COVID. As much as we all want it to be over, it’s not. We needed a more robust plan in the event COVID sidelines one of our drivers. We have that now with Ryan.”

#10: Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing

The move could also be done with consideration for the future, as Aric Almirola announced this week that he will retire at the end of the 2022 campaign. Could Preece be lining up his shot for the year ahead?

Josh Bilicki will not have to wait for his shot to be called, having done so for 2021. He announced he will be running the majority of the Cup Series races this year with Spire Motorsports in their second entry.

Bilicki showed potential in taking Rick Ware Racing to a 10th-place finish at Daytona, along with an 18th at the Indianapolis Grand Prix with a group known for placing in the 30’s. Spire Motorsports may be the next perfect opportunity, as Corey LaJoie has displayed with their continued improvement. Consistency within the top-20, with even more teen appearances could be good for him moving forward.

Scoring a single top-10 in his rookie Cup Series campaign while his teammate picked up multiple and a Daytona 500 victory will see Anthony Alfredo not return to Front Row Motorsports. Instead, he returns to the Xfinity Series with Our Motorsports.

He will be replaced by Todd Gilliland, who has showed his talent with the organization in the Truck Series, evident by 14 top-five’s, 26 top-10’s, and a trip to victory lane over the past two years. There is certain to be a learning curve with a step-up in the ladder, but consistent growth will certainly to go along way while having Michael McDowell’s experience to lean on.

Richard Petty Motorsports is hoping to find the extra bit that they need to climb closer to the front with Erik Jones following six top-10’s in 2021. An alliance with GMS Racing is the route they chose to go down, forming Petty GMS Motorsports with Ty Dillon behind the wheel.

Nigel Kinrade | Nigel Kinrade Photography

Dillon seems to be a good fit, given his previous experience to date. He also proved worthy of a second chance, with three top-10’s in a limited Xfinity schedule for 2021. GMS has also proven to be taking the right steps in expansion and finding success, as you just have to look at where their Truck Series program started and where they are now.

Kaulig Racing is also entering the Cup Series, set to run a pair of full-time entries in 2022. Justin Haley putting himself in Xfinity Championship contention and restrictor plate success rightfully earned himself a full-time opportunity. If it hadn’t come with Kaulig, Spire probably would have offered it.

The second car will be interesting in having Noah Gragson, Daniel Hemric, and A.J. Allmendinger split the driving duties. Each of them rightfully has earned a Cup Series opportunity – for their own reasons. Gragson is a consistent title contender in Xfinity, Hemric won the title in 2021, and Allmendinger won the Indianapolis Grand Prix in Cup. The fact the trio has not gotten along the best in the past may make meetings interesting, but knowing they want to impress should see them put the differences aside.

So what is the potential success rate? Considering Kaulig Racing fielded a car that Allmendinger drove to victory in 2022, you have to place them in the consideration for being solid top-20 contenders, with potential for top-10’s. After all, here’s another owner who has taken the right route in building his team. Anybody remember when Matt Kaulig first entered the occasion saying he wanted to own a race team? Not many would have believed they’d be running three cars full-time in Xfinity, each of those winning races and contending for titles.

Gragson also has another Cup Series opportunity, set to enter the Daytona 500 with Beard Motorsports. The group is looking for redemption after failing to qualify by a mere couple positions in the Duel last season. The lessons learned from that experience, combined with Gragson’s ability to draft as witnessed with an Xfinity win at Daytona in 2021, this could be the underdog everybody wants to root for.

Brad Keselowski isn’t the only new face at RFK Racing, with Matt McCall taking over crew chief duties for the No. 6 team. The Denver, North Carolina native has grown a solid reputation in the garage area, as witnessed with his recent success with Kurt Busch at Chip Ganassi Racing with 97 top-10 and 30 top-five finishes including three wins. Everybody spoke of Keselowski joining the team may be the fuel that Jack Roush needs, and this first change may make the biggest difference. A recent series champion, combined with someone who has put drivers in the playoffs, could be able to find what the Cat in the Hat has been missing in recent years.

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