In some instances, we will see experienced drivers transitioning from one team to another, while in other cases, we will see, and then have to analyze, younger drivers making the move to the Cup series for the first time in their careers.
Given the sport’s marathon-like nature, there is time for new drivers and new teams to get used to each other and find their proverbial stride as the season progresses; however, as is the case in every professional sport, it’s always beneficial to get off to a fast, successful start.
Coming Up From Xfinity
Going through the annals of the NASCAR Xfinity Series, it would be hard to finish a pair of drivers who dominated a season in the way Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs did in 2022. Gragson won eight times a season ago in the sport’s secondary circuit, including a four-race win streak, and finished within the top three on 16 occasions. Gibbs, the 2022 Xfinity Series Champ, will be 21 when he makes his NASCAR Cup Series full-time debut after filling in for the injured Kurt Busch last season in the 45 car. In 2022, Gibbs had seven wins and 14 Top three finishes.
This year Gragson will ride full-time in the 42 car for owner Petty-GMS Motorsports. The Las Vegas-based driver will have the benefit of having crew chief Luke Lambert reunite with him after being in his headset during their Xfinity days.
It was only a matter of time before Gibbs, the grandson of legendary NFL coach and JGR Joe Gibbs, would have a Cup seat in one of his grandfather’s cars. Exit Kyle Busch and enter Gibbs, who will pilot the 54 Toyota.
A pair of established veteran drivers will be on the move this season. Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch exists the JGR 18 and will ride the 8 owned by Richard Childress Racing. For Busch, it is a move from Toyota to Chevrolet and a new, less-established team with arguably not as many resources. The driver known to his legion of fans as “Rowdy” has a tall test in front of him in 2023.
Arguably one of the best road racers in the sport, AJ Allmendinger returns full-time to the Cup series for the first time since 2018 and has made 394 career Cup starts. He takes over the seat in the Number 16 for Kaulig racing on a full-time basis after splitting the ride with Gragson a season ago. Allmendinger has seen his career come alive after a few lean years and in addition to the road course, should factor in as super speedways and short tracks and can certainly earn a spot in the playoffs and possibly advance.
A driver who won three times in 2022, Tyler Reddick makes the move from Richard Childress Racing to the 45 car of 23XI racing, Michael Jordan’s outfit, previously occupied by Kurt Busch. This is somewhat of a step up for Reddick, who has shown an ability to contend at nearly every configuration and has become more patient than he was early in his career three seasons ago.
One of the sport’s most recognizable figures and a surefire Hall of Famer, 83-time winner Jimmy Johnson returns to the sport not necessarily in a full-time capacity, but he will be behind the wheel in 2023. Johnson will be part of Team Petty -GMS and will likely start the sport’s crown Jewel, the Daytona 500. His schedule beyond Daytona is unknown, although look for him to make between 8-10 starts in 2023.