Tuesday, February 9, 2021

PREVIEW: Breaking down the dizzying number of Cup team, driver, and Charter changes in 2021

PHOTO: Charlie Langenstein, @wrenchtwister00

Tuesday, February 9, 2021
CUP Exhibition Race
The Busch Clash at Daytona Infield Road Course
2020 Last-Place Finisher (Oval): Kyle Busch

This year marks the first time the Busch Clash moves from the oval to the infield road course, where Chase Elliott won a points race last August. What was originally planned to be the final race for the “Gen 6” cars before the NextGen was to be introduced in the Daytona 500 was also changed due to the pandemic.

A further change came in November – because only the first five races of 2020 had qualifying, the field would also include drivers who competed full-time in 2020 and (1) won the Busch Clash before, (2) won the Daytona 500 before, or (3) won the pole for the Daytona 500 before, plus last year’s Playoff drivers, race winners, and even stage winners.

The result saw 24 drivers qualify – including Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth, who effectively retired at the end of last season. The remaining 21 drivers are as follows. This will mark the debut of not only Erik Jones for Richard Petty Motorsports and Alex Bowman running Johnson’s #48, but also the team debut for 23XI Racing. Ty Dillon, who won Stage 1 on the Charlotte Roval last year, will drive the team’s #23 Root Insurance Toyota, then run for the Gaunt Brothers in the 500 (see below).

#1-Kurt Busch
#2-Brad Keselowski
#3-Austin Dillon
#4-Kevin Harvick
#6-Ryan Newman
#8-Tyler Reddick
#9-Chase Elliott
#10-Aric Almirola
#11-Denny Hamlin
#12-Ryan Blaney
#17-Chris Buescher
#18-Kyle Busch
#19-Martin Truex, Jr.
#21-Matt DiBenedetto
#22-Joey Logano
#23-Ty Dillon
#24-William Byron
#41-Cole Custer
#43-Erik Jones
#47-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
#48-Alex Bowman

Thursday, February 11, 2021
CUP Exhibition Races
Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona, Races 1 and 2
2020 Last-Place Finishers: Daniel Suarez, J.J. Yeley

As of this writing, the official entry list for the Daytona 500 has still yet to be posted. Most reports indicate a list of 44 drivers for 40 spots, meaning four drivers will fail to qualify after Thursday's qualifiers. For all the storylines coming into this race, this is still just one more team than was entered in the 2020 race. Regardless, there is much to cover. UPDATE: The entry list was posted Friday with the same 44 teams.

DRIVER AND NUMBER CHANGE: #5-Hendrick Motorsports (former #88)
DRIVER CHANGE: #48-Hendrick Motorsports
For the first time since November 19, 2017, Rick Hendrick will field the #5 in the Cup Series, the number with which he started his team in 1984. Taking the wheel is a returning Kyle Larson, who was reinstated by NASCAR on January 1st. NationsGuard leads off the team’s late-arriving sponsors in the Daytona 500, with as yet just four additional races sponsored. The #5 returns while the #88, previously driven by Alex Bowman, will be discontinued. Bowman will instead move to the #48 Ally Bank Chevrolet vacated by the retired Jimmie Johnson.

NEW TEAM: #7-Spire Motorsports
TEAM CLOSED: #13-Germain Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #20-Joe Gibbs Racing
NEW TEAM: #23-23XI Racing
LOST CHARTER: #37-JTG-Daugherty Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #43-Richard Petty Motorsports
NUMBER AND DRIVER CHANGE: #52-Rick Ware Racing (former #27)
TEAM UPDATE: #71-Tommy Baldwin Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #77-Spire Motorsports
RETURNING: #78-Live Fast Motorsports (formerly B.J. McLeod Motorsports)
TEAM CLOSED: #95-Leavine Family Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #96-Gaunt Brothers Racing
NEW TEAM: #99-Trackhouse Racing
One major shuffling of rides involved the shutting down of both Germain Racing's #13 and Leavine Family Racing's #95 at the end of 2020. Christopher Bell, who drove for Leavine last year, brings his Rheem sponsorship to Joe Gibbs’ #20, replacing Erik Jones, who moved to the #43 in place of Bubba Wallace, who now drives for the highly-anticipated Michael Jordan / Denny Hamlin effort, “Twenty-Three-Eleven Racing.” Armed with the Charter from Germain Racing and Leavine's Toyota contract, Wallace’s #23 has sold out all sponsorship for 2021 with McDonald’s, Dr. Pepper, Doordash, Columbia Sportswear, and Root Insurance. Jones in the #43 will run R.P. Funding as sponsor in the Clash, then Armor All with associate STP backing for the 500. The closing of Germain Racing left Ty Dillon without a ride before he landed at Gaunt Brothers Racing, taking the place of Daniel Suarez in the #96 Toyota. Bass Pro Shops and Black Rifle Coffee will sponsor Dillon in the 500. Suarez and the Charter previously held by Spire Motorsports' #77 went to Justin Marks' new team, Trackhouse Racing, which since welcomed recording artist Pitbull as co-owner. Trackhouse’s #99 Chevrolet will carry multiple sponsors this year, starting with iFly at the 500. Josh Bilicki, who most recently ran Spire's #77 at Phoenix, replaces J.J. Yeley in Rick Ware Racing's former #27 team. Yeley is not entered in the 500, and the #27 has reverted back to the team's former #52. Wisconsin Lighting Lab joins Insurance King and Junction Fuels as sponsor of Bilicki's Ford. Running Spire's #77 in the 500 will be a returning Jamie McMurray, who hasn't raced in Cup since the Spire team's debut in 2019. He's locked in after the #77 acquired the Leavine team's Charter. Spire also bought a second Charter from JTG-Daugherty Racing's #37 team, meaning Ryan Preece will run as an "open" team this season. Preece only has enough sponsorship for 24 of the 36 races, and will need more backing to attempt the full season. With Preece's Charter, Spire will field a second car, the #7, for Corey LaJoie. Tommy Baldwin Racing, which ran the #7 part-time in 2020, is not entered, but has again selected the #71 for future starts. LaJoie previously drove for Go FAS Racing's #32 Ford, which has now scaled back to a partial schedule, and will not run the Daytona 500. Go FAS' Charter was sold to B.J. McLeod, who partnered with Matt Tifft to form Live Fast Motorsports. McLeod, who leased cars from Rick Ware last year for a few races under the “B.J. McLeod Motorsports” banner, will run the full season in Fords, still carrying his familiar #78. NASCAR Heat 5 has come aboard as a founding sponsor.

NUMBER CHANGE: #13-Motorsports Business Management (former #49)
Garrett Smithley will make his first attempt at qualify for the Daytona 500, taking the wheel of the second “open” entry from Motorsports Business Management that was entered as the #49 with Chad Finchum in a handful of races last year. Trophy Tractor will sponsor the Ford, which will be joined by Timmy Hill in the primary #66 (see below).

DRIVER CHANGE: #14-Stewart-Haas Racing
In place of a retiring Clint Bowyer comes Chase Briscoe, who goes for Rookie of the Year after a breakout XFINITY Series season last year. Among the team’s sponsors is High Point, which follows Briscoe from the XFINITY Series.

DRIVER CHANGE: #15-Rick Ware Racing / StarCom Racing
One of the most surprising developments of the offseason was the return of Derrike Cope to the Daytona 500, a race he hadn’t started since 2004, nor attempted since 2011. StarCom Racing’s team owners had coordinated with Rick Ware Racing, acquiring their Charter to enter a second car StarCom built. Jacob Companies will sponsor Cope (alongside a returning Quin Houff in the #00 Mane ‘n Tail Chevrolet). Cope takes the place of Brennan Poole, who ran the #15 under the Ware banner last fall at Phoenix. Future driver plans for the #15 are to be determined, though Poole has reportedly parted ways with the team.

RETURNING: #16-Kaulig Racing
Matthew Kaulig will enter a Cup car in his second consecutive Daytona 500, but this time will enter Kaz Grala in the #16 Chevrolet. This team is expected to run both the superspeedways and road courses as a part-time “open” team in 2021 with sponsorship to be announced.

CREW CHIEF CHANGE: #18-Joe Gibbs Racing
CREW CHIEF CHANGE: #20-Joe Gibbs Racing
Following a lackluster season for Kyle Busch, Adam Stevens will move from the #18 to the #20 team, which will be driven by Christopher Bell (see below). Taking over on Busch’s pit box is Ben Beshore, who was previously the team’s engineer.

TEAM UPDATE: #21-Wood Brothers Racing
NEW TEAM: #33-Penske Racing
Matt DiBenedetto will have one more year to try and score the Wood Brothers’ 100th victory and the first of his own career. It was already confirmed last season that Austin Cindric, last year’s XFINITY Series Champion, will take his place in 2022. Cindric will make a bid at making this year’s 500 field as an “open” team as Penske Racing will field the #33 Ford with Verizon as sponsor.

CREW CHIEF CHANGE: #24-Hendrick Motorsports
In addition to Jimmie Johnson’s retirement, Chad Knaus was promoted out of his position as William Byron’s crew chief. Now leading the team is Rudy Fugle.

RETURNING: #36-Front Row Motorsports
Looking for another attempt at the Daytona 500 is David Ragan, whose strong 4th-place finish in last year’s Daytona 500 was overshadowed by Ryan Newman’s serious accident. Ragan will again run the #36 for Front Row as he did that night with Select Blinds as returning sponsor. Ragan enters the race as an "open" driver this time around, so qualifying and the Duels will prove decisive.

DRIVER CHANGE: #38-Front Row Motorsports
John Hunter Nemechek parted ways with FRM one week after the Phoenix finale, and will return to the Truck Series to drive Kyle Busch Motorsports’ #4 Toyota full-time. Taking Nemechek’s place is Anthony Alfredo, who turned heads in his limited XFINITY run last year, and will compete for Rookie of the Year. Dude Wipes, a former Go FAS Racing sponsor, is one confirmed sponsor for at least six races, starting with Homestead.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-Chip Ganassi Racing
Ross Chastain’s rollercoaster career continues. Just three years after DC Solar’s collapse cost him a full-time XFINITY ride with Chip Ganassi, Chastain will now run the #42 full-time in Ganassi’s Cup effort, taking the place of a retiring Matt Kenseth. Advent Health is the first listed sponsor for the team.

TEAM UPDATE: #44-NY Racing Team
Reports over the offseason indicated Jonathan Cohen once again would field a Cup Series entry this season, just over two years after their #7 Ford for J.J. Yeley didn’t make the trip to Daytona. He was reportedly to run the #44, which he previously ran with Yeley and other drivers, with Johnny Sauter to drive, but Sauter himself had no knowledge of such a deal.

TEAM UPDATE: #50-The Money Team Racing
The last new update from the Floyd Mayweather effort in NASCAR was a possible partnership with Spire Motorsports, but no new information has since come out. If true, Spire’s decision to expand to two cars this season (#7 and #77) could play a role in what happens next.

DRIVER CHANGE: #53-Rick Ware Racing
Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, specifically their migraine treatment Nurtec ODT, will sponsor Ware’s #51 team full-time in 2021. Cody Ware will get his first full-time effort in NASCAR’s top series, part of a massive expansion of the Ware effort into IndyCar and sports car racing. Ware takes the place of Joey Gase, who ran this team most recently last fall at Phoenix, though Gase is expected to drive Ware’s #53 with sponsorship to be announced. Gase takes the place of James Davison, who is not entered in the 500.

RETURNING: #62-Beard Motorsports
It’s been a challenging season already for the part-time Beard Motorsports team, which up until last summer’s Daytona Road Course event had exclusively run on superspeedways. Team owner Mark Beard, Sr. passed away over the offseason, and driver Brendan Gaughan appears to have followed through with his decision to retire at the end of the 2020 season. Taking the controls of the #62 – now entirely sponsored by Beard Oil Distributing – is XFINITY Series standout Noah Gragson. Gragson will seek to make his first Cup start as an “open” driver with Mark Beard’s name added to the roof rails.

MANUFACTURER CHANGE: #66-Motorsports Business Management
As in 2020, Timmy Hill will switch from Toyota for Ford for the Daytona 500, and will have to qualify for the Daytona 500 as an “open” entry since he will be competing for XFINITY Series points. Hill's name was the only one not listed on the entry list, though pictures from the team showed Hill as the driver. Hill also happens to drive the oldest car in the field - a 2018 model Ford.

MISSING DRIVERS FROM PHOENIX 2020: Clint Bowyer, James Davison, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, John Hunter Nemechek, Brennan Poole, J.J. Yeley

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (February 9, 1984): Tim Richmond finished last in the Busch Clash of ’84 when his #27 Old Milwaukee Pontiac lost an engine after six laps of the 20-lap sprint. This remains the only time the #27 finished last in the season-opening exhibition race.

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