Stupid season, Zane Smith, Stewart-Haas Racing in 2023

Jerome Miron – USA TODAY Sports

The calendar has moved to June and that means NASCAR’s silly season is on the minds of fans around social media. Let’s dive into the questions we’re answering this week NASCAR Mailbag.

NASCAR silly season: Zane Smith’s future in the sport

Zane Smith’s future in NASCAR has always been a topic of conversation due to how fluid he is. Smith moved from GMS Racing to Front Row Motorsports in the Truck Series and is having a stellar year.

The 22-year-old signed a multi-year deal with Front Row last year, so he’s different for years past. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t go up.

Smith was going to be the #1 car driver for Chip Ganassi Racing if they stayed in NASCAR, but they didn’t and sold their operations to Trackhouse Racing.

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There is a very strong possibility that Smith will stay at Ford and the people at the automaker view him very highly. High enough for the #38 truck driver to make his Cup Series debut in place of Chris Buescher at Gateway.

Smith may not need another year on the Truck Series. In fact, the idea of ​​him moving up to the #10 car for Stewart-Haas Racing isn’t too far-fetched. It will be interesting to watch, but Smith will be in for a quality run in 2023.

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Who will drive the #10 car in 2023?

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John David Mercer – USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of the #10 Stewart-Haas Racing car, that brings us directly to the next question. Many names have been linked to the race, such as Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece and John Hunter Nemechek.

It looks very likely that Busch and Stenhouse will keep their respective rides for the 2023 season and Preece looks like the favorite to grab the seat.

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However, it’s hard to overlook Nemechek and Zane Smith. Toyota Racing loves Nemechek, but they need to find a place for him in the future as he exits his Kyle Busch Motorsports race.

If his team thinks there is no other way, a move to Ford or even Chevrolet should not be ruled out. The future of Smithfield will very much determine the driver of car #10.

They have to decide whether to stay or return as a sponsor and if they don’t, Stewart-Haas Racing might need to sign someone with sponsorship. It’s safe to assume that Preece is the favorite, but things are far from over.

Which manufacturer has the best development program in NASCAR?

The best NASCAR development program among manufacturers is an interesting question. There are reasons for each of them, but let’s dive into the first one.

Toyota is definitely the best development program. Initially, Kyle Larson was in the Toyota program. William Byron, Erik Jones, Christopher Bell and many other young talents have been developed by Toyota.

That doesn’t even include the talent that still sits below. Ty Gibbs, Chandler Smith, Corey Heim, Sammy Smith, Buddy Kofoid and many more are highly rated prospects who will more than likely be in the Cup Series one day.

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Noah Gragson was bred by Toyota and he will also be in the Cup Series next season. They know how to develop pilots and that has created more pilots than there are places available.

While Chevrolet and Ford have contributed their fair share of talent, Toyota-developed drivers have begun to take over NASCAR and it’s not going to slow down anytime soon.

Noah Gragson’s future in the NASCAR Cup Series

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Jim Dedmon – USA TODAY Sports

Noah Gragson is quite possibly the best driver in NASCAR’s lower series who should be considered for a ride. Gragson has two wins, nine top 5s and nine top 10s in the Xfinity Series.

Gragson runs the full-time Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports and the part-time Cup Series with Kaulig Racing this season. Gragson attempted two “normal” runs with 18th and 24th place finishes.

The 23-year-old has matured as a person and as a driver, which is why he is in a prime position to make the leap to full-time Cup Series racing in 2023.

The easiest option remains a full-time opportunity for Kaulig Racing in the #16 car. Gragson will finish the year in the car in the last four events and this will allow him to pick up the pace.

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JR Motorsports could move to the Cup Series but that doesn’t seem very likely. However, as The Athletic’s Jordan Bianchi reported, Richard Childress Racing’s #8 car could be possible if Tyler Reddick is bought out.

It will take a lot for this to happen, but it is possible. Joe Gibbs Racing’s #19 car also makes sense thanks to the sponsorship. Ty Gibbs will most likely remain on the Xfinity Series in 2023 and if Martin Truex Jr. retires, the ride is open.

If Joe Gibbs Racing can’t bring in Reddick and Gibbs stays at Xfinity, Gragson is the best driver out there, so it would make sense that they would want to poach him from Chevrolet.

Gragson’s future is going to be very interesting to watch and something that will play out in the months to come.

Will Jimmie Johnson return to NASCAR?

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Marc Lebryk – USA TODAY Sports

Jimmie Johnson retired from full-time NASCAR Cup Series racing at the end of the 2020 season and immediately transitioned to the NTT IndyCar Series where he races full-time today.

Whether Johnson returns to NASCAR on a part-time basis is certainly one to ponder as he is one of the greatest drivers the sport has ever seen.

The 46-year-old driver said he would like to race the “double” in 2023, namely the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. However, it would have to be a competitive race.

Enter Justin Marks, owner of Trackhouse Racing. A Reddit user asked Marks if he would allow Johnson to run the #91 International car in a double effort and his response was “absolutely”.

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Trackhouse Racing has equipment capable of winning and if Johnson is truthful in his statement, the opportunity will come his way. However, that’s a lot to ask for a single.

If that would be too much, Johnson also said he would be interested in racing the oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway again, but NASCAR is currently using the road course.

Don’t be surprised if NASCAR eventually returns to the oval as early as next season. The NextGen car presents the opportunity because of the quality of racing.

Johnson is a NASCAR legend and if he wants to return to the sport, it will absolutely happen. For now, things need to fall into place for that to happen.

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