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.

Following a career-best 11th-place finish in the final point standings, Austin Dillon will have a new crew chief at Richard Childress Racing, with Justin Alexander not returning. Keith Rodden will take the reigns, hopeful of having better success than he had his last time on the pit box.

#23: Ty Gibbs, 23XI Racing, MoneyLion Toyota Camry and #3: Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing, Bass Pro Shops /TRACKER Off Road Chevrolet Camaro

Rodden spent has four seasons as a crew chief under his belt, working with Jamie McMurray and Kasey Kahne during that time. However, there is nothing that makes you say this is the guy – with a best points finish of 15th with Kahne in 2017, and a single victory to his credit. Did RCR make the right call?

Perhaps there was pressure behind the reasoning, after Dillon’s ex-teammate Tyler Reddick won three races compared to his single victory, and scored more top-10 finishes. This is also a team wanting to put the best impression forward to keep a smile on their newest recruit.

The other good news out of this could be Alexander is set to remain in the organization, as per these comments from Dillon last September.

“At RCR, we want him to stay on in any capacity and I think we have a good shot of having him around. He’s a great person to have; as a crew chief, as a friend, as an engineer. All the great qualities that Justin brings to a team,” he said at the time. “We’re going to do our best to keep him on at some sort of a capacity moving forward. I think he can help RCR for a long time. But for right now, he’s focused on his two babies and that’s where he should be focused.”

So who is the new recruit at RCR? It’s probably the biggest news to hit silly season this year, with Kyle Busch joining the organization. Nobody expected the two-time series champion to leave Joe Gibbs Racing, or the Toyota family in general. After all, he’s been a king of marketing for them and Kyle Busch Motorsports was a critical piece of the Toyota Racing Development program. Losing Busch for Toyota could have an affect on multiple levels – both Cup and NASCAR Craftsman Truck series, but yet it happened.

The manufacture says they offered Busch everything they could to ensure he stayed with the company, however a lot of questions remain about that amount. Let’s face it – the benefactor of this is Ty Gibbs, who slots into Busch’s ride at Joe Gibbs Racing. Given the spotlight and dreams of the future, it certainly was in the business making process.

#18: Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry Interstate Batteries

Ultimately, though, here we are with the supposed perfect package, that ensured Busch at RCR, KBM switching to the bow tie, and a contract for Brexton Busch to use down the road for his own career. If you listen to any of the interviews through last season when it comes to 2023 plans and beyond, certainly the youngest of the racing genes played a factor in ensuring what the future could blossom.

Busch is also in need of a change, though. If it could go wrong, it did last season as evident by a lot of mechanical mishaps and wrecks throughout the year. It was nowhere the campaign fans of Rowdy are used to, relegated to 13th in the final standings with a single trip to victory lane and 17 top-10’s. Unfortunately, it follows a trend as he has failed to win more than two races a season the past three years – compared to anywhere from five to eight the three years prior.

Busch and Reddick have been compared similarly in driving style – raw, full out, aggressive, willing to do what it takes. However, Busch holds the advantage with his years of experience and championship pedigree. If Reddick could accomplish what he did with RCR in 2022, perhaps this could be what Richard Childress needs to take the organization back to the top.

Reddick is not going anywhere, though, as he will be on the grid each week. He looked out for his future and took a very nice offer put forth to him by 23XL Racing to join their team, replacing Kurt Busch who sees his career sidelined by concussions. It could be a good move for the past NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion, as the team is seen as a satellite to JGR, and their record speaks for itself. There’s also a slew of resources as Toyota won’t want to see their newest chapter fall on its face out of the gate, either.

The team proved itself in the first season of competition, as evident by trips to victory lane for both Busch and Bubba Wallace. But the signs of greatness were ruined by a lack of consistency and maturity at times by Wallace, as evident by failing to make the post-season playoffs. A season of only five top-five’s and 10 top-10’s makes a lot of people wonder if a career is on thin ice moving forward.

Now by Reddick entering the picture, a question will be answered – was it the freshness of the team and missing something, or are the critics onto something about Wallace?

#54: Ty Gibbs, Joe Gibbs Racing, Monster Energy Toyota Supra

The aforementioned Gibbs is also another storyline to watch this season. He has proven his talent behind the wheel, as evident by an ARCA Menards Series Championship, followed by the Xfinity title. Nobody is doubting his statistics welcoming the opportunity put forth ahead of him. However, are we moving him to the big leagues too soon?

Maturity is a big factor, and ensuring that you do not go over the edge is more important in the Cup Series than any level. Gibbs made no friends in route to the premiere stage, as evident by several competitors having choice words to say about their rival. If he tries to play the same game here, it is not going to go smoothly – just ask the likes of Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Ross Chastain where their patience will stand. Will he be able to withstand the pressure and keep himself out of trouble to live up to the high expectations on his shoulders?

For what it’s worth, he got a taste of the Cup Series in 2022 with 15 races subbing for Kurt Busch, scoring a single top-10 in the process.

Stay tuned for the second part of the series as we digest more of what is to come in 2023.

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