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  • Writer's pictureEthan Hoffman

Front Row's Dilemma, SHR's open seat, Martin Truex Jr's Future-- NASCAR Silly Season Preview

By Ethan Hoffman -- Motorsports Today Contributor

As temperatures begin to rise and air conditioning units kick to full blast, NASCAR’s “Mini Season” swings into full effect for weeks to come. The shufflings of NASCAR’s silly season leaves fans sitting on the edge of their seat, just to hear that ding of a phone and see which driver ends up where.

The first domino of the silly season fell on Wednesday, June 21st at 1 pm as it was announced that JR Motorsports Xfinity Series driver, Josh Berry will pilot the No. 4 for Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2024 season, replacing a retiring Kevin Harvick.

With this first shift in the NASCAR landscape, it seemed like the perfect time to preview the upcoming silly season craziness we are about to witness.


Front Row Motorsports's identity in NASCAR for the greater part of 10 years has been, to run mid-pack and don't tear up equipment. The team has never had a higher points finish than 16th in 2016 with Chris Buescher. Now, the little team that could holds direct control of NASCAR's infamous second season. (Photo via NASCAR on NBC)

Front Row Motorsports, owned by Taco Bell mogul Bob Jenkins, sits unusually in the driver’s seat for NASCAR free agency. Front Row, who usually prefers to sign their deals in December, months after the hype for silly season dies down, holds direct control on what drivers go where for every team looking to make a move.

The team, which is usually criticized for their poor performance, has three marquee drivers that hold a large impact on silly season. The biggest of which being Truck Series phenom, Zane Smith. Smith won the Craftsman Truck Series championship last season, after accumulating 4 wins and 19 Top 10s in the series’s 23 races.

Zane Smith is regarded as the top development driver in the Ford family and has earned to looks of numerous Cup Series organizations. (Photo via Lesley Ann Miller / Motorsport Images)

Smith has been the top prospect for numerous cup teams including Stewart-Haas Racing and is the top development driver in the Ford Racing Development camp. Just a year ago FRM lost No. 34 Crew Chief, Blake Harris to a bigger team in the form of Hendrick Motorsports.

If Jenkins wants the team to have a future beyond the 20s of the field, he will have to move quickly and sign Zane Smith onto one of his two cup series cars.

But with that, Jenkins would either have to drop the impressive 2nd-year driver, Todd Gilliland or hope veteran Micahel McDowell jumps ship.

McDowell has been reported as a target for Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 car, but with Aric Almirola reportedly still undecided on his future, Jenkins will likely have to make the tough decision to drop Todd Gilliland.

It seems Gilliland has been the odd man out at Front Row Motorsports this season, as it was announced early in the year that he would only run the No. 38 for 31 of the 36 races on the cup schedule, with Zane Smith taking the other five.

Early this season it seemed to be a simple decision to let Gilliland go, in favor of Smith. But Gilliland’s incredible performance throughout the 2nd quarter of the season has made the decision a whole lot tougher for the team

Through 16 races this season, Gilliland already has more top 10s than he did last year and improved his average finish by 3 positions.

Front Row Motorsports has never been in this situation before, controlling the entire NASCAR landscape, but they will have to make their decision swiftly or else they might end up with all three talented drivers in different cars for next season.


Stewart-Haas Racing's Aric Almirola has flirted with the idea of retirement for some time now, even announcing it last February before retracting his statement later that season. The three time Cup Series winner is being increasingly frustrated with his performance and is believed to be done after 2023. (Photo via Getty Images)

A good portion of the 2023 NASCAR silly season was to see who would replace a retiring Aric Almirola at Stewart-Haas Racing. For weeks, different names were thrown around and it seemed like Ryan Preece was for sure a lock to be in the seat when BAM! Aric Almirola retracts his statement of retiring and decides to sign a two-year contract with the team.

One year later, the rumors about Almriola’s future are once again swirling around the NASCAR garage, as Almriola’s performance this year has been horrid, to say the least.

After the halfway point of this season, Almirola has just one top 10 to credit for and sits just 26th in the points standings. Almirola has seemed increasingly frustrated about his time off track … going on Twitter rampages, shoving Bubba Wallace after a clear racing incident, and showing increased aggressiveness on the radio.

While Almirola himself stated that he is undecided, all signs point to him retiring at the end of the 2023 season.

With that decision, Stewart-Haas Racing is in an interesting place to find a replacement for Almriola, who is likely going to bring Smithfield into NASCAR dormancy.

All three of the aforementioned Front Row Motorsports trio could be contenders for the car, with Michael McDowell being the most likely of the three.

McDowell, a veteran of over 15 years, is having back-back-to-back career years in the No. 34 car. After winning the Daytona 500 in 2021, McDowell has 19 top 10s and an average finish of 18.9, which is 5 places higher than his average finish with the team his first three seasons.

2nd year driver for the Wood Brothers, Harrison Burton has been linked to the No. 10 by numerous reports. Burton could be the exact young driver that SHR is looking to build around for their long term future. (Photo via

Another candidate for the No. 10 that has been swirling is 2nd-year driver out of the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21, Harrison Burton. Son of NASCAR legend, Jeff Burton, Harrison has been lackluster in the No. 21, so much so that faith in him was all but lost by the team in the early portion of the season, but since then Burton has increasingly gotten better and has even impressed the Wood Brother team at times.

Burton brings big-time sponsorship in Dex Imaging and is under the Kevin Harvick Inc. agency, the same one that Josh Berry signed onto before his official announcement with the team.

The only thing that could hold Burton back for the No. 10, is Tony Stewart’s recent comments on younger, wealthy drivers. “I’m not interested in some kid’s father coming in and buying their way into a (NASCAR) Cup Series ride. I have zero interest in that,” Stewart stated on Wednesday.

Burton grew up an heir to NASCAR royalty, he did grow up wealthy but has already been in the Cup Series for two full-time seasons. His application to Stewart-Haas Racing all depends on if Tony Stewart believes he is a “rich kid” who isn’t ready for Cup racing.

Besides the Front Row trio and Burton, the candidate list for the ride keeps growing. Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Corey LaJoie, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Austin Hill, Sammy Smith, Sheldon Creed, and even Former F1 World Champion Jenson Button are all possible candidates.

Martin Truex, Jr.

Alongside Aric Almirola, it seemed all but certain last season that 2017 Cup Series Champion, Martin Truex, Jr. would retire at the end of the season. 2022 was a down year for Truex, Jr. missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and not winning a single race, Truex still decided to come back for more in 2023.

That decision has paid off incredibly well as since then, Truex has won three races, (including Clash) and is currently leading the points standings heading into Nashville.

The Truex retirement rumors have essentially been completely negated, as it seems that Truex will stay for at least 2024 so long as he and Joe Gibbs Racing can work out a deal. Joe Gibbs Racing development driver, John Hunter Nemechek will wait in the wings before likely taking over MTJ’s ride in 2025.

Corey LaJoie

It seemed just a few weeks ago, Corey LaJoie’s name was picking up steam in the silly season conversation, as with Spire Motorsports in the No. 7, LaJoie was having the best year of his career, running solidly inside the top 20 each, and every week.

All the hype concluded with LaJoie filling in for a suspended Chase Elliott at World Wide Technology Raceway on June 4th. It seemed to be an opportunity of a lifetime, driving a Hendrick Motorsports car in the Cup series, even if it was only for a single race.

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