KANSAS CITY, Kan. — With just eight weeks left in the 2023 season, most Cup Series teams are set for 2024, although some pieces still need to fall into place.
Last week’s news was expected — Denny Hamlin signed a contract extension to continue driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, 23XI Racing signed an extension to remain a Toyota team and Legacy Motor Club announced that John Hunter Nemechek will drive its No. 42 Cup car next season.
Hamlin turns 43 years old later this year and indicated that even after two more years of driving, this might not be his last contract as a driver for JGR.
“I’ve been very, very fortunate in the financial planning that my team has put together [that] we never planned past 40 as far as income was concerned, so this is all me telling myself, ‘How many more opportunities will I have?'” Hamlin said.
“I want to compete at a high level in my final year. I don’t want to kind of trickle off. I’m way too competitive to do it … I understand there will be a day when things fall off. Things get slower for you. You will never know when that day will come, “
SHR and Aric Almirola have yet to announce if he will return next season. Almirola said a week ago that he expected to have something to say soon about his future, although he already is one year past his originally planned retirement — he had said prior 2022 that he would retire after that season only to be lured back by sponsor Smithfield.
Smithfield also has not announced an extension of its SHR deal.
SHR could elevate Cole Custer from Xfinity to Cup, returning him to the series he drove from 2020-2022. Like any ride, it could come down to sponsorship.
Kaulig Racing has not announced its Cup lineup for next year as Justin Haley already has signed with Rick Ware Racing. Whether AJ Allmendinger returns on the Cup side or races Xfinity next year for Kaulig could be determined this week. Allmendinger said last week he would race full time and let the team determine which series.
Daniel Hemric — who drove in Cup in 2019, won the Xfinity title for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021 and has driven for Kaulig the last two Xfinity seasons — is in the mix for that Cup ride and appears to be one of the top candidates.
“I feel like I’m twice the racecar driver than I was in 2019 when I got the opportunity to run Cup the first time,” Hemric said. “We’ve been playing rebuild and catchup ever since. … You try to leave your future open to anything.
“That’s what I’m open to. I obviously am not going to put my hand down.”
If Allmendinger does go Xfinity full time, Kaulig could be a landing spot for Ty Dillon.
Dillon currently drives the Spire Motorsports No. 77 car. Carson Hocevar, who is having a solid year in trucks, is the top candidate to fill that seat.
Rick Ware Racing has not named a driver for its No. 51 car and is still determining whether that will be one driver or multiple drivers.
Live Fast Racing, which has used multiple drivers in its No. 78 car this year, also has not announced 2024 plans.
The name that hasn’t appeared in this piece yet that many are waiting to see who signs him is Zane Smith, the defending Craftsman Truck Series champion.
“I feel like my time in the truck series is hopefully coming to an end soon and I can go to racing on Sundays soon,” Smith said prior to the truck playoffs.
Smith has talked to several Cup teams, including Trackhouse Racing, according to sources. But Trackhouse doesn’t have a spot for him in 2024, so any deal with Trackhouse would likely be a situation where he is leased out to another team for next season, possibly Cup or Xfinity.
As the Cup garage gets settled, the Xfinity and truck garages are in the heat of their silly season as drivers with funding — including JGR’s Sammy Smith and SHR’s Riley Herbst — have yet to announce their 2024 plans.
Hailie Deegan has spent the last three years racing in trucks, so Ford has a decision to make on whether to move her to the Xfinity Series. Although she has struggled in the trucks — she’s 19th in the standings this year — if she is going to make the move, she would need to do it sooner than later.
Enfinger is a top driver in the series and two of the current playoff teams — Niece Motorsports (currently with Hocevar) and Front Row Motorsports (currently with Smith) — have openings for next year.
Spire Motorsports also plans to run a truck full time next season and if Caruth remains in the Chevrolet development program, that could be a possible landing spot.
Thinking Out Loud
NASCAR allowed William Byron to keep his starting position despite having to replace a broken suspension piece during practice Saturday.
At first, Byron was told he would have to start at the rear. But as NASCAR examined the part that broke, it appeared to be a manufacturing issue in the part that teams purchase from the one vendor that provides that piece. NASCAR then opened the garage an hour early Sunday so teams could see if they had any issues with the piece.
Last year, in a similar situation, NASCAR required a team to go to the rear. But that was before more teams have had problems with the part and NASCAR is working with the manufacturer to diagnose the issue.
So was NASCAR right in allowing Byron to keep the position? Yes and No. It was a fair thing to do for Byron. But it puts NASCAR in a position to make judgment calls every time someone has a broken part or piece, putting NASCAR in a position to be questioned on whether it is making those judgment calls consistently.
In The News
–The Xfinity Series playoff field is set. Competing for the championship will be John Hunter Nemechek, Austin Hill, Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer, Sam Mayer, Chandler Smith, Josh Berry, Sheldon Creed, Sammy Smith, Jeb Burton, Daniel Hemric and Parker Kligerman.
–The truck playoff field was cut from 10 to eight drivers after Kansas. Matt Crafton and Matt DiBenedetto were eliminated. Advancing to the Round of 8: Corey Heim, Christian Eckes, Grant Enfinger, Carson Hocevar, Zane Smith, Ty Majeski, Ben Rhodes and Nick Sanchez.
Stat of the Day
Toyota earned its 200th Xfinity win. The drivers: Kyle Busch-91, Joey Logano-18, Christopher Bell-17, Denny Hamlin-13, Ty Gibbs-12, Erik Jones-9, John Hunter Nemechek-7, Brandon Jones-5, Tony Stewart-5, Harrison Burton-4, Matt Kenseth-3, Daniel Suarez-3, Marcos Ambrose-2, Sam Hornish Jr.-2, Ryan Preece-2, Kurt Busch-1, Jason Leffler-1, David Reutimann-1, Elliott Sadler-1, Daniel Hemric-1, Sammy Smith-1, Ryan Truex-1.
They Said It
“Everything happened so fast, and I just kind of went for it, and it worked.” —Tyler Reddick on his late pass for the win at Kansas
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.
Get more from NASCAR Cup Series Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more