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  • Writer's pictureAdam Tropper

The Complete NASCAR 2024 Cup Series Season Preview

Adam Tropper - Motorsports Today

After an offseason lasting just over 3 months, the start of another NASCAR Cup Series is finally upon us. With so many incredible storylines that unfolded throughout the 2023 campaign, it may be difficult for 2024 to live up to that same standard. Regardless, we’ll be going through some of the key components of the upcoming season that you need to be aware of. 

New Faces in New Places:

While the 2024 silly season was fairly uneventful compared to what we have become accustomed to from the past few seasons, there are a few notable differences in the Cup Series field this year.

For starters, we have to say goodbye to the final driver from the Winston Cup era. This being Kevin Harvick, the 2014 series champion with 60 wins to his name. Josh Berry has been taped to replace Harvick in the #4, while Harvick will still be around the sport as part of the broadcast booth for the Fox Sports portion of the season.

In terms of the rest of the rookie class, the other two that will compete against Berry for the honors both drive for, the Spire camp. A backmarker for years, they have slowly worked their way up into the mid-pack and will be expanding to 3 full-time entries in 2024. Zane Smith and Carson Hocevar with both move up from the Craftsman Truck series to drive the #71 and #77 respectively. It should be noted that Zane Smith is actually a Trackhouse driver, but without a 3rd charter, he was leased to Spire for the 2024 season.

Stewart-Haas Racing underwent a rebrand during the offseason, but made even bigger moves to make sure they can compete with the top dogs. Along with Berry, Noah Gragson will be replacing the now retired Aric Almirola in the #10. Gragson, coming off a miserable rookie campaign with Legacy Motor Club was suspended back in August for liking a racist meme. He’ll be looking to make a splash with his second chance. 

Speaking Of Legacy Motor Club, Jimmie Johnson is learning how to operate the team from an ownership perspective. Along with bringing new sponsors such as Dollar Tree, the team has added Matt Kenseth as a competition advisor and Trevor Bayne as a driver coach. But most importantly, the team is making the massive move to Toyota beginning in 2024, meaning the 7 time champ will sport a manufacturer other than Chevy for the first time in his illustrious career (for the 9 races on his schedule).

SVG is another name that heavily silly season. The Chicago Street Race winner signed a development deal with Trackhouse last season, which has now led to a full time opportunity in the Xfinity Series under the Kaulig banner. He’ll still be relevant in Cup however, as he will race in seven cup races (including Chicago where look to defend his victory).

In possibly the most shocking free agency announcement revolved around Justin Haley. In July, he did the unthinkable by leaving Kaulig Racing for Rick Ware Racing to drive the #51 entry in 2024. To say this is a bombshell announcement is an understatement, as for years RWR has solidified themselves as the worst team in the Cup Series and had become the source of all the jokes in the community. However, they’re finally looking to improve, as evident by their new technical alliance with RFK Racing. We’ll see how much support Brad Keselowski and the rest of RFK is willing to give Haley and RWR.

The Cars:

Nothing major has changed, with the Next Gen Car entering its 3rd full year of NASCAR Cup Series competition. The manufacturers actually are the ones that will need to answer questions based on performance. Both Toyota and Ford will be debuting new bodies beginning in 2024, potentially having an effect on aerodynamics, among other factors. Toyota will be racing the Camry XSE will Ford is switching to its Dark House Mustang. Ford is coming off two consecutive Cup Series championships, but were not particularly considered the biggest threat in the garage. We’ll see soon how these changes either help or hurt both Toyota and Ford’s programs.

Schedule Changes:

Admittedly not much has changed between 2023 and 2024, despite rumors of NASCAR trying to take the Cup Series international. However, NASCAR is still doing their job of spicing up the levels of entertainment for the fans. For starters, the Chicago Street Race will be returning (hopefully with less rain), as well as the Bristol Dirt Race being removed in favor of the original pavement after three seasons. 

There’s one popular track that will be making it’s debut in NASCAR’s premier series, that being Iowa Speedway. Iowa has had some incredible finishes in the Xfinity Series as well as the Truck Series. Now, after being off of the National Series schedule entirely since 2020, Iowa will be making a triumphant return.

The playoff picture will also be shaken up slightly. Even before the playoffs begin, Daytona will no longer be the host of the final regular season race (a spot Daytona has held since 2020). Instead, Darlington Speedway will take the spot of the cutoff race, making the end of the regular season a little less of a wreckfest filled with desperation. 

Even after that, round one of the playoffs doesn’t get any easier. Atlanta and Watkins Glen will both be in the Round of 16. Realistically, unless a driver is extremely well rounded or has racked up a bunch of playoff points, there are two wild card rounds now.

The Business of NASCAR:

A lot of things have been going on behind the scenes, as contract 2024 is a pivotal year for the sanctioning body and the teams alike. One of the key talking points (which has already been solved and announced) was the upcoming TV deal beginning with the 2025 season. For the most part, it will be quite similar. FOX will have the first 14 races with NBC covering the final 14. The big difference is what happens during the middle 10 races of the season. These will be split up into two 5 race midseason packages broadcasted by Amazon Prime and TNT, respectively. The historic deal will last through 2031 and will make NASCAR $7.7 Billion. Additionally, the Xfinity Series gained a new partner, that being The CW. They will have exclusive rights to broadcast the series, and races will be produced in-house by the NASCAR Production Group. 

While the money made from the TV deals is substantial, the fight revolves around figuring out how big everyone’s slice of pie will be. Historically, NASCAR itself has taken the heavy majority of the money from media rights deals. This is different, as Cup Series teams have created the Race Team Alliance, essentially the union NASCAR has never had to deal with. The RTA wants the teams to have a much bigger cut, which would be split among the teams, leading to the other issue… Charters.

Charters are basically franchises, allowing a team that holds a charter a guaranteed spot in every race during a season. With 36 available, this system has added immense value for team that previously could have closed down and literally make none of their investment back. The charter agreement only last until the end of 2024, conveniently lining up with the TV deal. This have given the teams much more league as they have been waiting out signing any agreement until they know exactly how much money is at stake. What will happen remains to be seen, and will lead to even more tension behind closed doors.

Who are the Power Players:

The parity in this year’s field is commendable, as we can easily see 15 different winners for the 3rd straight year. As always, there’s a few names that you would always expect to see at the top of the standings.

The Hendrick Motorsports stable is as strong as ever in their 40th season. Kyle Larson will be the major story as he’ll be looking for his 2nd Cup Series title highlighted by his attempt become the 6th driver ever to compete “The Double” - racing both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Meanwhile, William Byron is poised to back up his breakout season last year. The now 26 year old from Charlotte will once again be a threat to win it all. Finally, Chase Elliot and Alex Bowman will be looking for redemption as both drivers has miserable 2023 campaign. Both missed races due to injury and neither made the playoffs. A bounce back season will definitely be at the top of their minds.

Kyle Busch is another name in the Chevy camp that will always be a threat as long as he’s in the racecar. Now the longest tenured driver in the Cup Series, he’ll come off a 3 win season with RCR with even more motivation to contend for both a Daytona 500 win and his 3rd Cup Series Championship.

The resurgence of RFK has been a fun one to watch, as Brad Keselowski has entirely changed the trajectory of the program. While Keselowski has yet to win as an owner/driver, he’s already had multiple runner-up finishes and his inching his way to victory lane. His other driver, Chris Buescher, is finally showing what he’s made of. Winning 3 of the last 15 races of the year, he’s one to watch as a legitimate title threat is RFK and Ford have the same level of speed as last year.

Toyota may have the most interesting lineup in 2024, as the aforementioned move by Legacy Motor Club to Toyota add at least two more drivers to their stable - including former TRD driver Erik Jones. The 23XI duo of Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace will be looking for even more in 2024. Reddick notched 2 victories in his first season with the team and while Wallace did not win, he set career highs in every other statistical category (including a playoff appearance where he finished 10th in standings).

The owner of 23XI may be the manufacturers best hope for a title, but for a different team. Denny Hamlin, driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing #11 entry, has become the most polarizing personality in the garage, even mocking the fans booing him after he wins. While last year didn’t end up being his year after all, he’s the healthiest he’s been in a while and will do anything it takes to get that elusive cup championship after 18 seasons.

Other drivers to watch out for: Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Joey Logano, Ty Gibbs, Martin Truex Jr..

Final Thoughts:

This article covered a lot, from silly season to actual contract negotiations, and that’s not even close to everything. It’s crazy to think about how much is happening in the sport, which is why I believe this validates my point even more as to why you should be paying attention to NASCAR. IT’S COMPLETELY UNPREDICTABLE! Watching the best drivers in the world go 200 MPH each week with 20 drivers having a shot to win any given week is something you won’t see anywhere else. Everyone in the sport will be putting their best foot forward, from the on track product to the broadcasts you see on TV. As I mentioned as the very beginning, NASCAR is coming off a historic and successful 75th anniversary campaign. But frankly, as great as 2023 was, when it comes to 2024 we may be in store for something even better. 

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