It looks as if NASCAR could be set for a generational change such as that from a few years ago when drivers such as Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards left the sport within the space of just a few seasons. Now, it appears as if Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are at the age where they will be stepping away in the not-to-distant future.
Of course, that process has already begun. Kurt Busch retired last year and Kevin Harvick has announced that this will be his last as a full-time competitor. Both Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are in the final years of their contracts. While Joe Gibbs Racing nor either of those two drivers have let it be known what their plans for 2024 and beyond are, it isn’t likely that many more years of on-track racing is in their futures.
We already know that Tyler Reddick will replace Kurt Busch at 23XI Racing, but beyond that, little is certain.
Harvick’s departure will definitely open up one of racing’s top seats at Stewart Haas Racing. Yet, it remains to be seen what will take place at JGR with Hamlin and Truex. With the tragic death of Coy Gibbs at the end of last season, it could be a while before any long term plans are revealed for that organization.
Aside from those older veterans, Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman is also in the final year of his contract with no news having been released regarding the future of the No. 48 Chevrolet.
One thing that seems, at least to me, to be different from the last time there were multiple open seats due to those previously mentioned retirements is the fact that there are not as many obvious replacements waiting in the wings. A few years ago, up-and-comers such as Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe and Cole Custer were ready to step up to the top level.
As proof of that, Bell and Reddick won multiple races in 2022 while Briscoe tallied one victory. Each made the NASCAR Playoffs with Bell going all the way to the final race with a shot to take the sport’s top prize. Custer, however, will be returning to the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the upcoming season with Ryan Preece taking the wheel of the SHR No. 41 Ford.
A number of ‘Silly Season’ moves last year have taken some potential seat fillers out of the mix. Kyle Busch’s move to Richard Childress Racing created an opening at JGR which was filled by young Ty Gibbs. Tyler Reddick took over for Kurt Busch at 23XI Racing, and as mentioned earlier, Preece will drive for SHR in 2023.
Potential names of drivers who could be in the pipeline do not seem to matchup with the number of seats that might be open over the next few seasons. Many regard John Hunter Nemechek and Zane Smith as rising stars. Beyond that, there aren’t as many names out there who could step right in to a Cup ride that come readily to mind.
Deep in that pipeline, there are some very talented young drivers who are most likely still a few seasons away. Michael ‘Buddy’ Kofoid, among a few other young racers, is hailed by some as a Kyle Larson or Christopher Bell type talent. But that is a tall order to fill.
The fact that there may not be a tremendous amount of talent in the immediate future bodes well for those who are currently serving as NASCAR Cup Series drivers. Knowing that teams may not have a large number of options certainly improves their bargaining positions during negotiations.
What happens with all of the drivers mentioned in this piece will be among the top storylines of the 2023 NASCAR season.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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