NASCAR silly season has been off to a slow start compared to previous years, but it should be gaining steam as we enter June and beyond.
What is the current landscape like and what should we expect out of NASCAR’s popular time of the year?
While previous seasons have seen many changes, most major organizations are solidified for the 2023 season, starting with Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske.
Organizations expected to remain the same next season
Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman are the Hendrick drivers with their contracts up the soonest at the end of the 2023 season. Chase Elliott and William Byron are locked in for many years beyond. Joey Logano is locked up through the 2023 season while Ryan Blaney’s exact contract isn’t public knowledge. However, it’s safe to assume Blaney and Austin Cindric will remain in their respective rides.
A few other organizations are expected to remain the same. Trackhouse Racing, 23XI Racing, RFK Racing, Wood Brothers Racing, and Richard Childress Racing are the expected teams.
Tyler Reddick is a hot commodity, but he will be a free agent barring a contract extension at the end of the 2023 season. Austin Dillon should also be safe for the time being.
It’s hard to discount 23XI Racing and Trackhouse Racing from obtaining another charter, which would be around the $15 million mark, but don’t expect the charter movement to be widespread.
Stewart-Haas Racing: Who takes the No. 10 car in 2023?
Stewart-Haas Racing will have a ride to fill after Aric Almirola announced he would be stepping away from NASCAR’s top level on a full-time basis at the conclusion of the 2022 season.
Ryan Preece has been an easy candidate to link toward the No. 10 car, however, it might not be as cut and dry as it seems with sponsorship and other variables involved.
Smithfield Foods has been sponsoring the No. 10 car with Almirola and they have not announced whether they will return to the organization next season. If they do not return, Preece might be on the outside looking in until another ride opens up with Stewart-Haas Racing or another Ford program, maybe in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
There could be a few options that make sense sponsorship-wise, such as Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Riley Herbst, or even a driver outside of the Ford program in a lower series, such as Daniel Hemric, Noah Gragson, and John Hunter Nemechek.
Time will tell who takes the ride, but it’s likely going to be dependent on Smithfield Foods’ decision to return or part ways.
Joe Gibbs Racing speculation involving the 2023 lineup
Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch were in the headlines a few weeks ago after Busch expressed uncertainty over his job status with the organization due to an ongoing sponsorship dilemma. Mars is set to leave NASCAR at the conclusion of the 2022 season and it has left Busch without a primary sponsor and contract for next season.
There have been rumors that Joe Gibbs Racing could be close to a deal with a major sponsor which would likely keep Busch in the No. 18 car for the foreseeable future. The 37-year-old driver and NASCAR Truck Series team owner has been with Toyota since the 2008 season when he moved from Hendrick Motorsports to Joe Gibbs Racing.
Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson has labeled the idea of Busch leaving the organization as “unacceptable.” It certainly would be unacceptable to allow a future Hall-of-Famer to leave the organization as he sits third in the point standings and continues to be one of the hottest drivers in the sport.
Overall, the expectation should remain that Busch will return to the No. 18 car with a new sponsor for at least the 2023 season.
Martin Truex Jr. is the other question mark as Denny Hamlin is locked into a multi-year deal and Christopher Bell should be expected to return as he begins to look like the driver Joe Gibbs Racing expected.
Truex will have his option of returning or retiring and that decision will most likely need to be conveyed in the coming months, if not sooner.
If the 41-year-old driver decides to hang it up, Ty Gibbs, driver of the No. 54 Xfinity car for the organization, would be an easy fill-in. However, the company wants Gibbs to stay in his current ride for two years.
Perhaps, Gragson could jump into the No. 19 car with his Bass Pro Shops connection while Gibbs waits another year until there is another opening with the organization. Realistically? Maybe not, but expect the unexpected at this time of the year.
Other NASCAR silly season storylines to watch closely
There are a few other storylines to watch as the silly season process gets started.
- Erik Jones has proven himself this season and could be in line to jump to another organization. However, Jones seems happy with Petty GMS Motorsports and a new contract would make sense for both sides as they continue to grow with the NextGen car.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is slated to become a free agent and while the start of the year was tough, he now has three straight top-10 finishes. Stenhouse could be an enticing option for an organization like Stewart-Haas Racing.
- Spire Motorsports and Corey LaJoie have an option for the 2023 season. Plus, the No. 77 car is currently full-time with different drivers. LaJoie should return, but what will happen with the No. 77 car?
- Kaulig Racing is in a similar situation with their second vehicle. The No. 16 car is full-time with multiple drivers. Could this be a spot for Gragson or Hemric as they both run part-time for it this season?
- Front Row Motorsports has a multi-year deal with Todd Gilliland with Michael McDowell usually waiting until later in the year to renew. That dynamic is always something to watch.
- The charter movement also should be entertaining. It shouldn’t be that rapid, but will organizations like JR Motorsports be willing to spend $15 million on one? Dale Earnhardt Jr., at least publicly, doesn’t think that way.
It might not be insane as in previous years, but there are still many intriguing scenarios to watch as the weather and negotiating heat up in NASCAR.