NASCAR Driver Outlook 2021: Changes are Coming
It’s nearly playoff time for NASCAR and 16 of the best drivers will compete for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Championship. With the Coke Zero Sugar 400, this weekend set to decide the final three spots in the field of 16. That isn’t the only thing on the minds of some of NASCAR’s biggest names. 2021 is not only bringing some schedule changes, but also some new faces to some of the more memorable cars and teams.
Big Changes at Hendrick Motorsports
Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson announced that the 2020 season would be his last full-time season behind the wheel of the famous 48. Many questions have been raised about who could succeed him in that car. For a while, Brad Keselowski looked like the front runner, but he was able to resign with Team Penske. So who does HMS look to next? Erik Jones will not be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021, and the #48 could be the perfect landing spot for the two-time race winner. This could be the fit that Jones needs, much like Joey Logano’s move to Penske in 2013.
Team Penske Keeps it Rolling
With Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney signed for the long term, the future of the #2 Ford was up in the air for much of the 2020 season. Brad Keselowski was able to finally grab an extension after his victory at New Hampshire last month. However it’s only a one-year extension, so will he be the driver for the long term, or could Xfinity Series hotshot Austin Cindric, eventually move to that ride. Cindric could be bound for a season or so at the Wood Brothers?
Joe Gibbs Racing drops another talent
The Erik Jones era at JGR is coming to end, and after four great cup series seasons and two race wins, he is off to the unknown thus far. His replacement at JGR is none other than Christopher Bell, who like Jones was able to win a truck series championship and a number of Xfinity series race en route to the cup series. Will Bell be able to better the #20 car at JGR, or could he be run out of the car much like his predecessors Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones, by a younger driver in a few years.
Stewart-Haas has options
Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola at Stewart-Haas Racing both find themselves as probably free agents, but that doesn’t mean either couldn’t return to SHR in 2021. Almirola looks to be the safer of the two with his sponsorship from Smithfield. Kyle Larson hasn’t raced in a NASCAR event since May but has been getting a lot of hype to possibly sign with Stewart-Haas. The other wild-card is that of rising star Chase Briscoe. He could join the #32 GoFas Racing car that Corey LaJoie will vacant at the season’s end. As that team has an alliance with SHR.
Other Valuable Free Agents
Ross Chastain will be out for a possible cup ride, as are other rookie drivers Justin Haley and even Noah Gragson who could graduate from the Xfinity Series. Bubba Wallace has reported offers to return to RPM or possibly take over the #42 at Chip Ganassi Racing. The 2021 offseason will see plenty of changes, but it is a new era in NASCAR, and in the new era vast changes come.