Ranking new NASCAR driver-team pairings for 2023 season

Ranking new NASCAR driver-team pairings for 2023 season

Bob Pockras


I’m here to prepare you for the Clash this Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. You need a primer on who has new numbers for 2023 when the green flag drops (5 p.m. ET playoffs; 8 p.m. ET main event, FOX). Or you have to debate with your friends who made the best off-season move.

So without further ado, here is my ranking of the evolutions of 2023. They will be in two parts. The first concerns pilots with new teams. And the second is for drivers who stayed with their team but changed team leaders.

Drivers in new teams:

1. Tyler Reddick – 23XI Racing #45

Reddick won three races last year at Richard Childress Racing and joins a team run by Billy Scott, an unheralded crew chief who has worked with veterans (Kurt Busch) and drivers just learning stock cars. (Danica Patrick). Scott won a race last year with Busch and he was instrumental in the development of the Next Gen car. Reddick is able to thrive joining a confident team and a team whose season was turned upside down when Busch suffered a concussion.

2. Kyle Busch – Richard Childress Racing #8

Busch replaces Reddick at RCR and will no doubt be compared to Reddick, as Reddick heads to a Joe Gibbs Racing-affiliated Toyota team, which gave Busch a ride as contract talks stalled last summer. Busch joins a team that won three races amid turmoil last year and a team that comes into its own with Randall Burnett as team leader. The big question is whether the RCR can be an elite organization and a challenge for wins and a championship. Busch will play a key role in making that happen, and neither Busch nor Childress are known for their patience.

Busch talks about his transition to CPR

Kyle Busch says he spent the offseason getting a lot of little things situated until his transition to Richard Childress.

3. AJ Allmendinger – No. 16 Kaulig Racing

It’s just kind of a ‘new’ pairing since Allmendinger competed in 18 Cup races last year for Kaulig. His three top-fives and eight top-10s show he can perform at Cup level. With his strength on road courses and improvement on ovals, Allmendinger could potentially have a breakout Cup season five years after leaving JTG Daugherty Racing with no clear path to have another Cup run. Everything is in place for this team to have a solid season, given that Allmendinger is already used to working with the team led by team manager Matt Swiderski.

4. Ty Gibbs – No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing

Rookie Gibbs, the grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, replaces Kyle Busch in the #18 car. He is certainly Cup ready, or as ready as any driver could be – at least from a talent standpoint. His questionable decisions at times last year will have people wondering if he can handle the rigors of the Cup schedule. It would be unfair to expect Kyle Busch to be numbered for the first season. In fact, it would, in the sense that Kyle Busch was 20th in points as a rookie. Gibbs had a top 10 in 15 starts as a replacement for injured Kurt Busch last year at 23XI. The good thing for Gibbs – he has team manager Chris Gayle, who has Cup experience, moving with him from the Xfinity Series to the Cup.

Gibbs on transitioning to full-time Cup role

Ty Gibbs describes what he thinks will be the biggest challenge in transitioning to full-time Cup racing.

5. Ryan Preece – #41 Stewart-Haas Racing

Preece replaces Cole Custer in the SHR Cup lineup and has a crew chief – Chad Johnston – whom he and the team know well as Johnston was crew chief for Preece’s two truck wins in the past two years and was a former team leader for Tony Stewart at SHR. The pressure is on for Preece to perform. But this band might need some time to get going, and SHR has struggled. If the modifications to the Ford’s nose help the team’s competitiveness, that could be the key to finding out if I got this one wrong and Preece should have been ranked higher.

Preece dishes on the coming season

Ryan Preece discusses his relationship with crew chief Chad Johnston, future expectations and his proven track record at Stewart-Haas.

6. Noah Gragson – Legacy Motor Club No. 42

Gragson leaves the JR Motorsports Xfinity program to replace Ty Dillon at what was Petty GMS. He brings his Xfinity team manager, Luke Lambert, who has several years of experience as a Cup team manager. But that team struggled last year and is now in another transition with Jimmie Johnson as co-owner. Johnson’s presence and leadership could help improve the team, but not necessarily right away. Gragson had a top 10 finish in 18 Cup starts last year when he drove some races for Hendrick Motorsports (replacing injured Alex Bowman), Kaulig and Beard.

Noah Gragson talks about working with Jimmie Johnson

Gragson has a great mentor in Johnson as he enters his rookie Cup season.

7. Ty Dillon – No. 77 Spire Motorsports

Dillon only managed one top 10 finish at Petty GMS last year when he, the team and a rookie crew chief just didn’t click. Nine races in which he did not finish certainly did not help matters. The hope is that his 202 Cup starts will help Speyer. There’s a chance of that happening, but until Dillon can average a top-20 finish, there will be questions.

N/A. Jimmie Johnson – Legacy Motor Club No. 84

OK, it’s probably only a five-race deal, but we can’t leave out the seven-time champion returning to the Cup Series with a small stake but a big leadership role in what was Petty GMS and now Legacy Motor Club. It has Joey Logano’s former champion crew chief, Todd Gordon, in charge. So how good will it be? I would limit expectations. It is still a young organization. A few top 10s would be a good start.

Same driver, new team leader:

1. Alex Bowman—Blake Harris

Bowman is the most successful driver on this list and drives for the top team (Hendrick) on this list. Harris, who replaces Greg Ives, comes after a successful one-year stint as team leader for Michael McDowell and several years working at JGR and Furniture Row. The key to this relationship will be trust and confidence that they are doing the right thing and each other as well.

2. Austin Dillon—Keith Rodden

Appointing Rodden as team leader for Dillon replacing Justin Alexander was a bit of a surprise but could be a brilliant move. Rodden has experience as a crew chief working for multiple organizations (he was a crew chief for Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray) and recently worked for Chevrolet. He knows how to handle the drivers and he knows how to work under pressure, which is certainly the case when you are the team manager of the grandson of the team owner.

3. Michael McDowell—Travis Peterson

McDowell obviously didn’t want to lose Harris, and they will now go with engineer Peterson, who was most recently at RFK Racing and previously at JR Motorsports and Hendrick. Their success will depend on Peterson’s ability to implement changes to improve the car based on McDowell’s feedback and whether he can take the calculated risks in race strategy often required for an organization that lacks the funding. bigger teams.

McDowell on his new team leader

Michael McDowell, who will have a new crew chief for the second year in a row, explains what he is looking for from Travis Peterson.

4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.—Mike Kelley

Kelley was already working at JTG Daugherty Racing in a competition advisor type role, and now he will take over as crew chief for Stenhouse. The duo had magic in the Xfinity Series ten years ago with Stenhouse winning back-to-back titles. They couldn’t repeat that in the Cup at Roush. What might improve the situation is that Stenhouse is JTG’s only driver, so they can tailor the car specifically to his wants and needs.

5. Todd Gilliland—Ryan Bergenty

Bergenty has been car chief for McDowell for the past three years and is now taking over as crew chief from Gilliland, replacing Seth Barbour, who has moved on to the team’s technical director role. Gilliland spoke about how he needs to be better at the start of the race weekend and find the necessary speed within 20 minutes of practice – and Bergenty will play a key role. But these things usually don’t turn around quickly.

6. Cody Ware—Jerry Kelley

Ware has Kelley, a longtime car chief at Penske, as crew chief starting this year. Ware showed improvement last year and if Kelley brings ideas from Penske that can be applied to Rick Ware Racing cars, it’s possible Ware will continue to post better numbers.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsport, including the last 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.

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