With NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace confirming that he will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports next season, fans have already began forming their own opinions as to where the 26-year-old will land.
But what about the other seats that are still available? Who’s driving the No. 14 for Stewart-Haas Racing next season? What about Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42? Who will replace 7-time champion Jimmie Johnson in the most prestigious number in NASCAR today?
There are still big name drivers either with contracts ending this year, or who are already seeking a new ride for 2021 and beyond.
The staff of TobyChristie.com decided to join together to compare and predict who will land among some of the open rides in the NASCAR Cup Series for 2021.
Toby Christie – Founder, Editor-In-Chief
Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 – There have been so many rumors and so much speculation that Clint Bowyer will not return to the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team in 2021, but it feels like we’ve been here before. Has everyone forgotten that the same exact rumors persisted last year, yet Bowyer was back again in 2020.
Everyone can’t help themselves from speculating that Kyle Larson or Chase Briscoe will move into the No. 14. Like everyone else, I crave wild happenings, but it just doesn’t seem likely. I see Bowyer returning for one more season for a swan-song in his tenure with the organization.
Go Fas Racing No. 32 – I have a strong gut feeling Kyle Larson takes over this ride. When Corey LaJoie announced that he was leaving Go Fas Racing at the end of the 2020 season, people began penciling in Chase Briscoe as the obvious choice to take over the ride, but it just doesn’t line up with how Archie St. Hilaire has done business in the past. He totally discounted bringing in Cole Custer a year ago, forcing SHR to move the rookie to their No. 41 car, sending Daniel Suarez out the door in the process.
Larson is becoming highly coveted by many in the sport, due to his incredible run on the dirt since being suspended from NASCAR (including Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart), but no top team will throw him into a car, you would imagine, until his image is repaired enough to garner sponsorship.
Go Fas Racing has a lot of their own in-house sponsorship, which I think makes this work.
this has not been the way that Archie St. Hilaire has taken care of business in the past. Larson running for the technical ally of SHR would give him a prime shot at moving to SHR’s No. 14 team if Bowyer moves on after 2021.
Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 – Chase Briscoe doesn’t feel like he’s on a lot of people’s radar for the No. 42 car, but the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer reported recently that Ganassi rescinded their contract offer to Bubba Wallace due to Wallace not responding quick enough. Sure, they could send another offer, but I think Ganassi makes a different move.
Ganassi always says that he likes winners, who has won more in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season than Briscoe? Nobody. Who is ready to move up and is on a team that has no room at the inn in the NASCAR Cup Series? Briscoe. Ganassi took a big gamble on a young dirt driver before in Kyle Larson, I think he hitches his wagon to Briscoe this offseason.
Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 – Corey LaJoie chose to leave Go Fas Racing at the end of 2020, and while I think his initial plans were a hopeful move to JTG Daugherty Racing, I think he moves back to a team that he was once aligned with early in his NASCAR National Series career — Richard Petty Motorsports.
LaJoie feels he is a supreme talent, and he wants a chance to showcase his skill at a team capable of running toward the front. RPM has done that far more consistently than Go Fas Racing in 2020. In fact, the No. 43 team sit higher in the point standings (23rd) than bothe JTG Daugherty cars (24th and 30th) and Go Fas Racing’s No. 32 (29th).
Another interesting thing that could land LaJoie at RPM is that he does carry a few races of his own personal sponsorship. Schluter Systems, Built Bar and a few other partners usually follow LaJoie wherever he goes. For RPM, who stands to lose a lot of sponsorship backing when Bubba Wallace leaves, it makes sense to bring in someone who at least has some sponsorship.
Hendrick Motorsports No.48 – There is only one name that makes sense for this ride, and that’s Erik Jones. The No. 48 is fully sponsored by Ally Financial, which is perfect as Jones does not bring any sponsorship of his own. Any driver who has their own personal sponsors (Bubba Wallace, Corey LaJoie or others) would have to cut ties or reallocate those companies to another HMS car in theory, which starts complicating things.
Not only that, but of the drivers vying for a ride in free agency, Jones is the only one who has a Cup Series win (aside from Larson, obviously) and he’s the only one who has made the Playoffs in the past.
At 24-years old, we more than likely have not seen the full potential of Jones, the 2015 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series champion, at the Cup level. Joey Logano was a similar age when he was sent packing from Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 car. Roger Penske took a chance on him, and that pairing is now sitting at 23 wins and a championship. Could something similar happen with Jones?
Joseph Srigley – Statistics Expert, Staff Writer
Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 – Clint Bowyer. Despite the fact that many people seem to think that Kyle Larson will return to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021 with Stewart-Haas Racing, I believe that both Clint Bowyer and Stewart-Haas Racing are pleased with the arrangement that they’re in right now. Bowyer is the ideal subject for attracting sponsorship to the organization, with his personality, quiet and consistent runs and his involvement in the sport outside of the car. While Larson may bring that team to new heights with performance, Bowyer brings an opportunity to positively market the team that wouldn’t be available with Larson at this time.
Go Fas Racing No. 32 – Kaz Grala. Since GoFas Racing’s tenure in the NASCAR Cup Series began in 2012, the team has built a foundation on giving drivers trying to make a name for themselves an opportunity to drive at the sport’s top-level. Drivers like Corey LaJoie and Matt DiBenedetto have made the most of their opportunities at GoFas Racing and have moved on to more competitive rides in the NASCAR Cup Series. There is no reason to believe that the team will do anything different in 2021. With Kaz Grala showing his strength in a part-time effort in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for Richard Childress Racing, and his incredible top-ten run at Daytona’s Road Course while filling in for Austin Dillon, I believe that the 22-year-old will find his way to the NASCAR Cup Series next season.
Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 – Erik Jones. Since joining the NASCAR Cup Series in 2017, Erik Jones has proven that under the right circumstances, he can have a successful career at NASCAR’s top-level moving forward. However, the closure of Leavine Family Racing at the end of 2020 has forced Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing to move forward without Jones, leaving the Byron, Michigan-native as one of the top free agents for 2021. With Matt Kenseth’s comments indicating that he won’t return to Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021, Erik Jones may be the perfect candidate to bring the No. 42 back to its winning ways in 2021.
Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 – Daniel Hemric. Many people – including Andre Murstein — were hoping that Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 would be driven by Bubba Wallace in 2021, as the team has shown improvement in performance and finances with the Mobile, Alabama-native behind the wheel. However, Wallace recently announced that he will be moving to a new – and presumably better-performing — organization for the 2021 season, leaving the status of the team’s No. 43 unknown for 2021. Many of the team’s sponsorship agreements appear to be attached to Wallace, meaning the team may not be as financially stable as they have been this season. In my opinion, the driver who takes over the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports will have to have at least some funding behind them, which is why I believe that Daniel Hemric would be the perfect candidate for this car next season. Between Hemric’s built-in backing and consistent nature, it’s possible that Richard Petty Motorsports could find themselves back on their feet before the 2021 season begins.
Hendrick Motorsports No.48 – Brett Moffitt. It’s bold… I know. However, Brett Moffitt is CRIMINALLY underrated when it comes to his natural driving ability. In 2018, when he won his NASCAR Truck Series Championship for Hattori Racing Enterprises, the team was THIS close to not being able to run the full season. Not only did Moffitt and HRE find the sponsorship to complete the season, but they went out and won the damn championship. Combine that with his eighth-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2015 – in just his eighth NASCAR Cup Series start — and his incredible performances in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season with first-year team Our Motorsports, and this guy has done more than his fair share to be given his “big break” in the NASCAR Cup Series.
It’s not like Hendrick Motorsports doesn’t take chances either… seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson had one win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series before being hired to Hendrick Motorsports, and Alex Bowman had only driven for underfunded teams in the NASCAR Cup Series before being spotted by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and eventually becoming his replacement.
Parker Ledger – Contributor, Paint Scheme Archiver
Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 – Kyle Larson is currently the top name to be mentioned for the no.14 car for 2021. His dirt racing background is very similar to team owner Tony Stewart which shows why he is being mentioned to take over the famed no.14 car in 2021. Additionally; when Kyle Larson was suspended in the spring, Chevrolet cut all ties with him so moving to Ford would make the most sense for his next career move and also allow him to return to NASCAR competition in a top ride for 2021. Back when Tony Stewart was retiring Kyle Larson was one of the few people mentioned to take over the ride but ultimately was not selected due to the relationship he had with Chip Ganassi and Chevrolet at the time; with these both not being an issue anymore Kyle Larson is the best option to take over the ride. Also; as recently as the summer NASCAR stretch Tony Stewart has repeatedly commented on having Kyle Larson join the team which is also another indication of Kyle Larson potentially joining the team for 2021.
Go Fas Racing No. 32 – Chase Briscoe is the current up-and-coming prospect to join the team for 2021. This can only happen if Stewart-Haas Racing was to loan him to Go Fas Racing for the 2021 season which would be similar to what Joe Gibbs Racing did with Erik Jones/Furiniture Row Racing and Christopher Bell/Leavine Family Racing. This move would allow Chase Briscoe to gain Cup experience before hopping into either the no. 10 or no. 14 at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2022. Additionally; if Briscoe was to join the team for the 2021 season Stewart-Haas Racing would likely increase the current partnership they have with Go Fas Racing to allow Briscoe to be in a somewhat competitive ride at the top level for 2021. Also; there are increasing rumors that the No. 98 Xfinity team might be shutting down at the end of the season; so this would be a prime opportunity for him to join the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021 and bring his sponsors with him . In addition to the current Go Fas Racing sponsors; the team could have close to a full season of sponsorship before they head to Daytona in February.
Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 – When Bubba Wallace officially announced he would not return the famed Richard Petty Motorsports No.43 car for 2021; the No.42 car was the only officially open ride that came to mind in terms of his next step in the Cup Series. Also after Matt Kenseth announced last week he would ‘most likely not return to racing’ in 2021 the rumors started flowing around about who would take over the reins of the No.42 ride for 2021 and Bubba Wallace was the driver who came up the most. It is also believed that McDonald’s wants to be aligned with Bubba Wallace and with them currently being sponsors of Chip Ganassi Racing this move would make the most logical sense. With Bubba Wallace’s personal sponsors which include DoorDash, CashApp and Columbia Sportswear as well as Chip Ganassi Racing’s sponsor line-up which include McDonald’s, Clover, and Credit One Bank, the team would have a full season worth of sponsorship right out of the gates as it is expected for DoorDash to have a bigger deal with Wallace in 2021.
Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 – With Corey LaJoie announcing he would not be returning the no. 32 in 2021 the next step up would be the No. 42 or No. 43 but with the expectation of Bubba Wallace moving to the Chip Ganassi ride at the end of the season the only logical move for LaJoie is the No. 43. He would most likely bring some sponsorship over to the famed No. 43 car as well as the current sponsorship Richard Petty Motorsports has from World Wide Technology and Victory Junction; the team would most likely have close to half a season or more of sponsorship sold for 2021 before Daytona which is roughly the same amount the team had heading into 2020.
Hendrick Motorsports No.48 – With it officially being announced that Erik Jones will not be returning to the no. 20 Joe Gibbs Toyota for 2021, the only logical ride for Erik Jones to take over is the no. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy in 2021. With no other Top Toyota ride being open for 2021 it is suspected that his partnership with Toyota is out the door and with him not being mentioned for the no. 14 car the only other option is for him to join Team Chevy and get picked up by Rick Hendrick. Also once the move to bring Christopher Bell in to JGR was announced Erik Jones was a little set-back but didn’t make a big deal about it which could mean he already has/had a contract lined up for the no. 48. But there is some belief that the No. 48 car will not run in 2021 and the team will be renumbered so we may not see Erik Jones in the famed no.48 car after all. Additionally; there might be a bit of shuffling happening at Hendrick over the off-season which could bring Alex Bowman to the famed No. 48 team for 2021 and we could possibly see Erik Jones move into the No. 88 for 2021 and beyond. It is possible that this move takes place because Ally might want a driver who has proven themselves in Hendrick Equipment and could push for the move to take place and Hendrick is known for making things happen for their sponsors. This would cause us to see Erik Jones go to the No. 88 team which had significantly less sponsorship then the other three Hendrick teams for 2020 and that is expected to continue into the 2021 season.
Michael Carey – Staff Writer
Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 – With Tony’s comments on SiriusXM radio a few weeks back – the stars could align for Kyle Larson to make his return to NASCAR Cup Series racing. It was no secret that Stewart wanted Larson as his replacement in the No. 14 car a few years back – but due to Kyle’s commitment to Chip Ganassi, the deal was not able to come to fruition. Larson also comes from a similar background to Tony’s when it comes to the dirt tracks. Since his sudden departure from NASCAR, Kyle has been lighting the dirt racing world ablaze with his on track performance, setting track records and winning on a weekly basis. However for this move to happen, NASCAR must reinstate Kyle and Ford must be on board for the move. Chevrolet cut all ties with Larson following his racial slur back in the spring, so it’s highly unlikely he will land in a Chevrolet anytime soon.
Go Fas Racing No. 32 – Corey Lajoie announced last month that he would not return to Go Fas Racing – adding another name to the silly season list. With the Stewart-Haas Racing alliance that was formed last season, this could become the new home for Chase Briscoe if no seat at SHR is available. Similar to the Erik Jones / Furniture Row deal a few years back, SHR would “loan” Briscoe to GFR so he can get some on-track experience and to prepare himself for his proper home at SHR potentially by 2022. Tony Stewart has made it clear that he wants Chase in his long-term plans, and this move would give Chase a full season to learn the tracks at the Cup level.
Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 – After his best season yet, Bubba Wallace will move to CGR in the No. 42 for a multi-year deal. With McDonald’s already sponsoring Bubba in multiple races over the past two seasons, it seems logical that this might be where he lands. AP’s Jenna Fryer reported that the CGR offer was rescinded due to no response, but that doesn’t mean that the offer could reappear for Bubba. With Matt Kenseth also confirming that he will likely not return to CGR next season, the 42 seat needs a new driver. Bubba is also rumored to bring partners DoorDash, CashApp, and Columbia with him wherever he goes thanks to his contracts.
Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 – This might be a name some were not expecting – Ty Dillon. With the news of Germain Racing’s future uncertain,, Ty’s future remains up in the air as well thanks to GEICO opting to not re-sign for 2021. RPM is located on RCR’s campus in Welcome, North Carolina – which would put Dillon right near his brother, and his grandfather. One of the major keys for RPM will be sponsorship for 2021.
Hendrick Motorsports No.48 – This is undoubtably the hardest one. Who can replace a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and arguably the greatest NASCAR driver of this generation? Immediately following the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, some rumors suggested that HMS could go down to three cars due to the financial ramifications of the pandemic, with Alex Bowman moving to the 48 car. While I still think this is a possibility, it seems unlikely. The only other big name left would be Erik Jones. While I don’t think Erik is the *proper* heir to the 48 car, Rick would want a winning driver in the car to please Ally. Unless some big name driver becomes an immediate free agent, Jones just might be the guy to continue the legacy of the 48 car… even if I am a firm believer in that it’s time for the No. 25 to make its triumphant return.