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Noah Gragson is on the HOT Seat: Why and Where Can He Go?

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As if NASCAR Silly Season could not get any sillier, another seat has unexpectedly been rumored to be open. According to Jordan Bianchi of The Athletic, Noah Gragson is rumored to be on the hot seat, with John Hunter Nemechek the potential favorite to take over the 42 car in 2024. Why would Gragson be on the hot seat so early in his career, and where could he potentially go in 2024?

Why Now?

According to Bianchi, this seems to come down to the manufacturer change. Toyota reportedly likes John Hunter Nemechek and would like to see him back in the Cup Series.

Gragson has spent most of his career as a Chevrolet driver. He was a Toyota driver at one point, as he ran in the Truck Series in 2017 and 2018 for Kyle Busch Motorsports, who was a Toyota team at the time. In 2019, he moved to JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, and he has stayed in the Chevy camp ever since.

John Hunter Nemechek is the exact opposite, as he began his career as a Chevrolet driver before moving to Ford in the Cup Series with Front Row Motorsports in 2020. In 2021, he moved back to Toyota with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series, and he has stayed with Toyota since.

It’s also worth noting that Nemechek has a relationship with Maury Gallagher, who co-owns Legacy Motor Club alongside Jimmie Johnson. Nemechek ran a full-time Xfinity Series season with Gallagher at his old team, GMS, in 2019.

Gragson has no such past relationships at Legacy Motor Club. His closest connection is being a JRM driver while Jimmie Johnson was driving in his final two season in the Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports, the same number 48 car and team owner that Gragson ran in a few races for last season to substitute for Alex Bowman.

Gragson’s Tough Rookie Season

It’s also worth nothing that Gragson has had a difficult rookie season. He currently sits 33rd in points, which is last amongst full-time drivers. Granted, he did miss a race at Sonoma because of concussion-like symptoms.

As we pointed out in the article written above, not every incident has been his fault. He had an engine failure at Charlotte, a brake rotor failure at Gateway, was spun out from the lead by Ross Chastain at Talladega, and a tire failure at New Hampshire.

It’s also worth noting that Legacy Motor Club as a whole has been struggling this season. Teammate Erik Jones is sitting in 28th in the points with only four top-10 finishes, and this is coming off of a race-winning season in 2022 with the same team. The move to Toyota for 2024 has put Legacy Motor Club in a rebuilding year.

Now, Gragson is not completely absolved of the blame for his tough season. You don’t run into the turn six tire barrier at Chicago three separate times by purely bad luck. He also spun out Daniel Suarez for 30th at Richmond this past weekend.

However, it’s also worth noting that he still is a rookie. That doesn’t excuse things per se, but it should, in theory, give him a bit more wiggle room for “rookie mistakes.”

The bottom line is that Gragson has had a tough season. If Toyota does not want him back, it’s hard to say that don’t have a legitimate argument for that. Especially if John Hunter Nemechek is performing well.

Will This Actually Happen, and where Could Gragson go?

This is by no means a guarantee, but it is a possibility. It makes sense in a lot of regards. However, one big factor has to be considered.

Would Nemechek want to go to Legacy Motor Club? With Martin Truex Jr. mulling retirement, a Joe Gibbs Racing ride could very well be in reach for Nemechek. It’s easy to think he would favor a ride with JGR if enough funding is there for both sides to make it work.

If this does happen, however, what are Gragson’s options? His options are there, but he may have to make a step downwards.

Cup: Kaulig Racing

This is the best Cup Series ride that is currently open for Gragson. Kaulig recently dropped Justin Haley for 2024, so Gragson could look there for a 2024 ride. However, Kaulig does have other in-house options they could easily go to, so, this would take big swing for Gragson to go there.

Cup: Spire Motorsports

Ty Dillon driving the Spire Motorsports 77 car would likely be last amongst full-time drivers if not for Gragson missing Sonoma. Spire has shown with the modest success of Corey LaJoie this season that they are slowly working their way up the NASCAR Cup Series ladder. Bringing in a young driver with potential could be their next step.

Xfinity: JR Motorsports

This is probably very unlikely just because JR Motorsports has seemed to move on past Gragson. However, the number 8 car is open, and, if they need a driver, Gragson is available. He has proven he can win races in Xfinity, so that could be all JR Motorsports wants aside from making sure the funding is there.

Trucks: Kyle Busch Motorsports

This would be a massive demotion for Gragson, but, it’s not an unprecedented move. John Hunter Nemechek dropped from Front Row Motorsports to KBM in 2021, and he has worked his way back up the ladder to being a legitimate Cup Series prospect once again. KBM is also a Chevrolet team now, so Gragson could stay with his manufacturer.

Options are there for Noah Gragson, even if they are not the most ideal options. A lot is still happening in NASCAR Silly Season, and it seems a new wrinkle is thrown into it every day.

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