Ranking new NASCAR driver-team pairings for 2023 season

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I’m here to get you ready for this Sunday’s clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Need a heads up on who has new numbers for 2023 when the green flag drops (5 p.m. ET heats; main event at 8 p.m. ET, FOX). Or you need to debate with your friends who made the best play of the offseason.

So, without further ado, here is my ranking of the changes for 2023. They will be in two parts. The first is the riders with new equipment. And the second is the pilots who stayed with their team but changed crew chiefs.

Drivers of the new teams:

1. Tyler Reddick — 23XI Race no. 45

Reddick won three races last year for Richard Childress Racing and joins a team led by Billy Scott, an unheralded crew chief who has worked with both veterans (Kurt Busch) and rookie drivers (Danica Patrick) . Scott won a race last year with Busch and played a role in the development of the Next Gen car. Reddick is in a position to thrive as he joins a confident team and one whose season was upended when Busch suffered a concussion.

2. Kyle Busch — Richard Childress Racing no. 8

Busch replaces Reddick at RCR and will certainly draw comparisons to Reddick, as Reddick is headed to a Toyota team that is a subsidiary of Joe Gibbs Racing, which allowed Busch to walk when contract negotiations came to an impasse last summer. Busch joins a team that won three races amid turmoil last year and a team that solidified itself with Randall Burnett as crew chief. The big question is whether RCR can be an elite organization and challenge for wins and a championship. Busch will play a key role in making that happen, and neither Busch nor Childress are known for their patience.

Busch discusses his transition to RCR

Busch discusses his transition to RCR

Kyle Busch says he’s spent the offseason getting a lot of the little things right until his transition to Richard Childress.

3. AJ Allmendinger — Kaulig Racing no. 16

This is just kind of a “new” pairing as Allmendinger drove in 18 Cup races last year for Kaulig. His three top-5s and eight top-10s show that he can perform at Cup level. With his strength on road courses and improvement on ovals, Allmendinger could have a breakout Cup season five years after leaving JTG Daugherty Racing without a clear path to another Cup trip. Everything is there for this team to have a good season, considering that Allmendinger is already used to working with the team led by crew chief Matt Swiderski.

4. Ty Gibbs — Joe Gibbs Racing no. 54

Rookie Gibbs, grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, replaces Kyle Busch in the No. 18 car. He’s certainly Cup ready, or as ready as any driver, at least from a talent standpoint. His sometimes questionable decisions last year will have people wondering if he can cope with the rigors of the Cup schedule. It would be unfair to expect Kyle Busch to make it to season one. Actually, he would, in the sense that Kyle Busch was 20th in points as a rookie. Gibbs had a top-10 finish in 15 starts filling in for the injured Kurt Busch last year in the 23XI. The good thing for Gibbs: He has crew chief Chris Gayle, who has Cup experience, moving with him from the Xfinity Series to the Cup.

Gibbs in the transition to the full-time Copa role

Gibbs in the transition to the full-time Copa role

Ty Gibbs outlines what he believes will be the biggest challenge as he moves into full-time Cup racing.

5. Ryan Preece — Stewart-Haas Racing no. 41

Preece replaces Cole Custer in the SHR Cup lineup and has a crew chief, Chad Johnston, that both he and the team know, as Johnston was a crew chief on Preece’s last two truck wins two years and was a former crew chief for Tony. Stewart at SHR. The pressure is on for Preece to act. But this group can take some time to get going, and SHR has struggled. If the tweaks to the nose of the Ford help the team’s competitiveness, that could be the key to whether I was wrong and Preece should have been ranked higher.

Pre-order dishes for the coming season

Pre-order dishes for the coming season

Ryan Preece talks about his relationship with crew chief Chad Johnston, future expectations and proving himself at Stewart-Haas.

6. Noah Gragson — Legacy Motor Club no. 42

Gragson moves from the JR Motorsports Xfinity program to replace Ty Dillon in what was Petty GMS. He brings his Xfinity crew chief, Luke Lambert, who has several years of experience as a Cup crew chief. But this team struggled last year and is now in another transition with Jimmie Johnson as co-owner. Johnson’s presence and leadership could help improve the team, but not necessarily immediately. Gragson had a top-10 finish in 18 Cup starts last year while driving select races for Hendrick Motorsports (as a replacement for the injured Alex Bowman), Kaulig and Beard.

Noah Gragson talks about working with Jimmie Johnson

Noah Gragson talks about working with Jimmie Johnson

Gragson has a great mentor in Johnson as he enters his rookie Cup season.

7. Ty Dillon — Spire Motorsports no. 77

Dillon managed just one top 10 at Petty GMS last year as he and the team and a rookie crew chief just didn’t click. Nine races where he didn’t finish certainly didn’t help matters. The hope is that his 202 Cup starts will help Spire. There is a chance for that, but until Dillon can average a top-20 finish, there will be questions.

N.A. Jimmie Johnson — Legacy Motor Club no. 84

OK, it’s likely only a five-race deal, but we can’t leave out the seven-time champion returning to the Cup Series with a small stake, but a big leadership role in what was Petty GMS and it is now the Legacy Motor Club. He has Joey Logano’s former champion crew chief, Todd Gordon. So how good will it be? It would limit expectations. This is still a young organization. A couple of top-10s would be a good start.

Same driver, new crew chief:

1. Alex Bowman —Blake Harris

Bowman is the most successful driver on this list and drives for the best team (Hendrick) on this list. Harris, who replaces Greg Ives, arrives after a successful year as Michael McDowell’s crew chief and several years working at JGR and Furniture Row. The key in this relationship will be trust and confidence that they are doing the right thing and also in each other.

2. Austin Dillon – Keith Rodden

Appointing Rodden as Dillon’s crew chief as Justin Alexander’s replacement was a bit of a surprise, but it could be a brilliant move. Rodden has experience as a crew chief working for a number of organizations (he was a crew chief for Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray) and most recently worked for Chevrolet. He knows how to handle drivers and he knows how to work under pressure, which you certainly are when you’re the crew chief for the grandson of the team owner.

3. Michael McDowell – Travis Peterson

McDowell obviously didn’t want to lose Harris, and they will now go with engineer Peterson, who was most recently at RFK Racing and previously at JR Motorsports and Hendrick. Their success will depend on whether Peterson can implement changes to improve the car based on McDowell’s feedback and whether he can take the calculated risks in race strategy often necessary for an organization that lacks the funding for more teams. big.

McDowell about his new crew chief

McDowell about his new crew chief

Michael McDowell, who will have a new crew chief for the second straight year, talks about what he’s looking for from Travis Peterson.

4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Mike Kelley

Kelley had previously been working at JTG Daugherty Racing in a competition advisory-type role, and will now take over as Stenhouse’s crew chief. The duo had magic in the Xfinity Series a decade ago with Stenhouse winning back-to-back titles. They couldn’t repeat that in the Cup at Roush. What might make this situation even better is that Stenhouse is JTG’s sole driver, so they can tailor the car specifically to their wants and needs.

5. Todd Gilliland —Ryan Bergenty

Bergenty was McDowell’s car chief for the past three years and now serves as Gilliland’s crew chief, replacing Seth Barbour, who moved to a role as the team’s technical director. Gilliland has talked about how he needs to be better at the start of the race weekend and find the speed needed in the 20 minutes of practice, and Bergenty will play a key role. But these things don’t usually turn around quickly.

6. Cody Ware – Jerry Kelley

Ware has Kelley, a longtime car chief at Penske, as his crew chief starting this year. Ware showed improvement last year and if Kelley brings some ideas from Penske that can be applied to the Rick Ware Racing cars, there’s a chance Ware can continue to put up better numbers.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the last 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrassand register at FOX Sports NASCAR Newscast with Bob Pockrass.

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