By the halfway point of the year, there were only a few dominos left to fall in Silly Season 2023, until this morning’s announcement (July 12) that 23XI Racing has signed newly-minted Cup winner Tyler Reddick as one of its drivers for the year after next, 2024.
This isn’t an unprecedented move. Clint Bowyer announced his move to SHR for 2017 at the end of 2015. Kasey Kahne was signed to Hendrick’s 2012 lineup at the end of 2010, and even 23XI driver Kurt Busch signed a deal in 2005 to leave Roush Racing for Team Penske at the start of 2007.
However, next year’s biggest NASCAR news could suddenly shake up this year’s Silly Season.
An exchange of tweets between Reddick and his current team Richard Childress Racing suggests the upcoming divorce is anything but amicable. Despite having signed an extension for 2023, could Reddick be out of the No. 8 car a year earlier than planned?
Well, there’s one thing in common with these previous year-early deals. Clint Bowyer spent a year in a backmarker HScott Racing car between Michael Waltrip Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. Kasey Kahne jumped from Richard Petty Motorsports to Team Red Bull before finding a steady home at Hendrick, and Roush, Penske, and Chip Ganassi Racing engineered a three-point agreement that sent Busch and Jamie McMurray to their 2007 destinations a year early.
Although the most likely outcome is that drivers all stay exactly where they are for 2023, the question marks over the heads of Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola, and now Tyler Reddick offer up a chance for one of my favorite parts of NASCAR fandom: wild and unfounded Silly Season speculation.
Aric Almirola has already announced his retirement, so it isn’t out of the question for SHR to pick up Reddick for a single year before sending him off to 23XI. Reddick will want to stay in a competitive car, Tony Stewart wants someone in his car who can win, and Aric Almirola wants to retire.
That would leave the No. 8 car open, which could trigger a series of changes downstream, but Noah Gragson, backed in the Xfinity Series by RCR partners Bass Pro Shops and Chevrolet, is probably a frontrunner.
If SHR has already committed to a driver for the No. 10, whether that’s Almirola, Ryan Preece, or John Hunter Nemechek, and RCR tears up Reddick’s contract this late in the game, what race-winning rides would be open to Reddick?
A simple swap between Petty GMS Motorsports’ Erik Jones and Reddick seems obvious, except, with the steps forward they’ve made, and a willingness to commit to him at least for the near future, why would Jones leave Petty GMS behind for a single random year? More likely would be a swap with Petty GMS’s other driver/Richard Childress’ other grandson, Ty Dillon. Reddick would be a huge get for Petty GMS, even for just a single season, and a Jones-Reddick lineup would be an absolute get for the second-year/eternal team. Either or both of them could win a race and make the playoffs.
The only sticking point is that Petty GMS sources their cars from Richard Childress, and if Reddick and Childress have well and truly burned the bridge, wily old RC could block Reddick from any move within the teams he supplies.
With longtime sponsor Mars, Inc. pulling out of the sport, Joe Gibbs Racing needs to find new sponsors for Kyle Busch’s No. 18, not to afford to keep the car running (I have no doubt JGR can afford go out-of-pocket much of the year) but to afford the salary commanded by a 60-time winner and two-time Cup champion. Though Kyle Busch has had a quietly solid season, sixth in regular-season points with a win, he’s been loudly disappointed. Kyle Busch expects to win more than he has in the last three years, and with the way he’s talked about retirement and his future, he might be willing to call it quits if JGR can’t make it worth his while.
Would Tyler Reddick make a one-year stopover at JGR on his way to 23XI?
Hell no. Given a chance at arguably NASCAR’s best team, if Reddick were in his right mind, wouldn’t leave. Plus, he wouldn’t have to, assuming Martin Truex Jr. retires at the end of next year to be replaced by Ty Gibbs. But snatching Reddick out from under the nose of 23XI would certainly piss off JGR driver and 23XI owner Denny Hamlin, a driver Gibbs will need as the veteran team leader if and when both Busch and Truex retire.
So Joe Gibbs would need to find a driver for the No. 18. Assuming Coach meant what he said, and he doesn’t want his grandson Ty full-time until 2024, there’s an obvious answer. In a coup that would shock everyone, I think the front-runner for the No. 18 should Kyle Busch retire is his older brother Kurt, who could bring Monster over to the 18 in a farewell tour before Ty Gibbs becomes the face of the brand in the Cup Series. This would leave the No. 45 open for Reddick to jump ship a year early, leaving the No. 8 open for Gragson.
Again, the most likely result is everyone stays where they are, and we get passive-aggressive Tweets from Childress and Reddick throughout 2023 while the team heavily favors Austin Dillon and Reddick’s performance takes a step back.
But I wouldn’t rule anything out.
Featured image from our own Pat Vallely, @puffadda