No driver has been officially announced as a replacement for the retiring Kevin Harvick at Stewart-Haas Racing. The potential replacements for the seat are the subject of much speculation. Who are the candidates for this seat?
Josh Berry has impressed in limited Cup Series seat time this season filling in for Alex Bowman and Chase Elliot. The short track ace finished an impressive second at Richmond back in April, and he even raced his way into the NASCAR All-Star Race last weekend by winning the Open.
Berry has the fewest hurdles keeping him from the Cup Series. He has no Cup Series obligations scheduled for next year, and Hendrick Motorsports does not have a place for him. If Berry wants to go to Cup, this may be his chance.
Denny Hamlin expressed optimism before the season that he would re-sign with Joe Gibbs Racing. However, it is almost the summer and nothing has advanced across that front. This is getting eerily similar to Kyle Busch and his contract issues last year.
Busch is now at Richard Childress Racing winning races. Could Denny Hamlin do the same? FedEx has remained loyal to Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing since the beginning of his career, but so was Mars and M&M’s to Kyle Busch before last year. The 4 car is an open seat capable of winning if Hamlin cannot re-sign.
However, there is one major hurdle. 23XI Racing is a Toyota team and Stewart-Haas Racing is a Ford team. I doubt Toyota or Ford would be happy with splitting Hamlin, so something has to give.
Martin Truex Jr.
No one really knows what Martin Truex Jr could do following this season. His contract is up at the end of 2023, and he went winless last season for the first time since 2014 missing the playoffs. Some people theorize that this could be Truex Jr’s final season in the NASCAR Cup Series.
However, Truex has had a bit of a resurgence this season winning at Dover. Could Stewart-Haas sign Truex to a short 2-3 year contract while they work another Ford prospect through the pipeline? Then they keep the same veteran presence that Harvick offers to the team currently.
This is definitely the more unlikely of the scenarios. However, Truex is a dark horse candidate for the 4 car at the end of the season. Especially considering that Stewart-Haas Racing’s lower series candidates are…not great.
Smith once had a Cup contract in place with Chip Ganassi before Trackhouse Racing happened. Since then, he has done nothing but impress in a Ford in the Craftsman Truck Series. Smith is definitely owed a full-time shot in the Cup Series from somebody.
However, jumping up from the Truck Series straight to the Cup Series seems like a too-good-to-be-true proposition. Plus with Stewart-Haas already having an Xfinity Series program, jumping the guys already there could cause some tension in that shop.
Another dark horse for the seat, Todd Gilliland has quietly put together a solid season thus far for Front Row Motorsports. He currently sits only 35 points below the Playoff cut line halfway to the playoffs with three top-10s. Gilliland also has two career Truck Series wins.
Sure his resume is not incredible, but he is a young driver with Cup Series experience that has shown some solid promise. If other drivers do not work out, could Stewart-Haas go for a younger guy to build the team around?
Since Herbst is a Stewart-Haas Racing Xfinity Series driver, he has to be in the conversation for the 4 car. He has struggled as of late, but he buy and large has been solid in the Xfinity Series and even earned a 10th place finish in the Daytona 500 back in February.
However, he has yet to win in the Xfinity Series. He is far from a bad driver, but is he a Cup Series level talent that can win races in top equipment? There are some serious doubts there.
Cole Custer is probably Stewart-Haas Racing’s last resort for the 4 car. He has been solid thus far in a full-time Xfinity Series schedule this season currently sitting fifth in the standings. However, he has failed to win as of yet.
Add to that an unimpressive Cup Series resume in the same equipment. He only has 12 Cup Series top-10s in 111 starts and finished 26th and 25th in the standings respectively in his last two seasons in the Cup Series. He might come back, but it is highly unlikely.
The free agent class this year in NASCAR may not be the best free agent class ever seen. However, Stewart-Haas Racing does have options to replace Kevin Harvick in the 4 car. Could it be one of these guys?