After yesterday’s huge news, I had to go and almost completely rewrite this article. Originally this was just talking about how Aric Almirola was going to end up in the new GMS ride, and I still believed Ryan Newman was a solid bet for the second Trackhouse team. Now, the silly season just got thrown onto its head.
Kurt Busch is going to be the first big domino to fall. He has to decide between staying at CGR which will now become Trackhouse, or leaving to go to 23XI Racing. Each scenario presents Kurt with an opportunity to win more races and be part of an exciting new venture. It’s a tough decision, but the rest of silly season cannot truly begin until he decides
Should he decide to stay and race for Trackhouse in 2022, it leaves Ross Chastain without a ride. Chastain then becomes the biggest free agent on the open market. If this happens, he will become the top candidate for GMS Racing. He would more than likely agree to terms with GMS, unless another team comes out of nowhere like Team Penske. They could decide to let Matt DiBenedetto walk and either put Chastain on Team Penske or the Wood Brothers. While that is realistic, it’s more likely GMS Racing would successfully pursue and sign him.
I think getting dropped from CGR after working and grinding as hard as Ross has over the last five years would be disappointing, but GMS Racing would be a decent backup plan. They’ve shown the ability to compete for wins in Xfinity when their team was active, and are a championship-caliber team in trucks. It’ll take them a couple of years, but I could see their equipment being on par with CGR’s soon.
If Kurt Busch elects to go to 23XI Racing, that would mean Ross Chastain is more than likely to remain and drive the second Trackhouse car. This opens the door for other veterans to race for GMS. Ryan Newman and possibly Aric Almirola.
The reason I believe GMS will pursue a veteran is that the young driver pool is very shallow right now. There is no young driver in Xfinity that is ripe for the picking on the open market. Any driver that is ready for a Cup ride is already signed to a deal for a team like Austin Cindric or Justin Haley. Getting a guy like Newman or Almirola would be more viable instead of bringing up someone like Josh Berry, Sheldon Creed, Zane Smith, or Noah Gragson.
GMS Racing currently has a truck series team with two up-and-coming drivers in Sheldon Creed and Zane Smith who would be decent choices, but neither has much Xfinity experience. I think bringing them up could stunt their development and they should be looked at for the future.
Currently, Almirola is not a for sure free agent, but with the horrible season that Aric Almirola has been having, it’s hard to imagine him coming back to Stewart-Haas Racing. Almirola has been living off Smithfield for what has been nearly his entire career, and while he’s a serviceable driver, I don’t think he has the upside SHR wants anymore. I made an article last week touching on Ryan Preece possibly taking over the #10 next season, which would make Almirola a free agent.
The big question mark is if Smithfield will continue to foot his bill. To be clear, Almirola is a decent driver and is worth getting a Cup series ride on his merit, but not a championship-caliber ride. Almirola’s skills are more suited to help a growing team, and that could be great for a new team like GMS Racing.
Not only would Almirola be a solid veteran to help ease this team along, but he could bring along sponsorship as well. If Smithfield does intend to follow him wherever he goes then this would make him appealing to any team. I think that if Smithfield doesn’t jump ship then Almirola will more than likely stay at SHR. If Tony Stewart can find a better driver with his sponsorship then releasing Almirola will be less of financial stress. Even if Smithfield does not follow him, I think Aric has proven to be a relatable personality and someone easy to get sponsors and brands behind.
Almirola knew going into his contract at SHR that this would be his last true shot at winning a championship. The brutal truth is that if he is released from SHR his career, unfortunately, has nowhere to go but down from here. Getting a job at GMS would have more value and meaning than stepping down to a team like Front Row Motorsports or heaven forbid Rick Ware Racing. While he probably won’t ever win a championship, and maybe not even make the playoffs again; he can take pride in being the inaugural driver for a new team and help build it from the ground up.
Ryan Newman is in a similar boat, but he is for sure a free agent heading into silly season. The only question is if he decides to retire, but he is currently saying he plans to race in 2022. Newman can also step into GMS, and give them a lot to learn from. This presents him with an opportunity to continue racing for a competitive team, instead of jumping over to a floundering team that has no chance of competing. He can drive with purpose in 2022, and help lead this team towards the future while also being competitive.
If both Almirola and Newman are free agents, I think the decision will come down to sponsorship. Whichever one can produce the most money will probably get the ride, because neither at this stage in their careers is outproducing the other in terms of talent.