On Monday, Stewart-Haas Racing Vice President of Competition Greg Zipadelli met with the media in a Zoom call to discuss all things SHR. During the call, Zipadelli admitted that the team is very close to finalizing it’s driver lineup for 2021, and that it should remain the same as it was in 2020. However, when pressed about the lingering rumor that Kyle Larson could move to SHR, Zipadelli did not shoot down the rumor.
It’s been a solid season for Stewart-Haas Racing, which locked all four cars into the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. On the NASCAR Xfinity Series side of things, Chase Briscoe has scored six wins in the team’s No. 98 machine, as well. All of this being known, it would make sense for SHR to not want to shake things up for the 2021 season.
“We’re working on them. Yes, I do anticipate and excited to hopefully have the same lineup that we do this year back,” Zipadelli said. “I know one is very close to done, and working on the other one. So, I think our drivers really work well together this year and lean on each other. They’ve all helped Cole a bunch and I’m proud of everybody for that. I think they’ve showed up ready to race on Sundays and that’s all we can ask.”
But what about Briscoe? The Xfinity Series hot shoe has garnered a lot of attention for his performance this season. If SHR keeps the same lineup for another season, what happens with Briscoe?
“Yeah, hopefully he’ll be right where he is and shortly thereafter move up to the Cup Series,” Zipadelli explained. ” We love Chase and appreciate him. He’s a good kid and a great talent, and just a ton of fun to be around as far as his capability and how calm and cool he is, and the things he can do with a race car.”
So, while Briscoe may be a hot commodity, SHR is not in a hurry to rush him to the Cup Series. Zipadelli seems content to have Briscoe return to the No. 98 car for another season (or two) in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The only question is: Will anyone else offer a deal for a decent Cup ride to lure him away?
To this point in the Zoom call, Zipadelli was very consistent with the fact that SHR would love to keep things exactly as they are in 2020 for the 2021 season.
But then, things took a very different turn. Zipadelli was asked point-blank if SHR would consider moving their driver lineup to accommodate Kyle Larson. It’s a valid question, as Tony Stewart has not hid his regard of Larson’s driving talent in recent months, but you kind of expected the same canned, ‘We like where we are,’ answer. However, that’s not what happened.
“I don’t think there’s an organization out there that wouldn’t [consider moving their driver lineup],” Zipadelli said. “He’s a great, great talent and I don’t think he’s proved what he’s capable of doing. I think that kids got a lot of talent and has a lot of good things in his future as far as wins and racing for championships and things of that nature.”
So, while the first half of the availability tossed buckets of water on the fiery rumors of Larson moving to Stewart-Haas Racing, Zipadelli successfully reignited the flames by the end of his chat with the media.
Larson of course was suspended by NASCAR and fired by Chip Ganassi Racing, where he scored his six-career NASCAR Cup Series wins, after uttering a racial slur during an iRacing event in April, while the sport was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since, Larson has been reinstated on various dirt racing circuits and he has gone on an absolute tear. It seems each night we are hearing about the latest Larson triumph in World of Outlaws or the Circuit of Champions or any other various dirt Series.
Even so, it seems like a very distant possibility that Larson is able to get SHR to shake up their driver lineup for 2021.
Regardless, it has been a banner season for SHR in 2020.
The driver of their No. 4 car, Kevin Harvick won the regular season points championship and he sits with the most wins in the NASCAR Cup Series, currently, with seven victories. Aric Almirola has been a consistent threat in the top-10 week in and week out. Cole Custer, by way of making the Playoffs, has already locked up the Rookie of the Year Award. And Clint Bowyer had little issue pointing his way into the Playoffs as well.
If the biggest issue SHR has going into the offseason is deciding which ultra-talented drivers will be behind the wheel of their very fast championship-caliber race cars, I think they are in a good position. But the longer we go without an announced 2021 driver lineup, the more intriguing Larson-watch could get.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.