The homestretch of the NASCAR Cup Series begins Sunday at Darlington Raceway, and it is championship season for 16 drivers and teams. It’s also decision-making time for race teams as the business side of the sport is in full swing, locking plans into place for 2024.
In the Cup Series, there have been contract extensions at Joe Gibbs Racing for Martin Truex Jr. and Front Row Motorsports for its two drivers. Daniel Suarez is locked in at Trackhouse Racing, and the same for Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports. Both of those deals were sorted out early in the season.
But there is still quite a bit to be decided within other race shops. Here are a few of the bigger pieces that still need to fall into place.
Aric Almirola / Smithfield
Almirola signed a multiyear extension with Stewart-Haas Racing after initially being ready to retire after the 2022 season. That decision was made prematurely, as Almirola and his family realized they could balance work/life better and Almirola’s team and sponsors wanted him in the car. However, as contracts go, there is always the option for things to change, so even though it was announced as a multiyear deal, Almirola and Stewart-Haas are again in the process of figuring out what the next year is going to look like.
Almirola has been saying that “it’s complicated,” and there is more to the story than what might be thought of from the outside. One of those elements is going to be the sponsorship aspect because, once again, the chatter is focused on whether or not Smithfield is going to stick around, with the belief leaning more toward a departure. If one of the pieces goes, the other is sure to go with it, and losing a near full-year sponsor is going to be tough on Stewart-Haas Racing.
This leads to one of a few other rumors out there about Stewart-Haas, which is potentially two charters being up for grabs. As of right now that’s all they are – rumors.
Denny Hamlin / 23XI Racing
As the saying goes, it’s all in the details, and that is why there is nothing signed between Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing, as well as the manufacturer and alliance of 23XI Racing. Hamlin’s contract with Gibbs as the driver of the No. 11 has been done for quite a while, but Hamlin isn’t putting pen to paper until the nuts and bolts of 23XI Racing’s future are determined. It is all about the details that go into having an alliance partner and crossing the T’s and dotting I’s. It’s procedural. There is no indication that either side wants to make a change, but it takes time to get all the little things situated. Joe Gibbs said this week, “Hopefully, there is going to be something to announce here real quick.” Steve Lauletta, the president of 23XI Racing, said in Daytona, “I don’t anticipate anything changing” for next year.
Chris Rice said in July, following the announcement Justin Haley was leaving, that the goal was to announce the future of the No. 31 Chevrolet by mid-August. That timeline has come and gone, but before Daytona, Rice said the deal is about done and an announcement is forthcoming. And in typical Rice fashion, he’s teasing that it’ll surprise people. It was widely believed that Austin Hill was going to be in that car until Hill and Richard Childress Racing announced an extension. So now, it’s a waiting game to see what Kaulig has done. But don’t forget, there could also be the other car, the No. 16 of AJ Allmendinger, in play. Allmendinger hasn’t said one way or another if he’s coming back and has instead put the ball in Kaulig Racing’s court, saying he’ll do what they want him to do.
Allmendinger’s offering few clues about his future in Kaulig’s No.16 entry Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images
Legacy Motor Club’s No.42
Legacy Motor Club and Noah Gragson have parted ways, which isn’t a surprise after Gragson’s suspension. It was a good move by both sides to cut ties and start over, which seemed to be what was going to happen at the end of the season anyway. Legacy M.C. becomes a Toyota team next season and like any manufacturer, Toyota will have a say in the next driver of the No. 42 car.
John Hunter Nemechek is at the top of the list. No surprise there. It should just be a matter of getting a deal done. Nemechek has to be considered the top Toyota prospect who is ready for the Cup Series at this point. Not only does he have previous Cup Series experience, but he’s done exactly what he’s needed to in recent years by going back to the Craftsman Truck Series and now the Xfinity Series and building his stock back up by showing he can win races in the right opportunity.
Shane van Gisbergen
One of the most anticipated moves for 2024 is the expected arrival of van Gisbergen in whichever way he can put the pieces together. Trackhouse Racing isn’t going to let van Gisbergen get away, but it doesn’t have the resources or a charter for a third full-time car. The belief is that van Gisbergen is going to do a little bit across the national series, but it’s still unclear what that is going to look like and for what team(s).
The reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion is ready to move into a new series. Smith has driven a truck for four full seasons and he’s proven he deserves a shot in another series. The question is where that is going to be. Front Row Motorsports doesn’t want to lose Smith, but they don’t have a Cup Series ride after extending Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland and not being able to find a charter for a third car. However, they would love to keep Smith in a Truck again with some Cup Series starts similar to this year. Smith is exploring his options in all three series, so this will come down to what is out there and appealing to Smith if he’s serious about taking the next step.