NASCAR Silly Season
By Cody Smith
With the fantasy football season in the rearview mirror – no pun intended – I, for one am looking forward to the upcoming 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. The Daytona 500 is less than 50 days away which means the Clash at the LA Coliseum is even closer. The NASCAR regular season will be here before you know it.
Last year’s inaugural season with the Next Gen car certainly had its ups and downs. Despite seeing some of the best racing in series history at 1.5-mile tracks, the short track and superspeedway packages left a lot to be desired. After one full season teams should certainly have a better handle on this new car, though there is still plenty to be learned, especially if NASCAR decided to make and rule changes from now to the start of the season.
One aspect that changed nearly every season is new drivers in new rides, and in this article I plan on breaking down what drivers found new homes this offseason and how it may impact their performances going forward. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.
Old Ride: #18 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing
New Ride: #8 Chevrolet Camaro for Richard Childress Racing
We absolutely have to start this article with one of, if not the biggest name in the sport leaving for what he hopes are greener pastures. Kyle Busch, a two-time champion who finds himself in the top-10 of all-time Cup Series victories could not agree on a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing and in turn has joined Richard Childress Racing for the 2023 season. Last year Busch picked up just one victory coming in the Bristol Dirt Race that saw him running in third place when leaders Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe crashed entering the final corner. The one fluke victory helped Busch extend his streak of 18 consecutive seasons with at least one victory, but his season was far from successful. Busch’s eight top-five finishes were his lowest total since he became a full-time driver, while his 17 top-ten finishes were his lowest total since 2015 – a season that was shortened due to Busch suffering a leg injury and missing 11 races. Busch was eliminated in the first round of playoffs following engine failures in two of the three first-round races. His finish of 13th in the overall point standings was his first time outside the top-ten since 2012. Busch enters at Richard Childress Racing to pilot the No. 8 car that Tyler Reddick took to victory lane three times last season. Though it looks like a lateral step at best for Busch at this point in his career, both Busch and Richard Childress himself seem to have high expectations, with Childress already stating that Busch reminds him of his former driver, Dale Earnhardt Sr. This will be a big season for Busch, as anything less than the three victories that Tyler Reddick earned last season as a member of this exact team will likely be viewed as a failure. The equipment to win races is there, as is the talent behind the wheel. At age 37 I find it hard to believe that Busch has lost his edge yet. He’s got a lot to prove in 2023, but I believe he can do it. Look for Busch to be competitive from the start of the new season.
Old Ride: #8 Chevrolet Camaro for Richard Childress Racing
New Ride: #45 Toyota Camry for 23X1 Racing
In a move that shocked much of the NASCAR world back in July, Tyler Reddick announced he would move to 23XI Racing in 2024 following the expiration of his contract with Richard Childress Racing. With Kyle Busch looking for a new home, Childress made the move to sign him and buy Reddick out of his contract for 2023 allowing him to make the move one year early to 23XI when Kurt Busch announced his retirement due to a mid-season concussion suffered at Pocono last season. Coming off a three-win season which were the first three victories of his career, Reddick looks to improve on his 14th-place finish in the point standings. In two seasons in the Cup Series, 23XI Racing has racked up three total victories with Bubba Wallace winning at Talladega in 2021 and Kansas in 2022 while veteran Kurt Busch also earned a victory at Kansas in 2022. Reddick is one of the sport’s young stars. Entering his fourth season in the Cup Series, he’s certainly coming off his best career season where he earned his first three career wins. Reddick racked up a career-high 10 top-five finishes and three pole awards. Reddick earned back-to-back Xfinity Series championships in 2018 and 2019, one for JR Motorsports and another for Richard Childress Racing. Entering a young team in 2023 will certainly be a challenge for Reddick, but Toyota always fields competitive teams and 23XI has proven to be a winner. Reddick has proven to be a winner everywhere he goes. I’d expect him to win a race or two by the end of the season. It just depends how quickly he gels with his new team.
Old Ride: #54 Toyota Supra for Joe Gibbs Racing (Xfinity Series)
New Ride: #54 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing
Filling the vacated seat of Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing will be none other than Coach Gibbs’ grandson Ty Gibbs. Gibbs is coming off an Xfinity Series championship in 2022 and has won 11 Xfinity Series races over the last two seasons, seven of which came last season. Gibbs ran 15 Cup Series races last season after an injury to Kurt Busch, but struggled to find a rhythm, collecting just one top-ten finish and leading just two laps. He wasn’t much of a threat to win any races as he carded an average finish of 22.9 on the season. The contrast between his Cup and Xfinity seasons was large, but he’s moving to a premium team with some of the best equipment in garage. I also doubt grandpa puts Ty in a position where he will fail. I’d expect Gibbs to challenge for a few wins by the end of the season and maybe even pick one up along the way. Joe Gibbs Racing is too good, and Ty Gibbs is too talented to remain winless for long. He’ll make a strong case for Rookie of the Year in 2023.
Old Ride: #9 Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports (Xfinity Series)
New Ride: #42 Chevrolet Camaro for Petty GMS
The main challenger for Ty Gibbs in the Rookie of the Year battle will be fellow first-year Cup driver Noah Gragson. Gragson won a series-high eight races in the Xfinity Series last season, coming up just short to Gibbs in the championship race. Like Gibbs, Gragson also ran quite a few Cup Series races last year, but his came for a few different teams. Gragson ran three superspeedway races for Beard Motorsports, 10 races in a part-time schedule for Kaulig Racing and five races at the end of the season for Hendrick Motorsports filling in for an injured Alex Bowman. That totals 18 races in which he carded an average finish of 23.1 while collecting one top-five when he finished fifth in the fall Daytona race. As seen in the stats, Gragson is also struggling to fin his Cup Series groove and he may have a long season or two ahead of him joining Petty GMS. The Petty GMS team won one race in 2022 when Erik Jones won the playoff opening race at Darlington in the No.43 car, but former driver of the No.42 car Ty Dillon had an atrocious season in 2022. Dillon ran the full season and mustered just one top-ten finish while posting an average finish of 22.6 and a 29th-place finish in the point standings. Gragson has a lot to prove stepping into a car that showed less-than-ideal performance last season. Gragson has the talent to turn it around, but I don’t see the wins coming right away. Gragson isn’t someone I’m expecting to see in the playoffs in 2023.
Old Ride: #42 Chevrolet Camaro for Petty GMS
New Ride: #77 Chevrolet Camaro for Spire Motorsports
Dillon goes from a bad situation to a worse situation in 2023. After underperforming at Petty GMS, Dillon had to step into a back-marker car if he wanted to continue driving at the highest level of NASCAR in 2023. Due to this, Dillon steps into a full-time role as teammates with Corey Lajoie at Spire Motorsports. I mentioned Dillon’s stats with Petty GMS above. His 22.6 average finish and 29th-place finish in points left a lot to be desired. He’ll be the first full-time driver in the No.77 car for Spire Motorsports, as the team typically ran a part-time schedule with multiple drivers before. I would say a good season for Dillon would be for him to hang close with Lajoie in the point standings, which may or may not be a tall task. Last season Lajoie had some tough luck and ended up 31st in points with a 24.3 average finish and one top-ten finish. I’d expect Dillon’s stats to be in that ballpark as well this season.
Old Ride: #77 Chevrolet Camaro for Spire Motorsports (Part-Time)
New Ride: #78 Chevrolet Camaro for Live Fast Motorsports (Part-Time)
I’ll make this short and sweet, Bilicki didn’t perform well enough or provide enough funding to be considered as the full-time option for Spire Motorsports, so he’ll hop over to fellow back-marker team Live Fast Motorsports to run a limited schedule. He’ll likely struggle to supply a top-30 finish this season, though he will run three road course races.
Old Ride: #16 Chevrolet Camaro for Kaulig Racing (Part-Time)
New Ride: #16 Chevrolet Camaro for Kaulig Racing (Full-Time)
Though he’s not technically switching rides, Allmendinger becomes a player for the Cup Series championship this year as he goes from a part-time to a full-time driver at Kaulig Racing. Allmendinger returns to the Cup Series full time for the first time since 2018 when he raced for JTG Daugherty Racing. Over his prior eight full-time seasons Allmendinger picked up one victory at Watkins Glen back in 2014. He also won the inaugural race at the Indianapolis Road Course back in 2021 while racing for Kaulig Racing. Allmendinger is for sure a road course ringer, though his past few years in the Xfinity Series have proven he may be an even more well-rounder driver now than he was in his previous stint in the Cup Series. Over his past two full-time Xfinity Series seasons, Allmendinger has racked up 10 victories at all kinds of tracks including road courses, superspeedways and 1.5-mile ovals. He’s finished fourth and fifth in the point standings respectively over the past two Xfinity seasons and I expect him to be a solid threat all season long. Though he’ll certainly offer the most upside at road courses, look for him to compete at all types of tracks in 2023.
Old Ride: #17 Ford F-150 for David Gilliland Racing (Part-Time)
New Ride: #41 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing
Preece joins Allmendinger as former JTG Daugherty drivers to make their return to the Cup Series with different teams. Preece lost his ride prior to last season when JTG Daugherty Racing cut back from fielding two full-time cars to just one. Preece raced for Daugherty from 2019 through 2021 and is yet to win a Cup Series race. He spent last season bouncing around the lower racing series, running most of his races for David Gilliland Racing in the Craftsman Truck Series. Preece ran 10 Truck Series races, finishing in the top-ten in nine of them including one victory at Nashville Superspeedway. Preece also ran three races for B.J. McLeod Motorsports in the Xfinity Series earning two top-tens, two Cup Series races for Rick Ware Racing and five races in the Whelen Modified Tour earning three top-ten finishes. Competing for Stewart-Haas racing will certainly put Preece in the best equipment of his career, and he won’t have to do a ton to replace the production vacated by Cole Custer. In the No.41 car last season, Custer recorded an average finish of 20.6 and notched just three top-ten finishes. Not an incredibly high bar to surpass. Look for Preece to compete and even challenge for some wins this year, but I’m not expecting him to make playoffs in his first season back on the big stage.
Old Ride: #48 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing (IndyCar Series)
New Ride: #? Chevrolet Camaro For Petty GMS (Part-Time)
Anyone ever heard of this guy before? I’m not sure if he’s going to amount to much… Mr. Seven-time himself returns to the Cup Series for a second stint, though it will just be part time. Johnson retired from full-time Cup Series competition following the 2020 season and tried his hand at IndyCar racing. That didn’t quite go as planned for Johnson as he never earned a podium in 29 races and mustered just an average finish of 19.6. He returns to Petty GMS as a part-owner and part-time racer. He hasn’t announced his full schedule yet for the new season, but it sounds like he will attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 as well as a handful of other races. It will be fun to see Johnson back on the circuit again. Though he’s a year behind everyone else as far as learning the Next Gen car goes, if anyone can figure it out quickly, I’d put my money on Johnson. Hopefully he can add at least one more to his tally of 83 total career wins.