The 2021 NASCAR season has come to an end with a new era of racing coming soon with the NextGen car. However, teams made moves for the final year of the current Gen-6 car to maximize their competitiveness before this new change.
Let’s take a look at how the teams with new drivers performed from the 2020 season in comparison to this year.
Hendrick Motorsports: No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (2020) to No. 5 Kyle Larson (2021)
The biggest move going into the 2021 season was Kyle Larson replacing Jimmie Johnson with the No. 48 car rebranding to the No. 5 car. It also ended up being one of the best driver changes in recent memory.
While Johnson moved to IndyCar after retiring from full-time NASCAR racing, the statistics proved that Larson’s generational talent needed a spot with a superior organization.
- Jimmie Johnson statistics (2020): Zero wins, five top-5 finishes, 10 top-10 finishes, and a 17.3 average finish
- Kyle Larson statistics (2021): 10 wins, 20 top-5 finishes, 26 top-10 finishes, and a 9.1 average finish
Johnson was in his final season and numbers are usually down for every driver, but Larson took the same team and blew the field out of the water in 2021. The 29-year-old driver led every single category this season.
Both drivers will stay with their respective organizations and cars next year, but it will be hard for Larson to recreate another historic season like this one again.
Joe Gibbs Racing: No. 20 Erik Jones (2020) to No. 20 Christopher Bell (2021)
Erik Jones spent three seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing at NASCAR’s top level but underwhelmed at one of the best organizations in the Cup Series.
Jones won two races in that three-season stretch and missed the playoffs in 2020. This led to Christopher Bell taking over the ride and he didn’t disappoint.
- Erik Jones statistics (2020): Zero wins, nine top-5 finishes, 13 top-10 finishes, and 15.9 average finish
- Christopher Bell statistics (2021): One win, seven top-5 finishes, 16 top-10 finishes, and a 15.8 average finish
The numbers might seem similar on the surface, but Bell was in playoff form and rattled off five top-10 finishes in the last six races of the season. It was the 26-year-old’s first year in good equipment at NASCAR’s top level.
There’s much to like about Bell’s performance this season and he’ll only grow moving forward. Jones, who we will get to soon, also had much to like from his first season at Richard Petty Motorsports.
Stewart-Haas Racing: No. 14 Clint Bowyer (2020) to No. 14 Chase Briscoe (2021)
Chase Briscoe took over for Clint Bowyer when the latter announced his retirement from full-time racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Briscoe was coming off a stellar season in the Xfinity Series after winning nine races, but the driver did not translate to the Cup Series in the same way, as expected.
- Clint Bowyer statistics (2020): Zero wins, two top-5 finishes, 12 top-10 finishes, and a 14.7 average finish
- Chase Briscoe statistics (2021): Zero wins, zero top-5 finishes, three top-10 finishes, and a 19.6 average finish
It should have been expected for the 26-year-old driver to struggle with no practice, but Stewart-Haas Racing was down as a whole with only one win coming from Aric Almirola at New Hampshire.
The move didn’t help the short-term gain of the organization, but Briscoe will be a major help in bringing another championship in the long-term future.
Chip Ganassi Racing: No. 42 Matt Kenseth (2020) to No. 42 Ross Chastain (2021)
Matt Kenseth came out of retirement to fill the No. 42 car after Larson was suspended for saying a racial slur during an iRacing event in April 2020. However, it wasn’t pretty for the now 49-year-old.
Ross Chastain made the No. 42 car look much better than Kenseth last season, which was expected going into the season. Unfortunately, it would end up being the last season for Chip Ganassi Racing.
- Matt Kenseth statistics (2020): Zero wins, one top-5 finish, two top-10 finishes, a 21.4 average finish, and 521 points
- Ross Chastain statistics (2021): Zero wins, three top-5 finishes, eight top-10 finishes, a 18.6 average finish, and 729 points
Chip Ganassi announced the organization would leave NASCAR at the conclusion of the 2021 season. This marked the final year of a two-decade run in NASCAR. Chastain helped improve the organization after a rough 2020 season and left on a good note.
With Chastain set to move to Trackhouse Racing Team in 2022, he will look to improve on this season and make the playoffs in his first year with the organization.
Richard Petty Motorsports: No. 43 Bubba Wallace (2020) to No. 43 Erik Jones (2021)
Bubba Wallace made the decision to leave Richard Petty Motorsports for 23XI Racing starting this season, which left the door open for Jones to continue racing in the Cup Series.
Without much chemistry and practice, Jones drove the wheels off the No. 43 car in his first season with the organization. Jones also outperformed Wallace with arguably more competition.
- Bubba Wallace statistics (2020): Zero wins, one top-5 finish, five top-10 finishes, a 21.1 average finish, and 597 points.
- Erik Jones statistics (2021): Zero wins, zero top-5 finishes, six top-10 finishes, a 19.7 average finish, and 641 points.
Jones proved he still has an abundance of talent and should be in consideration for another shot in good equipment soon. This season proved to be really competitive and Jones had the most top-10 finishes for the organization since Aric Almirola in 2017.
With the 25-year-old driver returning to the No. 43 car next season, don’t be surprised if he can improve even more on an already impressive maiden season with the team.
Front Row Motorsports: No. 38 John Hunter Nemechek (2020) to No. 38 Anthony Alfredo (2021)
John Hunter Nemechek made it to NASCAR’s top level but wasn’t satisfied running mid-pack and moved to Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Truck Series. This left the door open for Anthony Alfredo in the No. 38 car.
Alfredo jumped to the Cup Series in 2021 but didn’t have practice time to improve the car even more. Unfortunately for Alfredo, it would be his only season as it was announced he would not return next year.
- John Hunter Nemechek statistics (2020): Zero wins, zero top-5 finishes, three top-10 finishes, a 22.4 average finish, and 534 points.
- Anthony Alfredo statistics (2021): Zero wins, zero top-5 finishes, one top-10 finish, a 27.5 average finish, and 352 points.
As seen above, it’s clear why Front Row Motorsports decided to move in a different direction. Alfredo finished second-worst in the standings when it comes to full-time drivers and the driver below him is also out of a ride.
The 22-year-old was put in a tough situation with no practice and not much experience in lower levels. With a full season under his belt, Alfredo could easily flourish with another opportunity at a good organization.