One of the biggest talking points in the Xfinity Series this year has been a guy that has had some of the worst luck in the sport overall this year. Noah Gragson has possibly been the most recognizable name not in a Cup car this season with his antics off the track. All of which I personally find entertaining, but I know he’s drawn some ire from a majority of fans.
It’s important to remember that Gragson is still possibly one of the best Cup prospects for next season. Obviously, Austin Cindric would be number one if we were making a prospect list, but we already know where he’ll be going in 2022.
Gragson’s future is still up in the air because even though he is driving for JR Motorsports, he isn’t a development driver for Hendrick Motorsports. Even if he was, there are no spots available for him and Hendrick doesn’t have any affiliate teams.
This is going to be his third full-time season in Xfinity and while he’s off to a bad start, it’s expected things will start to level out as the season goes on. We will start to see him show off the ability to contend for a championship like he has the last two seasons. The big issue is what will he do after this? Even if he doesn’t win the championship this year, what does he have left to learn in Xfinity?
The past offseason he more than likely was presented with opportunities to make the jump to Cup with teams like Front Row Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports, and Spire Motorsports and didn’t take the bait. He’s more than likely waiting for an opportunity in better equipment.
His wait could pay off if the rumors surrounding Kurt Busch are to be true. Busch released a rather confusing video with his sponsor Monster Energy which hinted heavily that he is considering retirement after this season. If this happens, the #1-car for Chip Ganassi Racing will be wide open. CGR currently has no development drivers, so a guy like Gragson who has a relationship with Chevrolet already would be a perfect fit.
Currently, in the Xfinity Series, all other names that are in contention for Cup ride in 2022 like Harrison Burton, Brandon Jones, and Daniel Hemric are more than likely going to end up at 23XI Racing if they move up at all.
You also have guys like A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Haley who will potentially move up to Cup. A.J. is more than likely going to race for Kaulig Racing when they start their new Cup team next season. Justin Haley may follow him there or drive a second car for Spire.
The only name that could contend with Gragson for a chance at the ride would be Jeb Burton. Jeb wouldn’t be a bad idea either, but I do think Gragson would edge him out in that fight. His overall body of work show much more potential and Noah will bring more sponsorship opportunities.
With all that being said, this is my first big 2022 silly season prediction. I think that Noah is a near-lock for the #1-car if CGR decides with an Xfinity driver. They could also find a Cup driver to fill the void, but currently, Brad Keselowski is the only driver set for free agency that I think would be worth signing over a good rookie prospect. I think we all know that if Keselowski does leave Penske, it won’t be for lesser equipment.