The NASCAR Silly Season is officially in full swing, creating questions about where the biggest drivers will head after 2021 comes to an end. There were already rumors about potential moves, but Trackhouse Racing took the story in a new direction by purchasing Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR operations, including its two charters. Now there are more pending free agents as the end of the regular season approaches.
Kurt Busch, the driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro, was finishing out the final year of his contract prior to the announcement of the sale on Wednesday, June 30. Ross Chastain, the driver of the No. 42 CGR Chevrolet Camaro, was only in the midst of his first season as a full-time Cup Series driver.
The rookie in Chastain was set to remain with the team for 2022, but he now becomes a free agent while continuing to fight for a spot in the playoffs. Busch, on the other hand, previously had the option of returning to CGR or joining multiple other teams, a list that actually included Trackhouse Racing.
“We obviously have to go through that process and have that conversation,” said Justin Marks, co-owner of Trackhouse Racing, per Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass. “At the onset, [Chastain and Busch] are the top two that would be under consideration. Like I said, it’s not just drivers [at CGR], and we want to try to retain as much of that talent as we possibly can moving into the Next Gen era.”
Chastain Joins a Sizable Free Agent Pool
The driver of the No. 42 CGR Chevrolet Camaro learned about the sale of the team when it happened, and now he will have to plan for the future. He joins a sizable list of pending free agents, which also includes Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (JTG Daugherty Racing), Ryan Preece (JTG Daugherty), Matt DiBenedetto (Wood Brothers Racing), Ryan Newman (Roush Fenway Racing), Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing), and Brad Keselowski (Team Penske).
According to multiple reports, Keselowski will not reach free agency. He will reportedly head to Roush Fenway Racing and take on a driver-owner role. Neither Keselowski nor RFR has confirmed that this move will happen, but it is reportedly a “done deal,” per Adam Stern of the Sports Business Journal.
If Keselowski does move to RFR, it will only add more intrigue to the upcoming offseason. Will Newman retire or sign with a different team? The 43-year-old has previously said that he still wants to pursue a Cup Series championship prior to walking away. Though he will have to shore up plans for the 2022 season in order to continue his NASCAR career.
Several other drivers could potentially move to new teams, or they could lose their spots based on the number of Xfinity Series stars that make the leap to the Cup Series. Defending Xfinity champion Austin Cindric will move to the top level for 2022 and will drive for either Wood Brothers Racing or Team Penske. Where he goes will likely play a direct role in DiBenedetto’s future.
More Moves Will Make Headlines Prior to the 2022 Season
Trackhouse Racing purchasing CGR’s NASCAR operation is the biggest move of Silly Season, but it is far from the only one that will make headlines. There are several other changes coming to the Cup Series lineup, which will directly impact the existing roster of drivers.
For example, both Kaulig Racing and GMS Racing will make the leap from the Xfinity and Truck Series, respectively, to join Cup in 2022. Kaulig announced on Sunday, June 20, that the organization has two charters and that Justin Haley will be the full-time driver of one. Teammate AJ Allmendinger will also run a part-time schedule.
GMS Racing provided less information about the pending move to the Cup Series. The organization did not reveal the name of the driver, nor did it say anything about the schedule. The only information focused on how GMS is actively seeking sponsorship opportunities.
Another team creating questions about the future is 23XI Racing. The first-year team created by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan currently fields one car with Bubba Wallace as the driver. However, Hamlin has mentioned multiple times that the plan is to expand to a two-car operation in 2022. Reports surfaced in May that Busch was the top target, providing him with another option after the Chip Ganassi Racing sale.
One other team that could make headlines in the coming months is Richard Petty Motorsports. The organization currently holds two Cup Series charters but only uses one to put Erik Jones and the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro on the track each week. Rick Ware Racing currently leases the second. According to Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass, NASCAR could opt to repossess the second charter if RWR finishes the season bottom three in points. Though RPM could have the opportunity to sell the charter amid a reported increase in demand.