It's fair to say that 2020 will go down in history as one of the strangest years the world has ever seen. NASCAR has been no exception to this. So far this season, we've seen midweek races, no practice or qualifying, virtual racing events, a Bristol All Star Race and even the Daytona Road Course. None of us could've imagined NASCAR would be where it is now when we dropped the green flag for the Daytona 500, yet here we are. One of the most interesting aspects of NASCAR is what fans refer to as "Silly Season." For those who are unaware of the term, silly season is the offseason trading of drivers in NASCAR. Each year, silly season becomes a bigger and more entertaining part of the NASCAR season as a whole. This year, however, what if the glass is too full? What if certain drivers don't have a home for the 2021 season? I'd like to look at the free agents left on the market and the potential for them to get a ride for the 2021 season.
Before we discuss what moves may or may not happen, let's look at the moves we already know will happen. As announced at the beginning of the season, seven time champion, Jimmie Johnson, will officially retire from the sport at the end of the 2020 season. This opens up his famed #48 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports. Christopher Bell will move to the #20 for Joe Gibbs Racing after it was announced that Levine Family Racing would be shutting down at the end of the season. Two major puzzle pieces fell into place Monday as Ross Chastain was announced to be the driver of the #42 for Chip Ganassi Racing, and Bubba Wallace will be joining a new single car team started by current NASCAR driver, Denny Hamlin, and NBA Hall of Famer and 6 time NBA Champion, Michael Jordan. Germain Racing has also announced that it would be shutting down at the end of the season. Spire motorsports announced it's creation of a second Cup series team. A lot of cards are still up in the air, but not many have fallen down. The NASCAR free agency looks pretty stout at the moment. So let's look at the key factors still to be seen in the NASCAR silly season.
Kyle Larson - This one is a very unique case to me because of all the drivers currently in the free agency, he's by far the most proven in a Cup car. However, Kyle lost his ride earlier this year after using a racial slur in an iRacing event. The results of this saw Kyle fired and suspended indefinitely from NASCAR. While Kyle still has not been reinstated with NASCAR, many believe Kyle is ready for a second chance. He has undergone a required sensitivity training and has worked with multiple African American charitable organizations in an effort to reconcile his inappropriate words. Among those advocating for his return is team owner and 3 time Cup champion, Tony Stewart. There is no debating Kyle's driving talents, but will sponsors be able to look past the controversial statements to help get him an opportunity. He's been rumored to be in talks with Stewart-Haas Racing as well as Hendrick Motorsports but nothing is certain at the moment.
Erik Jones - Erik Jones is a young driver who sadly got the short end of the stick with Leavine Family Racing shutting down. When LFR made the announcement, Joe Gibbs Racing was left with a tough decision: Keep Erik Jones and lose out on the deal Toyota had with Christopher Bell, or let Erik Jones go. Sadly, the latter was the choice for JGR and for the first time in his young career, Jones finds himself going it alone. He's been in the Toyota pipeline for the entirety of his National Series career. Jones has found advice from a former JGR driver now NASCAR champion, Joey Logano. Rumor had Jones name with the 42 car, but since has proven not to be the case. Perhaps the best landing spot for Jones would be the 43 with RPM.
Daniel Suarez - Suarez is another member of the 2017 rookie class that is once again looking for a new home. Suarez, like Jones, came into the series with Toyota. Suarez captured the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship in a Toyota as well. His overall performance in the Cup Series hasn't lived up to expectations. For his first two seasons, Suarez drove for JGR in the #19 Toyota. Suarez showed signs of talent, but never could muster up a playoff birth. In 2019, Suarez announced that he'd be moving to SHR to drive the #41 Ford Mustang. Once again in top tier equipment, Suarez still could not find his way into the playoffs. It was announced that SHR would bring in Cole Custer to pilot the #41 for 2020 and beyond, leaving Suarez to pilot the #96 Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing. While not nearly in the equipment he had been in his previous three seasons, Suarez has done decently well in the #96. His most notable performance this season would be at the regular season finale at Daytona where Suarez was able to lead 19 laps before getting caught up in a wreck later in the race. Suarez is a curious case in the NASCAR silly season. He has done fairly well in poor equipment, but has previously underperformed in top tier equipment. The #43 has also been rumored as a landing spot for him.
Ty Dillon - The younger Dillon brother finds himself without a ride for the first time in his cup career. This happened somewhat surprisingly as Germain racing announced they were shutting down at the end of the 2020 season. Ty Dillon does have his name going for him. Dillon, like his brother Austin, is the grandson to NASCAR team owner, Richard Childress. Ty Dillon could be the most likely candidate for the 43 car, as Richard Petty Motorsports has a technical alliance with RCR. It has also been rumored that RCR could potentially be looking to add a third team as they have had in the past. Both options are viable candidates for Ty Dillon's future home.
Corey Lajoie - Corey Lajoie is a people's driver. Many people may know him as the guy who puts his face on the front of his racecars. For the last few seasons, Corey Lajoie has been following in the footsteps of Matt DiBenedetto. Lajoie drove the #83 for BK Racing after Matty D left, and Lajoie continued to follow Matt signing with Go Fas Racing to drive the #32 after DiBenedetto went to LFR. Since then, Lajoie has been putting up decent finishes in the #32 car, but he feels like taking a leap of faith. Lajoie even quoted DiBenedetto's rise in NASCAR as something he'd like to see in his own career. Lajoie announced that he would not be returning to Go Fas in 2021, but no announcements have been made as to where he'll end up.
Chase Briscoe - Briscoe has shot off like a rocket in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year. Heading into the playoffs, he has 7 wins and is tied for the top seed with his former truck series teammate, Austin Cindric. Briscoe has proven that he is the real deal at the lower levels of competition. Stewart Haas Racing already has a technical alliance with Go Fas Racing, so we could see Chase Briscoe pilot the #32 Ford Mustang next season. This could be part of a plan to give Briscoe some experience in a cup car before bringing him over to SHR.
Austin Cindric - Like Briscoe, Cindric has really shown out this season in the Xfinity series. Cindric currently has 5 wins on the season, but is the 2020 Regular season champion for the Xfinity series. Cindric currently drives for Team Penske in the Xfinity Series. However, it is worth noting that Austin's dad, Tim Cindric, works for Team Penske. Family ties have been known to make deals for driver's in the past. If this were to happen, the most notable landing spots for Cindric would be either in a 4th full time Team Penske car or taking over the Wood Brothers #21.
Matt DiBenedetto - This leads me to our last major free agent on our list: Matty D. Matt DiBenedetto's story in NASCAR has been a truly heart warming roller coaster for us all. He caught the fans' hearts at Bristol in 2019 when he got a close 2nd place finish to Denny Hamlin. LFR and the #95 team was slated to be the place where DiBenedetto could truly show his potential and maybe even build around. However, Christopher Bell took the #95 in 2020. This was not a bad move for Matty D, though, as he would get the call to drive the famed Wood Brothers #21 in 2020. It was a move that saw DiBenedetto get his first ever playoff birth and overall career highs across the board. However, once again DiBenedetto could be facing the threat of losing his ride to a young, up-and-comer. No move has been made official, but things are certainly not clear for him at the moment. He has stated that he must be notified prior to the end of September whether he will be picked up again or not. Only time will tell if his performance will be strong enough to keep him there.
The 2021 NASCAR Silly Season class is potentially the most talent-filled in recent memory. There are plenty of talented free agents currently on the market, and currently not enough seats for them to fill. As the 2020 season draws to a close, it will be more interesting to see what the future has in store for these drivers. For the next seven races, these drivers will have to drive like there's no tomorrow. For these drivers, their performances might be what sets them apart from the crowd.