Team Penske announced Monday afternoon that 2012 NASCAR Cup Series Champion Brad Keselowski had re-signed with the team for the 2021 season. A 1-year deal for the series most recent winner means he’ll once again be a free-agent at the end of next season.
With arguably the hottest free agent off the market where does that leave the rest of the free agents?
Hendrick Motorsports #48
Rumors persist that HMS will downsize to a three car team in 2021 like a couple empty-nesters. If that does occur Alex Bowman moves to the #48 and the #88 is put in moth balls for a later year.
For Hendrick if they do remain as a four car team, who moves into the #48? Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, Corey LaJoie, and Bubba Wallace are all free agents but only have 2-wins combined. Tyler Reddick has also been mentioned as someone HMS could have eyes on, will they buyout Reddick?
Erik Jones is on a 1-year contract and while he has a win in each of the last two seasons. However, he sits 18th in points outside of the playoffs with no real prospects of getting in without a win.
Joe Gibbs Racing doesn’t appear to be a long-term home for Jones. Like other prospects (Logano & Suarez) JGR appears to be casting Jones out. Christopher Bell has a contract with JGR that states he has to be in a JGR car by the end of his second year in Cup. Moving on from Jones would clear room for Jones.
For Erik his options consist of Hendrick, Stewart-Haas, and Ganassi. Conceivably he could move to Leavine Family Racing in a seat swap if LFR exists next season.
Matt D. is on a 1-year deal with The Wood Brothers for 2020. His 2-Top 5s and 6 Top-10s are an upgrade over what Paul Menard brought to the team. The Wood Brothers said they’ll fight to keep Matt for the 2021 season. Tim Cindric could have something to say about that.
If Matt isn’t retained he has the same options as Erik Jones.
Chip Ganassi Racing #42
Matt Kenseth won’t be retained for the 2021 season. That means a competitive car capable of winning races is open and number of drivers have to be interested in the seat.
Ross Chastain once seemed like a shoe-in for the #42 car, not it seems like he may spend another year in the Xfinity Series. If Ganassi does keep Chastain down for season that would clear him to step into the #1 car in 2022.
Ganassi has reportedly held talks with Bubba Wallace for the seat if you’re Wallace you have to jump at the opportunity. How fitting it would be for Wallace to take over that car after it’s previous occupant showed his true colors.
Bubba Wallace has quickly become the most interesting free-agent in 2020. Not only has Wallace been having a career-year on the track. He’s also never been more marketable that he is right now.
Richard Petty Motorsports has reportedly offered him a substantial raise for 2021 and equity in the team. Only three times have we seen drivers get equity in the team they race for. Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, and Tony Stewart.
Wallace has reportedly spoken with Ganassi and Hendrick about their open seats. While equity is nice, he has to jump at the opportunity to race for either of those organizations.
Stewart-Haas Racing #14 & #10
SHR has two seats without drivers for the 2021 season. Aric Almirola is having a career year but if sponsor Smithfield decides not to re-up for 2021 Almirola is likely gone.
Clint Bowyer’s future at SHR seems to be decided already. The #14 car will likely have a new driver next year and the biggest question is will it be Kyle Larson or Chase Briscoe? The loser of the #14 sweepstakes could end up in the #10. However, SHR will likely be looking for someone who can bring some sponsorship dollars with them.
While Brad K. settled silly season down it is far from over.
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