NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season in full swing with 2021 nearing a close

(Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

As the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season winds down, “silly season” for 2022 is just starting to heat up. Several current drivers are currently without rides for next season, and multiple teams are in search of charters. Plus, a few new teams are entering the Cup Series mix in 2022.

Most recently, GMS Racing announced its intentions to run full-time in the Cup Series beginning next season. The organization currently fields five Camping World Truck Series rides and one full-time ARCA ride. GMS wanted to run at least part-time in 2022 but instead hired Ty Dill0n to drive all 36 races under the No. 94 entry. However, GMS Racing has yet to secure a charter for the team.

(Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

“The charter stuff is an ongoing soap opera in itself,” said GMS Racing President Mike Beam. “It seems like we’re getting close on that, so hopefully, in a couple of weeks, we’ll be able to make an announcement on that. We’re going to run full-time. We’ll run an open car [if needed], but I think it’ll work out.

“It has been a challenge. It’s probably been the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to acquire in my life. I get it, I understand, but I don’t get it.”

If a charter is unavailable for purchase, GMS will still run full-time in the Cup Series as an open entry, meaning entrance in each race isn’t a guarantee. The team would have to race its way into the Daytona 500 and qualify into each race next season, similar to what Ryan Preece had to do this season for JTG Daugherty Racing.

Preece, 30, signed a one-year contract extension with JTG Daugherty prior to the 2021 season. However, with funding for just 24 races and no charter, Preece planned to race the season as an open entry. With qualifying in just eight races in 2021, the direction of the team depended on a strong performance in the Daytona 500. Fortunately for the No. 37 team, Preece wheeled his Chevrolet to a sixth-place finish in “The Great American Race” and followed it up with a ninth-place finish at the Daytona Road Course. His strong start secured more funding and all but guaranteed an entry into each race under the qualifying metrics.

Despite success as an open entry, JTG Daugherty will eliminate the No. 37 team after the season and field just one car in 2022. That car, the No. 47 Chevrolet, will be piloted by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for a third season, making Preece a free agent.

“We want to be a really strong one-car race company, and that’s what we’re going to go back to,” JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty said on NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day. “We can’t wait. We think we’re really going to surprise people with our performance. We got some great commitments from some partners in the business that we haven’t had since I’ve been racing for 25 years.”

While JTG Daugherty isn’t pursuing another charter for 2022, 23XI Racing is. The Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan-owned team had reportedly been in charter negotiations with Front Row Motorsports, but according to Fox Sports’s Bob Pockrass, talks have recently subsided. With sponsors like Speedy Cash and Love’s Travel Stops, Front Row Motorsports has more funding and better equipment than ever, thanks in part to Michael McDowell’s Daytona 500 victory. The team will likely remain a two-car operation in the Cup Series.

23XI Racing must now turn elsewhere to purchase a charter. StarCom Racing, with driver Quin Houff, is reportedly going out of business at the end of the 2021 season and will have an available charter. Additionally, Rick Ware Racing (RWR) will likely downsize from four cars in 2022, meaning the team will surrender at least one charter. RWR recently announced a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush-Yates Engines beginning in 2022, meaning team equipment will improve at the expense of eliminating entries.

“We still have the capability to run three cars, but right now, to do it at this level, we know we have funding and sponsorship to have two cars with great motors and great support,” RWR owner Rick Ware said. “We’re trying to make the decision on the third car right now. We have several options to continue to compete it. If we can do some things and open some avenues or doors to come into the series, we’re open to do it.”

Rick Ware Racing drivers Joey Hand (#52) and Garrett Smithley (#53) race at the Charlotte ROVAL. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Currently, RWR owns three charters but operates the fourth car under a lease from Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM). That lease will likely not be renewed for the 2022 season, meaning RPM could have an extra charter.

“We have some options there,” Ware said. “[Richard Petty Motorsports has] some ‘A’ and ‘B’ plans for themselves. I also know, too, that they’ve got some great things for the 43 and their goal is to get to a second car as well.”

On the other hand, the only Cup team planning to expand in 2022 is TrackHouse Racing, a team owned by Justin Marks and Armando Pérez (Pitbull). When the team formed just one year ago, Marks and Pérez expressed their desire to expand as an organization, and that’s exactly what will happen in 2022.

TrackHouse Racing is buying out Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR operation and all of its assets, including two charters. Daniel Suárez will continue to drive the No. 99 Chevrolet while Ross Chastain will move over from Ganassi to drive the No. 1 car. TrackHouse leased one of Spire Motorsports’s three charters for the 2021 season, and that charter will return to Spire over the winter.

The charter leased by TrackHouse Racing will likely be the only charter operated by Spire Motorsports next. Corey LaJoie will again pilot the No. 7 Chevrolet next season, but the team isn’t planning on fielding a No. 77 entry next season. Spire will sell its other two charters to Kaulig Racing as they’ll jump to full-time Cup Series in 2022. Justin Haley will drive one of Kaulig’s cars full-time, while a variety of drivers, including AJ Allmendinger, will pilot the second car. Allmendinger will, however, continue to run the Xfinity Series full-time for Kaulig Racing in 2022.

While Kaulig is expanding its presence in the Cup Series in 2022, one team is making a presence in NASCAR’s premier series for the first time. Team Hezenberg, in partnership with Reaume Brothers Racing, will debut in the Cup Series next season. The team will focus on road courses in 2022 with the possibility of a full-time slate down the road. Talented European racers Jacques Villeneuve and Loris Hezemans will each see time in the car, which will go as the No. 27 entry, next season.

(Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Although many new entries are forming for the 2022 season, a few current Cup Series drivers don’t exactly know what’s next. In addition to Preece, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Newman are searching for rides.

DiBenedetto has spent the last two seasons driving the No. 21 for Wood Brothers Racing. He’s paid his dues over the years, driving underfunded equipment for five seasons in the Cup Series. DiBenedetto gained a reputation for making the most of his equipment, and therefore, earned an opportunity in a Team Penske car.

Unfortunately, DiBenedetto never won in the Cup Series and has known for over a year that his spot in the No. 21 would be vacated after this season. Team Penske and the Wood Brothers originally tapped Austin Cindric to drive the car, but Cindric will instead drive the No. 2 car. Wood Brothers Racing decided to sign young Harrison Burton rather than renew a contract with DiBenedetto.

(Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

Cindric moved over to the No. 2 to fill the vacated seat of Brad Keselowski, who is moving to Roush Fenway Racing in a driver/owner role. Keselowski will drive the No. 6 for Roush Fenway Racing, pushing Newman out of a seat. Newman, 43, hasn’t won in the Cup Series since 2017 at Phoenix.

According to Rick Ware, his organization has spoken to both DiBenedetto and Newman about driving for the team in 2022. While no deal is complete, it could give both drivers one last opportunity to stay in the sport. Roush Fenway Racing President Steve Newmark has said a part-time deal could be possible for Newman, but nothing full-time. Newman is on the back-end of his career, but DiBenedetto could still re-prove his worth in an opportunity with an organization like Rick Ware Racing.

Preece is also younger and can still prove his worth in NASCAR. He regularly drives modifieds in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and even made two Camping World Truck Series starts this season, winning at Nashville.

As the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series nears completion, news about 2022 rides continues to trickle out. However, there’s still a lot undecided about the makeup of next season’s Cup Series. With a new car and many new teams, one thing is for certain — the Cup Series will be quite entertaining in 2022.

Nathan Solomon

I'm Nathan Solomon, a sophomore in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University. I serve as the Sports Editor for our campus newspaper, The BonaVenture, and as the programming director for our campus radio station, WSBU 88.3FM. Our station is rated the No. 4 college radio station in the country by Princeton Review.

My journey as a motorsports writer may have only started in 2020, but I've written since 2018. I started as a beat writer for IvyHoopsOnline in my junior year of high school, covering my hometown Cornell Basketball. In 2019, I began contributing New York Yankees content for Empire Sports Media. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, I began contributing NASCAR content for Empire Sports Media and covered two races in 2021 with the website. I came over to The Podium Finish in September of 2021 ready to continue writing original motorsports content on a page specific to racing.

You can follow me on Twitter @NSolly02.

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