NASCAR Silly Season: Onward to 2021

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With less than 50 days to go before the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s Silly Season continues on.

Over the last month, however, Silly Season news has been largely kept to the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series.

In the Xfinity Series, Jeffrey Earnhardt was among a handful of drivers to claim full-time rides for 2021.

Meanwhile in the Truck Series, Derek Kraus announced his return to McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, and Chandler Smith was moved up to full-time status for one of the series’ traditional powers, Kyle Busch Motorsports.

As for the top-tier Cup Series, several entries remain open as the calendar prepares to turn to 2021.

Here’s how the NASCAR Silly Season scorecard looks:

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract with Chip Ganassi Racing.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 3: Austin Dillon is signed with Richard Childress Racing through at least 2021.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 5: Kyle Larson signed a multi-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports on Oct. 28.

No. 6: Ryan Newman‘s contract with Roush Fenway Racing goes through 2021.

No. 7: Corey LaJoie signed a multi-year contract with Spire Motorsports to drive this car in 2021.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick will be back with Richard Childress Racing for 2021.

No. 9Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extended his deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this year.

No. 14: Chase Briscoe moves up to Cup to take over the ride Clint Bowyer will vacate.

No. 17: Chris Buescher is signed with Roush Fenway Racing through at least the 2021 season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least 2021.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least 2021.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 21: Wood Brothers Racing announced Oct. 9 that Matt DiBenedetto would race for the team in 2021 before Austin Cindric takes over the car in 2022. Roger Penske said Oct. 20 on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he has an option on DiBenedetto’s contract for 2022.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske through 2023.

No. 23: Bubba Wallace will drive for the new 23XI team co-owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin in 2021.

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 37: Ryan Preece will return to JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 41: Cole Custer, the 2020 Cup Rookie of the Year, will be back in this ride.

No. 42: Ross Chastain was chosen by Chip Ganassi Racing to replace Matt Kenseth.

No. 43: Erik Jones moves over to Richard Petty Motorsports, signing a multi-year deal.

No. 47Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 48: Alex Bowman will drive the No. 48 with Jimmie Johnson moving to IndyCar. Bowman moves over from the No. 88, Hendrick Motorsports announced Oct. 6.

No. 78: B.J. McLeod will drive for Live Fast Motorsports, the team he co-owns with Matt Tifft. The team announced Nov. 20 that it will have a “strategic partnership” with Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 99Daniel Suarez will compete for the new Trackhouse Racing team.

NASCAR Silly Season available Cup rides for 2021

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021. Team will not have a charter in 2021 and will run a limited schedule.

No. 38: John Hunter Nemechek and Front Row Motorsports announced Nov. 16 that Nemechek will not return to the team for the 2021 season.

No. 77Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021. Christopher Bell will move to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team for 2021. Spire has not named who will take over this ride for next season. Corey LaJoie takes over the No. 7 for Spire.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

Rick Ware Racing: Organization has not announced drivers for its multiple rides for 2021.

NASCAR Silly Season Xfinity driver announcements for 2021

No. 0: Jeffrey Earnhardt returns to JD Motorsports and moves to full-time status.

No. 02: Brett Moffitt returns to Our Motorsports.

No. 1: Michael Annett returns to JR Motorsports for a fifth season.

No. 2: Myatt Snider will run the full season for Richard Childress Racing.

No. 5: Matt Mills returns to BJ McLeod Motorsports.

No. 7: Justin Allgaier will return to JR Motorsports for a sixth season.

No. 8: Josh Berry will run about 12 races in this car before Sam Mayer takes over the ride the rest of the season.

No. 9: Noah Gragson will return to JR Motorsports.

No. 10: Jeb Burton joins Kaulig Racing for a full-time season.

No. 11: Justin Haley returns for a third season to Kaulig Racing.

No. 15: Colby Howard returns to JD Motorsports and moves to full-time status.

No. 16: AJ Allmendinger returns to Kaulig Racing and will run the full schedule.

No. 18: Daniel Hemric joins Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2021 season.

No. 19: Brandon Jones will be back with Joe Gibbs Racing.

No. 20: Harrison Burton will return for his second season at Joe Gibbs Racing.

No. 22: Austin Cindric will be back with Team Penske and run select Cup races in 2021 before moving to Cup with the Wood Brothers in 2022. Cindric won the 2020 Xfinity championship.

No. 39: Ryan Sieg will be back with RSS Racing.

No. 47: Kyle Weatherman returns to Mike Harmon Racing.

No. 51: Jeremy Clements is back in this ride.

No. 68: Brandon Brown returns to Brandonbilt Motorsports.

No. 74: Bayley Currey will drive for Mike Harmon Racing.

No. 78: Jesse Little joins BJ McLeod Motorsports.

No. 92: Josh Williams will be back with DGM Racing.

No. 98: Riley Herbst joins Stewart-Haas Racing and takes over this ride.

Our Motorsports: Organization has confirmed a second, full-time Xfinity entry in 2021. Tyler Reddick will drive the entry in February’s season opener at Daytona.

NASCAR Silly Season Truck driver announcements for 2021

DGR-Crosley: Hailie Deegan moves up to this series after a year in the ARCA Series.

GMS Racing: Truck champion Sheldon CreedTyler AnkrumZane Smith and Chase Purdy will be with the organization in 2021. Raphael Lessard will join the team and is scheduled to run 12 races.

Hattori Motorsports: Austin Hill is back with the team for another season.

Kyle Busch Motorsports: John Hunter Nemechek moves from Cup to this Truck team for 2021. Chandler Smith returns to the team and moves to full-time status.

McAnally-Hilgemann Racing: Derek Kraus returns to the team for a second season.

Niece Motorsports: Ryan Truex will run a full schedule for the team. He joins Carson Hocevar, who also will run a full schedule for the team. The team announced Dec. 2 that Brett Moffitt will run the full schedule for the team.

Young’s Motorsports: Spencer Boyd will return to drive the No. 20 truck.

Texas Xfinity results: Noah Gragson wins playoff opener

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Noah Gragson is rolling through the NASCAR Xfinity Series like a bowling ball headed toward a strike.

Gragson won for the fourth consecutive race Saturday, taking the lead with 11 laps left and winning the 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory put Gragson in the second round of the playoffs.

Finishing behind him in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

Texas Xfinity results

The race was pockmarked by wrecks, scrambling the 12-driver playoff field.

POINTS REPORT

Noah Gragson remains the points leader after his win. He has 2,107 points. AJ Allmendinger is next, 26 points behind.

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg hold the final two transfer spots. They are one point ahead of Riley Herbst, eight points ahead of Daniel Hemric, 13 points ahead of Brandon Jones and 29 points ahead of Jeremy Clements.

Texas Xfinity driver points

The Xfinity playoffs will continue Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, USA Network).

Noah Gragson wins Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway

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Noah Gragson opened the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs the same way he has run much of the season.

Gragson sidestepped a web of issues plaguing playoff drivers and won Saturday’s 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway, tying a decades-old Xfinity record by winning for the fourth consecutive race. Sam Ard, formerly a series mainstay, won four in a row in 1983.

Gragson, continuing to establish himself as the championship favorite, took the lead with 11 laps to go from Jeb Burton as most of the day’s leaders were running different tire and fuel strategies over the closing laps.

Gragson, 24 and set to jump to the Cup Series next season, led 85 laps. He won by 1.23 seconds.

“This number 9 team, man, they’re on fire,” Gragson told NBC Sports. “Luke Lambert (crew chief) and the boys executed a great race.”

MORE: Texas Xfinity results

The win was Gragson’s seventh of the year. Following in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

The victory pushed Gragson into the second round of the playoffs.

A big crash at the front of the field on lap 117 changed the face of the race. John Hunter Nemechek lost control of his car on the outside and was clipped by Justin Allgaier, starting a wreck that scrambled most of the field. Damages forced playoff drivers Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Allgaier from the race.

“The 7 (Allgaier) chose the top behind me, and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but the 7 chose the top behind me and started pushing,” Nemechek said. “The 21 (Hill) made it three-wide on the 9 (Gragson), and I was three-wide at the top, and I think we ended up four-wide at one point, which doesn’t really work aero-wide in the pack.”

Pole winner Jones, a playoff driver taken out in the crash, said Nemechek “was pushing a little too hard. Nothing to fault him there for, but probably a little early to be going that far. It is what it is.”

Six laps earlier, another multi-car crash scattered the field and damaged the car of playoff contender and regular season champion Allmendinger.

The wreck started when Brandon Brown slipped in front of Allmendinger and went into a slide, forcing Allmendinger to the inside apron. Several cars scattered behind them trying to avoid the accident.

Allmendinger’s crew repaired his car and he later had the race lead.

Playoff driver Jeremy Clements had a tough day. He parked with what he called mysterious mechanical issues about halfway through the race.

Below the cutline after the first race are Herbst, Hemric, Jones and Clements.

Stage 1 winner: Daniel Hemric

Stage 2 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Who had a good race: Noah Gragson is threatening to turn the final weeks of the Xfinity season into a cakewalk. He clearly had the day’s dominant car Saturday in winning for the fourth race in a row. … AJ Allmendinger’s car was damaged in a wreck in heavy traffic, but his crew taped parts of the car and gave him an opening to finish fourth.

Who had a bad race: Jeremy Clements, in the playoff field, finished 36th after parking with mechanical trouble near the race’s halfway point. … Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed only 17 laps into the race and finished last.

Next: The second race in the first round of the Xfinity playoffs is scheduled Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. ET (USA Network) at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.