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The Potential Fallout of Stewart-Haas Racing's Closure | NASCAR

The Potential Fallout of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Closure

by Elliot Hicks

It was announced Tuesday that Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), the four-car NASCAR Cup Series and two-car Xfinity Series team, will cease operations at the end of the 2024 season. While teams come and go, SHR going from a large, top-tier organization to completely out of the sport in such a quick fashion is almost completely unprecedented in the history of NASCAR.

There’s so much to discuss about the rise and fall of SHR, but there’s even more to discuss when it comes to breaking down what happens next. The ripple effect that SHR’s closure will have over the rest of the sport will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen. The closure of SHR doesn’t just wipe them out; it changes the future of so many more drivers and teams in the garage at multiple series levels.

There’s been no concrete news or announcements as to what will actually happen next, but reports have largely focused on what will happen to the four charters owned by SHR. Other bits, pieces and rumors have been rolling around social media channels and surely through the garage area.

And from all of those things are other conclusions that a racing fan and columnist behind a laptop can make, or at least assume to be possible. Let’s start to break it all down.


The Potential Fallout of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Closure

The Charters

As noted, the charters are not only the most reported on part of SHR’s closure but arguably will end up netting team owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas the most money to step into whatever other ventures they wish to pursue. While numbers really can’t be discussed too much before the renewal of the charter agreement, currently set to expire at the end of 2024, we have a general idea of three of the four teams who will plan to purchase an SHR charter:

Expanding from two to three cars makes perfect sense for this trio of teams. Three charters are expected to be the maximum that any new team can acquire, ensuring these up-and-coming crews will operate at full swing and full capacity.

Front Row Motorsports (FRM) is anticipated to take over the heavy lifting for Ford in the Cup Series left behind by SHR. It also could absorb a large portion of the displaced SHR drivers and crew. Currently, FRM is only a two-car team and has no drivers under contract for 2025, though current No. 38 driver Todd Gilliland is expected to return.

Trackhouse Racing Team needs this expansion more than any team in the Cup Series, so it’s all but certain they will expand to a third full-time entry. We know that Ross Chastain is under contract for 2025, and the team also has inked Shane van Gisbergen and Zane Smith to contracts.

Both van Gisbergen and Smith are on loan to other teams in 2024, and I’m sure both drivers would rather be in a Trackhouse Cup entry than with Kaulig Racing and Spire Motorsports, respectively. Daniel Suarez is also well-liked by team owner Justin Marks, and Marks has been adamant that Suarez will stick around. As for which of that trio occupies which seat next year, I’ll leave that to their front office.

For 23XI Racing, a third charter completes the objective of building the Denny Hamlin-and-Michael Jordan-owned team to one of the sport’s best. The team just opened its brand new shop dubbed “Airspeed,” a state-of-the-art facility built for championship-contending race teams.

Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace are all but certain to continue with 23XI, but its third driver is an enigma at this point. Will they promote a top Toyota prospect or sign a free agent driver? Or does Hamlin believe 2025 is the year to begin driving for his own team, leaving Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) with at least one seat to fill?

Enough about other team’s drivers for now; what happens to the four currently in Cup for SHR?


The Drivers

The Stewart-Haas Racing Cup Series lineup for 2024 is:

  • Josh Berry (#4)
  • Noah Gragson (#10)
  • Chase Briscoe (#14)
  • Ryan Preece (#41)

The circumstances are quite different for each of this quartet of Cup Series drivers, and much is yet to be determined about their futures in the support.

Chase Briscoe

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The rumor with the most smoke (no pun intended) behind it surrounds Briscoe. A company man, Chase Briscoe, has driven a Ford since the mid-2010s and is SHR’s longest-tenured driver.

It’s anticipated that Ford will keep Briscoe in the fold, moving him over to Wood Brothers Racing to drive the No. 21, currently driven by Harrison Burton. Jeff Burton’s son has been far from impressive and is now in the midst of his third dismal season for the Wood Brothers, earning just one career T5 and five T10s.

Briscoe’s Ford backing and additional personal sponsorship would make that swap well worth it and give the Wood Brothers their best chance at winning race No. 100 for the legendary team.

Josh Berry

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Josh Berry’s rise to the Cup Series has been one of NASCAR’s best stories in recent years.  Berry has risen from late-model races in the Southeast to stock car’s top level, largely due to a friendship with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

If Earnhardt Jr. were ready, willing and able to bring JR Motorsports (JRM) to the Cup Series, this would wrap up both Berry’s future and the landing spot of the fourth SHR charter. It would also likely bring back the return of the famed No. 8 design that Earnhardt Jr. drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI) from 1999-2007, as Junior has acquired the trademark to the number in the legendary DEI/RCR font. Alas, JRM has all but ruled themselves out of entering Cup at this time, so let’s put that fever dream to bed.

Berry has no direct ties to Ford and could theoretically jump anywhere, but a safe place to land would likely be with Front Row Motorsports’ ramped-up effort. He may even stay in the No. 4 car if FRM chooses to run it.

Whether he would keep crew chief Rodney Childers is an entirely different story. Childers is likely to be the most valuable commodity to other teams outside of the charters and likely could have a seat on all but two or three pit boxes in the series. His plans are unknown, but it is worth mentioning that Childers is just as valuable as anyone else in the movers and shakers surrounding the Stewart-Haas Racing closure.

Noah Gragson

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Noah Gragson also just jumped into a Ford this year and has similar freedom and upside to Berry but with a bit more, or at least a bit wilder personality. This will appeal Gragson to some teams and turn him off from others. If he would choose to, I would imagine he would have a seat at the table with FRM and an easy changeover.

However, a fun theory that may or may not be able to wrap up the fourth SHR charter as well is that Gragson would sign with Richard Childress Racing (RCR). Bass Pro Shops has been a longtime sponsor of both RCR and Gragson, and it’s safe to say Richard Childress has no issues dealing with wilder personalities.

RCR doesn’t necessarily need to buy the extra charter to bring Gragson into the fold. Kyle Busch‘s contract expires at the end of 2024 (another potential popular free agent for teams, new charter or not). Austin Dillon, at the advanced age (34) and backward racing performance (31st in the 2024 points standings), likely won’t put up a fight if his “Pop-Pop” pulls him out of the Cup Series (Childress is Dillon’s grandfather).

Ryan Preece

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Ryan Preece is most likely to be left as the odd man out of the Cup Series as a result of SHR’s closure. He’s already been left out of “study groups” that his other three teammates have reportedly partaken in this year.

If there is enough moving and shaking, perhaps he could earn a seat at the FRM table or with a lower-tier organization. But the sponsorship, nor the results, have been there for Preece, earning one T5 and three T10 thus far for SHR; Preece ran better in a second JTG Daugherty Racing car than he has for SHR.

With more prospects with more sponsorship continuing to inch closer to Cup, drivers with weaker results and less money in their pockets unfortunately can be left out of the picture quickly. He would have options in the Xfinity and Truck Series, or he could return to his roots racing modified cars in the Northeast.

Speaking of the Xfinity Series, SHR has a pair of teams there as well that need to be sorted out.

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The Xfinity Series

Currently, SHR’s Xfinity operation is as follows:

  • Cole Custer (#00)
  • Riley Herbst (#98)

Both drivers have been successful with SHR in the Xfinity Series; Cole Custer even won the series championship in 2023. That means that both Custer and Riley Herbst may be in discussion for Cup Series rides, as well as Xfinity opportunities.

Riley Herbst

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Herbst is far less complicated; he’s a driver with not only moderate success but big-time sponsorship, backed by Monster Energy.

Perhaps his best and easiest pathway into a full-time Cup Series ride is in the Rick Ware Racing No. 15, which has been split between multiple drivers in 2024. Herbst has already made starts with Ware and Front Row Motorsports in Cup; both options would keep him in a Ford ride as well.

Cole Custer

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As for Custer, things become more complicated but also more beneficial. He may not have personal sponsorship, but he has the backing of his father, Joe Custer, who has been with Stewart-Haas Racing since its inception as Haas CNC Racing in 2002. He’s been described as the main day-to-day leader of the current SHR operation and also plays a role in Haas’ Formula 1 team.

The AP News’ story on SHR’s closure mentioned a point that I don’t think anyone thought to be an option for the Custers:  Joe holding onto or otherwise acquiring that mystery destination SHR charter and running an operation in Cup with his son as his driver, potentially even with Haas sponsorship. That theory seems even wilder than anything I could have thought up for this blog, but I suppose it can’t be ruled out.

Okay, we’ve talked about the charters and the drivers, but Ford also will play a role in how things work out, especially at the Xfinity level.

The Blue Ovals

In the Cup Series, as previously mentioned, Front Row Motorsports is expected to be the manufacturer-supported team replacing what SHR had. But the Xfinity Series could be another large gap for Ford that it may not want to see.

This has happened before to Ford:  At one point, only Briscoe’s SHR No. 98 and Austin Cindric‘s No. 22 of Team Penske were the only two Ford cars in Xfinity. The big difference there is that both of those cars were championship contenders, and in Cindric’s case, title winners in 2020. With all due respect to AM Racing and Ryan Sieg’s RSS Racing, they are far from Xfinity title contenders and arguably are not strong spots for Ford prospects in the future (though that didn’t stop Ford from placing Hailie Deegan with AM in 2024).

A team that we haven’t mentioned yet that also wouldn’t mind some expansion is Roush Fenway Keselowski (RFK) Racing. Though team co-owner Brad Keselowski has said the team does not have the money for a high-dollar charter acquisition, that doesn’t mean RFK couldn’t re-open its Xfinity Series team. That comes at a much lower cost, some of which could be offset by Ford backing and support if the manufacturer wants a historically competitive team to develop prospects and succeed at the Xfinity level.

A theoretical RFK Xfinity team could be a landing spot for displaced drivers like Preece, displaced crew members and maybe even some new front office leadership if the Custer family were to be tapped to or have interest in joining the RFK stable.

If you haven’t already deduced it from reading through this mega-column, the closure of Stewart-Haas Racing and the sale and division of all its assets will send a gargantuan ripple effect through the entirety of the sport. There’s an unbelievable amount of moving and shaking to come once SHR completes its swan song in NASCAR.

Thanks for reading my opinion on “The Potential Fallout of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Closure.” Be sure to follow me on Twitter/X @ehicks39 for more NASCAR takes and betting advice. 

*Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports*

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