Team Penske dropped some major news on Thursday, July 15, revealing that Austin Cindric will replace Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Ford Mustang. Wood Brothers Racing then informed fans that Harrison Burton will replace Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 21 Ford Mustang, setting off a chain reaction that will impact both the NASCAR Xfinity and Cup Series.
With Burton moving to Cup and taking DiBenedetto’s seat, there are now several other factors in play. Joe Gibbs Racing will have to find another driver for the No. 20 Toyota Supra while DiBenedetto will need to find a new spot for the 2022 season — though he will potentially have to wait until Trackhouse Racing, 23XI Racing and multiple other teams reveal their future plans.
While he waits, DiBenedetto can improve his chances of finding a solid ride for the 2022 season. There are five races remaining in the regular season, which he can use to showcase improvements. The driver of the No. 21 is fresh off two straight top-10 finishes in which he has led laps and contended for position near the front of the pack. Now he has to continue this positive trend while dealing with extra attention.
Other Free Agents Will Impact DiBenedetto’s Future
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch confirmed that he has several options for the upcoming season. He could potentially stick with his current team, albeit with a new name after Trackhouse purchased CGR’s NASCAR operations. Busch also has another likely destination in 23XI.
Reports have swirled since May that the Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan co-owned team is targeting Busch for a second car in 2022. The 2004 Cup Series champion then confirmed to fellow driver Corey LaJoie that “23XI is out there” as an option for him. Though Busch clarified that he has no deal signed with any team for the 2022 season.
If he does go to 23XI and become teammates with Bubba Wallace, CGR driver Ross Chastain would likely become the favorite to take the second seat at Trackhouse Racing. These two moves would provide DiBenedetto with fewer options for the 2022 season, forcing him to look more toward the smaller teams.
If Busch opts to go a different route and join Trackhouse, however, 23XI Racing could become an option for DiBenedetto. He has experience in the Cup Series with 233 starts to his name and eight top-five finishes. He just does not yet have the wins in NASCAR’s top series.
The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro is the clear-cut top free agent in a massive pool, so his decision will ultimately have a ripple effect across the top series in NASCAR. Whatever he does will open doors for some drivers and slam them shut for others.
DiBenedetto Should Have Options With Smaller Charters
Even if Busch and Chastain take up the seats at 23XI and Trackhouse, DiBenedetto should still have options. There are multiple other teams still to make major decisions about the 2022 season. The list includes newcomers to the Cup Series, as well as longtime charters.
According to Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports, Richard Petty Motorsports has not announced whether the team will pick up Erik Jones’ option for the 2022 season. Additionally, RPM owns another charter that it currently leases to Rick Ware Racing. If the team sells this charter, it could potentially open up a spot for DiBenedetto given his veteran experience and his late push toward the playoffs.
Additionally, both Kaulig Racing and GMS Racing have to fully reveal their plans for 2022 after announcing that they would go to the Cup Series. Kaulig, in particular, will have two rides for the season. Justin Haley will be the full-time driver of one while AJ Allmendinger will make limited starts in the other. Kaulig has not announced who will make the rest of the starts.
GMS Racing, on the other hand, announced on June 17 a move to the Cup Series. The Truck Series team headlined by Sheldon Creed will do so while testing out the Next Gen car. However, GMS has not revealed the identity of the driver or whether the team will compete full-time or part-time during its inaugural season.
For now, DiBenedetto will continue to pursue a win in his remaining races with Wood Brothers Racing. He still has an opportunity to reach Victory Lane and make history in the process with the 100th win in team history. A win would also help DiBenedetto punch his ticket to the playoffs for the second consecutive season.