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Loganity: Who Takes Over the 42?

Updated: Aug 23, 2023


By Logan Morris


The changes continue to unfold at Legacy Motor Club. Following a tumultuous couple of weeks, Legacy MC and Noah Gragson have parted ways. Legacy MC suspended Noah for liking an insensitive meme related to the death of George Floyd. This suspension was swiftly followed by an indefinite suspension from NASCAR. Just last week, Legacy MC and Gragson released a joint statement, saying that he had requested to be released from his contract, and would not be driving the No. 42 any longer this season.


Gragson's departure, after completing only 21 races in his rookie season, marks the conclusion of one of the more challenging rookie seasons in recent memory. Furthermore, this means 2024 will mark the third different driver for the No. 42 team in as many seasons.


Naturally, the immediate question arises: Who might be the next driver? There are three potential options who each make a good case to be tapped for the ride. JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK Let's begin with the most obvious candidate, John Hunter Nemechek. Thanks to a report from Jordan Bianchi of The Athletic, we're aware that John Hunter is already being considered for the 42 car next season. While many fans believe it's almost a done deal, we must remember that nothing is confirmed until it’s official. However, he's the strong favorite, and rightly so.


With Legacy MC transitioning to Toyota next season and Toyota showing significant interest in John Hunter, he appears to be a natural fit. Martin Truex Jr. recently announced his return for at least one more season, indicating that all the seats at Joe Gibbs Racing are likely filled for the upcoming season.


While Denny Hamlin hasn't signed a new contract for 2024 yet, both parties anticipate his return. Given this scenario, John Hunter emerges as the most promising candidate on paper to occupy the seat at Legacy MC.


He already has a season of Cup experience to draw from, as he drove for Front Row Motorsports in 2020. By all accounts, he impressed during his rookie season, finishing 27th in the final standings. Before dismissing this achievement, it's worth recalling that Front Row Motorsports wasn't in its current competitive position three years ago.

Beyond his year of Cup experience, his overall resume is impressive, particularly when compared to any other viable contender for the seat.


This season, a strong argument can be made that he's the frontrunner for the Xfinity Series Championship. With five wins, 11 top fives, and 16 top tens, Nemechek is akin to the man he could be replacing next season at Legacy MC with those impressive numbers. Once again, it's evident that he's the leading candidate for the ride next season. However, what potential obstacles could arise? Remember, Nemechek has the unique distinction of willingly stepping back to NASCAR's lower series to await a better opportunity in the Cup Series, all while honing his skills and vying for championships in the interim. Does he view Legacy MC as a suitable fit to return to the Cup Series? Only time will tell.


Another factor to consider is whether both Legacy MC and John Hunter envision a long-term partnership. The reality is that Nemechek is poised to play a significant role at Joe Gibbs Racing in the years ahead. While Martin Truex Jr. will be back in 2024, what about 2025? If he decides to step away, John Hunter's return to Joe Gibbs Racing seems almost inevitable. Does Legacy MC want to hire someone who might end up as another short-term driver in the No. 42 car? Presumably, they'd prefer to establish a foundation for the future. Nemechek appears unlikely to be the guy to build long-term with.


Should, for some unforeseen reason, Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing fail to reach an agreement, Legacy MC may never have the opportunity to explore the possibility. SAMMY SMITH The second option is another Joe Gibbs Racing prospect, Sammy Smith. A product of Toyota, Smith is just 19 years old and possesses a raw talent that requires development. However, this very aspect might make him an ideal match for Legacy MC. It's evident that the team is focused on the long-term strategy and aims to stay competitive for years ahead and he could play a part in that.


Smith's resume implies that granting him a spot in the Cup Series might be premature. Though considering Legacy MC's organizational approach of building, nurturing, and developing young drivers, this could prove advantageous in the long run. Sammy Smith stands as a promising driver with a bright future. His accomplishment as the fourth youngest winner ever in the Xfinity Series attests to his potential - he earned his first career win at Phoenix this season. In addition, he has secured four top 5 finishes and 10 top 10 finishes this year.


While acknowledging that he would be a project requiring more time to mature within the team, Sammy Smith, given his youth, might not perceive Legacy MC as merely a stepping stone to bigger opportunities. Although not the most flashy pick, Sammy Smith could potentially provide the much-needed enduring stability for the 42 car of which Legacy MC is in dire need.


Last among the potential candidates for Legacy MC's No. 42 spot next season is Zane Smith. It's important to note that Zane Smith transitioning to Legacy MC would be a challenging move requiring substantial effort from Toyota. To be frank, it is a long shot. Smith is a Ford driver and a shift to Toyota and Legacy MC would come with complications.


Nevertheless, Smith has been given the green light to explore options for the upcoming season. Smith’s current team Front Row Motorsports picked up options for both Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland in the Cup Series for next season. The team attempted to secure a third ride for Smith but was unable to, ultimately leaving him without a spot.


ZANE SMITH

If John Hunter Nemechek is considered the most prominent can't-miss prospect in NASCAR at the moment, Zane Smith is arguably not far behind. His continued presence in the Truck Series is puzzling, given his incredible level of success in the Series. He’s the defending Craftsman Truck Series Champion. He has notched three consecutive appearances in the Championship 4 and is currently well on his way to contending for a fourth. He has won twice this season, while accumulating an impressive nine Top 5 finishes and nine Top Ten finishes.


Zane Smith seems poised to take up the mantle as the likely replacement for Aric Almirola at Stewart-Haas Racing, should Almirola opt not to return next season. However, if Almirola does choose to return for another season, Smith's destination becomes uncertain. The notion of him enduring yet another season in the Truck Series feels almost unjust. Considering the current state of Toyota's driver development pipeline, acquiring Smith from Ford would unquestionably bolster their prospects. From the standpoint of Legacy MC, Zane Smith, similar to Sammy Smith, could potentially serve as the cornerstone around which the No. 42 team could be built for the long term.


As it stands, the prominent Ford teams, namely Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing, have seemingly cemented their driver lineups for the foreseeable future. Joining Legacy MC might just offer the consistent stability that both the team and Smith need.



While John Hunter Nemechek undeniably stands as the leading contender to uphold the legacy of the iconic No. 42 in the upcoming season, Legacy Motor Club finds itself under intense pressure to make the right decision, irrespective of their choice. This pressure stems from the inevitable question of when might the revolving door at the No. 42 team stop.


Adding to this weight is another consideration: Legacy MC Co-Owner Jimmie Johnson is poised to wield significant influence over Legacy MC's driver lineup for the first time. With this newfound responsibility, the stakes for his choice are big, to say the least. Success hinges upon his decision making. One could argue that a 'Legacy' rests squarely upon his shoulders.


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