As 2020 rolls into mid-August, NASCAR’s annual silly season has officially taken off, and this off season is going to be one of the most chaotic in recent memory (although I’m fairly confident we’ve said that every year). Contract extensions by Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman have secured their fates for an additional season or two, while drivers like Erik Jones find themselves on the free agent list heading into 2021.
In fact, there are so many things going on, that we can’t possibly put all of them into one article! Look for part two on Thursday, August 20th!
2021 NASCAR SILLY SEASON RUNDOWN: VOLUME TWO – AUGUST 18th, 2020
Note: The following are all RUMORS, either reported by reliable news sources (credit given when required), or reported directly to TobyChristie.com on the condition of anonymity. Nothing is official until a contract has been signed and a deal announced.
PASTA, HOT SAUCE OR SPICY ICE CREAM, WHAT’S ON THE MENU FOR RCR IN 2021?
Pasta, Hot Sauce or Ice Cream?
Obviously, this isn’t a question you hear at a restaurant everyday (and if it is I would like to know where you’re eating). The question at large here is in regards to Richard Childress Racing, and whether or not all the cooks will be able to fit in the kitchen next year.
Kaz Grala, Anthony Alfredo & Myatt Snider have all been splitting time in RCR’s No. 21 – the team’s only NASCAR Xfinity Series entry. Each driver has displayed their own sets of strengths and weaknesses this season, which will make the decision of who will run full-time in 2021 even more difficult.
Anthony Alfredo – considered to be the front runner for the full-time seat next season — has been impressive in his ten starts for RCR, scoring six top-tens and nine top-twenties in his ten races in 2020. With the performance level and funding level of the 21-year old, the decision looks to be favoring Alfredo at the moment.
Just like Alfredo, Myatt Snider didn’t have the funding to run the full season for RCR, so instead of running a larger part-time schedule for RCR, he chose to took his funding to RSS Racing, in an attempt to piece together a full-season. While the funding may not necessarily be fully there for Snider in 2021, the Charlotte-native has the advantage of experience on his side.
Kaz Grala has been the least frequent pilot of the three-driver team this season, only running for RCR in seven races over the last two seasons. In his seven starts, Grala has been steady, earning two top-five finishes at Road America in 2019 and 2020, while running anywhere from 7th to 14th-place in his other events for the team. However, Sunday at Daytona’s Road Course, Grala got the call to fill-in for Austin Dillon – who had contracted the COVID-19 virus — while Grala’s expectations were low heading into the event, Grala shocked the world – as well as himself — with a seventh-place finish. If Grala can attract some major sponsorship with that run, it may not be out of the question to see Kaz Grala full-time for Richard Childress Racing in 2021.
Of course, it is entirely possible the car could remain to be split between the three drivers, due to no drivers having the funding to piece together a full season. Additionally, Joe Graf, Jr. still currently works in the marketing department at RCR. If he could find enough sponsorship, could he take a full-time ride out from underneath Grala, Alfredo and Snider? It’s not likely, but crazier things have happened before.
COULD DENNY HAMLIN BE LOOKING INTO TEAM OWNERSHIP?
Here is an interesting rumor that has picked up a lot of steam over the last couple of weeks: Denny Hamlin, NASCAR Cup Series Team Owner. Could it happen? Well, if you believe the rumblings, Hamlin could be in talks to purchase a chunk or a majority chunk of Richard Petty Motorsports.
According to the rumors, this would lead to a Toyota alliance for RPM, which currently fields cars for Bubba Wallace. But how legit could this be?
It’s no secret that Toyota needs teams in their stable badly. Leavine Family Racing leaving the sport means that TRD has just Joe Gibbs Racing and Gaunt Brothers as factory-backed organizations for next season, but wouldn’t Hamlin have to leave Joe Gibbs Racing as a driver due to NASCAR’s four-team rule?
This is the same rule that requires BJ McLeod to not drive for Rick Ware Racing (a four-car team) when he fields his own No. 78 team in the NASCAR Cup Series.
If so, would this mean Hamlin could drive for RPM if he decides to pull the trigger and become an owner? Possibly. What about Bubba Wallace? Could they expand to two cars? Again, possibly. Richard Petty Motorsports has a second charter, which has been leased to Rick Ware Racing since the 2018 season. However, we don’t know the extent of the official agreement in place with that Charter. An attempt for clarification from RWR has gone unanswered at this time.
Overall, there are a lot of loose ends in this rumor, but many insist there is something there. One nugget to keep in mind: at 39-years old, Hamlin is basically at the same age that Tony Stewart was when he left Joe Gibbs Racing to become a driver/part-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing back in 2009.
Hamlin could be following in Stewart’s footsteps.
WILL THE KING OF THE DIRT PARTNER WITH THE KING OF NASCAR IN 2021?
Kyle Larson has been a hot topic in 2020. His incredible fall from grace after uttering a racial slur during an iRacing event in April ended his opportunity at Chip Ganassi Racing and got him suspended from NASCAR. However, since being banned from NASCAR, Larson has gone on an absolute tear on the dirt.
With each victory, Larson becomes less and less likely to not return to NASCAR.
We know Tony Stewart would already like to someday hire Larson to drive for SHR, but a seat may not be available in 2021 if Clint Bowyer strikes a deal to return, and Bowyer has indicated lately that he intends to race again next season.
If SHR is a no-go, could there be other options for Larson to pave a path to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021?
How about a fallback plan for Richard Petty Motorsports if Bubba Wallace does decide to leave the No. 43 team? In a report from David Smith on Forbes.com, Andrew Murstein who is the majority owner of RPM was quoted in saying, “I would have a heart-to-heart with Kyle Larson to see if he’s worthy of a second chance. But the hope is that we end up with Bubba.”
While it’s not a certainty that Larson returns to the NCS next season, there does appear to be genuine interest from teams as Larson has opened up a can on the dirt track competition.
COULD SPIRE MOTORSPORTS PRODUCE A TOP-TIER DRIVER LINEUP FOR 2021?
Despite not being in contention for top-ten runs in the NASCAR Cup Series, Spire Motorsports has the opportunity to produce an incredible top-tier lineup in their 2021 NASCAR Cup Series efforts, with the potential signing of Kaulig Racing teammates Justin Haley and Ross Chastain to drive the team’s two full-time entries next season.
After the announcement that Spire Motorsports would purchase the assets and charter of Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 team, Jeff Dickerson visited Dirt Mo Media to talk about the team’s plans for 2021. Dickerson mentioned that “in a perfect world” the team would like to have both Haley and Chastain in a car next season, while also mentioning the desire to have a full-time driver in at least one of their cars.
Both Haley and Chastain are represented by Spire Sports + Ent, and have driven for Spire Motorsports in the past, with Haley claiming the team’s only victory in a rain-shortened event at Daytona last summer, but could the two drivers both find their way back to the team on a full-time basis in 2021?
The truth is, the odds of Spire Motorsports being able to sign both Justin Haley AND Ross Chastain on full-time deals for next season is virtually zero, without some additional alliance agreement, due to the fact that it’s likely Chastain and/or Haley will be offered a better deal to run in the Cup Series in 2021.
COULD THE BYRON-NATIVE BE A TEAMMATE TO BYRON IN 2021?
Erik Jones got his bell rung this past week, with the announcement that Christopher Bell would be taking over the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021. The move came as a shock to Jones, who thought that contract negotiations between himself and JGR were going well.
It’s not that Erik Jones is doing a bad job in the NASCAR Cup Series, in fact the Michigan-native has more than double the top-five finishes in his career, then seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson does in that same time period. There just comes a point in time, where a single win season isn’t good enough at Joe Gibbs Racing, when teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex, Jr. are winning upwards of five races a season.
Before we even knew that Jones would be released from Joe Gibbs Racing, speculation started on a potential new destination for the 24-year old, due to the positive performance of Leavine Family Racing’s Christopher Bell. Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 – being vacated by the set-to-retire Jimmie Johnson at the end of 2020 — has been rumored as Jones’ most likely destination.