With silly season getting ready to go into full swing, I’d like to take my best stab at predicting how everything will shake out once the smoke clears. This is my favorite aspect of the NASCAR off season and I love seeing the moves that get made and how it effects driver and teams futures.
This is possibly the craziest silly season we’ve had in a long time. We have a plethora of playoff drivers as well as drivers with playoff potential available to a bunch of teams that are either in win now mode or rebuild mode.
For some drivers on this list, it’s their last chance, some a second chance, and some their first. But I did not put anyone on this list that I didn’t think had the potential to win races with the team their going to and that is the truth. Every team looking for a driver has an excellent free agent pool to pick from.
I will be going down the list from the cars with seats opening and going from lowest to highest car numbers and explaining who I think will end up driving those cars in 2021.
#6-Car of Roush-Fenway Racing – Matt DiBenedetto
We will get into why Matty D is even looking for a ride a little later, but how does he end up at RFR? Ryan Newman is a working man’s hero in the sport and one of the last few working-class drivers left, but that nature hasn’t netted him any success in 2020. After the worst season of his career and a near miss at Daytona, I think that it’s time for Newman to hang up the fire suit.
Matt DiBenedetto has built a solid relationship with Ford and there are no current Ford development drivers up for grabs for Roush. Matt DiBenedetto keeps the #6-car in competitive spirits and keeps himself in a decent ride at NASCAR’s top level.
#14-Car of Stewart-Haas Racing – Clint Bowyer
While I think that SHR could use a change-up from a guy like Kyle Larson or Chase Briscoe, It doesn’t feel right this year. The rumors are currently that the SHR lineup will remain the same and I think that will end up being the case.
Bowyer hasn’t been spectacular but he made the playoffs and is currently poised to advance to the next round. I don’t think he’s done enough to lose his job and I think that Kyle Larson is not going to be able to work out due to sponsorship and they have a different plan in place for Briscoe.
#21-Car of Wood Brothers Racing – Austin Cindric
As you could guess, I think Matt DiBenedetto will be given the boot after an average season and in will come the next development drivers for Penske in Cindric. While DiBenedetto has performed well and made the playoffs, it wasn’t the major career shift that I think everyone was hoping for.
Cindric will now get a season to prove himself in decent equipment and then more than likely fill Brad Keselowski’s seat after he serves his one-year deal. Cindric has been arguably the best driver in the Xfinity series and provides a great skill set that will translate well to the Cup series. His ability to run well at every style of track including road courses is hard to come by.
#32-Car of Go Fas Racing – Chase Briscoe
Briscoe abandoning his great Xfinity team for a back of the pack Cup team? It doesn’t make sense at first glance, but I think that SHR will step in for their driver. I think GFR and SHR form an alliance and bring their promising rookie up to Cup to inevitably move over to SHR.
While staying in Xfinity for one more year would not be the worst thing for Briscoe, he’s much more mature at age 25 then most up and coming drivers and I don’t see a benefit to leaving him in Xfinity. If SHR can lend a helping hand and also give them a quality driver in Briscoe, we could see GFR jump up in the standings next season and take that team to the next level.
#37-Car of JTG Daugherty Racing – Corey LaJoie
LaJoie has been very adamant that he can become a top level driver in the right equipment and he has had to fight and claw for his opportunity to prove that. Moving up a level in equipment was his goal and I think that he accomplishes that.
LaJoie gave Go Fas some better finishes than that car deserved and I think he can do the same thing for JTGDR. This has the potential to be a move that could better both LaJoie and the 37-car. A move that doesn’t make either a championship team and maybe not even a consistent playoff team, but a top-20 team that is at least keeping their name relevant.
#42 -Car of Chip Gannassi Racing – Erik Jones
Erik Jones is not a bust, yet. He has a lot of talent and for whatever reason, young talented prospects have not fared well in the Joe Gibbs development program in recent years. That being said, a change of scenery is in order, and staying in a strong car could help get his team back on track.
If Jones’ confidence hasn’t been completely shattered then this could be the best thing for his career. CGR is searching for the face of their team since Larson’s firing and Jones has the potential to be that. This will be the best ride available to him, but I believe he is the second best free agent behind Bubba Wallace, so he has options.
#43-Car of Richard Petty Motorsports – Daniel Suarez
With Bubba Wallace leaving, RPM needs a driver and sponsorship. Finding a driver who has financial backing is priority for RPM, even at the expense of talent. Suarez comes with backing for sponsors and brings the potential for a young talented driver with something to prove.
Suarez is talented, despite what his Cup stats say. I think that putting him in RPM is a win-win, RPM stays relevant with the same level of driving talent in their cars, and Suarez gets a chance to also stay relevant in the Cup series. Surviving is all both these parties need to do to reach the next level in Cup competition.
#48-Car of Hendrick Motorsports – Kyle Larson
Sponsorship is going to be the hardest thing for Larson to find. If any owner can convince sponsors to jump on board the redemption story, it’s Rick Hendrick. I don’t believe Hendrick will care about any backlash and honestly, I think Larson has been the man he’s wanted to replace Johnson with for years.
Larson hasn’t been sitting at home doing nothing all year. He’s been tearing up the dirt ranks and waiting for his next opportunity. While I wouldn’t mind seeing him have to work his way back into strong equipment, I think the stars will align for him.
#77 Car of Spire Motorsports – Ross Chastain
Ross Chastain deserves a Chip Gannassi or Hendrick Motorsports ride, but I don’t think it’s going to work out for him with the other free agents out there. But he has a chance to build his legacy with a team that considers him family in Spire.
As usual, Chastain will have to run in the back and be the best bottom feeder in the field. Hopefully give Spire a couple of years and they can grow into something competitive.
Second Spire Motorsports Car – Justin Haley
The driver that gave the team their upset win will more than likely join Chastain in building this team from the ground up. Haley is a young driver who doesn’t come with the same hype as other drivers but has Cup series talent.
Getting Chastain and Haley as the foundation for this new team in it’s infancy stages would be a huge get. If they can continue to upgrade their equipment each year with these two drivers they would be well on their way to finding success.
Denny Hamlin 2021 Team – Bubba Wallace
So, this could warrant a completely new article in itself and I might do that. But for anyone who hasn’t heard, Denny Hamlin is attempting to invest heavily in a new race team and essentially create a new JGR alliance program with him as owner or co-owner and Bubba Wallace is heavily rumored to be joining whichever team that is.
Richard Petty Motorsports was in talks to be this team, but talks broke down and that is more than likely what prompted Wallace to leave. Now Hamlin is expected to purchase either Gaunt Bros. Racing or Germain Racing. Wallace brings his sponsorship to this new upstart.
I wanted to address Ty Dillon because he is a decent sized name that I left off my list. Reason being, because I don’t see a good fit for him anywhere. Personally, I believe that he should go ahead and get a head start on his brother Austin in learning the family business. It’s easy to say that RCR could just start a third team, but I honestly doubt they are in a position financially to do that.
If Ty Dillon does decide to return, I believe the most likely place will be with Richard Petty Motorsports since RPM and Richard Childress Racing share a shop and are a borderline alliance. While I think Ty Dillon could make sense for RPM, I think the higher upside lies with Suarez.