Noah Gragson linked to Stewart-Haas No. 10 car in latest NASCAR silly season
As NASCAR heads into its third week of the offseason, there are still a few spots open when looking at full-time Cup cars in 2024.
Stewart-Haas Racing has not announced a driver for its No. 10 car to replace Aric Almirola. Kaulig Racing has not announced a decision for its No. 16 car, driven by AJ Allmendinger in 2023. And Rick Ware Racing has not announced plans for its No. 15 car.
And while anything can happen, there are clear favorites for each of those rides.
Noah Gragson, a Cup rookie last year driving for Legacy Motor Club before his release in August, remains the favorite to replace Almirola, who won’t race full time in Cup next year although he is exploring at least a part-time ride in the Xfinity Series.
NASCAR had suspended Gragson for liking a racially insensitive social media post in August and then reinstated him in September after he completed a program conducted by RISE, the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality.
“I want to express my sincere gratitude to NASCAR for reinstating me,” Gragson said in a statement at the time. “Over the past several weeks, I have dedicated myself to personal growth and reflection, and I believe I have become a better person because of it.
“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and the NASCAR industry.”
There were questions about where Gragson would end up, and it appears that SHR remains the likely destination. Is Gragson bringing funding/sponsorship to the ride since the team lost anchor sponsor Smithfield? That would be likely but still unclear.
If Gragson goes to SHR, he would be teammates again with Josh Berry, who is replacing the retiring Kevin Harvick in the organization’s No. 4 car. Gragson won eight Xfinity races in 2022 while at JR Motorsports, while Berry won three. The older Berry has limited NASCAR national series experience compared to Gragson, but the fact that Gragson won so many races in similar equipment and that the drivers are used to working together could be viewed as a positive.
Gragson certainly struggled in his first full Cup season as he averaged 9.4 points per race (with an average finish of 28.2) and was 33rd in the standings at the time of his suspension. Even before his troubles, his future was questionable at Legacy, which had already announced a move to Toyota and with Toyota looking for a Cup ride for John Hunter Nemechek.
SHR also has Cole Custer, a former Cup driver, who won the 2023 Xfinity Series title. Team co-owner Tony Stewart said Custer will be back in Cup eventually, just not full time in 2024.
“It’s getting that confidence and just keep getting him more and more experienced,” Stewart said about Custer. “It’s definitely not out of the question that he could be back in a Cup car with our program.
“He’s working that way. He’s earning that opportunity. And it’s just a matter of time.”
At Kaulig, Allmendinger repeatedly said over the final weeks of the 2023 season that he would race in the series that team owner Matt Kaulig wants him to run. Allmendinger said he’d like to stay in Cup, but without a current commitment, it appears more than likely he would run in the Xfinity Series with potentially a part-time Cup schedule, as he did in 2022.
The favorite to replace Allmendinger is Ty Dillon. The past two years haven’t been kind to Dillon, who finished 29th in the standings while driving for Legacy in 2022 and 32nd in the standings driving for Spire in 2023. His average finish of 27.5 this year was the worst in his six full-time Cup seasons.
Kaulig president Chris Rice has indicated that the organization needs to look at drivers who can bring some sponsorship. Dillon, a grandson of Richard Childress, can potentially bring some sponsors and additional resources from Richard Childress Racing as well as its ECR engine shop. In the 60 non-superspeedway races, Dillon has crashed out of five races over the past two years, so he is relatively good at taking care of equipment.
As far as RWR, it will likely go with multiple drivers in its No. 15 car, just as it did in 2023. The team has been relatively happy with the performance of veteran JJ Yeley, so expect him to be part of the team’s plan.
On the crew chief side, it could be a relatively quiet offseason in Cup. The biggest crew chief change so far came during the season when Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton swapped their Penske crew chiefs with Brian Wilson going to Cindric and Jeremy Bullins going to Burton.
Legacy announced that Ben Beshore will move with Nemechek from Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity program to Legacy’s No. 42 Cup car next year. Beshore is a former Cup crew chief for Kyle Busch and won seven Xfinity races last year with Nemechek.
The move was not a surprise as Toyota wanted Nemechek and Beshore to continue to work together.
“As a driver, if you’re lucky enough to find a crew chief that you mesh with as well as Ben and I do, you do everything possible to stick together,” Nemechek said.
Luke Lambert, who was crew chief for Legacy’s No. 42 car, could look to build on what appeared to be a strong relationship with Carson Hocevar, who replaced Gragson in several races in 2023 and moves to the Spire Motorsports No. 77 Cup car in 2024.
Spire hasn’t announced a crew chief yet for Hocevar. It also has not announced a crew chief for Zane Smith, who is being loaned to the team from Trackhouse Racing for 2024. Trackhouse is expected to hire the crew chief for Smith.
Legacy also could need a crew chief for the part-time car driven by Jimmie Johnson, depending on how many races Johnson opts to run. Former Cup crew chief Todd Gordon worked with the team last year for the races Johnson ran, but if Johnson increases the number of events, the team might look for someone to spend the majority of their time in the shop directing those efforts.
Johnson hasn’t announced his schedule yet for 2024 but knowing his love for big events, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500.
Which brings us to one of the fans’ favorite topics: How many cars will show up to try to earn one of the four open spots for the Daytona 500?
BJ McLeod, whose Live Fast Motorsports team sold its charter to Spire Motorsports, said he will run a part-time Cup schedule as an open car. McLeod, who has raced five times in the Daytona 500, said he will be among those attempting to qualify for the race.
McLeod said the key is if there is a green-flag pit stop during the qualifying races and whether having a part-time crew can manage it with no mistakes.
“I have always approached the [qualifying races] just thinking mentally, If I had to make it, you know, what would I do?” McLeod said. “I’ve never finished or run well in those races, because I didn’t want to tear up the car, but I always pushed pit road and thought about different scenarios.
“I feel like I’m very ready to try to do that. Obviously, the odds are stacked against us.”
Beard Motorsports traditionally has run the superspeedway races so it is a likely entry. The team hasn’t named a driver yet for next season.
The Money Team Racing has made the Daytona 500 the past two years and is working on a program for the 2024 race. NY Racing, which made the 2022 race with Greg Biffle, also has hopes to put together a deal to run the event, although it had similar hopes last year that fell through.
Front Row Motorsports ran a third Cup car at Daytona for Riley Herbst — he finished 10th in the 500 — but whether they reunite for a 2024 entry is to be determined. Kaulig Racing also has been known to enter a third car in superspeedway races, and with the Daytona 500 as a high-paying race, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it enters Allmendinger or another driver in the event.
Several other organizations would have an option of running an additional car — 23XI Racing pulled one out last year for extreme sports star Travis Pastrana — if sponsorship materializes.
Thinking Out Loud
One way to measure someone’s accomplishments is to evaluate their impact on others.
In that realm, broadcaster Ken Squier accomplished much in his 88 years. Squier, who died Wednesday, was a trailblazer who set the standards for motorsports broadcasts and telecasts.
Several notable motorsports broadcasters tweeted tributes on X (formerly known as Twitter) about the impact Squier had on them. He mentored many personally, and those who didn’t know him on a personal level learned by listening to him and watching him.
NASCAR grew as a sport nationally because of Squier’s efforts, not just in the broadcast booth but from his advocacy of treating motorsports as a major sport, both with live coverage and innovative production elements.
In The News
-A couple of Xfinity teams announced 2024 drivers: Kaulig Racing announced Josh Williams will join the team to drive the No. 11 car. DGM Racing announced Kyle Weatherman as its driver for the No. 91 car.
-In Craftsman Truck Series driver announcements, ThorSport Racing announced Jake Garcia would join the team full time in 2024. Tricon has announced its four full-time drivers — Corey Heim, Taylor Gray, Tanner Gray and Dean Thompson — will return. Spire Motorsports confirmed that Chase Purdy and Nick Sanchez will drive for the team next season.
Stat of the Day
The Richmond race in July and the Indianapolis road course race had every car running at the finish. They were the first races to have everyone running at the finish since the 2018 season finale at Homestead.
They Said It
“I’ve known a lot of these guys for a long time, and I felt like coming over here would give us a good opportunity to get wins. That’s the goal: trophy hunting.” —Josh Williams on signing his Xfinity deal with Kaulig
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.
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