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Previewing the biggest driver moves for the 2023 NASCAR Cup season

Background: A star driver at JGR since 2008, collecting 56 of his 60 Cup wins there and winning two Cup titles (2015, 2019). New deal could not be struck after departure of long-time sponsor M&Ms (Mars Inc.). Will be replaced by Ty Gibbs, newly crowned NASCAR Xfinity champion.

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, M&M’s Toyota Camry

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

Jim Utter: There may not be a move more anticipated in 2023 than two-time Cup champion Busch joining forces with longtime owner Richard Childress. The biggest question mark will be if Busch can take RCR back to being not only a consistent winner but also a challenger for series championships. Reddick certainly showed both were possible at RCR before his sooner-than-expected departure. Busch brings a wealth of talent and experience which should help elevate the entire organization. The downside is the uncertainty of how Busch will respond to being in a less competitive environment if things don’t go as well as he and the team hope.

Nick DeGroot: This will be a massive shift for Busch, who started his Cup career with Hendrick before spending the next 14 years at Gibbs. It will take time for him to get accustomed to his new home, but RCR won four races during the 2022 season and put both cars in the playoffs. There are on an upswing and it’s the perfect time to bring in a driver the caliber of Busch. I expect to see early struggles, but once they start winning, they won’t stop. Not likely in 2023, but Busch is the driver who could eventually elevate RCR to a championship-winning organization once again.

Ty Gibbs – NASCAR Xfinity Series to Cup with Joe Gibbs Racing 

Background: 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, winning double digit races (eleven) in just two seasons in NASCAR’s secondary division. Grandson of Joe Gibbs with 15 starts at the Cup level, subbing for the injured Kurt Busch. Best finish of tenth at Michigan. Also won 2021 ARCA title.

Ty Gibbs, Joe Gibbs Racing, Monster Energy Toyota Supra celebrates his win

Ty Gibbs, Joe Gibbs Racing, Monster Energy Toyota Supra celebrates his win

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

Jim Utter: JGR’s inability to keep Busch in its Cup program, combined with Gibbs’ immediate success in the Xfinity Series, made Gibbs’ elevation to the JGR Cup program a no-brainer. Given his so-so performance filling in for Kurt Busch at 23XI Racing in 2023, it seems pretty obvious Ty will have an adjustment period to go through on the Cup side. He will have a talented group around him – Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell – to help guide his transition. I don’t think winning a race in his rookie season is out of the question.

Nick DeGroot: Winning in his Xfinity debut was all the proof I needed to see from Ty Gibbs. He has the talent. But his rapid rise has not been without its missteps, or controversies. Dealing with all that, as well as the tragic loss of his father and now being thrust into a car previously occupied by one of the best NASCAR drivers of our time — it’s a lot of pressure for such a young driver. I believe he will struggle and go winless at first, but it will be up to him for how long. If he can keep the right mindset, the results will follow in due time. If not, he may follow the path of past JGR drivers who stagnated once they were promoted to the Cup level.

Tyler Reddick – Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing

Background: Won three Cup races during the 2022 season. Will replace Kurt Busch who is stepping away from full-time competition after being sidelined by a concussion earlier this year. Reddick had been with RCR since 2018, winning back-to-back Xfinity titled with them before moving up to Cup.

Race winner Tyler Reddick, Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet Camaro

Race winner Tyler Reddick, Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Lesley Ann Miller / Motorsport Images

Jim Utter: This was easily the ‘shock move’ of the year, especially since when it was first announced, Reddick was joining the organization in 2024 and was still going to compete for RCR in 2023. However, Kurt Busch’s retirement from full-time Cup competition and Kyle Busch’s move to RCR provided an opportunity for Reddick to join 23XI a year early. He and Bubba Wallace should make a formidable pair on the track for the fledgling team. Reddick is a fierce competitor and after the breakout season he had in 2022, he won’t be looking to settle for a step back.

Nick DeGroot: For the first time since 2013, an RCR driver enjoyed a multi-win season. Reddick won three times during the 2022 season, and could have won even more. And that is why the story of his departure is so surprising, and unusual. Initially set to leave in 2024, it was moved up a year due to the hiring of Kyle Busch at RCR and the stepping aside of Kurt Busch at 23XI. Reddick is a driver that is a threat at all kinds of race tracks, and that won’t change next year. He will win, on both ovals and road courses. I also believe he will put 23XI Racing into contention for the title. I don’t expect growing pains, and would not be surprised to see instant success out of this combination. RCR may have gained a 2x champion in Busch, but in my opinion, they lost a future champion with Reddick’s departure. 

Background: 115 Cup starts and no wins, spent the last year running part-time in all three national divisions. A former champion of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series and a winner at both the Xfinity and Truck level. Will be replacing Cole Custer.

Ryan Preece, Team DGR, Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford F-150 wins

Ryan Preece, Team DGR, Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford F-150 wins

Photo by: Rusty Jarrett / NKP / Motorsport Images

Jim Utter: One of the more interesting moves of the year, replacing Cole Custer – who has won a Cup race and a combined 12 wins in Xfinity and Trucks – with a driver who has no Cup wins and four combined wins in Xfinity and Trucks. Given the fact SHR has had some performance struggles as an organization the past few years, this is the driver move I probably expect to see least out of in terms of performance change. Preece had three full seasons in Cup and managed a total of just two top-five finishes.

Nick DeGroot: This is an interesting one. Preece is no stranger to the Cup Series, but he’s been in a sort of limbo over the past year with no full-time ride. A proven winner at lower levels of the sport, I think SHR will allow him to finally realize his full potential. But it remains to be seen how high he can rise. Preece is capable of becoming a NASCAR Cup Series winner, but I’m not sure if it will come next year. SHR won three races during the 2022 season, but they were very hot-and-cold depending on the week. I think that will continue next year, but a driver like Preece with something to prove may be exactly what they need.

Noah Gragson – NASCAR Xfinity Series to Cup with Petty GMS Motorsports

Background: 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship runner-up and 13x race winner, replacing Ty Dillon as a rookie in 2023. 18 previous Cup starts with a best finish of fifth (Daytona).

Noah Gragson, JR Motorsports, Bass Pro Shops TrueTimber BRCC Chevrolet Camaro

Noah Gragson, JR Motorsports, Bass Pro Shops TrueTimber BRCC Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Ben Earp / NKP / Motorsport Images

Jim Utter: Noah Gragson’s move to the Cup Series at Petty GMS was already an impressive get for the organization and that was before the end-of-the-year announcement that former seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was joining the ownership group and would drive some races in 2023. With new ownership and the addition of crew chief Luke Lambert (joining Gragson from JR Motorsports), the pairing of Gragson and Erik Jones should pay big performance dividends (as well as being quite entertaining). Petty GMS is my early favorite for most improved organization in 2023.

Nick DeGroot: It was only a matter of time. Gragson has been winning races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the past three seasons, but 2023 will be a new challenge for the always entertaining driver. Petty GMS did reach Victory Lane with Erik Jones this past year’s Southern 500, but they are a midfield team. Many will expect him to be in the back half of the field on most weeks, but I’m not so sure. Echoing my colleagues’ comments, I believe with Jimmie Johnson joining an already impressive ownership group and a veteran crew chief atop the pit box, Gragson and the No. 42 team may surprise a lot of people in 2023. 

Ty Dillon – Petty GMS Motorsports to Spire Motorsports

Background: 202 Cup starts and no wins, moving from Petty GMS into the No. 77 Spire Chevrolet, which utilized several different drivers during the 2022 season. Former race winner at the Xfinity and Truck level.

Ty Dillon, Petty GMS Motorsports, Black Rifle Coffee Company Chevrolet Camaro

Ty Dillon, Petty GMS Motorsports, Black Rifle Coffee Company Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

Jim Utter: Spire Motorsports had already fielded two fulltime Cup teams but in the past has used a variety of drivers and didn’t but near the resources into it as their primary team with driver Corey LaJoie. The commitment to add Dillon as a fulltime teammate, as well as the addition of other key personnel, shows Spire is serious about trying to become a contender. Having a dedicated teammate should only help LaJoie and Dillon has yet been able to find a good fit with a Cup team in his career. The results may not show right away but I see Spire trending upwards.

Nick DeGroot: Ty Dillon’s time as a Cup driver has been a struggle, with over 200 starts and little to show for it. In fairness, he has been driving for lower-level teams, and Spire is no different, except for being a change of scenery. If he does finally find Victory Lane, it will be at a superspeedway. Otherwise, I expect 2023 to be a difficult uphill climb for this Dillon brother.

Background: Fifth season with the team after winning races at both the Cup and Xfinity level. Moving from part-time in Cup to full-time for the first time since 2018. Two career Cup wins (2014 at Watkins Glen and 2021 at Indianapolis RC).

Race winner AJ Allmendinger, Kaulig Racing, Chevrolet Camaro

Race winner AJ Allmendinger, Kaulig Racing, Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Rusty Jarrett / NKP / Motorsport Images

Jim Utter: Allmendinger is coming full circle in the Cup Series, returning to fulltime competition in 2023 with Kaulig Racing, which he has helped build from the ground up as an Xfinity Series title contender and part-time Cup driver. His win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in 2021 gave Kaulig its first Cup victory. His teammate, Justin Haley, made great strides in performance by the end of 2022 and having Allmendinger racing with him in 2023 on the Cup side only accelerate his growth. Between superspeedways and road courses, I see Kaulig in the mix for wins quite a bit in 2023.

Nick DeGroot: He will win, and make the playoffs. Of that I am almost certain. Allmendinger and Kaulig Racing have been a dangerous combination in recent years, winning over a dozen Xfinity races and even a Cup race at Indianapolis. He nearly won Cup races at COTA and the Charlotte Roval this past year as well. This team only grows stronger as a two-car Cup organization, and A.J. proved in his limited appearances over the past season that winning on an oval is not out of the question either. His unorthodox career path in NASCAR has brought him to a place where he could be set for his most successful season yet, and a chance at the playoffs.


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