It’s every NASCAR fan’s favorite time of year. The rumor mills begin to churn, the speculation runs rampant, and the excitement and anxiety struggles to be contained.
Silly Season, NASCAR’s version of free agency, is almost completely different than other professional sports.
Before we get you caught up to speed on what drivers are available free agents, let’s go over a quick rundown of what has happened so far:
— Team Penske and Brad Keselowski agreed to a contract extension that will keep him in the No. 2 Ford Mustang. (Aug. 3)
— Christopher Bell will return to Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the No. 20 Toyota in 2021, removing Erik Jones from the ride and this making him a free agent. (Aug. 10)
— Corey LaJoie confifmed that he will not return to the Go Fas Racing No. 32 team in the NASCAR Cup Series next season. (Aug. 21)
— Germain Racing says owner Bob Germain is contemplating a sale of the team as the team considers possible plans for 2021. (Sep. 1)
— William Byron will pilot the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. (Sep. 1)
— After Running his final full-time NASCAR season in 2020, Jimmie Johnson will transition from NASCAR to IndyCar with Chip Ganassi Racing in a partnership that could pair two of the most dominant drivers of this generation on one team. (Sep. 9)
— Noah Gragson will return to JR Motorsports and the No. 9 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the 2021 season. (Aug. 27)
— Tyler Reddick casually announced he will be staying with Richard Childress Racing in 2021 on a Zoom call. (Aug. 27)
— Aric Almirola confirmed he had a deal to return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2021. (Sep. 1)
Silly Season is a time for drivers to explore new opportunities at other race teams that potentially compete with their current teams.
Let’s take a look at some of the key players in this edition of silly season:
LaJoie and Go Fas Racing will be parting ways at season’s end, and LaJoie has had “discussions with several other opportunities to continue improving competitively in the Cup Series.” One of those opportunities includes Hendrick Motorsports, where he has made his interest in the No. 48 Chevrolet known to team owner Rick Hendrick.
Jones will be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing after Phoenix, and multiple options are on his table. The two that make the most sense can be argued as the No. 42 car at Chip Ganassi Racing, and the No. 48 car at Hendrick Motorsports. Jones has had good stretches, as well as quite a few bad ones during his time at JGR, and he has plenty of decisions to mull at season’s end.
Larson has been under suspension since after the season was initially paused, but the chatter of him returning soon has been rampant as he continues to tear up the dirt racing landscape. Rumors have indicated that Tony Stewart has high interest for Larson, to which Smoke himself has said on the record. Other than SHE, there are other sensible landing spots for Larson as the former CGR driver looks to work his way back into stock car racing.
DiBenedetto is not officially leaving Wood Brother’s Racing, at least not yet. A recent report from Forbes says contract negotiations have been scarce between DiBenedetto and the team have, but the two sides have been quite impressive together, finally making the NASCAR Playoffs in 2020.
Cindric has been dominant in the Xfinity Series with Team Penske this season, and will surely garner interest from multiple teams. Cindric’s options can range in both the Xfinity and Cup Series, but he has stated he would like to stay with Penske. However, Cindric has been quoted saying he is in the process of “understanding what’s out there.”
Briscoe, like Cindric, has had tremendous Xfinity Series success in 2020. The Stewart-Haas Racing pipeline driver is guaranteed to gain potential interest from teams. Whether his seat time will come in the Cup or Xfinity Series in 2021 is yet to be decided.
Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports have seen a positive progression together this season, as Wallace’s sponsorship deals have been coming in quite frequently. Chip Ganassi Racing and RPM are the two options that would make the most sense for Wallace, but one could speculate that talks between Wallace and RPM have been heavy.
Bowyer and Stewart-Haas Racing have had up-and-down moments as a pairing, but he has been on the record saying he’d like to return there in 2021 and eventually retire there.
Chastain has been finding success — and becoming a fan favorite of sorts — in the Truck and Xfinity Series. He found Cup Series seat time as a fill-in for Ryan Newman after his injury in the Daytona 500. Chastain’s situation is made even more interesting due to the ties he has with Chip Ganassi Racing, and those ties seem to make him a major player in landing the set of the No. 42 Chevrolet.
Hemric went to JR Motorsports in 2020 after an eventful Rookie of the Year-winning season with Richard Childress Racing in the Cup Series. It’s safe to say that 2020 has not at all played into his favor, and his outlook for 2021 seems bleak at the moment. He’s yet to win a race in a NASCAR national series, and is still trying to string together success with JRM. It’s yet to be seen who will show interest in the driver of the No. 8, and any indications of where Hemric may end up as well.
“Bowman the Showman” has impressed many during his time with Hendrick Motorsports, and his contract with the team does not expire after 2020. However, Bowman and HMS have struggled to keep sponsorship steady at the No. 88 team camp, leading to unsubstantial speculation of the No. 88 team either shutting down, or Bowman possibly being let go from the team. In more realistic terms, Bowman may end up being a candidate for the soon-to-be vacant No. 48 car at HMS, but that is one of many options that could play out for him and Hendrick.
Preece’s silly season stock may be a bit less prominent than others on this list. He has been competing with JTG Daugherty Racing in the Cup Series since the start of 2019, and have recorded one top-5 and three top-10’s up to this point. Chatter regarding Preece picked up after rumors tied him to Stewart-Haas Racing’s Xfinity Series program next year, as seen here. But other than that, Preece’s name has not come up in all too many discussions regarding open seats for next season.