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What's new ahead of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season

Nick Bromberg
·5-min read

Welcome to the 2021 NASCAR season. With the Cup Series beginning the season on Sunday at the Daytona 500, here’s everything new that you need to be aware of as the season gets underway.

Teams

By now, you know that Bubba Wallace is going to drive for a team co-owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin this season. Wallace’s No. 23 car will be a fifth Toyota entry behind the four cars from Joe Gibbs Racing. 23XI Racing effectively replaces Leavine Family Racing as JGR’s satellite entry.

There are other new teams in the Cup Series too, though 23XI is probably the only one who will run competitively on a regular basis. Daniel Suarez will drive the No. 99 for Trackhouse Racing, a team that announced Pitbull as a co-owner earlier this year. Life Fast Motorsports will also field the No. 78 car.

All three of those teams have charters for guaranteed entry into every Cup Series race this season. Two of those charters became available after Go Fas Racing sold its charter to go to a part-time schedule in 2021 and Germain Racing shut down.

LFR shut down too and its charter was purchased by Spire Motorsports. The team is fielding two cars in 2021 and one will be driven full-time by Corey LaJoie. It’s leasing a charter to Trackhouse for the season.

The charter roulette has ultimately led to JTG-Daugherty not having two charters this season. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will drive full-time in the team’s No. 47 car like he did in 2020. Ryan Preece is back in the No. 37, but that car doesn’t have a charter and Preece will race part-time this season. He’ll have to qualify for the Daytona 500.

Bubba Wallace participates in the national anthem before a NASCAR Cup Series auto race Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Darlington, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Bubba Wallace will drive for Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin in 2021. AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Drivers

There are just two drivers running for Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series. Chase Briscoe takes over for Clint Bowyer in the No. 14 car at Stewart-Haas Racing. Bowyer will still be a weekly NASCAR fixture during the first half of the season as he transitions to calling races with Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon for Fox.

Briscoe, 26, won nine races during the 2020 Xfinity Series season though he finished fourth in the standings after struggling in the final race of the season.

The other full-time rookie is Anthony Alfredo at Front Row Motorsports. Both drivers will be making their first Cup Series starts on Sunday and Briscoe should easily win Rookie of the Year honors.

Two of the biggest car swaps in the Cup Series come at Hendrick Motorsports. Alex Bowman shifts over to the No. 48 after Jimmie Johnson’s retirement as his crew largely comes with him in the move. That left Hendrick looking for another driver to replace Bowman what was the No. 88. And that driver is Kyle Larson.

Larson, who was fired from Chip Ganassi Racing after he said the N-word during a virtual race last spring, will drive the No. 5 car for HMS. As of now, Larson’s car will be sponsored largely by existing business-to-business companies for Hendrick’s automotive group or by companies Hendrick owns.

CGR will field Ross Chastain in what was Larson’s No. 42 car. Former Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth replaced Larson for the final 32 races of the 2020 season and Chastain takes over as the full-time driver in 2021.

Wallace is driving for 23XI after he spent the last three seasons at Richard Petty Motorsports. His replacement at RPM is Erik Jones.

Jones joins after Christopher Bell moved over to the No. 20 car at Joe Gibbs Racing following the Leavine Family Racing shutdown. Bell had a contract with Toyota and the manufacturer and JGR made the decision to replace Jones with Bell.

Ty Dillon was also left without a ride when Germain Racing shut down. He drove in Wallace’s car for the exhibition Busch Clash on Tuesday night and will drive for Gaunt Brothers Racing as the team attempts the Daytona 500 and other select races in 2021.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 20: NASCAR driver Kyle Larson poses for a photo during the 2021 NASCAR Production Days at FOX Sports Studios on January 20, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson is driving for Hendrick Motorsports in 2021. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Tracks

The 2021 season features some of the biggest schedule changes in quite some time. And the biggest change is to a track that is still hosting two races this season.

The March 28 race at Bristol will be on a dirt track created on top of the normal concrete track. It’s set to be the first dirt track race in Cup Series history after the Truck Series has run at Eldora Speedway in recent years.

There are four other tracks new to the Cup Series on the schedule. NASCAR is racing at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, for the first time in May and the Cup Series is visiting Nashville Speedway on June 20 and Road America on July 4.

The annual Brickyard 400 on the Indianapolis oval has also been replaced with a road course race on Aug. 15. It’s the first time the Cup Series has raced on the Indy road course.

The Daytona road course is also the site of the second points race of the season. The race replaces an early-season trip to Auto Club Speedway in California because of COVID-19 restrictions in the state. NASCAR’s Western swing — which was completed just before the pandemic shut the season down in 2020 — will include only Phoenix and Las Vegas in March.

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